From One End of the Spectrum to the Other

Carrie Hamilton - Ecuador


April 7, 2013

It is truly amazing how quickly things can change, how suddenly experiences can be over, how unexpectedly new beginnings can appear. This has been so heavily on my mind over the past couple of weeks as my time in Ecuador has taken an unforeseen turn.

Two weeks ago, I moved out of my community of Alto Tena. The move was abrupt and quick, and it happened before I had really even been able to register that I would be leaving. There were lots of tears, both from me and my host family, and I struggled to come to terms with what was happening as I had never once imagined that I would leave Alto Tena over the course of my time in Ecuador.

I’ve recently moved to the small jungle town of Archidona. Alto Tena’s two tiendas pale in comparison to what feels like a big city to me now, and the transition has certainly been a tough one. However, as I’ve come to learn here in Ecuador, flexibility is perhaps the most important quality one can possess while traveling. I went from living in a remote village where I was related to every single person in the community to a small city in a home with just three other people. It often feels as though I am living in a completely different world from the one that I came to love in Alto Tena.

I cannot express enough gratitude towards my family in Alto Tena. They taught me all that I have learned here in Ecuador, and they took care of me in a way that I will never be able to reciprocate. Their selflessness and love towards me is incomparable to anything I have ever experienced and, thanks to them, I will now always feel as though I in some way have a bit of Kichwa blood running through my veins. I still have evenings where my mind escapes to Alto Tena: bathing in the river, playing fútbol barefoot in the field, trekking through the jungle, twisting and turning the night away to Kichwa music, waking up with the sunrise and going to bed with the sunset. The memories and faces of loved ones I have there frequently dance around my mind, and I can only be left with a feeling of utter appreciation for everything that I experienced in Alto Tena.

What I’ve come to realize recently, however, is what a wonderful opportunity I have been given. Though it was unimaginably difficult leaving my community, I am also grateful for what it means. In just one year, I am going to have lived both very rurally in the middle of the jungle and considerably more urbanely in a jungle city. I am going to have lived both in a place where children were my best friends and totally inescapable, and also in a place where I share a house only with adults. I am going to have lived with both a Kichwa family and a Mestizo one, and I will have learned so much from two such different cultures. I will have had the best of both experiences.

I had a wonderfully challenging and unforgettable experience in Alto Tena and often it is difficult not to dwell on the past, not to escape to Alto Tena. But I am savoring this new experience, though it is certainly a different one, and I am doing my best to live in the present. Right now I am here, in Ecuador, surrounded by so many beautiful people and experiences. That is all that really matters.

Carrie Hamilton