Impressions of Ecuador

As I sit here at a large wooden dining table, wiping sweat from my upper lip and straining to feel any kind of breeze, I realize that I am not a blogger. The blog I created and the journal I bought, anticipating that I would have the urge to document and reflect on my months in Bahía de Caráquez, remain untouched. I had to get two nagging emails to even force myself to write this. And sitting here in this open-air dining room, looking at the greenest tropical forests through one end and teal Pacific ocean through the other, I almost regret being someone without a desire to document. After nearly two months of family and friends begging for something, anything  in the way of photos, I just yesterday began toting my battered phone on my adventures.

Now that I’m coming up on two months here in Ecuador, the novelty of things has worn a little, but I don’t think I’ll ever be immune to the beauty and ridiculous charms of the equator.

The sun is hot. The clouds are also hot. Rain is hot. Nights are hot. I’ve never had to eat ice cream faster in my life.

The work is sometimes hard but always satisfying. Instead of studying here I have an environmentally oriented internship, and that means manual labor every day in 80-degree heat and incredible humidity. Usually in a greenhouse a half-hour bus ride from the apartment I share with my boss and his family, but other times on people’s fincas or ecological sites.The hours of digging holes, mixing soil, hauling and planting baby trees, and macheteing trails in dense tropical forest have me adjusting pretty well. Every day I am less grossed out by the ants floating in my Nalgene and more comfortable with the gallons of sweat pouring from me at any given moment.

The locals are welcoming. Bahía is not hugely touristy but several gringos have chosen to retire here and there are a few environmental organizations based here that attract a lot of spring break volunteers, so people know a lot about the States. People on the coast are darker than in the Sierra, and the Spanish accent here is breathy and gently slurred. A lot of their slang is English words (“that guy” is “ese man”) and they are really forgiving when I make mistakes in Spanish. A group of local surfers and soccer players we’ve befriended meets every night to watch the sun set over the ocean. I socialize comfortably in Spanish and am rapidly improving.

The toughest adjustment aside from non-potable tap water and only having access to mozzarella cheese has been the pervasiveness of machismo in this culture. Sexism is rampant. It’s acceptable to catcall, to stand too close, to “playfully” tug hair, and generally harass women. The questions I field on a daily basis are “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “Do you have a boyfriend in Bahía?” It doesn’t matter to them if I have one in the States, or even in Ecuador, as long as I don’t have one in this town. It took me weeks to not be appalled and even longer to come to terms with the fact that one little traveler isn’t going to change a centuries-old attitude so deeply entrenched in this culture.

Another surprise has been that even sleepy towns like this one are LOUD. Distance communication takes place with piercing whistles. There are at least 3 different sources of reggaeton music in any given spot in town. Right now I can identify a bachata beat, a classic reggaeton club hit, some indistinguishable booming, and a reggaeton remix of Shaggy’s “Wasn’t Me.” Add screaming children, a motorcycle repair shop across the street, and the sing-song call of Bahías’s beloved pan de yuca vendor roaming the streets.

So for now, this is life. I work sweaty mornings learning the intricacies of the dry tropical forest, dodge jellyfish in the Pacific in the afternoons, and watch the enormous equator sun melt into dusk every night. I miss cheddar cheese and long pants and filling my glass from the tap and I am always just a little too warm. But when I go to sleep I can hear bats and when I wake up I see tropical forest outside my closet (bedroom?) window. I have been to my baker’s farm and the lady I buy from at the market knows what I always get (4 avocados, $1, and a quarter of a watermelon, 25 cents). I am growing to love this place’s slow, muggy, forgiving chaos.

Maybe it’s okay that I’m not a documenter. I think I would rather live for the growth and the memories and the experience than live for the blog post. To take a representative picture requires that one zoom out, pull away, step back. I think I’m content to stay right here in the thick of it, letting the ocean breeze and Shaggy and the pan de yuca guy’s song roll over me.

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