Some mini Ecua-adventures

Jacob Stern - Ecuador

December 30, 2011

Dear United States,

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve blogged. So here’s my attempt to make up for lost time: seven different 100-word slices of Ecuadorian life.

1. My new “hermanos”, or siblings, and the dog, took me exploring by the small river behind our house. I slipped on Vans and a sweater, and headed out. We slid, crawled, and hopped our way through the bank that was covered in forests of “espinados”, or thorns. Everything was in a different shade of green. They introduced me to banana trees, giant beetles, and waterfalls. And I almost tripped face-first into the riverbed at least 3 times. I guess that’s what I get for thinking Vans would be sufficient for an adventure with a 10 year old in Ecuador.

2. Initially I sat in front of our car, sandwiched between my Papí and Mamá. They told me to, and I did so out of politeness. I guess they value that seat the same way we value “shotgun” in the U.S. But I actually prefer riding in back. The combination of a janky stick-shift, potholes, and mangy dogs makes for a wild ride. Also—by law, cars have the right of way over people. We give a courtesy honk as we blow past stop signs at 45 mph. And as we swerve through town, sometimes I can’t help but pretend I’m snowboarding.

3. I usually pass out after dinner, 8-10 hours of sleep is necessary to make it through the next day. But before I go to bed every night, my mamá makes me “Aguita de Oregano”, or Oregano tea. It helps my tummy, so I drink all of it. One night, with mug in hand, they cracked open my “City of San Francisco” coffee-table book. I talked about Haight-Ashbury, language, and family. And after laughing and trading stories for about an hour, my sister said, “Jake es bilengual!”. And even though I didn’t necessarily get to go to bed on time that night, I sure slept well.

4. I’ve just spent the last 20 hours between my bed and the toilet, guessing which of last week’s street-ceviche lunches caused the revolution currently occurring in my stomach. Luckily, my mom practically packed me a portable pharmacy for every possible  gastro-disaster while in Ecuador. We labeled each canister by hypothetical situation. Some examples: “bad burrito”, “big, bad burrito”, “Huston, we have a problem!”, and “stomach revolution, 1-2 days”. I’m considering taking “stomach revolution, 1-2 days”, however it technically hasn’t been between 1-2. But if the bug wakes me up at 2 a.m. like last night, I won’t think twice.

5. Luckily, I eat everything—if it casts a shadow, it’s game. My favorite sushi is eel and roe, and when I go to French restaurants it’s escargot all the way. Here, however, I really stretch my palate when dinner is pig tripe, hide, and feet with a side of sardines. So here’s a trick I learned: imagine you’ve been served a foreign delicacy prepared with care by Gordon Ramsey. “What’s that mate? You don’t fancy the Chancho especial? Well you’re just bloody tasteless. Get the @%#* out of my kitchen!”. Do that, and I swear food begins to taste better.

6. Saturday, Day 6. 6:30 a.m. Mi mamá banged on my door: “Would you like to see us kill the pig?”. I leapt out of bed: “Of course!”. We trucked to the community slaughterhouse, squealing pig in the back. We kill it, and flamethrow the hair off. Back home, the other five members of our household gut, skin, butcher, and fry the pork into delicious Fritadas. Half is saved for meals, and the rest is sold. This is tradition, a business, and a family activity. And for the next several months, this will be a sunny start to my Saturday mornings.

7. La Caminata de Mojanda Arriba is a 35 mile pilgrimage that commemorates Otavaleños who used to march 90 km to Quito before Ecuador installed roads. So yesterday at 4:30 a.m. we began out ascent up the Andean mountains. We scrambled up canyons covered with thorns and thistle, roughed it through dirt roads, and overtook 13,000-foot mountains. It took 12 hours, but I crossed the finish line. As I write this I’m confined to my bed, dying for an icepack, and flipping though photos to make sure it was all real.

Please stay posted! More is coming in a bit.

Jacob Stern