I would like to start off by thanking everyone SO MUCH for all of the wonderful birthday wishes!! They made my day extra special and helped me to feel like I was still celebrating with everyone at home even though I’m a hemisphere away!
I started my birthday celebrations a day early by going to Baños, a small city 10 minutes outside of Cuenca, to visit my first spa! It was the most relaxing afternoon! The spa was beautiful, too. It was built right into the side of a mountain and all the pools were filled by subterranean hot springs.
Also, I treated myself to my first massage… ever… which was in my very own private cave! There were outside pools of different temperatures and thermal pools underground in another set of caves! My favorite part of the whole experience had to be the mud bath, though. I coated myself with mud from head to toe– and they consider that luxury! All in all, my Baños birthday experience was one of the best things I’ve ever treated myself to!
Thursday, July 29th, was my 20th birthday and I celebrated by having 4 classes. This was the first birthday I’ve ever spent in class! I started the day out with a huge birthday hug from my host mom and in my first class of the day we practiced our song and dance again. It’s starting to look like we actually will be performing it at our goodbye dinner. Expect videos because it should be priceless!
After class, our group leader came in and told us we had a quick meeting to talk about one of our activities the following week so we all gathered in the sun room in the courtyard. All of a sudden everyone started singing and they brought in the most beautiful cake for me! It was such a nice surprise! And it was so great to share my birthday with my new family… all 12 sisters!
After my second class I went home for lunch with my family. When my grandpa found out it was my birthday he literally jumped out of his chair (which surprised me because he’s 97!) to give me a great big hug. I’ve never seen him so excited about anything all summer… and I was here during the World Cup! It was adorable and I was so excited to share a second meal with another family that I’ve discovered in Ecuador.
After some celebratory ice cream with friends we headed to our last charla about Andean musical instruments. It was really interesting to compare the information from the presentation with what we have been learning in our history class. And, as a musician, it was even more interesting to compare the different instruments, sounds, and rhythms of another culture.
We followed up the charla with our make-up dance class because of our teacher’s car towing fiasco from the previous week. We had to distinguish the differences in rhythms of the dances we’ve been learning and then showcase our new found talents!
I was so happy to call my parents after class and they sang to me which made me realize how difficult it was to celebrate a birthday without them! But I had no time to think about that because the party was just getting started at my house! My host family invited some family friends for dinner… 4 priests, actually! So we ate delicious tacos and the priests sang Happy Birthday to me in no less than five languages: Spanish, English, Italian, Polish, and Latin!! It was quite an event!
It was such a great day because I was able to celebrate with my three families: my real family at home, my host family in Ecuador, and the 12 best friends I’ve made this summer.
On Friday the birthday celebrations continued after class because we rented a private bus and drove to Montañita!!! Because this was one of our only free weekends this summer, we decided to take advantage of it and planned a trip to the beach! Montañita is a TINY (think four blocks by three blocks) little beach town on the coast of Ecuador. It was the most amazing drive because we are so used to living in the mountains now, that when we reached the last one, on our way to the coast, we were suddenly looking down on flat ground for miles and miles! It felt like something was seriously missing from the landscape! And then it was instantly warm and we were driving past banana farms left and right! I can’t even begin to tell you how dynamic this country is! The entire time we were on the coast we could not believe we were still in Ecuador! It felt like we had flown to some tropical island!
I wish I would have taken pictures of Montañita to show you because words just can’t describe it. It was so unreal that it reminded me of Disney World because everywhere you looked there were thatched roofs, tiki, and surfer themed decorations. Even the people there fit the theme of the town; there were hippies and surfers galore! When we arrived on Friday night (after a 7 hour drive) we checked into our hostel (One block from the beach and only $10 a night– don’t you love Ecuador?!) and grabbed some dinner. I ended the night by taking in my first views of the Pacific Ocean and falling asleep to the sounds of the waves. How idyllic!
Saturday was one of the few days I’ve gotten to sleep in while being in Ecuador– and I made it to 8am! My internal alarm clock just does not have a snooze button! I spent the morning wandering the beach with a few girls to take in the sights and sounds of the coast of Ecuador. It was the first time we’ve worn flip-flops and tank tops all summer so we considered it our own mini-vacation.
In the afternoon I took surfing lessons! I was so nervous to start but it was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up! Don’t worry Mom, I was very safe the entire time, I promise! It didn’t take too long to get the hang of and soon I was riding the waves out to the shore! It was such an incredible experience and only added to the strong sense of self I’ve been building throughout this summer.
Saturday night after dinner I was finally able to experience the well talked about night life of Montañita. This tiny little 4 block by 3 block beach town is literally known around the world for it’s “lovin’ life” party atmosphere (not to mention the world wide surfing competitions they hold). And when you’re there, what’s not to love about life? With the group of girls I went to a discoteca that matched the rest of the beach-themed world I was in. It was on the second floor of a building with a thatched roof and railings for walls– nothing more. Also, instead of a DJ there was a live band from Colombia playing all sorts of rhythms native to the region. As we were practicing our new moves we could feel the breeze off the ocean and see the waves crash against the shore! It was just something I could never even have dreamed up!
After we were danced out we headed back to the hotel which was made a little difficult by the crowds in the street. Although there are different discotecas along the main street, the music is so loud that the party just ends up spilling out onto the street! We had to fight our way through dancing and flamethrowers before we could fall asleep to the sounds of waves once again.
What a crazy place!
We got to sleep in again on Sunday before saying goodbye to our beach vacation and cramming in our bus for another seven hour drive back to cold and rainy Cuenca. And between the change in altitude and temperature I’ve come down with a pretty brutal cold, but my two days of “summer vacation” were completely worth it!
This week has been our final week of classes and today I took my last exam! I can’t believe I’m completely done with classes for the summer! And in the time I’ve been here I have completed a year‘s worth of Spanish!
This seems odd to say, but I am actually going to miss my classes! My teachers this summer have been wonderful and these classes have helped me understand so much about the history of Ecuador and the culture of the people that live here. This knowledge has helped me enjoy my travel experiences to the maximum.
We only have a few things planned for us for the next few days and then we leave for our week trip to Peru on Wednesday. Although I’m desperately excited to return to the United States to hug all of my friends and my wonderful family, I know that leaving Cuenca will be very, very difficult. Over the past two months here I’ve built a life for myself. We all have. We have daily routines, friendships with the people here, and a comfort that only comes with time. Ripping ourselves away from all this is going to be hard but I’m positive that I will settle into my routines again at school and life will go on. That’s just the way things work. But I will forever remember my summer in Ecuador, made unforgettable by all of the opportunities that I found the courage to take and the experiences I was able to share with some of my greatest friends.
To my dedicated readers– this is just my goodbye to Ecuador. You are still in store for some very exciting blogs from Peru! (Although, if I can’t find a computer you’ll just have to wait to read my blogs until after I get home!) Therefore, although this isn’t a final goodbye, I would still like to say thank you for your continued support and comments. And it is very likely that the next time we communicate, it will be in person!