Sunday, August 8, 2010

July 23, My Last Blog Post - Reentry

We've been back just over a week now. Our actual reentry day was a bit shaky, but life has been great since then. Our flight, which was scheduled to go Quito/Miami/Chicago/Seattle and for which we had boarding passes all the way thru, hiccuped in Chicago, when the boarding pass machine read "Calgary" instead of "Seattle." So we got bumped to the next flight, two hours later, and that was delayed for an hour, so we arrived in Seattle about 12:30 am. Mia had heard that her friends were going to come meet her at the airport, but we figured that with our late arrival, they would bail. However, our good friend Susan, and three of Mia's best friends met us at the airport and took us home, to a house decorated with a "Welcome Home" sign and fading red helium balloons; to a fridge stocked with essentials like Jarlsberg cheese and red wine; and to clean sheets and towels left by our recently departed tenants. Although we'd already been up traveling for 22 hours, the excitement for all of us, especially for the girls, looking thru almost forgotten boxes of belongs kept us up until 3:00 am.
The next day saw us on the road by 3:30 pm, after a morning rollerblade by Debby and me, for a four-hour drive to Lake Chelan, to a weekend with our old "gang." I think the super-charged oxygen bump coming down to sea level from 8,500 ft must have kicked in, because both Debby and I saw the sun rise at the lake the following morning.

So now we've been back a week, and we are basically unpacked, and the girls are ensconced in their now separate rooms. I feel that for all of us, the "transition" has been great, primarily because WE LOVE OUR LIVES IN SEATTLE. Of course, we are still on vacation, and staying out late at clubs and sleeping until 9 or 10:00 (guilt-free, I should add), but still, we have moved back to the life we loved before we left, and guess what? - we still love it!

Some highlights:

Friends. We have such awesome friends, who have welcomed us back, told us how much they missed us, and eased our re-entry. This holds true for all of us, although Nikki's reunion with most of her friends was delayed for about a week, since most of them were in Japan for a class trip at the end of their John Stanford International School career.

Food. The variety of food here is amazing. Sure, mangos are 2 for $5 (instead of 4 for $1) and papayas and pineapples are $5 each, but it's berry time, and the strawberries and blueberries and raspberries, some from our own garden, are great. So is the sushi, Mexican food, grilled salmon, micro-brews and good coffee. The variety blows us away - there are 31 flavors for God's sake!

Family. Perhaps because we've been together so much for the past year, it is so nice to see the trust our kids are placing in us. Tonight I had them take down their lemonade stand in five minutes so we could have a picnic dinner in the sunset at Gasworks park - not a word of dissent or complaint. And last night, Nikki initiated a Spanish language conversation with me - Nikki, who wouldn't even speak Spanish if Debby or I were in the same room with her just a month ago! Although we are all digging our friends and our own "being home" trip, we come together as family smoothly and comfortably - no meltdowns or whining all week, even when hunger or tiredness might suggest otherwise.

Exercise. Debby and I have both been rollerblading several times this week, and Debby went mountain biking at Lake Chelan. Although I haven't started running yet, I tell myself that the roller blading is building up my cardio-vascular capacity!

Music. We've been rediscovering the type of music we loved in all sorts of forms - at parties and clubs, and on our friends playlists!

So that's it. This is my last blog post on our sabbatical year. It's been a great year in Ecuador (where?) but it's great to be back. In Cuenca we met many ex-pats who were fleeing something, imagined or real, from their home. Others, on a limited-time sabbatical like us, anticipated the life-changing effects the year would have on them and talked about the changes they would need to make to keep that Cuenca-feeling. Neither of these scenarios was ours. We were, for the most part, conscientiously living the kind of life we wanted before we left last August. And spending a year abroad was a dream from that life. And now, dream realized, we come back to that life, both altered and enriched by the dream.

First Impressions about the US after being gone for a year (Debby)

Now that we have been back in Seattle for 9 days, I want to reflect on some of my first impressions upon returning to the US after being gone for an entire year.

We took 3 planes home from Quito and on each leg of the trip, I noticed that the passengers were whiter and whiter and that suddenly I blended in with everyone. Our first flight from Quito to Miami was 80% Ecuadorian which seemed normal. Miami to Chicago was less diverse but still had some blend of colors. The shocker was going from Chicago to Seattle and seeing virtually all white people.

