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The Spanish version of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” just wasn’t doing
it for me. It carried the same tune but translated to “If you’re really
happy, clap like this.” And yet I kept glancing up from my phone, where I
was almost done reading Más allá de mí, to watch the movie the bus
conductor had put on. A family sang as they sped down the highway in a
shiny red minivan. It’s a road trip movie, I realized, and tried to look
To my chagrin, when the bus pulled into the terminal in Quito, I had spent
more time watching that ridiculous movie, Full Speed, than reading my book.
But it was okay, because I had until midnight to bum around in the airport
waiting for Mom’s flight to arrive.
At twelve, I moved from the comfort of the food court to the waiting area
at international arrivals. Every time someone came through customs wearing
red, I did a double-take. But when my mom finally appeared, she was in
blue, having shed her red sweatshirt on the journey down. I scrambled to
unfold the sheet of paper on which I’d written “Mom,” and then I hugged
her, and then I cried.
It was 1:00 a.m. by the time we got to our Airbnb in Quito, but I wasn’t
tired. I heaved Mom’s suitcases onto the bed to get out toothbrushes and
toothpaste, and I couldn’t help but explore everything else she’d brought.
As promised, there were candy cane Joe-Joe’s, the seasonal favorite cookie
from Trader Joe’s. Three bags of chocolate chips. Dark chocolate sunflower
seed butter cups, peanut butter for me, cookie butter for the host fam.
And hummus and almond milk.
I was giddy. I’d assumed that those refrigerated liquids would have to wait
till I got back. But Mom had brought a box of individual hummus cups (with
an ice pack) and a thing of shelf-stable almond milk. The best part wasn’t
the food itself; it was that she’d gone through the trouble of bringing it,
just to make me happy.
For the first time in forever, we climbed into bed together.
[image: img_0622edit] Teleférico
Tuesday was sunny, maybe a little too warm. Mom was surprised by people
coming on the bus to sell ice cream and chips. I wasn’t. We rode the
Teleférico up a mountain, giving us a broad view of Quito. After that, we
walked along the highway and caught a crowded bus to Mitad del Mundo, the
monument slightly off from the equator.
[image: img_0716edit] Mitad del Mundo
Mom was a trooper. She moved slowly, stopping frequently to catch her
breath. It was her first day at 9,300 ft, and she’d been really sick right
before coming. I didn’t mind going slowly. I would’ve been happy to walk
backwards as long as we were walking together.
Early in the morning of the 23rd, we headed to Baños. I’d planned on
walking half a mile to catch a city bus that’d take us to the bus station,
but our Airbnb host did not approve. “Dos mujeres, se roban todo,” she
warned, advising us to take a taxi at least as far as the bus stop. The sun
came up as our bus wove through Quito, and we boarded a mostly-empty bus to
Baños. Full Speed went up on the screen. I cringed.
Once we sat down at the terminal in Baños and logged onto the wifi, I
realized I’d forgotten my carton of almond milk on the bus windowsill. I’d
already drank more than half, but the disappointment brought me to the
brink of tears. I told the guy at the Amazonas booth that I’d forgotten
something—I felt real silly admitting that it was a beverage—but after
cleaning the bus, the driver brought it to the terminal. It’s the little
Swinging at Casa del Arbol
Over the course of a day and a half in Baños, we hit up La Casa del Arbol,
took a bus tour of waterfalls, went ziplining, and bobbed around in a warm
pool. I introduced Mom to some classic Ecuadorian foods: llapingachos,
mashed potato patties; tostados, crunchy toasted corn; mote, a flavorless,
squishy corn that neither of us really like; and fried plantains, which are
always a hit. Mom stopped to catch her breath and we ran into five fellows
from the south.
Roof dogs or woof dogs?[image: img_0909edit] Pailón del Diablo
On Friday, we took the bus to Cuenca. Full Speed was on again, and by that
point, I could talk along with the characters. The bus almost left me
behind at the lunch stop when I ran inside to pee. My mom was halfway down
the aisle when I got on. I’d told her to shout, “¡Mija! ¡Mi hija!” but I
got there just in time to spare her the scene.
In the back of the bus, where we had space to spread out, bumps launched us
out of our seats. I insisted that it wasn’t as bad in the front of the bus.
Mom said it wasn’t any different. The schoolgirl sitting in front of me
agreed with my mother! I felt betrayed and went to sit up front.
We found a hotel room in Cuenca and walked there from the terminal, pausing
so Mom could rest and I could buy five avocados for a dollar. After
checking in, I went for a short run around the block, showered, and led Mom
to a little vegan place with waffles and sandwiches and desserts. It was
the first of many good meals in Cuenca.
[image: img_0942edit] A feisty little bird outside Pumapungo
On Saturday morning, we walked to Museo Pumapungo, hitting up a pharmacy
for antibiotics for Mom beforehand. We loved all the ancient little
figurines. There were some Inca ruins in the backyard, and a beautiful
park, even though we had to climb a bunch of stairs to get back up from it.
