My Weekend in Banos (or, How I Became the Poster Child for International Travel)

Riding into the tourist town of Banos on Friday, we look out our windows to see a loud, overflowing open-air bus lean its way around a winding cliff on its way up a mountain. We American girls exchange glances that ask, “Are people just insane here?” and the next afternoon we find ourselves paying 6 dollars to ride the same bus. And so goes the story of Ecuador.

We arrived in Banos a day later than we had planned, which is studying abroad in a nutshell. After trekking into Quito from our cozy suburb of Cumbaya on Thursday, we learned at the bus station that the road to Banos was closed for the rest of the day for Easter processions. We let out a really big pouty sigh and returned home only to come back the next morning at 6 a.m. for Take 2. We arrived in Banos at around 1 on Friday afternoon, put our stuff in our hostel, and started looking for potential life experiences.

We came across a little stand that led guided tours up the trails of Banos’ eerily close active volcano, Tungurahua, on horseback. We said “si, por favor” and walked a couple blocks to the field that housed our transportation. I was given a horse named “Whiskey” and I felt about as close to Kentucky as I could be. Whiskey and I, as well as Meg, Rachel, and their horses, spent the next three hours riding up Tungurahua (which means “throat of fire”) and taking absurd amounts of pictures of the incredible view. We passed cows and waterfalls and rivers, washed our faces in a mineral spring at the top of the mountain, stole a few volcanic rocks, and were incredibly sore by the time we very timidly kissed our horses goodbye. We (very conveniently) found a spa deal where you could sit in a hot tub, hang out in a sauna, and sit in these weird barrels with your head sticking out that sweat out all your soreness for only 10 dollars. It was perfect and so was our first day.

Saturday in Banos was a day of extremes. Extreme excitement, fear, adrenaline, exhaustion. We pushed ourselves over a cliff at the “Swing at the End of the World” (El Columpio al Fin del Mundo), took a “Chiva tour” to insane waterfalls (on the aforementioned bus), soared over a canyon in a cable basket, and walked across a suspended bridge in the jungle (El Pailon del Diablo). We took taxis up the mountain on several occasions and, to be honest, these rides could often be as scary as the crazy places they were taking us.

That being said, I feel like I learned a lot about travel, and—just wait for it—maybe life in general. I learned that trust is imperative to having a worthwhile experience. You have to trust other people—the man who called for your taxi, the man who directed you to the man who called your taxi, the taxi driver that you’re now riding out of town with. You have to trust that, when he pulls off a main road onto a dirt path, that he’s only taking you to an overlook. You have to trust that when he pulls out a knife, it’s to slice the bananas you bought to feed the monkeys. You have to trust that it’s not all the worst-case scenarios it could be.

Similarly, you have to trust yourself. You have to trust your own “healthy hesitation,” as it’s been called so far. That you have exercised enough caution and checked for the license plates that tell you this taxi is a legitimate mode of transportation and not the rides you’ve read about that lead to robbery, rape, or worse. You have to believe that you’ve made good decisions while also understanding your anxiety is coming from a sensible place.

And just like that, you think, wait…this is totally what traveling abroad is all about. You push yourself, move past fear, learn that you’re more independent and more capable than you thought, lean back in your seat, and enjoy the cab ride to the monkey reserve.

I mean…should I be on a brochure somewhere?

Wealthy babies, host dogs, and miscommunications

Hello, hello!

I’ve been in Ecuador for almost 3 days now, and I’m loving it. Which says a lot! I knew I would like it here, but my level of comfort and false sense of familiarity for this new country is quite the pleasant surprise. Mom, before you text me saying “Don’t let a false sense of familiarity get you Taken!,” I would like to say that I don’t mean I’m going to walk the streets alone at night without a map. I just mean that Quito’s timezone is the same as my hometown’s, my American electronics work in these outlets without an adapter, and I have a host dog.

That’s right. Mi little host perro. His name is Bancho (It may actually be Pancho, jury’s out) and he’s a Schnauzer. Much more alert and agile and groomed than the little shih tzus I have back in the States, but he begs for my every bite of food and that makes me feel right at home. When we are alone in the kitchen I also like to call him mi little empanada, taco, etc. We love each other.

That entire paragraph about the pup was to say that I feel very comfortable here so far. We’re sharing a room and we have an amazing view of roosters and cows and mountains in the morning when we wake up.

I’ve also found that really interesting: Ecuador obviously doesn’t have zoning laws so you can have cows, a condo, and a $900/ a month private school all on the same block. Which brings me to mi escuela…

The school is SO. NICE. Apparently my father was under the impression that I’d be bringing crayons and American knowledge to a small, one-roomer in the middle of the jungle. Sorry, dad…I am the underprivileged one in this situation. The school is extremely expensive, especially by Ecuadorean standards, and my kids are “the richest kids in Ecuador” according to my mentor teacher. Their parents own rose plantations, Cinemark Ecuador, probably islands…I don’t know. They travel to Miami on long weekends and they’d probably feel bad for me if they knew my airy spring sweater was from a thrift store. That being said, they are so sweet. They are chatty and smart and friendly and funny. My teacher also explained that, in reality, the school’s number one focus is not academia. It’s social growth. (I mean, they’re socialites…I get it). They have an almost 30 minute “break” time for chatting and playing, and a very long lunch. It’s kind of the best. That being said, as I type this entry they are taking a test on fractions and their little brains have been so stressed out about the exam so I guess they haven’t gotten the priorities memo.

