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Today is my last day in Ecuador.

…Wait, ¿¿¿Qué???  How did that happen?!  While I have been soaking up sun and wandering markets and letting español plant itself surely in my brain, four and a half months passed.  Right under my nose.  Like my constant ache for home and simultaneous love for this country could continue forever, side by side confounding and delighting me.  I want to cry when I think of how joyous it will be to reunite with my family and friends, and I want to cry when I think of how much I will miss the places and people I´ve known here.  I already miss many of them, more than I imagined was possible.  I will miss being able to get on or off an interprovincial bus at any point along the highway (forget bus stations!), and the whirl of raucous music bumping in time with the curves and jolts in the journey.  I will miss the steep scent of eucalyptus that cuts through the Panamerican highway smog and inundates me, welcoming me back to the Sierra.  The rows of roasting chickens in windows along every street, and the way they stealthily pique my appetite even when out of sight.  The sight of indigenous women in ponchos and felt hats, colorful and daring amidst the hubbub of modern Quito.  A warm sea.  One-dollar golden coins jingling in my pockets.  Machetes and banana trees and being told I´m linda by random passerby.

I will miss making fleeting decisions and acting them without needing to consult anyone.  What I look forward to, though, is having people I love and trust to consult, when needed.  I look forward to reliable hot showers and free, clean public bathrooms.  To not worrying about only having $20 bills that no one can break.  To exercising my precise usage of the English language, and to fresh greens and salads at my disposal.  I look forward to having a cell phone and a computer, and to spinning my gorgeous nieces until we´re dizzy and giggling.  I can´t wait to show you more photographs and try to express all that I´ve been unable to in writing.  It will be good.  It will be, and has been, all very good.

All this time to myself has given me an opportunity to brainstorm– probably far too much– about what to Do With My Life.  The world works in myriad, mysterious, marvelous ways, and I can´t say that I have a much firmer idea about how to continue than when I arrived here.  I might still need to study more (in Academia) to satisfy my tenacious search for understanding.  I will certainly be practicing more agriculture and participating in local food movements– what I see as solutions to un montón de problemas that we face.  No matter what, the fact that I often catch myself thinking in Spanish will serve some good.  De ley voy a seguir con todo que me gusta, y de ley seguir encontrando lo bueno más y más cada año.

I named this blog from a song I wrote late last year: ¨I´m the shape of milk pouring, steady, steady…¨  Funny, now, that the shape of milk has shaped my many paths during my stay here in Ecuador.  Fresh milk first flowed into my life at the FBU farm, every morning at sunrise, and made its place in my heart (and stomach) during my stay with Marco.  It has made instant coffee delicious and ¨boring¨ queso fresco ever-distinct and tasty.  What strikes me now is that it is dearly missing from my homeland.  Even whole fat organic milk can´t compare with that glob of yellowish cream floating atop a pot of boiled milk from a nearby vaca.

Maybe I´ll end up raising cows and providing you all with the sweetness of that daily froth.  In the meantime, as paisajes and avenidas fade to memory and my body adjusts to clean tap water and burritos, I´ll be saying a long, loving adiosGracias.

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I went to the coast, again.  Got swept away by a gorgeous sincere friend, his ¨Chilumbiano¨ friend and employee, a Yankee turned Ecuadorian, an English couple now living in Mindo and their visiting friend, a German-Ecuadorian woman who runs a hostel in Mindo, and two goofy guys from the same town.  All in all there were ten of us, plus the driver of our little van and his wife.  From Mindo, we took off Sunday afternoon and made it to the ocean at sunset.  Feet in the Pacific again, I was thinking ¨Why did I ever leave the coast?!¨  We slept in Canoa, that little town I stayed in earlier this year, for two nights, lazing in the sun all day and exploring the critter-covered rocks down the beach.  I assumed, with some trepidation, that we would be partying all week since this group tends to meet up at Armando´s bar on the weekends.  We stayed tranquilo, though, until we got to Montañita on Tuesday.  That town is renowned for its alternative, festive, party scene (not to mention its killer surfing waves), and the minute we arrived I could tell why.  There were jugglers and artisans lining the main street, bars and restaurants and hostals at every corner, and loads of clothing and surf gear shops.  

