Every morning I wake up to the sound of dogs barking. Then I hear the blender. After that, there is a light rap on the accordion-like door of my converted office bedroom. My name echoes louder and louder until I realize that my host dad is about to barge in if I don’t make some sound of life.
Once I am truly awake, I make my way to the kitchen where I find a freshly blended tomate de arbol juice and two slices of plain white bread.
To prepare for Quito’s unpredictable weather, I stuff my backpack with a raincoat, alpaca jacket and sunglasses. I then grab my sweetly packed lunch from the kitchen table and shout a few hasta luegos before I’m off to the bus.
After running down the stairs of my four story apartment building, the altitude sickness sets in and I attempt to hide how out of breath I am as I walk to the corner bus stop. “Ecua-time” means that I have no idea when the bus will come, so I casually eavesdrop on conversations to make sure I didn’t miss it. When it finally arrives, I quickly strap my backpack onto my chest for the 25 minute ride to Spanish classes. Squeezed between serious morning faces and heavily guarded purses, I try to make myself fit in, physically and socially. As I look down from my 5’8 frame, I slouch so that the grown man next to me doesn’t feel completely intimidated.
Peering down, I look for the Autolandia car dealership landmark, and make my way through the labyrinth of Ecuadorians. While shouting “permiso,” I step on toes and grab random arms to support myself as the bus jolts to a stop. As half of my body is leaning out of the bus, my outstretched hand drops 25 cents into the hand of the driver, and I jump from the exit, with people oozing out.
After some near death experiences, I manage to weave myself through the overanxious and honk happy cars. Since pedestrians, especially gringos, have no rights when it comes to crossing the street, I always feel a sense of pride when I make it in one piece to the other side. As I walk down the street, I pass the juice man and the corner store that sells 30 cent chocolate bread. Rounding the corner of the school’s street, I brace myself for the two rambunctious and fearless dogs that inhabit the gated houses. Accompanied by lab and collie cacophonies, I again feel a mini victory when I don’t jump in fear. Finally, I make my way to the building where I will be spending the next four hours learning Spanish.
Lunch time after classes consists of yet more bread. Recharged on the carbohydrates, I am ready to explore the enigma that is Quito. Groups of gringos are speckled throughout the city as we attempt to navigate the trole system and haggle with taxi drivers. From hiking mountains for seven hours with zero visibility, to sun bathing on the equator, the endless and diverse adventures always leave me thinking how much more time I wish I had in this big, brash city.
When I return home, my host mom gives me a late night snack around 8 is given– hot chocolate and, you guessed it, two slices of plain, white bread. After I have some broken Spanish conversations, offer my host sister advice about her love life, and have an iMac photo shoot with my four year old host cousin, I am content and ready for bed.
Back home in my sheltered suburban life, I was never woken up by barking dogs and my meals did not consist of plain white bread. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing about my time in Quito.