„I have no idea what I am doing.”
I thought to myself helplessly when I sat down into my seat in the airplane.
I have just finished my 6 week-long internship in Bogotá, barely sleeping the last few nights of work, which were followed by a wild and lovely week-long trip to the north of Colombia. I got back to Bogotá the night before at midnight only to pack my stuff, sleep for 2 hours and then head back to the airport at 7AM. I was tired because of lack of a sleep, I was sick because of too much party, and I was heartbroken because I was leaving the world I loved so much. Not exactly a state to be wondering what your early-future life is going to look like.
Sitting down in the airplane, I had absolutely no idea what was about to follow. The only thing I knew was that I would get off in Pasto in 1,5 hours. I was supposed to pass to Ecuador the very same day and I had no idea how. I reached deep into my pocket and pulled out a little crumpled paper with three words on it.
Ipiales, Tulcán, Quito.
These were the names of the towns I needed to cross in order to get past the border. Looking out of the window tiredly, I was deeply drawn into my thoughts, listening to the annoying voice in my head.
“Well done, Natalia. You have no clue where you are going! Bloody hells! Young blond European traveling alone in the kingdom of human trafficking and drugs. If only your mom knew!”
I put my face into my hands, begging the annoying voice to shut up. When suddenly, I heard:
“Hola Natalia! A dónde vas?!” It was my tiny Ecuadorian co-worker Ely.
“Oh, hey Ely! What a surprise! Uhmmm… I am going to Quito!” I answered in Spanish.
“Amazing! Are you also passing Tulcán?” asked Ely.
“Uh, well… yeah, yeah I think so.” Was it Tulcán? Tostan? Talocan? Who is supposed to remember it.
“It is a long journey! Well, if you want, you can go with me and stay with my family for the night!”
Seriously?! The annoying voice in my head was left in awe. This is just what always happen to me. Even if I mess up terribly, the higher forces always gather together only to get me out of the poo I got myself in. So I was going to pass the border along with Ely´s family, spend a night at her place and in the morning comfortably carry on my journey to the Quito. Perfect! All solved! – I thought satisfyingly, patting my own shoulder as if it was my credit that this was happening.
But I can tell you people, I had absolutely noooooooooo idea what was about to follow in the next 48 hours.
1. Cuy – The Legend
Have you ever heard about Cuy? If yes, maybe you know what follows and so you already stopped reading. If not, then you may refuse to ever talk to me again. However, happy or not, I did that. I ate it.
The Cuy, one of the most delicious Peruvian and Ecuadorian meals (at least according to locals), also called “rat” or “hamster” by the other south-american nations, is, ladies and gentlemen, a grilled guinnea pig.
Before you judge me, damn me, or send me to the bloody hell, please consider the fact it was not my intention. When I first met Ely´s family (6 extremely lovely people squeezed in a so-called “camioneta” for 4 people), they took me to have a lunch. Having no clue what was about to come, I obediently followed. I realized that something was not 100% all right when at the entrance to the restaurant I saw on the grill comfortably spinning some… well rats.
Or at least something looking like them. Ely assured me it was not a rat, but a cuy, “a very delicious Ecuadorian food”. We ordered two of those poor animals and I – with honors – received a leg. Ready or not, I had to try it. “Not eating a cuy in Ecuador is like going to Peru and not seeing a Machu Picchu!” I was told.
Believe it or not, the little ugly thing was actually tasty. Almost like a chicken, just a bit juicy. I say no more – try it yourself!
2. Passing the border and Ecuadorian disco-trisco
Passing the borders was unlike the Central America quite smooth. After taking a bus to Ipiales, we jumped to the car of Ely´s Ecuadorian friends, and we hit the 45 minutes long road to Tulcán, where everyone was reassuring me 1326 times that I would love Ecuador because “Ecuador is the best”. Once we hit the border, the process was quite fast and soon we were in Ecuador. I was tired and I desperately wanted to sleep. But the plan was clear. “We go party tonight!” announced eagerly Ely´s sister like it was the best idea ever.
And so we did. In a little dumpy Ecuadorian bar in Tulcán, I ordered a beer which came in 0,625l bottle (I love Ecuador) and was genuinely very tasty. Being the only blond girl in the club, I barely had 10 minutes to sit down during the night. The glowing disco lights were shining through the silhouettes of “muchachos” leaning to the bar, sipping beer and silently watching local “chicas” dancing on the floor.
“Dance with me, I am a local Indian!” became the strongest argument to go dancing that night and so the rest of the night I spent dancing salsa with local Otavalo tribe.
3. Ankle Sprain
The next morning, I woke up at the strange place in one room with 5 strange people. The next moment I realized that Ely was missing. Since I haven’t brushed my teeth for 24 hours (I blame the missing access to water, not my hygiene habits), I used the last bit of my water to bring the “breeze” back into my mouth. Happy about that, I swiftly hit the stairs down to look for Ely. However, being more of a ladder made of old and decaying wood than actual stairs, I missed the last one and rolled down with a loud crunch in my ankle. “Oh no.” I thought to myself. “Noooooooooonononononono.”
