This past week was filled with adventures that stretched all across Ecuador while also deepening a few of my friendships and understanding of the community right here in my site. To start off my week, I hitched a ride in el camioneta del Municipio with a few local kidney dialysis patients (they have to travel 4-6 hours roundtrip three days a week to get the medical attention they need, and the local government only provides transport for them one of those days) to Tena, shaving off my trip from three hours in the bus to just an hour and a half in a private pickup truck. I quickly switched to a second bus, headed towards Riobamba, for my cluster meeting. Peace Corps arranges these biannual meetings for groups of volunteers living in relatively the same area – my group includes all of the volunteers from the Amazonia, which is only seven in total, as well as a dozen volunteers living in the Central Sierra zone. I was especially excited for this trip because my closest friend from training, Charlie, would be in the same cluster as I am, even though we’re normally a 10 hour bus ride away from one another!
The cluster meeting itself wasn’t much – just receiving our annual flu shot, safety reminders, and meeting the other volunteers in our area – but having the opportunity to be reunited with the volunteers from my training group and meet new TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) volunteers who live nearby made all those hours in the bus worth it. We stayed in the historical district of Riobamba and explored all the colonial architecture, then celebrated Halloween together on the first day, then spent the second day feasting on a rare meal of Mexican food before heading back to our sites.
The second day, there was no way I could make the bus route all the way back to my community in one afternoon, so I stayed at the halfway point with a fellow volunteer near Tena the next night.
When we woke up the following day it was one of what feels like Ecuador’s weekly feriados or holidays/festivals. This one was called Dia de los Oscuros (Day of the Darkness) in my community, but is officially named Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the Deceased). To celebrate, we woke up early and headed to the iglesia for mass with Daniel’s host family. Their dog followed us there and it was hard for me to stifle my laughter watching this huge dog take a nap under the pews, go up to sniff the priest, and look for someone to pet him when everyone kneeled down to pray. But none of the locals seemed concerned, so it must be normal behavior in their pueblo of about 50-60 people.
Once the service ended, we were all given traditional colada morada – a traditional hot drink on this day made with black corn flour, panela, naranjilla, babaco, pineapple, blackberries and strawberries – with a side of wawas – Kichwa for baby, a bread roll formed and decorated in the shape of a baby, and stuffed with cheese.
I headed back to my site pretty quickly after that because we had our own festival to celebrate!
Friday and Saturday encompassed the annual River Festival, which I was especially excited for because it would be my first time out on the water here for white water rafting. Once I got there, I counted my lucky stars that I’d been doing Kayla Itsine’s BBG workout for the past few weeks, because the courses were hard! I’d signed up for the obstacle course, or gyncana, as well, but it used every reserve of strength I had just to finish it. After climbing up tire ladders, jumping off rocks into the water, swimming, running, army-crawling, we had to traverse a loose tightrope about 50 feet across the water. The entire time, I was 75% sure I was going to pass out. But with the sound of my entire town cheering me on ringing in my ears, I just barely made it across, collapsing in the sand on the other side.
Luckily, my rafting team faired much better. Even though we were the only team of 4 women and 2 men – the rest had the inverse – we finished the two day competition in a close second second place. As compensation, we won $100 to split among the team members (which worked out to a perfect $15 and one Pilsner each) and a handmade bamboo medal as a keepsake.
If I thought that after all of this, Sunday was going to be a day of rest, I was very much mistaken. I woke up early to head to the market and pick out the ingredients for a fresh apple pie I’d made plans with two of my friends to bake earlier this week. The pumpkin pie had been such a hit the week before, I wanted to give them a comprehensive understanding of my favorite fall desserts. Her family had lived in Spain during Ecuador’s economic downturn, so I also had the opportunity to try a delicious traditional Spanish meal for lunch before sharing our apple pie for dessert. In the middle of our afternoon, my counterpart texted Natalia and I – “Want to go kayaking?” Of course we did.
One quick change later, we found ourselves laughingly suited up in helmets, life jackets and thick kayaking “skirts” at the local pool. White water kayaking lesson number one: what to do when your kayak flips. For two full hours, we had three personal kayaking guides train us on how to turn a completely submerged kayak upside down with just our hips, arms, and the tip of a fellow kayak, a life jacket or our paddles. It was exhausting work, but I felt such a thrill of accomplishment when I managed to pop back up and breathe again.
All in all, I ended the week feeling so lucky to be placed with this community as my site and excited for the months to come.