A Week in Macas

In total travel time from Fairfield to Macas, it was 25 hours, and I found out that Macas is actually 1700 meters above sea level.

I woke up at about 6 am, some large amount of hours outside of Macas (because we took a wrong turn), the black mountains were starting to blush and I was in awe at the beauty of my new country.

We eventually stopped for my first meal in Ecuador; I enjoyed how the restaurant — or rather gathering place of food — was mostly open air, like a tented patio with no walls, where you would walk out from under the roof into a sort of alleyway to get to the bathroom or the cooking area.

I was given two options for food; chicken soup or fish, I chose the soup. What I received was a bowl of flavorful boiled water with some herbs and chicken oil floating in it; and I said to myself, “hm, ok, that’s chill.” Maybe 3 or 5 minutes later whilst I was slurping on my boiled water, I received a large plate with a large chicken leg on it, a small salad of tomatoes and onions, another small salad composed of some green edible that tasted very planty, a large amount of a kind of tuber that greatly resembles a potato in taste, and a portion of rice I believe. I dutifully ate it all.

We hit the road and continued heading to Macas and I was desperately hoping that I would be able to take a shower right away when we got home — at this point my hair was pretty severely greasy, I’m pretty sure I didn’t smell very good, and I wanted to change out of the clothes I had been sweating in, eating in, sleeping in, and tromping through airports in, for the past 22 hours.

My wish was not granted, when we got to Macas we went right to lunch and I got to meet some more of the family. After lunch I was finally brought to my new home, where I immediately showered and went to sleep.

That night we went to dinner at a pizza place, and my family members proceeded to eat their pizza with a fork and knife. I attempted to do the same but it is a surprisingly difficult feat to accomplish, so I eventually just told them that I’m used to eating pizza with my hands, and was relieved at their quick willingness to drop the fork and knife business.

After dinner, they took me up the mountain that is home to a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary, which you can actually see from my bedroom window (the statue isn’t that visible from the window, but you know it’s there, in between the cellphone towers). That concluded my first day in Macas, I slept well that night.

Through the week I have learned that pedestrians do not have the right of way, nor do stop signs really mean anything — people drive crazy here, but I am told that “here we don’t really have traffic,” and they complain about people in Quito being crazy drivers. I also learned that “Eat nicely” does not mean stop eating with your hands; in the US people are so concerned with looking pretty while they eat, but here, just enjoy your food, ok.

In most of the restaurants we have gone to, you don’t choose your meal, or you have only two or three options (pollo, pescado, carne). I find this relieving actually, because I’m one of those people who get’s overwhelmed by too many options, especially when I just want to eat. Typical lunches and dinners here are composed of first soup, then a plate with rice, a meat, some sort of salad — usually onions and tomatoes, and sometimes the potato tasting tuber — or potatoes. In my host family, a typical breakfast is lots of fruits, yogurt, and sometimes eggs or toasted bread with cheese. The bread is roles that have a texture sort of like croissants, and the cheese is sheep or goat I think — in a block that you slice, but it’s softer than a jack cheese block, and some what porous.

In Macas, all of your family is close family, and all of your friends are family. People are always giving each other kisses on the cheeks, and hugging and cuddling each other. Every woman in your family is Mami, every man Papi, and all the kids are mijo and mija. I love it. I have a billion host cousins, aunts, and uncles — almost every person I meet in the street is related to my host family in some way, and sometimes I forget I’m a Gringa here, because everyone behaves as though I’ve always been a part of the family.

I’ve gone swimming in the river, and tromping in the rainforest at my host mom’s Finka (a Finka is a one room sort of cabin in the wilder parts of a town — what people in Iowa refer to as the country. Apparently everyone in the middle class/upper class owns a Finka). Ecuador is versatile, but I am amazed at the great differences in flora, fauna, and climate just within Macas.

My first weekend in Ecuador, we took a family trip up to the town Baños. Baños is very touristic, despite it being a bit chilly because it is in the Sierras, and I got to eat worms (Muquiendes) and guinea pigs (Cuy), and spend an entire afternoon soaking in the hot springs. we spent two days there so we could go on a cable car ride looking over a waterfall, and walk around the main part of Baños.

I started school here at a Catholic school called Maria Auxiliadora, where classes start at 7, and go till 1. I have had two days of school and have already made some good friends; Everyone is welcoming, relaxed, and gentle — I was so nervous, because I am not Catholic for one thing, and because I’ve found that my Spanish is not up to par for the speed at which people speak — so I really don’t understand anything unless it’s one-on-one conversation, when I can say, “Yo entiendo cuando despacio y claro.” But I have learned that I don’t really need to worry, nobody judges me, and my classmates talk to me a lot, and everyone is patient with me and wants me to learn.

So far my exchange has been total success, every single day is a learning experience — and though sometimes I feel tired, I am truly enjoying myself and am eternally grateful to have been granted this experience.