One week in
With my amazing red hair (thanks mom), comes the added benefit of pasty white skin. I burn easily, of course. This has been somewhat of a problem in Ecuador. First of all, I really dislike sunscreen, even the spray on stuff. It is expensive, doesn’t last as long as it claims, is really difficult to rub into my hairy legs, and it makes me feel greasy. Second, being on the equator makes getting baked much easier. Even though the temperature has been in the 60s and 70s and most days have been cloudy, burning is still really easy. I finally purchased some crema de sol.
Two days before Christmas, Mariana, Maria Jose (her daughter), and I traveled to the center of Quito. There were many small shops each selling very specific items. No one sells a little of everything, just a lot of one specific thing. We were on the hunt for some new clothes and new shoes for a ceramic baby Jesus. To me, this seemed like a crazy task. Who would possibly sell what we were looking for? Well, evidently, many stores are dedicated to selling accessories for El Niño Jesús. We entered at least 12 stores, each one tightly cramped and loaded with ceramic Jesus dolls of various sizes, all the Jesus bling you could possibly want, and enough shoppers to break every U.S. fire code possible. After a couple of hours, we found the perfect Jesus gear.
On Christmas Eve, we attended a Catholic mass. The church was small but the wall at the back opened to the outside where 20 more rows of chairs were lined up. We were a little late and sat in the back. I didn’t understand much, which is no surprise since I find it difficult to understand Catholic mass in English. The Christmas songs all sounded familiar. I followed along on the display screen but didn’t sing.
At one point, everyone went up to receive a candle. I lined up as well. The churchgoers received a candle from the one priest, and then hugged the other priest and exchanged a whisper with him. It was my turn. I smiled, took the candle and then hugged the second priest. I had no idea what I supposed to whisper, so I just embraced him until he realized I had no clue what I was doing. He said “Feliz Navidad” and I walked away. It was probably the most awkward 15 seconds of my life.
The day after Christmas, the Gonzalez family and I, traveled south to Guaranda, Ecuador to visit a relative and her family. The journey was long. We took a taxi to a bus to another bus to a third bus to finally arrive in Guaranda five hours later. The family in Guaranda was welcoming and many hugs and kisses were exchanged, and tears of joy shed. The Gonzalez family had never met this long lost relative of theirs. It was quite an emotional event. I sat quietly while everyone shared stories and recalled the family tree.
After we ate some food, I was encouraged to attend a party with Jean-Pierre (Mariana’s son) and his newly found cousin, Pablo. I followed them to a house. I am then told that this a high school graduation party for one of Pablo’s friends. I stood out, not only because I’m clearly a gringo, but also because I’m 25 and have more than peach fuzz for facial hair. Everyone sat awkwardly in chairs lining the walls of this family’s living room. The room was filled with teenagers and the parents of the teenagers. Soon, music started and we were pulled onto the dance floor. While everyone danced, one person is designated as the alcohol pourer. To start with, the alcohol of choice was tequila. The designated pourer would walk around the room filling a shot glass half full and handing it to the nearest person. The dancing and taking shots continued for about three hours.
At one point, after a few shots, one of the fathers challenged me to a dance off. I didn’t really realize it until everyone else backed away and circled us. I’m a terrible dancer, but I really had no way out of this one. So, I took advantage of my nimbleness by getting as low as I could go while shaking rump. The sounds from the audience suggested that I won. My opponent shook my hand and we celebrated with a shot.
I found a cheap gym near by and decided to start exercising a little before my morning Spanish lessons. I’m not trying to brag about how incredibly ripped I am, but I would like to point out the fact that I’m a giant for once in my life. Normally, I enter a gym and I’m overshadowed by the 6'3" guys benching 400 pounds. In this gym, I was that guy. I’m the new 6'3" (I’m 5' 7.5" by the way. I lied and put 5'8" on my driver’s license). And I don’t lift much but I certainly look pretty strong at this place. Nevertheless, the people there are nice.
I’m also learning Spanish, by the way. I’ve had about 20 hours worth of lessons thus far. Soon, I’ll start writing some Spanish here. But now, I must enjoy the cervesas frias and ring in the new year.