I sat down slowly on the stairs and for few awful seconds, I was sure my leg was broken.
“What am I gonna do?” I thought in panic. I couldn´t walk and I had 6 more weeks of travel ahead. “This is screwed. Oh my god, I am screwed. I am going home. This is over.”
As tears were bursting into my eyes, I was praying to god hoping the leg was not broken. I moved it front and back, side to side, and even though it hurt like hell, the good news was it wasn´t broken.
The family gathered around me to deliver professional assessments of my health state.
“I think it is dislocated. We need to get it fixed. Let´s go, Natalia, we will take you to the town!” said Ely.
“To the town” sounded almost like “to the hospital” to me and despite being significantly insecure about the quality of local hospitals, I agreed to go. However, on the way, I was told another surprise, that the place where we were going was not a hospital, and the guy was not a doctor, but a “healer”. Hearing this, I bursted into a hysterical cry.
“But… But… I don´t wanna go to a magical healer! I want a doctor! A real one!”
However, in the car, no one seemed to care much about my opinion. With a “she has no idea what she is saying” look on their face, we continued rolling to the house of a magical healer.
4. A magical healer
I had a serious doubt about anyone who would call himself a healer and I was more than ever aware of the fact that he might have screwed my ankle even more than actually help it. However, we arrived in his house, he sat me down in the chair and observed my ankle attentively, while I resolutely kept repeating my leg is absolutely fine and needs no adjustments, demonstrating it by twisting it painfully to all possible directions.
The magical healer didn´t seem much convinced about it.
“It is not at its place and we need to put it back”.
Before I had any chance to protest, he charged another guy with holding my hands so that I couldn´t move and then he twitched my foot firmly in several directions accompanied with my agonizing cry. I swear for few seconds I thought I was going to die. And then it all stopped.
“There. Back on its place.” He said and I took a long and deep breath.
The magical healer applied a bit of a cannabis cream on my ankle, wrapped it firmly in a toilet paper and let me go. In few hours, I felt like nothing ever happened to my ankle at all.
And so I headed to Quito on the very same day. Arriving quite late in the evening, the city was awfully empty. After a short stroll, I came to my hostel, a 3-floor tall historical building, emptier than a vacuum, a real ghost house. After struggling a little to meet the receptionist, I followed him through the dark corridors to my dorm where I luckily found an another human soul.
“Hi! Where are all the people?” I asked the cute little girl on arrival. She looked at me confusingly.
“I have been here alone since Friday.” She said. ,,And actually, I am leaving right now.”
,Uh. I don’t want to be alone in this empty hostel!´ I thought to myself.
“I am going with you!” I snapped out suddenly.
The little French girl looked surprised, but she shrugged her shoulders and told me to come.
A bit confused about the directions to our destination, we came up to a police officer at the bus stop to ask for a help. However, something else already took his attention. Instead of answering my question, he raised his hand up in order to get attention of the people around, saying: “Tranquilo… tranquilo… tranquilo.. todo está bien. Tranquilo.” (in other words “shut the fuck up and calm down” in English).
Surprised about what was going on, I looked around me and realized that the lamps hanging from the roof were swinging. I wondered if it was a result of the trolleybus riding the trolleys or what the hell. I just had no idea.
Then I looked at the lady selling tickets appx. 3 meters from me. She put her face into her hands, looking startled, with tears glinting in her eyes.
“Is this an earthquake?” came to my mind. It would be the first earthquake in my life and I had honestly no idea how it usually went. But this was okay. Houses were not moving and the ground wasn´t quaking, as we know it from the action movies. I intuitively raised my head to check the situation over myself and moved a bit to the place where nothing would endanger me in case of falling down.
After 20 seconds, it was all over. I could almost hear the stones falling off the hearts of people around. I got instantly excited, jumping up and down and clapping my hands joyfully, shouting: “My first earthquake! My first earthquake!” while people around me were smiling with relieve.
In the night, I woke up to an another earthquake shaking my bed steadily.
What I didn´t know was the fact that this set of earthquakes on the coast (about 215 km from me) got a magnitude 6.8 and killed hundreds and hundreds of people. I would never, never, never, never expect myself to be close to such a danger. However, since every coin has two sides, being 200km away from death made me realize how fragile and omissible our life is.
My two weeks in Ecuador were a wild ride across unexpected surprises, long nights, hangover mornings, amazing views and breath-taking sceneries, but most of all, it was a time accompanied by people with warm hearts and amazing stories. Come to this little unexplored paradise and you won´t be disappointed!
P.S. If you are interested in specific things I have done and seen in Ecuador, get ready for my next article. Coming soon!