|Photo credits: happinessplunge.com|
One of the main reasons why I adore travelling is simply that particular moment when I step out of the airport knowing that there's going to be a whole new undiscovered chunk of land waiting for me to explore, to meet it's people, to listen to it's stories and to experience such an incredibly different way of life.
As an exchange student living in Quito, Ecuador for eight months through a youth exchange program, I was given the opportunity to do just that. Now that I've experienced what it was like to immerse myself entirely in a foreign country (I lived with two Ecuadorian host families and attended a small local school.), travelling just isn't simply visiting the overly crowded tourist attractions anymore because sitting under an overly large rainbow coloured umbrella and chattering away with three elderly indigenous women that sell home-grown potatoes at morning market in a small town for a living is just that much more inspiring. What could possibly beat heading home later that day with heart warming stories of how satisfied they are with their simple yet meaningful lives, a few new Quechua words to add to the list and a bag of their best produced they insisted you take home without charge.
During the beginning of my exchange I kept an ever growing list of things that were a little different from what I was used to back home in Malaysia in a small flimsy notebook, and being in a completely new country almost everything that was around me seemed to have made it's way onto that list but over time they had gotten so normal that I rarely took note of it anymore. Just earlier this week I had to create a thirty minute long (It ended up lasting for a little over an hour.) presentation about my exchange experience in Ecuador which reminded me about that notebook I have buried between stacks of souvenirs that I still hadn't unpacked despite being home for a month.
Leafing through that notebook left me in fits of laughter as I recalled how bewildered I was when I had first seen or experienced those things, so I thought it would be a fairly good idea to share these amongst fellow Malaysians that may or may not be thinking of visiting the small equatorial country, Ecuador.
1. Being Malaysian I absolutely love my food, I mean what's there not to like? We cook up the most mouthwatering dishes around which we devour around the clock, you know the usual thosai, maggi goreng and teh tarik for breakfast, kway teow th'ng for brunch, the storm mother goose cooked up for lunch, nasi goreng kampung for tea, another home cooked meal for dinner and roti canai for supper and the feeling of utter satisfaction afterwards is nothing less than perfection. Okay maybe not all Malaysians are greedy enough to consume six meals a day and that's just me, oh what a glutton I am.
On the other hand you pretty much stick to the three main meals per day principal in Ecuador and it was pretty shocking observing how my host parents and siblings head out the door after a slice of toast with mozzarella cheese and a small cup of coffee or warm milk. The heaviest meal of the day is lunch and we usually start off with soup, then rice, stewed beans, steak and salad and followed by some sort of dessert. And dinner is almost always a bowl of soup that usually has diced cheese, stir fried corn kernels and popcorn added to it or sometimes nothing at all, it really felt as though they were on some meticulous diet.
Unfortunately I never grew used to it and during most weekends when I didn't have to be up at 6 am for school I'd spend a few extra minutes in the kitchen making myself a hearty bowl of mun yee mee, fruits from the basket in the kitchen would vanish in no time since I was snacking constantly and I usually had to prepare something extra for dinner.
Cheese was so readily available in the kitchen, I spent the first two months binging on cheese like there was no tomorrow since cheese in Malaysia is worth it's weight in gold (No, not really but still.) and too much of a good thing obviously had a negative effect, on the third month I didn't even want to look at that pale yellow diary block and lots of odd stares were received when I requested to have my sandwich without cheese and definitely no chunks of melted cheese in my soup, please.
Also the salt shaker had a permanent spot on the dining table, the rule of thumb probably is "No matter how salty the dish is, it clearly needs more salt.".
Overall, Ecuadorian food isn't as wacky as you'd envision it to be. I did try cuy (Roasted guinea pig) once though and it's delicious.
2. This is the view I had of the Tungurahua volcano when I was visiting the busy town of Ambato which is famous for it's delicious freshly baked bread, and the local produce of fruit and flowers. This is kind of your typical everyday landscape in the Ecuadorian highlands, at every direction you turn your head to there's just another mountain or volcano which I found fascinating when I drove back to my first host family's house for the first time from the airport. On most clear days I had the perfect view of the snow topped Cotopaxi volcano from my bedroom window.
