We're sitting now in our beach cabana in Playa Kamala, Ecuador, listening to the Pacific waves crash onto the beach and waiting for our first fresh-from-the-sea meal of comida tipico (local food). We'll be here for the next five weeks, honing our teaching skills and memorizing the names of all the vowel sounds (there's like a billion) in an intensive training course. But for tonight, we're taking it very easy.
Since landing as scheduled on Monday evening (hallelujah!), we've been nothing if not impressed, heartened, and comforted by this country and its ever-so-kind people. The first person we talked to, on the plane right after we landed, was a young woman named Ximena, who, after asking us if it was our first time in Ecuador and learning our plans, offered her phone number if we needed anything while we were in Cuenca, and whose sister - in a bizarro-world coincidence - happened to have founded the school where we want to teach. If we thought her openness was unique, we were quickly proven wrong.
After a night in Guayaquil, the giant coastal metropolis, we took a bus up a winding road through the Andes to Cuenca, which we had heard was the most beautiful city in the country. It did not disappoint. The streets are paved in cobblestones, the colonial architecture is ancient and ornate, the red brick bell towers and shimmering blue domes of the massive New Cathedral (which took 90 years to complete and opened in 1975) dominate the skyline, and the city just barely creeps up the sides of the towering mountains that encircle it. The weather is absurdly perfect: upper sixties during the day, light sweater weather, and a little chillier at night, the 8400 foot elevation and equatorial latitude combining for a uniquely ideal and unchanging climate.
Though it's a city of about 500,000, it feels a fraction of the size due to the compactness of its city center and the warmth of its residents. Thursday, while crossing a street with my camera slung around my neck, a man of about 30 years approached me and asked if I speak Spanish. I said only a little, not knowing what he was getting at; we hadn't been hassled once since arriving, not by a street vendor, not by a pushy salesman, not even an ugly look from a passerby. (The closest we got to feeling unwelcome, really, was a man shouting out of his truck as he sped by, in a very Cheech-like voice: "How you dooooing?") Molly said she did, they talked for a moment, and he invited us up to his roof to take pictures of the city from there.
The view was absolutely breathtaking, the sky impossibly clear, the colors impossibly vivid. What motivated that man to approach us in the middle of the street (literally), knowing we were foreigners and suspecting we didn't even speak Spanish (correctly, in my case), and open his home to us, we have no idea. But we got a strong feeling that if it hadn't been him, it could have just as easily been someone else, anyone else, in the city.
We reluctantly left yesterday at noon, descending back to the generally icky Guayaquil to catch the shuttle to the beach. Perhaps the one saving grace of the city was the little corner place we found last night, Pica Rica, where we had amazing bowls of ceviche con camarones, made fresh in front of us, by the kind and motherly cook/restaurateur. We hope to return to Cuenca to teach after our time is done here, but it seems as though the city isn't exactly Ecuador's best kept secret; thousands of American expats like ourselves clearly find the city as charming as we do. But given the warmth of the people we've met so far, we have nary a worry about where we might land.
(The rest of our pictures are up here.)