July 4: Departure Into the Unknown
I couldn’t sleep very well all night, too nervous and excited about what was to come. I drove to the airport with my dad, said “see you later” and went through security. This moment, after turning my back to the small world consisting of the east coast of the USA 🇺🇸 I knew and loved, marked the first big leap of my life. Previously, the longest I had been away from my parents was 9 days, when I traversed the Atlantic to Palestine and Israel with a church in the eighth grade. Today, as a graduated high school senior and a rising freshman in college, I feel more ready to go away for not just 9 days, but 6 weeks. I felt ready to take not just a step but “The Leap.”
I was fortunate enough to have a fellow “Leaper,” Paige, travel with me on the same flight. It was a long 6-hour flight for me as there were two little girls sitting behind me constantly kicking the back of my seat and playing weird noises on their devices. Amidst the chaos, I did manage to get some shut-eye.
Here is a photo I took when our plane was landing:
Upon arrival in Quito, we promptly got whisked away by a kind taxi driver named Patricio and driven into the city to our hostel. There, Paige and I met the Brits who had arrived in the morning that day.
After introductions, we all went out to dinner in a local restaurant that we made sure had pizza as requested by Adam. I had a fun and busy time ordering food for everyone because I spoke some Spanish whereas nobody else knew a lick of the language.
Quick recap of the most fun thing that happened to everyone on Day One of Quito:
Naomi- trying to order food without speaking any Spanish
Georgie – pizza
Soz – sitting on the rooftop terrace
Paige – meeting everyone
Sydney – showing up while everyone was asleep with no idea who anyone was or any idea of what to expect
Lia – playing BS with everyone on the rooftop terrace
Shade – seeing peaceful protests
Jacob – seeing the views
Adam – pizza 🍕
Henrik – arriving, smooth flight
Toby – arriving in Quito
Hold onto your belongings!
Speed limit seems to be: go as fast as you can
Day one spent in Quito did not disappoint. Almost all of our Leapers have arrived at this point. The Brits arrived on the Fourth of July in the morning, Paige and I arrived around 3 in the afternoon, Henrik arrived around 8:30 and Sydney arrived around 11:30 at night when all of us were fast asleep. I remember waking up to bright lights all of a sudden and two people walking in asking if any beds were available for a new Leaper. Until Friday, our team consists of 11: 4 Americans and 7 Brits. Seven of us (going on 8) are girls and 4 of us are guys. Friday, we’ll have another Leaper join us named Olivia.
We began the day by having a delicious breakfast of bananas, strawberries, slices of bread, a dollop of salsa on the side, and what looked like to be chicken in a sort of fried maíz-based (corn-based) mixture between 8 and 9 in the morning.
Our wonderful leader, Charlotte, led everyone from the hostel to orientation a few blocks away at the Spanish school called Yanapuma. Yanapuma works with The Leap and many organizations, helping to delegate volunteer opportunities in the local community.
Another brilliant leader, Miguel, gave us a thorough and detailed presentation about our itinerary, what’s expected of us, some guidelines/suggestions, and then we had a brief break to get a drink of water or in my case, take a Spanish placement test to see where I should be placed for the Spanish classes that will be taught during our time in Agato. I placed intermediate/advanced which I was happy about. I felt prepared thanks to my wonderful Spanish teachers back in the USA 🇺🇸. After the “break,” we listened in on another helpful presentation about our time that we’ll be spending in Agato.
Later, we took a tour on a double decker open roof bus. We got to witness parts of the majestic city of Quito, and I noticed how lovely the architecture was in many parts of the city.
In the streets, we could see peaceful protests regarding Ecuador’s president and how he may be gaining too much power according to the people. Above the protests and beautiful architecture stood the beautiful mountains of green framed by a blue sky and wispy clouds. Touching the sky stood La Virgen de Quito on El Penacillo, which was constructed in 1973 out of aluminum (the Brits had to inform me that the correct way it’s pronounced is “aluminium”). Later, we found quite a few nuances in the English language between the Americans and the Brits. It gave us all laughs.
