With my stomach lurching at each swell in the waves, jellyfish welts running up my arm, and my skin prickling with cold, I thought, This cannot get worse. The nauseating boat ride back from Isla de la Plata was absolutely the cherry on top to an utterly underwhelming, sometimes hilariously horrible trip to Southern Ecuador with my friend Kai.
Yes, I dared to say it. Underwhelming. Horrible, even. No, you did not just hear me say I learned to enjoy the small things, or that I learned to appreciate the wonderful privilege I have to travel. What a spoiled brat, you are thinking. But don’t you fret–while this may not be filled with the sweet little phrases you want to hear from someone who’s just come back from an “incredible, beautiful, inspiring” trip, it just might be about something much more important than nine days of independent travel.
I’ll admit, I posted the photos on Facebook of gorgeous Cuenca churches, fog-filled landscapes, and mossy Inca ruins. Kai even took over the GCY Instagram for the first few days of our trip. We did this because it seems to be the only acceptable way to document any kind of travel these days.
But the truth of the matter is, we were miserable, bored, or carsick out of our minds for the majority of the time. The Ingapirca ruins didn’t seem quite as spectacular as we had hoped after five sickening hours in a bus (after an 8 and a half hour bus ride from Quito to Cuenca the day before, mind you). Cathedrals, although magnificent, lost their sense of awe after the first three or four times we visited. The lookout over Cuenca didn’t take our breath away like we thought it would. Trekking through dusty dry shrubbery in Isla de la Plata to see a few birds with blue feet hardly seemed worth nine hours from Cuenca to Puerto Lopez.
How can I possibly sound so unenthusiastic? Hasn’t Global Citizen Year taught me anything about gratitude?
It did not take us very long to figure out what was wrong. By the second night, Kai and I both noticed a strange, nagging feeling clouding nearly all of our activities–homesickness. No, I don’t mean nostalgia for the streets of Boston, or for the skyline of Seattle. We realized we truly missed our Ecuadorian homes and families. Situations that left us feeling trapped and desperate back in November, such as sitting for hours eating soup with the family or being asked to attend soccer games every Sunday, suddenly became soaked in the warm light of comfort as we roamed the streets of Cuenca. Instead of gobbling up “gringo food,” we found ourselves craving that which had been served to us a thousand times: seco de pollo, rice with a fried egg, salchipapas. We missed conversations with our siblings, games with the children at our apprenticeships. We wanted to go home.
Now, we could see this as a failure to appreciate the ability Fellows have to independently travel within our program. After all, part of me is still shocked that Kai and I were just allowed to hop on a bus down to Cuenca. However, here’s the deal: I have my whole life to independently travel. I have my whole life to see museums and cathedrals and skylines and blue footed boobies. But I realized that I only have two and a half months left with my Ecuadorian family, and I have no idea when I will be able to come back. They are my Ecuador, not a slew of destinations throughout the country. Finally, I have succeeded in my quest from August; here, I have found a new home, and I don’t think I was aware of that development or its meaning until now. So I won’t waste one minute feeling guilty about not enjoying myself more during this trip; it made me understand the difference between visiting a country and living in a country. One is about places, the other is about long-term relationships. The latter is a hell of a lot harder, I can assure you. These relationships I have were challenging to build, and they will be even harder to leave. For me though, love will always vale la pena.