(I originally posted this on another blog I was working on last spring.)

Quito from 12,000+ feet

Quito from 12,000+ feet

In 1986 – 87, I spent a year as an exchange student in Quito, Ecuador. There is not enough flowery and emotional vocabulary to capture how entranced I was by the people, the land, the mountains, the culture, and the experience in general! I became a strong believer in second language learning and cultural immersion (my mother says I became militant). My perception of the experience and memories of my year were infused with all of the passion and romance that an 18-year-old can muster – which was a lot in my case!

I went back to visit my host family in Quito a couple of times while I was in college, but quickly realized that a short visit was not the same.  I spent too much time trying to recapture my student exchange experience. So when life got busy with studies, marriage, work, and kids, I let the visits go.  I maintained loose contact with my host family, but otherwise kept the whole experience packed away and to myself.

Then about a year ago, I started getting the itch to reconnect with my Ecuadorian family and friends (after all, email and Facebook exist now). It was like I could almost hear the country calling me back, telling me not to take it all so seriously.

Market in Otavalo

Market in Otavalo

Finally this past April I returned to Quito, this time accompanied by my husband. By day we were the carefree tourist couple taking a vacation without the kids. By night we were the “extended” family trying to keep up with invitations from family members. It was a good mix for a week away, but we were completely exhausted upon our return to the U.S.!

So here are some vary basic comparisons and contrasts between Quito 2009 and Quito in the late 1980s:

  • I had absolutely delicious bread with farmer’s cheese and coffee every morning for breakfast. No change there!
  • Llapingachos (fried mashed potato patties with cheese) are still very tasty! And now I like spicy things, so I enjoyed the salsas with them.
  • The city seems cleaner, as a few friends told me it would be.
  • There is lots and lots and lots of traffic now. This is the most common thing my family mentioned to me when they were describing the changes.
  • They’ve added a trolley bus with a dedicated lane to their public transportation system. It runs north-south through the city. I wonder how many other cities in the world do this, because it seems pretty popular and efficient.
  • The valleys to the east, like Tumbaco, have become very popular suburbs. It was nice to see that some of the roads there were still dirt and rock, reminding me of the times I had bounced around in the back of a pick-up truck on the way to family parrilladas (barbecues) in the country.
Relaxing in Tumbaco

Relaxing in Tumbaco

  • You can ride the TelefériQo! This cable car ride up the side of Pichincha to over 12,000 ft. in altitude is rather new. The views are spectacular but the ride itself was a little harrowing for me.  An oxygen bar awaits if you need help with the thin air. Rumor has it some simple lodging will be available soon so you can spend the night.
The TelefériQo

The TelefériQo

  • Calle La Ronda, a historic street in the city’s center, is now safe for the public. I only remember my host father pointing to the entrance of it in 1986. Looking for a pleasant evening out? Stroll through Calle La Ronda enjoying the shops and restaurants along the way. Be sure to try a canelazo – a hot, cinnamon alcoholic beverage. Yikes!
Then there were all the places we visited that I’d never seen 22 years ago, like the excellent museum in the Casa de la Cultura, the inside of La Compañia cathedral , and various restaurants that I would not have spent the money on then.
Pichincha

Pichincha

In the end I accomplished what I wanted. I reconnected with family. Hugging my host mother for the first time in over 18 years was a wonderful feeling. I became reacquainted with Quito and its people. And I got to see the Andes again.
There’s something about being nestled in among the mountain chain of Pichincha that soothes my soul, so I won’t wait 18 years for the next visit.