 

Outside ¨Pais Libre¨ Hostal in Canoa with Armando.

 For the first time since I arrived in Ecuador, I stayed out well past my bed time dancing and gallivanting around with Armando, Sergio (the Chilumbiano), Marco (the American-Ecuadorian who tended to play the role of padron), and whoever we happened to run into on the street.  I practiced my poi with some guys that seemed to have been there for years, ended up with a panama hat on my head all night (some of you know how I get with hats), and couldn`t stop dancing despite the suffocating heat.  I wanted it to happen again the next night… but times like that can`t be anticipated, can they?

After Montañita we crowded back into the van and continued down the Ruta del Sol to Salinas, where Marco has an beachfront apartment.  We took turns cooking dinners and lunches as teams and I managed to completely lose sight of any routine or discipline I usually keep.  Beach, cool ocean (since it`s out on a peninsula it`s not the normal bath-water in other towns), strolls, gazing out from the eighth floor balcony, and lots of lazing. 

The view from Marco`s apartment in Salinas.  Ahhhhh…

Too much lazing, as it turned out.

When we returned to Mindo last Sunday, I knew it was time to leave Armando and Mindo for a while and find something more productive and satisfying.  I needed a return to routine, to space and time for myself, and to something more structured.  I know, I just wrote about how I needed to let go of everything for a while… and I did.  I threw myself head first into a no-plan, a road trip led by almost-strangers, and a potential love.  I guess it took all that to remind me at my core that Apollo– the god of order, discipline, and work– is just as important in my life as Dionysus, the goddess of chaos, revelry, and play.  Sometimes I forget… okay?

La playa en Salinas

The gang.   🙂

Since I can`t upload photos at the moment, I`m going to skip about a week´s worth of stories and pictures from the coast and bring you right up to this morning.  Stay tuned for another post that`ll make you drool over the coast of Ecuador.

I am so, SO pleased to be back in the Andes after two weeks on the coast.  The air is thin, fresh, and cool, sending whiffs of eucalyptus and pàramo grass between puffs of exhaust from the buses.  I spent two days, about 13 hours in all, to arrive in Latacunga just south of Quito.  The town is situated between Mount Cotopaxi and a semi-famous loop of indigenous villages, where many people go to visit the Laguna Quilotoa.  Sleepy and weary, I skipped the loop and stopped in Latacunga for a couple hours to bask in the Andean sun and explore the town.  The difference between the coast and mountains is remarkable: beyond simple factors of climate, flora, and fauna, the people here appear more reserved, conservative, and less curious and outgoing toward me.  That said, I feel more comfortable here as a lone woman because the men don`t gawk (much) and people seem more occupied in general than on the coast, where from every window somebody stood watching, statuesque.

I was planning to stay in Latacunga, but for some reason felt like moving on once I got there: an impulse that hits, I`ve found, when I feel alone and uprooted.  I stopped in the town of San Miguel de Salcedo, just a few miles south of Latacunga, in order to try their famous ice cream.  Just about every store in town sells these layered cones of flavors on sticks, and a couple people were tickled that I´d come just for that reason.  Not surprising, though, since the ice cream was fabulous and made right in town.  Mine was vanilla with some strawberry jam inside, followed by layers of taxo, passionfruit, and naranjilla.  You know me.  I`ll be thinking about that ice cream for weeks.