We hit up a vegetarian place for lunch. I had seitan. It was great. It was
too late to try to go to Ingapirca, so we took a bus tour of Cuenca. For
the first part, we had the whole bus to ourselves, and the guide came up
top to give me her spiel in person. For every ten of her words, I gave Mom
one or two in English.
Shout-out to Paola for pointing out the heart[image: img_1040edit] Sunset
We went to Ingapirca on Sunday, and it turned out that admission was free
because it was the last Sunday of the month! That may have been even more
exciting than the fact that we were at Inca ruins.
[image: img_0996edit] Ingapirca (with matching fanny packs—get on our level)
All the while, I was seeing these new places with the perspective of
someone who’d spent five months in suburban Quiroga, two hours north of
Quito. Mom was seeing Ecuador for the first time. She noticed the litter
and asked about the signs on all the buses, while I was surprised to find
many fewer roof and street dogs outside of Imbabura. The buildings and the
indigenous dress were different in the south. I said “we” to refer to my
host family and called their home “my house.”
By 6:00 on Monday morning, we were on a bus to Quito. I was willing the
driver to put on Full Speed, but he didn’t. The trip was supposed to take
10 hours, but just as we got near the city, we stopped. Protests against
the increase in gas prices had blocked the road. The bus had a bathroom,
which is rare, and I had the driver unlock it so the women could pee. (The
guys had already relieved themselves on the side of the road.) For an hour
and fifteen minutes, we sat. Some people got off the bus and walked. I
spread peanut butter on stale bread and looked out the window. I was
surprisingly relaxed, given that my plan was dissolving, but there was
nothing I could do.
It was dark and raining by the time we got to the terminal. After a
three-hour bus ride and a $4 taxi ride, I was home. Mom could finally see
everything I’d told her about: the roof dogs, the cow poop plastered to the
streets, the bakeries and fruit stores on every corner. But it was dark,
and we were spent. We went straight to bed. Somehow, for the entire trip, I
had become the bigger spoon.
[image: bus] On a loooong bus ride
On Tuesday morning, while the washing machine did its job, Mom, Paola, and
I sat outside. Paola seemed delighted. Mom was feeling better. I translated
between the two of them.
That evening, after a mini tour of Cotacachi and Ibarra, we made empanadas.
I had Mom film me so I’ll remember how to make them, since there’s no
written recipe, and so I can look back and see little Alizeé helping me mix
the dough. I had two brilliant ideas that night: putting chocolate chips in
the banana empanadas, and making some with leftover beans. Paola makes a
mean bean, and even though the girls don’t eat a ton of beans when they’re
part of a regular meal, they were fighting over the last bean empanada.
Having my mom there was so tender. Alanis and Alito gave her two little
Kichwa dolls. Alizeé called her “mamá de Macy.” I braided all three girls’
hair with some nice brushes that Mom brought them. (I can’t believe I’ve
lived with them for five months and had never French braided their hair
The coolest thing was just being with my mom again. I didn’t have to switch
from wifi to data so we could keep talking; a poor internet connection
couldn’t break up our conversations. We talked about the same old things
and told each other about our dreams. Our only obligations were to be with
[image: empanada] Making empanadas
On Wednesday, Mom’s last day here, I took her to Otavalo. Famous for its
outdoor market, Otavalo was the place I was most excited to visit when I
was put in the northern hub. It’s a 20 minute bus ride from my front door,
and no matter how many times I go, I always forget exactly how to get to
the market. Mom and I held hands and wove down the sidewalk. Talking about
the previous night, Mom asked, “You didn’t hear the rooster?” I told her I
never have. “I’ll wake you up tonight,” she said, and then we turned to
face each other and started laughing and crying and hugging. That night,
I’d be in bed in Quiroga, and she’d be waiting for her flight back home.
[image: img_20190130_125217213_hdr.jpg] We found a guy sawing through coins
at Plaza de Ponchos and got ourselves some old Ecuadorian sucres
After a delicious lunch of homemade lentil burgers (during which Mom
exclaimed, “Even the rice is good!”), Alanis played us a song on her
violin, and Mom and I were Quito-bound once more. We leaned on each other
as the bus wove up the mountains. I translated lines from the movie that
was on—not Full Speed!—and even though we couldn’t hear all of the audio
over the sound of the tires (and Mom wouldn’t have understood it, anyway),
we managed to follow the plot pretty well.
And then we were at the terminal, and I was leading Mom to the airport
shuttle and telling the driver she didn’t speak Spanish but needed to go to
international departures, and we were crying and hugging and taking
selfies, and then I was walking away to buy my ticket back to Otavalo and
then running back to the shuttle because I’d forgotten to give Mom her
leftover empanadas and lentil burgers. It was quick. It was public. It was
goodbye, again. But this time, it was only for 73 days.
[image: img_20190127_182103502] Me and Mom in Cuenca