After their exam, there won’t be much school day left. Today starts the 3 and a half day weekend and I am SO EXCITED FOR NOON. We are leaving after school to go to the bus station in Quito and take a 5 hour ride to Banos. (I don’t know how to type a tilde over that n). Trip Advisor tells me Banos is a really really cool place right outside the jungle. It has waterfalls and rafting and canoeing and hiking and zip-lining and crazy tree swings on the edges of cliffs. We aren’t sure exactly what we’ll be doing once we get there but we have 3 nights and 3 days to fill up with rainforest-y shenanigans and I’m ready to get rollin’.

Raquel, our sweet host mama, is taking us to the bus station in a few hours. It’s funny, because at first I thought she was saying she wanted to go with us and I asked her if her sister wanted to come too. They’re both older women (probably 60’s), so it was an embarrassing miscommunication on my part. Sigh.

I know the 21st century reader likes to keep online leisure material at a minimum, even if that reader is my best friend back home. SO, I’m going to post what we’ve tentatively decided to do during our 4 weeks here and try to leave it at that.

Weekend 1: Banos / Weekend 2: Mindo (cloud forest) / Weekend 3: the beach / Weekend 4: the Amazon

We also have a free day in a couple weeks (Ecuadorean labor day), and we’re going to spend that day in a nearby city called Otavallo at Ecuador’s largest outdoor market. Can’t. Wait. Love. Markets.

I’ll stop for now 🙂

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Student Teaching at Colegio Menor: A (Completely Contrived) Interview

Hola!

My name is Mackenzie. I’m a senior at Western Kentucky University and will be graduating in May with a degree in Elementary Education. I just completed some challenging (and hilarious) student teaching assignments in Kindergarten and 4th grade at two great local elementary schools. Before I sail off into the sunset of adulthood, however, I get to go complete one more student teaching assignment in QUITO, ECUADOR. This blog will document my experiences in South America over the next four weeks.

I have been asked a LOT of questions about my upcoming travel since I made the decision to student teach abroad. Relatedly, I’ve always wanted to be the subject of an interview. That being said, I am now going to interview myself about my upcoming trip and attempt to answer a lot of the questions I have been answering and/or have not yet been asked. Drum roll, please.

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Hi, Mackenzie! First things first, can you tell us (the millions of people that frequent this high-traffic blog), about the place where you will be teaching?

Well of course! I will be student teaching right outside of Quito at a school called “Colegio Menor.” It’s a private school and, from what I hear, is really nice (in a good area, equipped with a lot of technology, great teachers). I have been placed in a 5th grade classroom with an American teacher originally from Colorado. I’ve corresponded with my mentor teacher by email and she describes her class as “the nerdy class” in 5th grade. She says they are really sweet and love to learn and will love to hear about where I’m from.

Sounds really precious. Will you be able to communicate with them in Spanish?

Well, not to brag, but I have had 7 years of Spanish over the course of my schooling. Which means, no, I will definitely not be able to communicate with them in Spanish. I am conversational at best, and by conversational I mean I can exchange greetings, ask where the bathroom is, order off a menu, make my way around an airport, and go clothes shopping. Because that’s what Spanish language textbooks have taught me over the years. Luckily, the students in my classroom are more impressive than me and are fluent English speakers. They are only allowed to speak English within the classroom, which is extremely fortunate if I am to “teach” them anything. It sounds like they will be teaching me a lot as well.

Wow. I wish Americans were made to learn another language from a young age. Sounds really useful and cultural and considerate. Anyway, what will you be doing outside of school?

Good question, interviewer. While we will be in the classroom for 5 days a week (except for this first 3 and a half day Easter weekend), we hope to do a lot of sightseeing and traveling. We want to explore the city, go to markets, and eat Ecuadorean meals. We also want to leave the city and experience rural Ecuador. Quito is in a mountainous region, but there are also rain forests, beaches, cloud forests, etc. Like any good travelers, we have googled “cool things to do in Ecuador” and we’ve got some pretty exciting ideas up our sleeves. 

Who is “we?”

Whoops! “We” includes myself, and my two travel buddies Rachel and Meg. They both just completed their student teaching in America and we’re traveling as a trio. We’ll all live together in a house outside of Quito.

Whose house?

Raquel’s house! Raquel is our host. Raquel is an older woman who speaks only Spanish. She is somehow associated with the school and has opened her home to American student teachers for the past few years. She sent me an all-espanol email a few weeks ago and signed it “Tu Mami Ecuatoriana,” or “Your Ecuadorean Mom,” so I have high hopes of her being sweet and wonderful.

Well she sounds as precious as the 5th graders. Ecuadoreans sound great so far. Are you nervous at all for your trip?

Asking the hard questions, I see. Yes, I am definitely nervous. Nervousness is a part of my personality but I am pushing through it for the sake of life experiences. I have traveled abroad before, in Istanbul, Turkey, and nervousness didn’t ruin that trip so I know I’m going to be a-okay. My 8 hours in the air tomorrow will be the worst of my anxiety, and after that it should be semi-smooth sailing. I went on the US Travel Authority’s warnings website and decided those are totally worst-case-scenarios. It’s going to be fine. 

Sounds like you’ve got it under control. So, are you excited?

Extremely! I can’t wait to meet the little Ecuadorean babies and meet mi mami ecuatoriana! I can’t wait to buy alpaca blankets at outdoor markets and figure out a way to get them home in my overstuffed suitcase, to get lost in a big city and use my 7 years of Spanish to find my destination 3 hours later, and pet tiny tree frogs in the rainforest. That last part is totally not true because they’re poisonous and surely really hard to catch. What I’m trying to say is I’ve had a lot of time to imagine what life will be like on the equator starting tomorrow and yes, I’m excited.

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Well I don’t know about you but I feel like that interview went really well. Stay tuned, millions of readers.