Disclaimer: The day mostly consisted of the Brits making fun of America (food sizes, the way we say certain words, the real reason why the USA joined in WWII, why many Americans seem to not know a lot about their own country while the Brits know not only about their own country, but about the USA as well, and that the game “Tic-Tac-Toe” is actually called “Noughts and Crosses,” and the list goes on), but we, Americans, thanked the Brits for our Independence Day on the Fourth of July. Got them back. Everyone takes jokes really well. They are good humored. It’s great. I’ve found out that the Brits speak fluent sarcasm because they mostly speak in monotone so it’s hard to tell if they are saying the truth or just being sarcastic. It’s another thing that I joke about with them.
From the top of El Penacillo, we took many photos of the sprawling city of Quito and of La Virgen de Quito. The city stretched to even touch the horizon and continued up the massive and stunning mountains.
After almost having forgotten my water bottle in a public bathroom and having to sprint about 1/4 mile back to fetch it, I caught my breath and the bus on a return trip “home” to our hostel. Note: keep track of all of your stuff when in Quito.
Later, some of the Leapers conquered the night and spent some bonding time together dancing and drinking in a local club. In Quito and in the U.K., the drinking age is 18 so it was perfectly normal and even expected of them to drink whilst there was me, an American, who is not legally permitted to drink until the age of 21, so it was a bit of a culture shock for me (and the Brits were thoughtful enough to remind us that it seems “mental” that Americans can’t legally drink until 21, but they can go to war at 18- Good point. Another reason why Britain is better – Eh, debatable.) Either way, it was a night well-spent together.
Mitad del Mundo
We began the day with a good breakfast and then by catching multiple buses to get to the equator. The buses get super crowded and seats are hard to come by. When getting off and on, you have to be quick. We started off by touring El Museo nitñaño and we got the chance to walk along the equator. Two forces pulled us north and south so it was extremely difficult to walk in a straight line with our eyes closed.
Pictured below is Henrik trying to walk in a straight line along latitude 0°0’0″.
We also got the chance to try and balance a raw egg on a nail on the equator.
It’s harder than it sounds. I managed to do it and as a result, I got a certificate saying I successfully balanced an egg on the equator.
We also snapped a great group photo with the official line of the equator.
Afterward, we had the chance to go to a chocolate museum and learn how chocolate is made. It’s made from cacao. We got the opportunity to suck on one of its seeds and try a bit of dark chocolate.
We had a good lunch at subway on the equator and then we were off to the hostel. I spent almost the entire bus ride standing up because there was a lack of seats.
We rested for a few hours, glad to get off of our feet. Then, I began the long and thorough process of writing this blog post. Once I got a draft down, I showed the Brits because I wanted to know their opinion on the matter. Adam wanted me to take out the last few sentences of the July 5 entry because “Britain is undoubtedly better than the USA.” It isn’t debatable. They loved my disclaimer as do I. It’s very true that the Brits keep jabbing at America. It’s really all fun and games.
This is a mural between the third and fourth floor. I took a picture of it because I think it looks amazing.
We will miss these views of the city from our hostel.
I had a great time at dinner in the hostel with everyone because we talked about scuba diving. As well as scuba diving, Toby and I shared our different experiences of Palestine and Israel and everyone discussed how America is “known” for people suing others like with the case with the Vatican. Hilarious stereotypes of Americans. Perhaps there may be a bit of truth … Everyone also wanted me to read my July 5 entry aloud at the dinner table, which I did gladly. It brought many laughs and jokes to the table.
Since I am such a slow eater and I had been talking the entire time when we were supposed to be eating, I stayed a bit later to finish up my plate of burrito. I had a wonderful chat with Charlotte, and we talked about what it takes to be a good leader while also being a friend. It’s hard to manage to reach a balance, but it’s great once it’s figured out. I also suggested that Charlotte start a jogging blog to all the fantastic sites in Ecuador as I would like to keep up some photos on my Instagram of me doing a handstand in all the cool sites we go to.
After dinner, everyone hung out on the rooftop terrace until our “party bus” came to bring us to a local club. We sung and danced to Despacito- a favorite of Toby’s. Just kidding, that was sarcasm. We finished the night in our rooms on a good note. What a day!
We leave in the morning on Thursday for Agato. We’ll miss Quito, but more is yet to come. The Spanish classes and speaking begins!