Once again I find that I have no idea how to begin this post – or even the words to use to describe the amazing experience that was Ecuador. I know I left part of my heart in South America, and in all honesty, most days the trips I took there feel more like a weird, wonderful dream than reality. I got to see my sponsored children again. I got to speak with them, hear their own voices, give them hugs, and show them love in person. I held their hands in mine – and once again utterly left my heart with them.
There’s no way I could convey the full range of emotions felt from this trip in a single post – so, just as I did with my last trip, I’m attempting to share in a series, breaking it down day-by-day or story-by-story; but bear with me, these words are hard to write and even harder to share…
[Long post alert – consider yourself warned]
Day 1: Travel from Northeast Arkansas to Central Ecuador, 2630 miles.
I’ll be honest, Day 1 is a total blur. I went to sleep around 9pm only to wake up at 1am to get ready to make a 1.5hr drive to the airport to catch a 5:44am flight from Memphis, TN, to Miami, FL. I juggled 4 bags that were packed to the absolute limit – in fact, I was mentally preparing to pay the $200 over-weight fee because I had packed them so full.
I got to the airport at 3ish, it might have been closer to 3:15…I really don’t remember. I do remember that I had to wait in the lobby for a bit because the bag-check didn’t open until 4am – so that was fun. But, once it was open, I was in for my first blessing – underweight bags! Between the two checked bags I had 5 whole pounds to spare. 5 pounds! I’m telling you, that’s a miracle. I had those bags soooo full of gifts for my kids and the kids of other sponsors. But God is good – and he makes room (and weight) where there is none.
So, groggily, I boarded that first flight – and got to see the sunrise from above the clouds, which, by the way, is always the best. I’m totally not a morning person – AT ALL, but man, a sunrise above the clouds is just hard to beat – because it means I’m traveling, and traveling is always worth it. If I could only make a living out of visiting my Compassion kids and traveling to new places (without having to give up so much in order to accomplish it) …. but I digress.
I remember 2 things main things about Miami: It was hot (especially since I was wearing like 3 layers of clothing – no room in the suitcases, remember) and I was starving. My TSA precheck didn’t show up on my ticket from MIA to Quito, so I ended up having to go through the long security line which took about a half-hour. By the time I made it to my gate it was around 9am. I’d already been awake 8 hours and hadn’t eaten before I left the house because I didn’t want to get sick on the plane – it takes a while for me to really be able to eat breakfast and I always get a bit queasy in the mornings – especially on early flights. So I waited until I got re-checked and found the right gate before I got any food. Fortunately, there were several restaurants around my gate, and I found the most amazing ham and cheese empanadas. Seriously, they were so good! After breakfast I began the long waiting game until my friend Deb (who was also going on this trip) arrived in Miami – around noon.
I met up with Deb for lunch, and then we joined the rest of the Compassion group for the 4 hour flight to Quito. All in all, there were 32 of us on this trip. I got an aisle seat on the flight (yay!) and was again pleasantly surprised when the middle seat ended up being vacant, the in-flight movie was “The Theory of Everything,” and the lady in the window seat was the sweetest little abuela who only spoke Spanish. The cool part is, I actually carried on a conversation (all be it limited) with her! She told me that she was headed home from visiting her daughter and grandchildren in St. Louis, that they were sad to see her leave, and that she only gets to see them about once a year. I told her we were lucky to have just the two of us in a row, and that I lived somewhat close to St. Louis. We didn’t talk much, but man – it was really awesome to be able to understand even just a small amount of what she was telling me. I cannot wait until I’m more fluent. Being bilingual is going to be amazing.
Once we landed, went through immigration and then customs, we still had about an hour bus ride to the hotel. One of the other ladies on the tour got herself a luggage cart to navigate customs, and she was super nice and got me one, too – which was amazing because I was starting to feel the altitude lugging the 4 bags around. For just $2 each ($5 in MIA), the carts were a welcomed relief. I was actually a bit worried about the altitude – especially when I started to feel it so bad just by moving my suitcases from baggage claim to the customs line; so the fact that she offered to get me a cart was so incredibly nice of her and a huge help to me. After getting through customs and loading our bags on the bus, we headed to the hotel.
It was around 11pm before we made it to the hotel for the night. Fortunately, the plan was to spend two nights in Quito before leaving for Otavalo, so I didn’t have to re-pack my bags. Also, there was a pretty fantastic bathtub in my room – which I made good use of. I slept so good. So, so, so good. It’s amazing how well you can sleep after being up a solid 24 hours. The next morning I woke up to the most amazing view ever – seriously, do you see that mountain? For a girl who comes from flat – F-L-A-T – flat 250ft above sea level Mississippi Delta flat – the mountains of Ecuador amaze me every time. In the daylight, seeing them again made me feel like I was home. Like a part of me that I didn’t know was wandering was finally home. And I thought, Yes. This is right. I am here and I am home.
