By: Tori Baldassini
As a 5 month PD, I was extremely overwhelmed when I arrived to Ecuador. This is because I quickly learned that there is a LOT to do here, and I only had a very limited amount of time in which I could do it all! To help deal with the panic, the other PDs and I made a “Bucket List” of all the things we wanted to accomplish over 5 months. The list has almost 30 items on it; most of which we have accomplished! Below is an abbreviated version of some of the highlights of my time in Ecuador.
One thing that was very important to us was that we make time to explore the nearest big city and the capital of Ecuador, Quito. We live about 40 minutes from Quito by bus so we visit it usually at least once a week. Some of our favorite spots include: La Calle Ronda, a beautiful colonial street that hosts many traditional Ecuadorian restaurants; El Centro Historico, home to many beautiful churches and museums- we even got a chance to tour El Palacio Presidencial (the president's home)!; and El Panecillo, a tall hill that overlooks Quito and has a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary. At this time of year, the Panecillo is especially gorgeous because it has the largest Nativity scene in Latin America. I have completely fallen in love with the city of Quito and I am really going to miss it when I return home!
2. Try Ecuadorian Foods
This goal was the easiest on the list to accomplish because we are constantly surrounded by Ecuadorian food. Whether it is going for a quick $3 almuerzo (lunch) after our Tuesday morning meetings or grabbing hornado from our vecina (neighbor) after our Saturday morning classes, my fellow PDs and I are always eating Ecuadorian food. When I think of all the things in Ecuador, food is one of the things that I will miss the most. Hornado is definitely my favorite- it is a roasted pork dish that is usually served with tortilla (fried cheesy potatoes), mote (corn), and tomatoes and onions. When I eat hornado, I drown it in aji (a spicy sauce) because it is my favorite and I put it on almost everything. Our veci near the community center definitely makes the best hornado in Ecuador, which is a little bit too convenient for us. Jen and I (both from Massachusetts) have been trying to convince our veci to move home with us so we will not have to live without her delicious hornado.
Baños was the first trip that all of the current Ecuador PDs took together. We were completely blown away by the beauty of the city; it was surrounded by beautiful mountains and waterfalls. We also enjoyed the many adventure sports offered in Baños. We went zip-lining and even swung on the swing “at the end of the world”.
Otavalo is a city in Ecuador not too far from where we live that is known for its artesanal markets. So of course, I completely splurged and bought myself a ton of clothes with Ecuadorian patterns, including a beautiful alpaca sweater. I`m going to come home with a completely different style! Otavalo is also known for its fritada, which is a dish very similar to hornado except it contains fried pork rather than roasted pork. We also visited a local lake- el lago San Paolo- while we were in Otavalo and took a beautiful boat ride.
When I arrived in Ecuador, many Ecuadorians suggested that I visit Cuenca, which is considered the most beautiful city in Ecuador. Although I think I prefer my “hometown” of Quito, Cuenca is undoubtedly a gorgeous city. My fellow PDs and I really enjoyed wandering its beautiful streets and taking in the sights. Cuenca is also the city in Ecuador with the most immigrants so we were able to have some authentic Italian and Indian food!
One thing that was very important to us while we were making this list was that it included every region of Ecuador: the sierra (where we live), the coast, the jungle, and the Galapagos islands. Salinas is a city located on the coast of Ecuador and it is absolutely beautiful. We spent our long weekend there relaxing on the beach and taking in the beautiful ocean views. Brenna and I were even brave enough to go jet skiing on the ocean!
Cuyabeno is in the Amazonian jungle region of Ecuador. It is so far off the grid that we had to take a bus ride and then a 2 hour canoe ride to get there! Highs of our trip include swimming in the river, fishing for piranhas, nighttime crocodile hunting, and getting to practice our Spanish with our lovely Ecuadorian tour guide, Charbel. Lows of the trip were finding a frog in our toilet and spotting a tarantula during one of our hikes. Although we had some startling experiences, we were so grateful to have the opportunity to be in such close contact with the beautiful rainforest.
8. Galapagos Islands
Although Jen was able to go visit the Galapagos in August, the rest of us PDs have a 5 day trip planned to visit them over our Christmas break! We are so excited to see all the biodiversity the islands have to offer and also to see our final region of Ecuador!
9. Make friends!!!
I said that the food in Ecuador is “one of” the things I will miss the most from Ecuador but the people I have met through this experience definitively are what I will miss the most. I have been so fortunate to be able to work with Manna´s wonderful staff who have supported me through all the ups and downs of working and living abroad. I also have been incredibly lucky to be able to serve such a welcoming and friendly community. For the past 5 months that I have lived here, Ecuador has felt like my home and that is 100% because of the people I have been surrounded by.
Want to make your own bucket list? Consider applying to become a Program Director: