Monday, September 5, 2011

Nuestra Familia en Cuenca

I write this in Mexico, but we need first to bring this blog closer to the present. Before we left Ecuador three short weeks ago, we had the pleasure of spending our last week with my brother and sister-in-law. After making idyllic Cuenca our temporary home for several months, we were pleased to be able to share it with someone from our real home, to merge our worlds, however briefly.

The fate of the trip was precarious to begin with; prohibitive airfare costs and our dubious schedule cast considerable doubt on the whole thing. Then, prices dropped precipitously and the trip was booked, though we had several choices to make about where we'd be and how much time we'd be able to spend with our guests. Then, Molly got her job in Mexico, and we were obligated to be moving out of the country in the middle of their stay. Luckily, we found cheaper tickets on Sunday, buying us more time in Ecuador. Needless to say, it was complicated and uncertain up to the last few weeks, and for four people who are definitely the planning type, to varying degrees, that was enough to make us nervous about it.

But it worked out after all, and we spent our last weeks in Ecuador preparing simultaneously for our guests in Cuenca and for our move to Mexico. We cleaned the apartment, as we would for any guest, but then, in a parody of a deep-clean gone too far, we packed up all of our belongings - sweatshirts and souvenirs and stacks of books that we had promised to sell or trade in, to no avail - and took down the scant decorations we had contributed to the blank white walls - anti-bullfighting fliers and pictures of family and Christmas stockings labeled "R" and "M" that had hung since our arrival in January. It was a strange mix of feelings: eagerness to see our family and nervousness about leaving, the inevitable pressure of hosting on top of the anxiety of an international move. Having seen much of Molly's family in Mexico early this year, I missed my side of the family dearly - even more than I realized, as the visit grew nearer. Despite the innate strangeness of the situation, we were looking forward to our last crazy week very much.

And crazy it turned out to be. Kari and Adam arrived to Cuenca about an hour behind schedule, and we nervously watched the passengers deplane, wondering how they would contact us if they had missed their flight. A hundred descended the stairs, it seemed, before the really tall white guy I was looking for finally appeared.

Our itinerary for the week was packed; we wanted to show our guests as much of the country as was possible in five short days. We'd see the ancient Incan ruins at Ingapirca, the stunning moonscape at Cajas National Park, the incomparable view at Turi, the mud baths at BaƱos de San Vicente, and eat copious amounts of ceviche. Five days didn't seem enough to do justice even to Ecuador's southern highlands, but we were going to do our best.

We spent the first half day on a tour of the beautiful center, had some delicious ceviche, and rested up for a full week. The next morning, it was off to Ingapirca, about two hours away, up even further into the Andes, at about 10,900 feet. Adam wasn't feeling the best, and the frigid temperatures and constant nettlesome drizzle didn't help, and the largest Incan ruins in Ecuador turned out to be about the size of the backyard of my childhood home. But it was on our list of things to do before we left, and it was worth the trip, though a little underwhelming.

International travel, especially to the third world, poses many risks that simply cannot be avoided, not least among them digestive. And so, for the next few days, at least one of us was stricken with some sort of health issue at any given time. We put off Cajas each morning, then decided the best we could do was to see it on the bus ride down to Guayaquil. We willed ourselves up to Turi, then descended quickly. We spent much more time in our apartment than we had planned with migraines or stomach problems. Molly and I fretted that we weren't making enough of our time, but we are well aware that powering through health constraints just isn't worth it for any involved; the person who's sick, no matter how hard they try not to be, will be miserable, and everyone else, no matter how much they wanted to go, will be too concerned to enjoy it. So we simply enjoyed each other's company, sharing stories and playing cards, catching up on the months apart, happily breaking the longest period of time I've ever gone without seeing my big brother. It was wonderful, comforting, just to sit and be, savoring the best, most authentic bit of home while abroad.

The truth is that our lives in Ecuador taught us, perhaps too well, just how content Molly and I can be together, just the two of us, every waking hour. There were (and are) inevitably rough spots, as in any relationship, but a childish giddiness has been the baseline standard for our lives for nearly a year now. Sharing everything, against all odds, has scarcely been an adjustment. Saccharine it may be, but it's the simple truth: we're madly in love. In a way, our daily contentedness has obscured everything outside of our immediate surroundings.

Though we've certainly maintained that contentedness with our situation since moving to Mexico three weeks ago, seeing Adam and Kari broke the spell, in a very welcome way. We may be happy, just the two of us, but we love and need our families immensely. We may be settling in for another year abroad, and proud of our independence, but there's an irreplaceable happiness to be found in our homes, whether we go there or it comes to us, one that can't be reproduced in any meaningful way on our own.

Realizing this, it was deeply and strangely relieving to see Kari and Adam, like they were the cure to an ache I had stopped noticing. Our time together didn't go exactly as planned; it rarely does, in those types of situations. But their presence was simply wonderful, and more than enough to hold us over until November, when we'll get to fully recharge.

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