Giving Thanks in Ecuador

Here is the link to the photos y'all.

The trend of getting entirely too little sleep that begun with our late night (early morning?) arrival from Cuenca continued throughout the week, as I worked with a partner on our final project for gender class. It is a study plan (I think that's what people say in English…?) examining the how beer and deodorant adds affect the formation of masculinity in young men in Quito. It was very interesting, but it is making me realize I am probably not meant to be a social scientist…We finally got it all done, which was good, since we could just email it to the professor on Thursday, since there was no class.

I got home from morning classes on Thanksgiving, then, and had time to skype with the whole Buche family. They were all draped around the Buche-Koker house, as they are pretty much every year on that day; sleeping, eating, chatting, my mother sowing, watching football, doing crossword puzzles in the kitchen etc. It was odd the effect all this had: you might think it would give me a great sense of nostalgia and longing to be with them. In some ways it did, but I left the call (after being passed between uncles, parents, aunts, cousins and grandma) feeling happy: the day is really so predictable, so comfortable in its traditional sameness, that talking with them made me feel like I was there, since I had so much context to imagine the rest of the scene outside the limits of the camera. It seemed ok, not to be there, since I could almost live the day perfectly in that one hour of chatting. This meant that I had time to be pressed into service here as a potato peeler in preparation for the feat.

Most Ecuadorian families don't celebrate Thanksgiving (we were realizing that this is one of a very few holidays that we have in the USA that is originally ours, and not imported from somewhere else with the immigrants we are mostly made up of) but since Ximena lived for 15 years in the States, the tradition rubbed off. Ailsa (the German girl who lived with us for the first 3 weeks, and is now teaching in a small village a few hours away) came for the day to participate in the festivities. The camaraderie was lovely, as the three of us wove through the kitchen (the Buche family measurement of kitchen size based on number of butts that can effectively work in it came up) I peeled potatoes, sliced them, and began scalloped potato (which apparently has not real translation into Spanish) construction, as Ximena pureed pumpkin and arranged the turkey, and Alisa made chocolate mousse. It was a very good thing I didn't have class, because they really would have been hard-pressed to get everything done by 7, when the guests came, without me. It was interesting, reflecting on how that was probably the most active participation in Thanksgiving meal preparation that I can remember, since normally my brilliant chef-uncle John gets us all out of his way to prepare his masterpiece. This time, we were finishing the green beans when the doorbell rang. Alisa and I had already gotten our fancy dresses on (the most elegant Thanksgiving wear I have ever used, by far) and so we finally managed to shoo Ximena out of the kitchen to go get changed as well.

The guests consisted of Ximena's cousin's family (parents, three boys, one girlfriend) and a few hours later Ernesto and Veronica, some family friends, plus the four of us. The meal was traditional in some aspects: there were green beans, a turkey, and pumpkin pie, and scalloped potatoes were a close-enough substitute for the traditional mashed variety. Other things were added, such as rice with noodles and raisins (not as weird as it sounds, I promise) mango sauce, and lettuce salad. Other things still were absent, like sweet potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce, but all in all it was delicious, if not totally traditional: Thanksgiving al estilo Ecutoriano.

We did follow the cardinal rule of being totally stuffed before we remembered there were still three kinds of desert to conquer. We sighed and attempted a little digestion as we chatted, Ximena and Gustavo recounting their escapades in Colombia the weekend before (while I was off in Cuenca.) I think the level of hilarity, and ensuing uproarious laughter probably helped us feel less ready to explode: the anecdotes included speeding tickets, Gustavo riding his newly bought bike through the steep mountains and mud and the Colombian boarder to avoid paying an import tax (but almost dying of exhaustion in the process) and then their accidental stay in a hotel that functioned mainly as a brothel, and imitation of the sounds they heard all night, and therefore couldn't sleep…We finally attacked the passion fruit mousse the cousin had brought, chocolate mousse a la Alisa, and Ximena's pumpkin pie, when our laughter had subsided enough to function, and we drank some wine, and chatted some more, finally cleaning up and turning in around 11:30.

The next day, I shared some leftover pumpkin pie with my compñeros, who hadn't been so lucky as to get a Thanksgiving. And after Rodolfo's class and our presentation of our Cuencan research project, I went home to a much-needed nap. Around 7 the Earlhamites met at school for our own Thanksgiving celebration. We ended up getting Mexican food-not your typical Thanksgiving fare, but it was pretty delicious, and also attainable at a semi-reasonable price, unlike any traditional food we might have been able to find. We had a great time, sharing every dish, as usual, and christening Michelle "Miguel" instead, because of the way they misspelled her name on the toothpick flag they stuck in her burrito. I also became Kit, and Tyler Taylor…The evening was spent hanging gout at Tyler's house Minori actually falling asleep before Sarah for a change! Before parting ways to go to our own houses, Minori, Sarah, Tyler and I agreed to meet at 9:15 the next morning, to go to Mindo for the day.