Our first impression when we arrived in Miami was how abrupt, rushed and non cordial people seemed. Granted we were in an airport and dealing with disgruntled TSA folks but still! No one greets anyone with"Good Morning, Sir" or even says hello. Vendors, in particular, just want to get down to business. After a couple of interactions with sales people, Nikki turns to me and says "Why is everyone here so rude?" I told her that it is called "efficiency" :) We have really gotten accustomed to the constant courtesy and sincerity of the Ecuadorian people. The pace of life is slower and people always have time to say hello, ask about the family, and chat. I already miss the daily salutations and kissing on the cheek that happens about 10 times a day there.

Everything seemed so clean, orderly, and non chaotic to us, from the bathrooms to the streets to the schedules.

Back in Seattle, we were amazed that cars stopped for us as pedestrians at crosswalks, people gave us the right of way on our bikes and there were actually street signs and traffic lights!!

When we walked into our house we were amazed at how beautiful and big it seemed. We also were amazed at how much stuff we have (even after doing some serious cleansing before we left). When we unpacked our boxes in storage, we all ended up giving about a quarter of our clothes and personal belongings away. We have learned to live really simply and don't want to clutter our lives with more stuff.

We were psyched to throw our toilet paper in the toilet bowl and turn on a sink faucet and feel HOT WATER!!

Everything is incredibly expensive. In Miami the girls asked for 2 packs of gum for the next plane ride and it cost me $6 (3 good full course meals in Cuenca!).

Our local QFC (grocery store) in Wallingford had received a facelift and I was totally overwhelmed shopping there. Such incredible variety and too many choices for me!

The best part about coming back to Seattle was seeing all of our friends. We got home at 1 am on a Thursday, barely unpacked and the very next day we went to a 4 day party at our friends' cabin on Lake Chelan with a group of 38 people and it was the best homecoming we could imagine. We timed our return perfectly- summer was just beginning mid July and every day we have woken up to 75 degrees and sun. Our transition has been extra sweet since neither of us has to work for another 6 weeks (me) and 3 weeks (Don).

Final thoughts on our year in Ecuador (Debby)

Tomorrow morning we leave for the United States and we are all so excited to be home, see our friends and family, get settled into our house and be in the city we love so much.

As the year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on what it has all meant. There have been so many benefits for our family and for each of us as individuals- some tangible, some less so. While Don and I have learned so much about ourselves and Ecuador, the true beneficiaries of our year have been our kids. They are now fluent in Spanish, have lived in a very different culture and have become fully accustomed to life outside of the US, have been exposed to travel and adventure, and, hopefully, are far more open minded and flexible. We have marveled at how quickly they adapted to life here, made friends, picked up Spanish, and became open to new experiences. Although they truly were not excited about our year here (in fact they called Ecuador "Ecuapoop" before we left :), I can confidently say they have had an amazing year and they are already asking when they can return to their friends in Cuenca.

As for me, I have savored all the time we have had together as a family. I know that when school starts up again in the fall and we all go our separate ways for the entire day until dinner, I will miss our 2 p.m. daily lunches, our hours spent together traveling and exploring new places, our many restaurant meals, our hikes together, and our laughs and frustrations that stem from living in Ecuador. I know the experiences we have had this year have made us an even closer family and we will look back on this year for the rest of our lives.

Having said all of this, I am ready to go home. I love our lives in Seattle so much. Here are the top 10 things I won't miss from this year:

10. The Guayaquil bus station where we got robbed.

9. Bad pillows and hard beds in hotels.

8. People cutting in line at the store and interrupting.

7. A lack of commitment and follow through from my University students.

6. Really bad boxed wine.

5. A meal with potatoes, rice, pasta and no greens.

4. Long, bumpy bus rides with violent or religious movies on at an exorbitant volume.

3. The cheese from Ecuador.

2. Intermittent, lukewarm showers with no pressure (forget about a bath!)

1. Nasty smelling black diesel spewing from buses.

And now for the top 10 things I WILL miss from Ecuador:

10. $10 hour long massages complete with hot rocks and 2 massage therapists.

9. Fresh mangos, pineapples, and papaya for breakfast every day.

8. The warmth and sincerity of the Ecuadorian people. We literally never met a rude person the entire year.

7. The beauty of Cajas National Park and the Andes in general.

6. The ceviche on the coast.

5. The white powder-like sand of the Galapagos.

4. The time to read 25 books in a year and actually reflect on them.

3. The friendships we formed through exercise, volunteer work, university work and the girls' school.

2. Our gracious, loving and generous Ecuadorian family who included us in all they did- Rita, Jaime, and their 3 kids and 4 grandchildren.

