The weather. Quito is in the 50s-70s year-round, which I think is just about perfect. Not too hot. Not too cold (I don’t own anything warmer than a spring jacket). And if I want more summery weather, the coast, with its 80- to 90-degree heat and humid ocean air, is only 5 hours away.
Locro de papas
Soup. Lunch always starts with a bowl of soup. There are hundreds of different soups here. I start to go through withdrawal if I don’t eat soup for a few days. Guess I’ll be cooking lots of soup in the U.S.
Almuerzos. As I said, lunch starts with soup. Then comes a main entrée of protein, rice, and probably some sort of salad. Then a small desert. And fresh juice. And probably coffee if you want it. All of this costs $2 or $3. These hearty home-style meals are such a great value. If I find a $3 lunch in the U.S., it’s probably going to come in a greasy fast food bag.
Cheap taxis. Most of my taxi rides in Quito cost a couple bucks. Inconceivable in the U.S.
Seeing the Andes every day. Sure it will be nice to live somewhere with a little more oxygen, but I won’t see views like this every time I leave my house. I love the mountains. They make my heart fill with awe at how grand this world of ours is.
Buen provecho. It’s common in smaller restaurants to tell other patrons to enjoy their meal, even if they don’t know one another. I love that strangers wish each other “buen provecho.”
Tropical fruits. I’ve discovered so many new fruits here. Uvillas. Pitahaya. Granadilla. Tomate de arbol. Taxo. Naranjilla. And other slightly less exotic fruits, like mango and passion fruit and pineapple, are common, fresh, and affordable. So delicious.
Latin music. It’s everywhere: in stores, on buses, blasting out of cars and apartments. My day is filled with a soundtrack of salsa, bachata, merengue, cumbia, vallenatos, pasillos, Latin pop, and reggaeton. I know I can listen to this in the Twin Cities, but it won’t be so prevalent.
Greeting strangers. One of my earliest impressions during my first week in Ecuador happened when I was staying at the Embassy’s temporary apartment while looking for my own housing. I was leaving the complex and a little boy ran by me on the sidewalk. He was maybe 6 or 7, and obviously in a hurry. But he still said “Good afternoon” when he passed me. I thought that was exceptionally polite, especially for a little kid. But I have since learned that people greet each other more than I am used to, especially in more rural areas. But even in the big city, if you enter an elevator with someone already in it, you’d better say hello (and “see you later” when exiting). Getting in a taxi? The first words out of your mouth better be “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” or “Good evening,” even before asking the fare or stating an address. Got a quick question for a sales clerk? Same thing. I really had to work hard to remember this, and STILL forget sometimes. But as someone who tends to focus on tasks rather than on relationships, this custom has been really good for me.
No seasonal eating. Seasonal eating seems to have really become a thing in the U.S. And I think it’s a good idea – eating food that is in season means it tastes better, is fresher, and was probably grown locally or shipped shorter distances. But I realized that this concept doesn’t exist in Ecuador, because everything is always in season here. If I want strawberries in November, I can get them. If I want a tomato in January, I can find a juicy ripe red one. Do Minnesotans even eat produce in February??? Guh.
Easy travel. It’s pretty cheap and easy to travel around this compact (and DIVERSE!) country. I’ve gotten to visit a lot of great places here: Tena and Yasuni in the Amazon region; Quilotoa, Vilcabamba, Baños, Cuenca, and Bolivar province in the Andes, and the Galapagos islands. There are so many beautiful, fun, and interesting places I will miss having in my backyard.
Physical contact. Greetings in Ecuador are a small kiss on the right cheek (or a brief cheek-to-cheek touch), often accompanied by a small hug or touch on the back. When I go back to the U.S. and shake hands to greet people, or, more likely, just smile and nod after an introduction, it feels incredibly cold to me. Now I understand what my Latino students complained about when they came to the U.S. – it’s cold. I’m really going to miss these warm greetings. I don’t know what I’m going to do, since I have such an overwhelming urge to kiss everyone hello or goodbye now.
Terms of endearment. Sure we have these in the U.S. (hon, sweetie), but they’re just soooooooo gosh darn prevalent in Ecuador, particularly on the coast. I love that sales clerks and taxi drivers call me mi niña (my child), mi hija (my daughter), señorita (miss), mi princesa (my princess), mi preciosa (my precious), mi reina (my queen) or mi vida (my life). I once got this text message from an admirer: “Hola mi reina como q chevere q viene esta semana mi vida y q tiempo se queda ha mi princesa asi q podemos salir cuando llegue si y como esta q hace mi princesa soy alexander mi amor este es mi otro numero mi vida y disculpe xq recien le escribo si corazon bello un beso mi vida.” That’s a lot of affection squeezed into a few lines of text.
The salsa scene. In December 2010, when I was still in Turkey and preparing to move to Ecuador, I made a list of resolutions for myself. One of the goals I wrote in my journal was “I definitely want to find a place in the salsa community!! My goal is to have friends to go out dancing with, help me practice, and improve as a salsa dancer.” And I can proudly and affectionately say that I accomplished this. I really have. I can go to any salsa club in Quito and be confident that I will know at least one person there. I know a lot of salseros. Most of my friends are salseros (whom I will miss dearly). I’M a salsero. And while I know that there are lots of opportunities for salsa dancing in the Twin Cities, and I look forward to getting involved in THAT community as well, I also doubt that it will be the same. From what I’ve seen in the metro area salsa clubs, falta sabor. I will fiercely miss salsa dancing in Quito.
Estephy. Man, this one is hard. This one… it encapsulates just about everything on this list, and more. When I first came here, I noticed that people often shortened my name to Stephy (pronounced Estephy with the Spanish accent). It originally struck me as odd, since I hadn’t been called that since kindergarten. But I learned that Ecuadorians are quick to diminutize names to show affection, and I now love this. Almost everyone here calls me Estephy. I no longer feel that it’s childish – I find it endearing. In fact, I feel like Estephy represents the Ecuadorian me, as if I now have two versions of myself. Estephy speaks fluent Spanglish. Estephy rides the bus and negotiates with taxi drivers and shops in markets and likes hearing Latin music everywhere. Estephy takes time to greet people and says hello with a kiss on the cheek. Estephy wears leggings and skinny jeans and large earrings. Estephy is flexible with ambiguity and sometimes a little late. Estephy speaks with Quiteño intonation. Estephy loves to eat fanesca and encocado and ceviche and chulpi chochos and empanadas de viento and mote con chicharron. Estephy has a lot of friends in Ecuador (voy a extrañarlos una bestia!). Estephy whips her hand to show emotion. Estephy dances like a Latina. And I feel like when I move back to the U.S., I will go back to being Stephanie. Estephy will always be a part of me, but I worry that she will fade away. In Ecuador, Estephy has thrived. In the United States…quien sabe?
“Familiarity does not breed contempt. On the contrary the more familiar it is the more rare and beautiful it is. Take the quarter in which one lives, it is lovely, it is a place rare and beautiful and to leave it is awful.”
— Gertrude Stein