So first of all, I would like to apologize to everyone for taking so long to write this and not having pictures again. I just got settled into Cuenca (my home for the next 3 weeks) and do not think that the computers here like my camera. So there will not be any pictures until hopefully next time. When I put pictures up, there will be more explanations about the places I’ve visited.
Anyway, we arrived in Cuenca Monday night and met up with our homestay families for the first time. I am staying with a mom, Florencia, dad, Alejandro, and their 20 year old daughter Silvana. They also have a 29 year old daughter named Dunia and her husband Juan who live in Cuenca and has 2 sons, Mateo (6 yrs old) and Dávid (2 yrs old). Their son lives in New York with his wife. The youngest member of their family is a 3 month old puppy named Negro! (because he is black). He is a golden retriever poodle mix and although he is a little dog now, he is supposed to get very big.
My first day or two I was very excited to be here and everything was so new for me. There are a lot of things here that are much different from the U.S. For example, everyone here is a CRAZY driver. There is no such thing as staying in your lane (even though they are obviously marked) and hardly anyone obeys the speed limit. The smallest cars cut off huge buses and trucks without a second thought, and pedestrians never have the right of way, so crossing the street is always an adventure.
One of the biggest, but surprisingly easy transitions has been the food. Breakfast is flexible, but lunch and dinner happen at the same time every day, and if anyone is late the rest of the family starts without them. Lunch is also the biggest and most important meal of the day, and dinner is usually very casual. The hardest thing about the food for me to adjust to is the meat. We have at least one type of meat (sometimes 2 or 3) with every meal, every day. I’ve had at least 8 different types of pork, and none of the meat has been prepared in the same way. We normally have eggs and some kind of meat, but today it was only a ham panini and a banana. I like meat, but have definitely had to adjust to eating it 3 times a day. Thankfully, my digestive system has been great so far this trip and I have not had any problems with it (unlike several people here). I can only hope that I keep having the luck that I have had so far.
Probably the weirdest difference (and maybe the grossest) is that we are not allowed to throw toilet paper in the toilet. The sewage system here is not able to handle toilet paper, so everywhere has a small garbage can next to the toilet to throw used toilet paper in. Yeah, kind of gross, but I’ve gotten used to it. I have also found myself having to hold it in at a few different stops because some public baños charge up to 30 cents to use them, and other places may also charge up to 15 cents for toilet paper!
However, of all the differences, the hardest thing for me to adjust to is the technology here. Everything from the showers to the internet can be confusing and frustrating at times. Most families here do not have hot water heaters like in the US and have either a switch that must be turned on for hot water or a certain way to turn the shower knob to get hot water. At my house, if something electrical other than the shower is on, the water will only be luke warm. Using computers here is also very different. There are very few places that I can actually use a computer for free (my family does not have one) and the only reason I can use them is because I am a student. To use public computers it costs at least 70 cents an hour. The good part is there are cabinas (internet cafés) that the public can use everywhere. The keyboards here are also very different. The letters are all in the same place, but none of the punctuation marks are in the same place (other than the periods and commas), and it took me about 3 days to figure out how to make the @ sign. On top of this, the internet is very temperamental. It is not uncommon for the internet to randomly shut down for an hour or to be unable to access certain pages. It makes me realize how lucky we are in the US to have the technology that we do and that we have so many of these reliable resources.
One change in my life here that has been delicious is that I have had ice cream almost every day here. I am now certain that Ecuador has the best ice cream/gelato in the world. Earlier this week I tried avocado flavored ice cream (that’s right, avocado) for the first time, and it was actually unbelievably good. Plus, all the food here is cheaper than I could have imagined. A double scoop ice cream cone only costs 60 to 75 cents and a full meal usually costs less than 4 dollars (I had a personal pizza that was about 11 inches for 3.50). The most expensive meal that I have seen here was at the equator where it was 18 dollars for Ecuador’s finest delicacy: cuy, aka guinea pig.
During my first 4 days here my world has been pretty much turned upside down. Everything that I have experienced so far has been much different than I could have possibly imagined, but it has all been amazing at the same time. The people here have unique traditions that I have not heard of anywhere and the country is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Though I do miss home, I am excited that I get to spend 2 more months here and find out even more about this amazing country.