El Supergringo

Jacob Stern - Ecuador

September 23, 2011

I’ve adopted various nicknames in the past. They have included Blondie, Stretch, and Bird. But in Ecuador, it’s “El Supergringo”.

I stand out here. I am very white, very 6 foot 2, and very Supergringo. I’m the only blonde no matter where I go. My Spanish accent is terrible, and my Spanish is worse. I stand up for all to see on buses, because my long legs don’t fit in the chairs. Even in my family’s car, I have to make sure my head doesn’t go through the roof. In short, most things Ecuadorian are Jake-incompatible.

A fun fact: Quito is ranked “critical” on the Department of State’s foreign danger-meter. We got quite a thorough security debrief from the US Embassy last week. According to them: carry a wallet—you’re pick-pocketed, hail half of the cabs in Quito—you’re kidnapped, run into 2+ loitering men—you’re mugged. Especially if you’re a Supergringo. I definitely rocked a traveler’s purse the week after. It wasn’t exactly a chick magnet, but it got the job done.

Now, I’ve gotten a little more comfy here. It’s not that bad. I retired the traveler’s purse a few days ago. My Supergringo incompatibility is just something I cope with. It’s part of life. And I’m slowly learning. My proudest moment so far: my Mamá told me that I now speak “bastante Español!”

Tomorrow, I kick out to Otavalo—my home for the next half-year—for seven days with my long-term host family. It’s kind of like a test run to make sure that everything is okay. I’m all kinds of excited, and I’m also nervous—the Supergringo feeling is returning. But if the past few weeks have taught me anything, it’s that the first steps are always baby steps. And when I get there, all I have to do is my best.

Jacob Stern