We ate breakfast at the hotel and then boarded the bus to go to EC148 for morning worship. Let me just say, if you want to truly feel God in a worship service, it’s hard to beat a worship service in a developing country – in a language not your own – when you feel the praise in your spirit because your soul understands what your ears do not.
We fully participated in the worship service – an entire hour of standing praise and worship (where I both felt God and felt the altitude). This was the worst day for altitude, and I did end up taking an Excedrin migraine in order to prevent the horrible headache I could feel coming my way. All in all though my altitude sickness this time was considerably less than last time – I drank a ton more water – and people take it from me – that helped so much!
Anyway, back to the worship service – which was fantastic. I actually understood about 40% of the songs, and more than that if they used the projector and I could read what they were singing – and then, then I started to be able to hear it, too. My ears adjusted to the speed and my mind caught up and it was so great. I knew what they were singing – on both an outward and inward level. I knew as a believer and I knew as a student of the Spanish language. Want to talk about powerful – when those worlds collided – I have no words. I was just exactly where I was supposed to be in the exact right moment. I will never forget that feeling.
After worship service, we followed all the children to a local park for children’s church. The church is renovating their property to make more classrooms, but currently uses the park for Sunday morning children’s church.
For children’s church, the universal appeal of puppets became apparent very quickly. The lesson, on obedience, was part of a series of lessons the church had been presenting over the past several weeks. The key verse was Ephesians 6:1, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” There was even a fun little song to go with it talking about how we should listen to our parents, teachers, and leaders.
After the puppet show, we had some unplanned time to play with the kids – which was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Karen, pictured below, sought me out during the lesson and stuck pretty close during the play time. She was the sweetest little girl and let me practice some of my limited Spanish. I cannot stress what a difference it made to be able to somewhat communicate with the locals on this trip – language is such a blessing that we take for granted every single day. In 2013, playing with the kids was fun, but also frustrating because of the language barrier. Being able to break that barrier, even in the tiniest of ways, was so great. Sitting there with Karen, I learned that she did not have a sponsor – and felt the need to ask her project about it. Turns out, Karen isn’t in the program. She’s a local girl that attends the church service, but her family is blessed and her income level is too high to qualify for sponsorship. (Which, as it happens, is just like the last shy, sweet girl in a white dress I met during a church service in Ecuador – there may be a pattern developing here…)
From the church we headed to the northern part of Quito, to visit the iconic Virgin Angel and have lunch a Pim’s – a fantastic restaurant that overlooks all of Old Town and the north side of the city. The views were amazing, and food delicious. Our drink options were soda or water – and it was fun to see that while they didn’t know what “orange soda” was, they quickly recognized “Fanta” – and by the way, glass-bottled Fanta at 9,350 above sea level is sooooo good. I’m not a huge soda drinker, but man, I could have a bottle of that a day…. so long as it came with the view
After lunch, we drove to the other side of Quito to visit the equator. Unlike my trip in 2013, this time we saw a different equator tourist attraction. This one was smaller, and seemed more like a Route 66 side-of-the road type attraction. It was interesting though – it had more of a local history feel to it. They had built a traditional hut on site, had several artifacts, preserved anacondas and giant spiders, and a mural of how to shrink heads. Did I mention it was an interesting place? The tour guide also demonstrated the Coriolis effect which was awesome – and made for some great videos. Also, I totally got sunburned – leave it to me to forget the sunscreen on the day we actually visit the equator. Finally, we ended the day back at our hotel with a very nice meal in one of the banquet rooms. They served traditional potato soup (which if you like potato soup, was delicious) and very pretty desserts that were chocolate and some sort of fruit – they were yellow, but not lemon. Anyway, after supper, I went back to my hotel room and rearranged my bags – we were leaving for Otavalo the next day and had the option to leave some of our bags in Quito at the hotel. Since most of my bags were actually gifts – and I wouldn’t be needing any of them in Otavalo, I was able to leave everything but a single rolling carryon, and that was so nice. Having to just juggle a single bag made my logistics so much easier – I had seriously dreaded lugging the gifts around all week. Now, not only was my luggage lighter, but so was my spirit. This was such an excellent start to the trip.
After typing all of this, it’s a bit hard to believe we did so much in one day. Also, I’m once again amazed at how much you can forget in just a few short weeks. I had to ask fellow travelers where we ate for supper because I truly could not remember – which is so crazy to me. Anyway, I’m hoping to share a day of the trip each week, so check back next Tuesday for more