The last excursion we went on while in Cuenca was a trip to Cajas National Park. There we went hiking and learned about the wild and plant life of the park itself. One thing we learned that I found very interesting was that there is a myth that places like Cajas are thought to be so pristine, untouched, and examples of how the planet looked before people. However, much evidence, such as remnants of charcoal in the earth, speaks to the contrary: people inhabited the land and had a much greater ecological impact then most people realize. The park was beautiful, serene, and very cold!
I mainly spent my last week in Cuenca studying and preparing for the two finals I had last Thursday. On Thursday afternoon, after the exams were over, a girl that we had become friends with took a few of us to Turi, this beautiful lookout on a mountain. The view from Turi was spectacular. I could see all of Cuenca and the surrounding mountains so clearly. After taking pictures of the view we climbed up even higher to do some adrenaline rides. As someone who is not a fan of rides in general, I was not too excited about this. The first ride is a swing type thing. It looks like it is going to fall apart any second and would definitely not be up to code in the US. I watched three of my friends try it first while I contemplated ways to get out of trying it myself. But they were not about to let me chicken out, so up I went. After you are all strapped in, they let the swing go, as you fall fast, with the wind whipping in your face. It was so scary, but once I was able to separate my sense of reason from what was happening to me I was able to take in the amazing view and sense that I was flying over the city – at least when I was able to keep my eyes open! After this the other rides were a piece of cake. They were mostly rope swing type activities, but I definitely felt like I had conquered my fears – at least for the moment!
That night my host family took me to a surprise birthday party for their aunt. I loved meeting their huge family and helping them set up for this surprise for their beloved aunt, who didn’t look phased at all by the large quantity of people standing in her living room when she got home! I think my favorite part of the night was watching my host mom and dad dancing together – possibly the cutest thing I’ve ever seen! It was at the party that I really took in for the first time how much I was going to miss my host family and Cuenca in general.
We had the day on Friday off of activities to pack for our Saturday departure and to do last minute shopping and sightseeing in Cuenca. While out and about, my friend and I watched a group of indigenous people create an image of a woman out of corn, beans, rice and other grains in one of the main squares in the city, while burning incense and setting up for an event. I asked what it was for and a man told me that they were having a ceremony to honor the mothers. Watching this image come together and the care with which the indigenous people worked on it was very inspiring and a complete contrast to anything I have ever seen in the United States. The people clearly had no permit or “legitimate” validation of their right to be there, however the police let it happen, as a crowed of fascinated people stood and watched. The whole thing was very beautiful and spiritual.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to stay for the ceremony because that night the staff at CEDEI, our school in Cuenca, held a goodbye dinner for us. It was very sweet of them to offer words of wisdom and to wish us off well, as well as bittersweet to realize that the first leg of my study abroad experience was ending.
I definitely feel that my time in Ecuador really helped to open me up to new experiences, different cultures, and moments when I feel uncomfortable or outside of my comfort zone. I think that the rest of my time abroad will be much richer and that I will be able to take it all in more fully and with a greater sense of appreciation now that I have had this first experience. I also truly appreciate all the people I met along the way, for making my time in Ecuador so amazing and something I will remember for the rest of my life. My host family especially played a huge role in my experience for graciously opening their home to me, feeding me, talking to me, caring about my wellbeing, and really making me feel at home and like a part of their family as well. It truly was wonderful.
On Saturday morning we flew from Cuenca to Quito, where we spent the day at a hostel. That night we flew from Quito to Lima, Peru, Lima to Santiago, Chile, and, Santiago to Mendoza, Argentina. After many sleepless hours on four different planes, I finally made it to Argentina, where I will spend the next four months approximately. Here’s to what’s to come!