This morning I hoisted myself out of bed in order to visit a market south of Riobamba, in a little town called Cajabamba.  I had read that it`s Sunday market is huge and colorful, and since I really haven`t visited a market here yet, I was excited to get out and see what was on offer.  The bus dropped me at the main stop, where a long row of vendors stood behind their stalls of potato balls and whole roasted pigs, clients sitting on stools all around.  I passed them by for the time being and bought a couple of beautiful, intensely flavorful red bananas.  An ancient woman sat with a young sheep on a leash as I walked down a side-street toward the market: she was just the first of several I saw, tugging their sheep behind their ponchos and skirts.  The women here (and impressively, even many young women and girls) where different versions of a poncho, sweaters, shirt, close-toed shoes, and fedora-style hat, usually with a peacock feather sticking up from the side.  Sometimes they`ll have a shiny embroidered hot pink poncho and high heels, I assume to be more fashionable, but either way the garb is standard and ubiquitous.  I love it.  Women`s hair is usually long, braided or in a tight pony tail or wrap, and their earrings and necklaces are gold, dangling gracefully around their smooth, steadfast faces.

You want to see a photo, huh?  I am sorry to say that today I remembered and fully accepted my great fault as a travel writer: I simply cannot take photographs of people unless I know them or it comes up somehow.  Some people can do this, and I highly recommend you google search ¨Ecuador Andes indigenous dress¨ or something similar.  I even talked to a few elderly, very interesting-looking people in the plaza today, and I couldn´t bring myself to ask for a photo.  It just doesn´t make sense at the time, so I hope you understand.  Here´s the only photo I have of the market, taken from the booth where I bought broccoli and onions:

The market itself was fairly ordinary, as far as foreign markets go.  Stands upon stands of bananas, taxo, zapotes (which I have yet to try), and avocados surrounded another section of vegetables: tomatoes, carrots, white carrots (a native Andean crop), cabbages bigger than basketballs, onions and leeks and peppers, oh my.  Around the corner, twenty bread stalls.  A section of huge bags of bulk pasta, rice, fresh-ground wheat, and corn.  One of the buildings was full of hanging meat, and I tried to hold my breath as a scurried past the tables of pig heads and rows of cow liver hanging at my shoulders.  The other was full of prepared food, and I stopped for a plate of that potato-ball-pork-rind combo.  Not as delicious as last night´s pile of potato-pancake-fried-egg-pork-salsa on the street near my hostel, but still satisfying.  I sat with a young woman near the stall and was surprised to learn that she was my age and had just one baby.  Usually I feel like an old maid when I speak with anyone, since my marital status and age unfailingly come up within two minutes of the Buenos dìas.

Fortunately today, the elderly vendors I spoke with in the plaza were delighted to hear my story– once we began to talk, they opened up, warm and curious.  I sat down on a long bench, and soon the woman next to me turned and asked where I came from.  I learned that she lives in Riobamba and makes braided nylon ropes to sell every day there, but on Sundays she comes to sell in Cajabamba.  She was seventy-four years old, probably about 4´10¨ (not very short around here), and her smile was contagious despite its showing only four bottom teeth.  She referred to me as ¨mi hijita,¨ which translates to an endearing ¨my little daughter,¨ but is used between strangers all the time.  As she gathered her ropes to continue selling, another elderly woman approached to buy, four for a dollar, and we shook hands goodbye.  The man to my left, in a felt fedora and windbreaker, seemed to speak little Spanish at first, but we ended up talking for a while as well.  He was selling at the market with his wife, smiling and wrapped in a plaid wool poncho, and a couple sons.  They lived just up the hill and had ¨una docena¨ de hijos (twelve or so), where they farmed the usual papa, cebolla, zanahoria blanca, etc.  I was happy to share my farming experience with him, and that I was interested to see this market because I worked at a similar one in the Estados Unidos.  Really, besides the degree of ¨scraping by¨ that farmers and vendors experience here, the market itself is similar to one in the States: people get together, chat and catch up on the week, select and sell and eat, and hopefully go home with some cash.  For me, it was an opportunity to try new produce, stock up for the week, and most importantly talk with some of the locals whose lives seem incredibly different from my own.