Day 282: Cuenca, Ecuador
My visa expires tomorrow and after 90 days I officially must leave Ecuador. It’s amazing to think I’ve been here for three months in total; the first time with my family, the second for Cuenca’s independence and then for the holidays.
Above Andres is pushing through the crowd to catch a photo for me during the Three Kings parade. I chose this obscured photo because Andres asked me more than once not to include him in my writing. Although he didn’t seem to mind the post about learning how to watch football like an Ecuadorian so maybe this post won’t bother him. Okay so I’m pushing it but for a very important reason.
Sometimes you meet people who teach you things in such a subtle manner that you don’t realize they have profoundly changed your core being.
Without Andres I wouldn’t have really understood the culture of Ecuador, his kindness did not end with teaching me swear words. He had incredible patience trying to help an idealistic developed-world girl understand what it’s like to live in an underdeveloped country.
So many times I was humbled, to the point of embarrassment when he explained his country struggles:
– That we should not say Ecuador is so cheap because it isn’t for locals. The average salary in Cuenca was just raised to $260 a month, the expected cost of living is almost double that amount.
It also means the $40 imported Christmas turkey I was too cheap to buy is more like $300-500 on their scale, a Christmas tradition out of reach for many.
– When he bit his tongue as an Italian traveler told us how a shoeshine boy wanted $1 but he eventually got it for 25 cents.
Rather than scold the man for being so cold, Andres privately explained to me that the cost is indeed $1 but the boy was so desperate for money that he would take anything.
– That the crime in Quito is a result of a greater poverty problem with the country, as poor countrymen head to the city in promise of work only to find nothing. Many aren’t stealing from tourists to buy drugs but to feed their families.
– How many Ecuadorians illegally enter the US to work for nearly ten times the financial opportunity, only so that they can save money to return to Ecuador with the ability to support their family.
Andres never once judged me for being naive or blamed me for being part of a society that encouraged consumerism and then used his country for cheap travel.
But because of him traveling in South America has taken on a new meaning.