When we embark on a new adventure, there are stories we expect to be telling. How we tried new food for the first time maybe, or how we got lost with public transportation. And then there are stories that are so weird that we could have never imagined them to happen. This is the story of how I ended up living in the city with the largest wooden spoon on earth: Paute.
Paute is a calm town in the Andes mountains, located on an altitude of 2200 m, circa 45 minutes east of Cuenca, and my new home for the next seven months. Now you might be wondering why on earth this small town in Ecuador holds a Guinness World Record. Funnily enough, the certificate for the gigantic spoon can actually be found in the restaurant owned by my host family. This restaurant, together with the Instituto Superior Tecnológico American College made the spoon become a reality. The aim of this project is to promote local artisan crafts and create environmental awareness. For the 30 trees that were used for the construction of the spoon, 300 new ones were planted in the Paute region.
My host family and I, five minutes after we met for the first time
The entrance to their apartment came as a little bit of a surprise to me, as in order to get there, you have to pass by the kitchen and the storage hall (and watch out for your head, because the ceiling is very low…) After a delicious meal in the restaurant, we drove out of town, a little up the mountain, to visit the spoon. It is indeed really big, and you can walk on it, which is a lot of fun. They also introduced me to their other projects. As if running a big restaurant isn’t enough, my family also constructed two sustainable houses (powered by the first solar panels in Paute), which they rent out to tourists and foreigners. Furthermore, they own a company that produces herbs made from plants in the region. They showed me their little “factory”, in which they also offer cooking classes, where a part of the profit goes towards sterilising stray dogs in Paute. I was and still am incredibly impressed by everything they have built up for themselves and their community here, and I’m very excited to live with and learn from these inspiring people in the next seven months.
It’s been three weeks now since my first day here, and it feels like much more time has passed. From the very beginning, Patricio, Ruth, Carla and Dani made me feel like I am a totally natural part of their family, not just a visiting guest. Whenever they would go out to do something – and I soon discovered that this family always has some exciting event to go to – they would take me with them. That’s how I ended up in very interesting places in my very first month in Ecuador: We did go to Cuenca a lot, which is the next biggest city from Paute. Often for shopping trips, where we would buy gigantic loads of groceries for the restaurant and a lot of salt for the herbs factory. But there were also more unusual trips: One evening my host dad spontaneously invited me to join him and my host brother for a TV-interview in a restaurant in Cuenca, and so my host sister and I ended up eating dinner while the other two were being interviewed on live-TV for an hour. (That’s also how I made it onto Ecuadorian TV for the first time :’D The lifestream-people filmed the restaurant, which included me and my host sister eating and trying not to look awkward xD).
My host brother and host father being interviewed by Ecuadorian TV about the restaurant
Ceremony for Killa Raymi in Cuenca
Last week, I skipped work for a day and joined my host mother, her cousin and my host sister for a trip to Guayaquil. This city, located near the coast, is the economic center of Ecuador and very different from the “Sierra”, the Andes mountains region which I am used to. I might dedicate a separate blogpost to this adventure though. 😉
The fact that I was always included in everything and that we experienced so much together in such a short time made it much easier for me to adapt to this new environment – I felt at home very quickly. Especially in the beginning, when I didn’t work yet, we spent many evenings sitting together after dinner, talking about Germany, Ecuador, politics, traveling, and just our views on life. But what I loved most about these first days was how much we laughed together. Because we laughed a lot. I actually managed to make jokes with my broken Spanish, and they loved it.
Even though I am still far from fluency, my Spanish has improved a lot since I arrived. Before coming to Ecuador, I had spend a few hours on Rosetta Stone, our GCY language learning program. But other than that, I literally did not speak or know Spanish. However, I have the advantage of knowing Italian and French. I also honestly think that my life so far has perfectly prepared me for this experience. I have learned four other languages before this one, so I am used now to just throwing myself into the process. There is no sense of embarrassment anymore, no overthinking of which words I should use. I just speak, I make mistakes, I let the people around me correct me, and I learn. But not only am I learning Spanish, my host family actually asks me to teach them some German from time to time! My host mother started learning German on duolingo, which I find incredibly cute. I already managed to sneak some German vocabulary into our everyday life – for example, I taught them to say “Gesundheit” when someone sneezes. Sometimes my host mom will also greet me with “Guten Morgen” when I stumble out of my room in the morning. I absolutely love how open and interested my host family are in my culture and my country, and it makes me very happy to share this part of me with them.
My school on the national day of the Ecuadorian flag
As you can see, my life here is filled with everyday adventures and new experiences. I’m slowly learning how to navigate the public transport system, I’m discovering new parts of Cuenca everytime I visit (which I do a lot), I try new fruits whose names I can’t pronounce, I try to say “yes” to as many opportunities as possible, and for a month now, I’ve just been genuinely happy. <3