1. All the time we shared together as a family.

Travel Log, Wed. July 14, Leaving Otavalo

Although the crafts stalls kept pulling us back, we did find time to explore some of the other sites around Otavalo. Monday, we all went for a hike around Lago Cuicocha, a pretty lake in the center of a volcano. We hiked around the rim of the crater (about a 4 hour hike - both girls did a great job), in and out of the fog, with views of the lake and its two little islands, as well as of the surrounding countryside, including a nearby snow-flecked mountain.

Tuesday we went to the nearby village of Peguche, only four or five km from Otavalo. There isn't too much to see in town, although the rhythmic click-clack of electric looms can be heard from inside most houses. Peguche also has a beautiful waterfall, just a 10 minute hike from town.

There is an internal and external component of travel. And so while the whole region around Otavalo is beautiful and rich geographically and culturally, I, and all of us, would rather be elsewhere. Home. We've had a great year, we've had a great five weeks of traveling, but now, the end, and our next beginning, is just too close at hand. Instead of really diving into what surrounds us, we are all just sort of killing time, awaiting our flight home. I don't say this with any negative judgment, I just think this is natural, and to be expected. Tomorrow we fly!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Travel Log, Sunday, July 11, Otavalo

We arrived in Otavalo yesterday afternoon after a day's stopover in Quito. Saturday is the main market day here, and while we arrived way too late to see the animal market, the artisan market was still going strong. Otavalo is the most famous place in Ecuador for crafts, and stalls lined the streets and filled the "Plaza de Ponchos." We had saved some of our souvenir shopping for our visit here, so although I was pretty overwhelmed by it all, we dove in and shopped.

Today was the final of the Mundial, so we took a break from shopping and even site-seeing to chill and watch the game. We watched the game in the coffeeshop/tienda of a non-indigenous Otavaleño who had spent time in Albany, NY. Watching Spain beat Holland 1-0 in overtime with the locals was fun. At a few points when Spain was on the verge of scoring, the owner's Aunt, who wanted Holland to win, spun the thumb and forefinger on both her hands, (in a mini-itsy-bitsy spider move) while chanting something like "chumbale chumbale chumbale..." Must be an Ecuadorian curse that didn't quite work. It has been great traveling with the Mundial - always an easy way to strike up a conversation, asking about yesterday's results or predictions for today's game.

Travel Log, Thursday, July 8, Pedernales

Canoa, midweek in July, is a pretty sleepy beach town. Although there are lots of hotels and beachfront stands for food, booze or crafts, the majority of them were unoccupied or closed up. Although ceviche was available at restaurants, there were no ceviche carts on the beach, like we enjoyed in Montañita.

The sun came out for about an hour yesterday late morning, and we all enjoyed playing in the waves. Once we all dried off, we watched Spain beat Germany 1-0 in the semi-finals of the Mundial. Later we all walked the beach and picked up three large bags of garbage, earning a free milkshake for each of the kids.

We said goodby to Alex, Chuck, Sara and Ben, and then moved about 90 km up the coast to Pedernales. Tomorrow is a 6 hour bus to Quito. I think we are all pretty ready to be home in Seattle.

Travel Log, Monday, July 5, Canoa

Aunt Sue returned to Chicago early yesterday morning, and given the option of a couple of days of four-hour bus rides to get to Canoa, the second of which would be on the girls birthday, we took the wimpy way out and flew from Quito to Manta. We spent the night in the seedier side of Manta, in Tarqui, and caught a bus from there north to Bahia de Caráquez, then a 10 minute passenger ferry, and finally a 30 minute bus ride up to Canoa. The passenger ferry will soon be only a memory as a long bridge across the Rio Chone will open in the fall.

This time of year the coast is mostly overcast and rainy, and we arrived in the rain. We met Debby's Peace Corps friend Alex and her family here, and most of the afternoon was spent on the beach, catching up. We celebrated the girl's birthday at the hotel with cake and a few small presents. And tonight, although I can hear the waves breaking outside our hotel, the dominate night sound is the bar next door, blaring Ecuadorian top 40.