According to the locals I've spoken to, hopefully they're of a reliable source, they claim constructing buildings over a certain height is prohibited by the government simply because it might interfere with the view both locals and tourists would have of the rolling mountains and numerous volcanoes.
The view of the night lights of Quito and the sun setting over the mountains was and still is one of those things that has never failed to take my breath away. It's one of those moments where your mind is focused on nothing else but it's beauty and you just walk a little slower, feeling your hair dance to the rhythm of the gentle evening breeze and appreciating the fact that you're actually in Ecuador.
3. Yep, these are the 10-15 ft walls that surrounded the house I lived in for a couple of months with my wonderful second host family and yes, that's an electrical fence on top of those walls that has got a built in alarm system. There were also security cameras on every wall, recording every nook and cranny of the house. I had read about the high walls that surrounded a large majority of the houses in Ecuador but seeing them standing right before me was something else.
During my exchange I took buses around town daily and walked alone countless times, and those walls were a constant reminder of just how the danger of living in a South American country is pretty darn real and that I should be downright thankful that all I had lost was my wallet (Containing my entire monthly allowance!) during a long jam packed bus ride to the north of Quito.
|Photo credits: imgur.com|
4. Women's jeans in Ecuador have no back pockets! Unless of course you shop for a pair in a posh store at Quicentro.
And most don't have front pockets as well now that I think of it, just fake front pockets if you're lucky. I did a good amount of my necessary clothes shopping on the bustling streets of Quito like any low to average income local since it was more affordable as they were probably manufactured locally (Or imported directly from a Chinese factory.) and when in Rome do as the Romans do, so before long I'd like to think I dressed similarly to your average Ecuadorian female. Think a decent amount of make up, sweater or a jacket over a dressy top, ahem pocketless jeans and leather boots. And maybe a scarf.
One of the little things that I've been missing about living Quito is it's perfect cool, dry weather as it entitles you with the freedom to dress up in layers (Something I have always longed to do because you'll end up with outfits that look more put together, in my opinion at least.) and brush a little more make up on your face since it doesn't slide off your face in 0.5 seconds like it does with the sticky, humid Malaysian climate.
If only I could adorn myself with my Ecuadorian leather jacket again but that's just not happening, like that phase I went through when I was fourteen and wanted to be a bohemian style fashion blogger and then snapping back to reality realizing I can't afford to buy all the pieces to create the outfits I had so perfectly envisioned. What an upsetting day that was.
|Photo credits: weegs.wordpress.com|
5. I'll never forget how astonished I was when I was driving around the valley, I lived in Valle de Los Chillos, sometime during my first week of exchange with my host mom and we pulled over by the traffic lights and suddenly there was just a stampede of energetic backpackers juggling swords and twirling ribbons hoping to earn a little more to be able to continue their adventures, weary indigenous women with babies strapped to their backs selling everything from hammocks to newspapers to avocados and little kids equipped with a bucket of soapy water and a squeegee yelling at the top of their lungs if anyone would like their cleaned. I never would have thought stopping by traffic lights could be quite so entertaining, and this happens at almost all traffic lights, it's just not something that you'd be able to miss.
Bus rides are much more fun too with the occasional duo armed with their guitars and melodic voices or that old lady that carries a basket filled with individually packed chifles, chulpi, mani and other goodies but my favourite bus rides have to be those long distance ones where the bus passes through the tiniest villages and the busiest cities and at every stop vendors would board the bus with that specific food or snack that they're known for. It's like taking a foodie trip around the town without even having to leave your seat.
And now I'm craving some creamy helados de salcedo. Mmm. Just a little note, Salcedo is quaint town located in the Cotopaxi province (They're called provinces instead of states in Ecuador.) that's famous for it's creamy, fruity handmade ice cream and whenever I travelled around the highlands I'd always look forward to that stop for obvious reasons.
Oh Ecuador, it's been interesting getting to know you.