Thus, at about 9:30, we were all assembled at la entrada principal, with a rough idea of where we were going, and a keen sense of adventure. We finally did make it to our destination, 4 buses, 3 mangos (some sustenance was needed along the way) and 4 hours to do what theoretically should have taken us 2 hours. The highlight was the fact that there was a pretty constant stream of vendedores who would get on the bus and provide us with ice cream, candied peanuts and strangely delicious sesame and coconut squares. One such solicitor, this one asking for money for his cause, cam up to Tyler, and said "Your Chinese, right? And this is your wife?" he asked, turning to Minori who was sitting next to him. Tyler confirmed that version of events, and thus the Itabashi-Tolman union was sealed…

It turned out that, after arriving and eating some arepas for lunch, we only had a few hours to enjoy the waterfall (this was the same one I had bravely jumped off of all those months ago when I had come with my family) if we wanted to catch the last bus out, which was at 5pm. We decided on getting a hostel instead.

We thus dumped our stuff there (the whole town is made of about 10 blocks total) contacted our families to tell them the change of plans, and followed Ximena's suggestion to save the waterfall for the next morning, and do other things around town for the afternoon.

This was how, about an hour later, we found ourselves in the back of a pickup truck, bouncing over dirt roads to the river, where we were going to go tubing. It was surprisingly fun: 6 large inter-tubes roped together, and two rambunctious guides who led us through the rapids, over the boulders and down the mini cascades, as we shrieked with laughter and held on for dear life. We got pretty soaked as the raft thing nearly folded in half at points, while sliding through narrow channels. The driver of the pickup took some pretty adorable pictures of us from the bridge too. Before we knew it, we were wading out of the cold water, soggy but happy. We then drove back to town, where Minori and I took advantage of our already wet clothes to scramble and stumble down the hill by our hostel to explore the same river we had just floated on (we later realized that there were actually stairs, so all that stumbling wasn't actually necessary…) we spent a surprisingly fabulous half an hour or so sitting in the rushing water, planning all the fun things we would do on campus next semester. From there, we dried off, and walked around town a bit, drank a batido de mora (milk and blackberry smoothie) then took a bit of a siesta before heading out to get a huge dinner (that seems to be a theme…) We debated going out dancing, but since we were all so full we couldn't really move, digestion prior to this seemed an order, and in our heart of hearts we knew that if we went back to the hostel to relax, we would all fall asleep. That is indeed what happened. Since none of us had been sure if we were going to stay the night or not, we didn't really have the correct items to do so, but somehow it worked out that we made about one prepared person between the four of us, complimenting each others lack of supplies adequately. Tyler slept in my pants, I used his dental floss, and Minori had some shampoo…it somehow worked.

When asking what the plan was, and concluding by the horizontal posture, and already passed out Sarah that we probably weren't going out Tyler responded "well, that doesn't mean we can't have profound discussions about the world" less than 10 minutes later he was fast asleep. Our next door neighbors were playing obnoxiously loud music and smoking like chimneys at this point, which was more annoying in principle than in fact, because we were all so tired that we had no problem sleeping at all, but resolved to be obnoxiously loud right back at them when we woke up early the next morning to the waterfall. We were upset in principle again, when, all prepared to be rudely noisy and give them a taste of their own medicine, they turned their loud music right back on and continued singing, before we even had a chance!

After leaving some important things in a safe place behind the desk, we checked out, bought some bread, and got in a taxi to be shuttled up the mountain a little ways to the waterfall. We met the guides hiking down, the one in charge of the (apparently 12 meter, which I have a hard time believing…) jump that I did, remembering me. We decided to go straight there, and Tyler, who had wanted to jump since I told him I had, decided to go first. He harnessed up and looked over the edge, but then he over thought it, and 15 minutes of coaxing was insufficient to push him over (in the nicest, most supportive way) Thus, it was decided that his wife (Minori, remember?) would go first instead. One two three was enough for her, and off she went. After that stunning example, her husband rallied his courage and jumped as well. Then Sarah, who had thought she wouldn't do it, decided she would, despite her fear of heights, after a bit of encouragement, jump she did-conquering her fear!

After all that excitement, we had very little time to take a cheesy selfie, dunk in the chilly water, and trek back up to the waiting taxi. From there, we got some bolones de verde, and got back in the taxi who would take us to the bus stop, where we could flag down any bus, because they were all going to Quito. It only took us 2 buses and about 2.5 hours to get back home this time, partly because everyone is going toward the big city, so there was less opportunity for error, and also because we kind knew what we were doing by then. After some lunch with my family and a much needed shower, Minori and I met up to do some homework in the park, wanting to take advantage of the sunny day. Part of that time I spent in a tree, as dusk fell over the spectacular view. What better end to a wonderful weekend?