Like many things in my life, I look back on the ritual family outings I had with the Sinche-Cuasquer family with a small smile on my lips and the realization that, at the time, I didn’t fully see the importance of those moments. Then, they were just a fun way to see different parts of Ecuador and leave the mundane structure of everyday life in Imbaya behind. Now, I realize that they were ripe not only with hilarious moments and cherished memories, but lessons as well.
The members of my host family are very hardworking people. Monday-Saturday means work, but when the weekends roll around, they trade in their structure for adventure, small and big. Some days, that meant simply going into the city of Ibarra to shop for one thing or another, perhaps new place mats for the kitchen table or a textbook. Other times, we would drive to the stunning lake fifteen minutes outside of the city to sleep along the verdant green banks, play games, talk and soak up the view of the tall green mountains kissing the sky, and eat delicious fried fish. But some days we would go on bigger, all day excursions and those were my favorite.
Those trips, often involving going to another province (imagine driving to another county, or state), inherently held a lot of mystery. Plans in my household were often more vague the bigger they were. I would often just be told a phrase: we’re going to a river 4 hours away, we’re going to the beach, we’re going fishing in the south. I had no clue what those things meant, but I repeated those phrases giddily to myself like a child chanting a promise of candy.
Yet, as we embarked on these journeys, I would often find myself comparing my experiences and perceptions of my life in the US with my new life in Ecuador. Back in the US, family trips, often just with my nuclear family, were highly organized and had a clear objective or activity. Plus, the journeys were always rushed so we would have more time to do said activity, like being allotted two bathroom breaks for the six hour drive to the mountains, giving us more time to ski. But, that could not have been more different with my Ecuadorian family. They always travelled in a large herd with the extended family, with a minimum of at least three families, and they lacked that sense of urgency that was a staple of my travel in the US.
With them, the journey would oftentimes become the adventure. As we hurtled along the highway, driving to the coast or to the river, there would be constant stops. Stops because someone had found a guava tree suitable for climbing or a fruit stand with apples as red as roses, and gunabanas that looked like gems. Like clockwork, the caravan would move to the side of the road, and we would collect or buy whatever had caught our eye. While we ate, there would be laughter and jokes. Other times, we would stop because there was something that someone wanted to show me, a waterfall, perhaps, or a particularly beautiful view on top of the mountains. As the others climbed out, forced to stop so my host family could show me something, there never was impatience or annoyance in their eyes. They wouldn’t reach for their phones, or into their pockets to find something to distract themselves. Instead, they too, would stand beside me to drink in the beauty of the moment, even if they had already seen it before.
Now, as I sit here writing this, I realize that the differences in travelling also reflects the cultural differences between the US and Ecuador. Things here in the US are often fast-paced and rushed. People can appear desperate to arrive from point A to Point B, whether literally as they travel or metaphorically as they move through their careers or educations. Already, as I adjust back to life in the US, I can already sense that subtle change and feel that routine urgency. Yet, as I’ve learned through my time travelling in Ecuador, sometimes the greatest joys and most remarkable moments are found when someone is willing to be side tracked and take pit stops. That the moments nibbling fruit and savoring one’s surroundings are just as essential as getting there.” And the best