Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hasta luego, Cuenca!

This was written a week before we left Ecuador, sometime around the first week in August. But then things got crazy and we never posted it. The entry is old, but the sentiments are still true. 

We are officially Mexico bound starting in the wee hours of Sunday morning. After 9 months of discovering the secrets of Ecuadorian life, living in the heart of Andes mountains, teaching classes upon classes about phrasal verbs, present perfect and relative clauses, improving our ethpanyol, and always being within a few hours of the ocean or the Amazon, it seems almost unreal to be saying goodbye to the home we have created south of the Equator. 

Although it wasn't always easy - and we never expected it to be - we survived horrendously long hours of work for no more than $4 per hour. And we enjoyed it. Yes, I personally had a few too many break-downs and sob sessions, but after I came back from my temporary insanity, I was still able to appreciate the unique and incredibly hospitable country we were living in. 

When we told people that we were moving to "Ecuador!", we had the typical oohs and aahs from those who imagined it to be exotic and "tribal." In fact, despite our extensive travels to foreign lands, we imagined Ecuador as an untamed, wild place where we'd learn Spanish within minutes, sit on the beach and relax all the time, and maybe teach a little when we got a break from our avocado eating or backpacking around the continent. 

However, it always becomes clear when we land in a new country, that it is simply another place. It's new and exciting, but it is a place.

Instead of dreamland, our routine consisted of waking up at 6 am to catch the #22 or #5 bus to Nuestra Familia, teaching 4 or 5 hours, coming home to prepare, cook and eat an increasingly delicious lunch,  and then almost immediately leaving again to catch the less reliable #6 bus toward Nexus Lenguas y Culturas. When we got home at night, usually around 9, we'd eat a snack, watch some show that we had on the computer and then go to sleep. Life wasn't exotic. 

But Ecuador has been very good to us. We've met, and continue to meet, impossibly kind and generous people. We've made friends, gotten to know neighbors and become a part of a country rich in culture and life. Mexico will still have beaches and avocados, but it's going to be a bittersweet departure next Sunday. Saying "chao!" to Ecuador is tough, but another land and another country beckons us onward.

A few of the things we will miss about Ecuador:
- Being a bus ride away from the beach, the Amazon and living in the mountains
- Big Cola (Coca-Cola's small but sweet competitor. Suck it, Coke!)
- Natural, plain yogurt in a bag
- Puppies and babies everywhere! 
- The landscapes: mountains, rivers, ocean, rainforest, lakes, volcanoes
- $1 smoothies
- Fresh avocados, pineapples, mangoes, strawberries and raspberries by the bushel
- Cheap public transportation, $1/hour to get anywhere in the country
- DVDs for $1.50 which means never having to go to the theatre because the pirated DVD will be in stores the next week
- Chopin, our landlord's homely dog with a Hitler mustache that came about from an unfortunate incident with a chicken leg
- The man who shines shoes on Avenida Benigno Malo
- Deportivo Cuenca

Friday, August 5, 2011

Marrying me will you be?

After two full days of on and off rain, hiking trails that last for 20 minutes but yielded spectacular views, countless bologna sandwiches on sliced bread and too many rounds of Polish Poker, Ryan and I took a quick, seemingly uneventful hike to the river to get some water. Even though I had had my hunches, I had more or less given up on any proposal happening that weekend. We had already gone to some beautiful areas and spent two days and a night in a national park in the Amazonian rainforest. I assumed that if it hadn't happened then, it was going to be a while. Plus, I had been on high alert since we reached the park, watching for any signs of awkwardness or bumps in his jacket pockets the size of a ring. He had so far given me nothing. Not a sign. Not a ring. Not even the slightest clue at all.

That afternoon we were forced by the inclement weather to stay in our tent and play cards. Although this had happened numerous times during the trip, we were still in good spirits.

In addition to the disappointing weather, we had some health issues earlier in the day. I woke up with an awful migraine, so Ryan being the wonderful boyfriend that he was, massaged me all morning. He was also experiencing strange stomach pains, most likely due to our only meal which was the aforementioned bologna sandwiches. All of it was disgusting except for the cheese. Thank god we splurged on the cheese. 

About the time we started feeling better, a rowdy group of teenagers ambushed the campgrounds and started flirting with Ryan. It's the beard. Ladies love beards. Well, apparently so do pre-teens in booty shorts. They worked up the nerve to move from their coy glances to actually batting their eyes to finally approaching him (and me . . . but for some reason they had no interest in me at all). When they begrudgingly went on a nature hike, we readily jumped in our tent to escape for more card games. After a stormy half hour, the teens returned, and we did our best to seem invisible. But then came the "MISTER!" and "'SCUSE ME! MISTER!" at regular high-pitched intervals. What these teens didn't know was that "mister" was about the be off the market completely within the hour.

Once they left and the rain stopped, we went on one last hike into the jungle. When we finished, we grabbed our waterbottles and went to my favorite place in the park to get some water. At this point, I was still clueless and still a tiny, itty-bit hopeful. As we hiked down to the Rio Bombuscaro, I stopped to take pictures of leaf cutter ants - something that had occupied an ungodly amount of time during the past few days. Ryan was cool as a cucumber and never even let on that he had our engagement ring in his right pocket. 

When we made it down to the river, he suggested we find a place to sit. Immediately I knew something was up, because he never makes decisions, especially unsolicited ones. So I nervously followed him over mossy rocks high above the river. We rested on a big rock with our legs dangling over the edge and our pants soaked completely through within seconds. Ryan asked if I was comfortable, and when I said yes he said, "Good, because I have something for you." Then he pulled a bag out of his jacket. How did I not notice that? Where had it been hiding? It was a big bag. I was totally oblivious. 

Inside the bag was the most amazing gift anyone has ever made or given me in my life. It was a book that he had written about us and our relationship. Before I even opened it, I was weeping. I cried throughout the entire 50 pages, constantly mopping my eyes so I could continue. It was incredible, beautifully written (of course, have you seen his writing?), really clever and full of humor, and deeply, deeply personal. On the last page were the words, "Will you marry me?" and when I looked up, he had precariously made his way onto one knee on a wet, mossy rock overlooking the rushing Bombuscaro river and asked me to marry him. I weeped and said "yes!" Then he slipped the little $8 market ring onto my left hand. 

It was hands-down the most perfect way to propose. So perfectly us. Books! And nature! And camping!