I know I say this every time, but how has it already been over a month since my last blog post? Volunteers say that the days in Peace Corps go by slowly, but the weeks go fast, and I can definitely relate to that. My last post shared the last of my photos from my trip to Brazil, and now I’ve already been to a new South American country – Peru! But I won’t get to that just yet.
When my taxi brought me back to my apartment – after a rough 32 hours in transit that brought me from Argentina to Paraguay to Chile to Guayaquil to Cuenca – my parents and brothers were already in Cuenca eagerly awaiting my return. They had arrived in Guayaquil two days prior, and rode up to Cuenca the day before at the much more reasonable time of 4PM, rather than the 4AM I did (only to wake up at 8AM to get back into the office on time that same day). For my brothers and dad, it was their first time leaving the country since an extended-family cruise to Mexico we took for my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary a decade ago.
Due to the hassle of navigating five people who are a foot taller than the average Ecuadorian across the country on various forms of public transportation, we decided to focus on exploring Cuenca, my site, and the surrounding areas throughout their trip.
The day after they arrived, it was the birthday of my favorite patient at Hogar de Esperanza! She has been with us since February, and made drastic improvements in her health since then – going from a near-comotose state, to bedridden or reliant on our help with a wheelchair, to smiling as she slowly makes her way across the room with a stabilizing walker. To celebrate these milestones, we decided to throw her a birthday party at Minka, the foundation’s newly opened restaurant.
My littlest brother, Noah, came over to help make her a birthday cake while the rest of the family went shopping at the market for any ingredients we had forgotten. She had so much fun stirring the batter with us and meeting my little brother. When we arrived at the party, there were tables filled with other Hogar de Esperanza supporters there to celebrate her turning 34 – a day that the doctors were unsure if she would ever reach not too long ago. Her favorite gift was a small stuffed animal, a cat that reminded her of a beloved pet she’d left behind when she moved to Cuenca.
In the days that followed, I brought my parents around Azuay and the neighboring province of Cañar to learn about campo life, as living in rural Ecuador was such a formative part of my Peace Corps experience.
We visited Ingapirca in Cañar to see the largest Incan ruins discovered so far in Ecuador – the same spot where I celebrated their important festival, Inti Raymi, back in June. Later that weekend we went to Gualaceo, a market town known for their leather-making, and Chortaleg, a little village reknowned for their artisanal jewelry, particularly sterling silver.
Peace Corps volunteers in Ecuador love visiting Cuenca, because we’re known for having the best culinary scene in the country. In general, food in Ecuador is very plain and repetitive, and volunteers crave spice after a month or two spent in site. But right in the center of Cuenca, there’s reasonably priced ($4-8 per plate, expensive for Ecuador but worth the splurge after weeks of subpar $2 almuerzos) Thai, Korean, Italian, American and Mexican cuisine! Living in Cuenca, I feel so spoiled knowing I don’t have to eat a daily seco de pollo if I don’t want to, even if it means I need to watch my minimum-wage $12/day salary very carefully if I want to save up for trips out of site. So with that in mind, I was so surprised when my parents weren’t as excited about the fact that we could eat Thai food – something that was actually spicy!! – here in Cuenca, which is basically unheard of in the rest of the country. But they weren’t interested in any of these hidden gems, rather, they were looking to try Ecuadorian food each day they were here. Once I adjusted my surprise, we had a lot of fun scoping out street vendors or good almuerzo deals.
The rest of the time was spent in Cuenca, enjoying the colonial architecture and wide variety of museums. Cuenca is one of the cultural capitals of Ecuador, with so much to explore. For their final night in the city, I took them up to the community of Turi, perched on the edge of a steep hill overlooking the city for beautiful views as the sun set on their trip to Ecuador. Due to the clouds rolling in, we didn’t get to see a sunset, but we were able to enjoy the view and say our goodbyes to Cuenca.