Note: I typed 90% of this on my iPad, so please excuse embarrassing grammar typos.
If the first week here was slow, my second week flew by. I’m so much more comfortable with the market and the children, and they can sense that I am less hesitant, making it easier to connect with them.
So far, my favorite market is on Friday. We meet in an covered and enclosed area, which makes it easier to keep track of the kids. There is also far more space, so we are able to play some active games, such as my personal favorite, Musical Hugs. If you’ve ever played Musical Chairs, you’re already very familiar with the basic goal of this game: find a spot when the music stops or you are removed from the game. As the names suggest, in Musical Chairs you must find a chair, and in Musical Hugs you must find a volunteer to hug. The volunteers all stood in a line, while the kids clamored over each other to wrap their arms around our legs and smile up at us. It was too cute.
Every day brings another interesting encounter with the children. Some positive, some negative, and some best described as humbling. One of these moments took place with a young girl who attached herself to me halfway through the afternoon, constantly trying to sit in my lap while chatting away in a language I barely understand. She was five years old and extremely social, but when we were working with patterns and beads, I slowly realized that she didn’t know her colors. She simply hadn’t been given the opportunity to learn them, either at home or in school. After the program, I was walking her to her mother (as UBECI requires) and she took me on an entire detour to meet her father as well. I felt quite honored.
This week, we were also able to explore much more of Quito, both after volunteering and over the weekend. Because we are in South Quito, we are far from the conventional tourist spots, but it only takes a 25¢ “trole” or a $5 taxi to make our way north. I discovered two main things while exploring North Quito. First of all, I am thankful to be staying in South Quito, where there are less tourists and more local experiences. Second of all, Quito is gorgeous. One of the most memorable moments was a climb into the clock tower of the Basílica de Voto Nacional. The church itself is breathtaking and powerful, personalized with gargoyles carved to look like birds from the Galapagos. Hundreds of stairs up into the clock tower, we were able to look out at the city sprawled below us. The brightly colored buildings stretch out for miles and edge up the sides of the mountains.
Another fun North Quito adventure was visiting Mariscal. We have been there multiple times now, for a variety of reasons. One attraction is the artisan market in Mariscal. Although tourist markets in all of Ecuador (and South America, for that matter) have similar cheap souvenirs for sale, there were a few actual artesian products. It was fun to see the women dressed in traditional Ecuadorian clothing, and look at some local art. Another attraction is Foch Plaza, the most popular bar district in Quito. We’ve stopped by a few times after hours to visit some bars and “discotechs,” a personal favorite being Finn McCools, an Irish bar with excellent mojitos that attracts tourists from all over the world. We also went to Foch Plaza this weekend to watch some World Cup games. In general, South America takes fútbol far more seriously than the US. It was exciting to be in such an enthusiastic atmosphere.
On Monday, we decided to get out of Quito and visit the Termas de Papallacta, a collection of hot springs in the Andes a few hours away. We grabbed lunch at a small junction 1.5 kilometers down the hill from the springs, opting for the Lonely Planet recommended trout. Apparently our meal came with shots of complimentary sugar cane alcohol. Afterward we headed to the gorgeous springs. Only $7 granted us access to the pools, adorned with sky blue tiles, miniature waterfalls, and adobe buildings. The whole experience felt very “resort-like,” with the Andes rising steeply around us, surrounding the area with a dense cloud forest. It was great to leave the city and relax in the warm pools, especially in such an amazing area!