Visiting family abroad is a wonderful, rewarding experience, but at times can be a bit…crazy.
For the first ten days in Ecuador, we visited with several members of Sheena’s family, living and traveling with them during that time. Initially, we stayed with Aunts and Uncles in Guayllabamba, an hour north of Quito. The family has quite a few hectares of farm left of the several hundred they once had, much of which was sold or lost to squatters. Primarily an avocado plantation,
the land and the surrounding area is beautiful. Sheena’s family was kind and gracious as only Latino families can be, housing us and feeding us and taking us to see the surrounding area.
After traveling together for ten weeks, and doing so generally off the cuff, being completely at the whim of others proved to be somewhat challenging. The first full day, we were driven to Cayambe in order to see the town square and surrounding colonial architecture. Sheena, her mom, an aunt, an uncle, and myself loaded up into a truck and made the hour drive. Along the way,
we made a quick stop at a marker indicating 0.00 degrees latitude, and snapped a photo of the middle of the world. We continued to Cayambe, but when we arrived it started to rain so everyone decided that we should be getting back; we circled the square and left, never actually having exited the truck.
We broke up the visit with three days in Quito and a visit to Las Tolas de Cochasquí,the site of fifteen pre-Incan pyramids built around A.D. 700, which was quite beautiful.
Otherwise, the time spent on the farm was spent chatting, (Sheena more than I, as I have very limited Spanish skills) walking the land, and enjoying the company of family.
On what was to be our last day in Guayllabamba, we decided to go Otavalo, so that we could experience the Saturday market there. The indigenous people there, the Otavalaños, are known throughout the world for their skill with wool, and Otavalo hosts one of their largest indigenous markets in Ecuador. We piled into the truck, this time with Sheena, her mom, an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, and me. What should have been a 90 minute drive took nearly three hours due to traffic (we forgot to factor in that in Ecuador, nearly everyone has Easter weekend off), and due to the fact that in Ecuador, police seem to love to either randomly close lanes, entire roads, or set up checkpoints in which they stop every car on the road. When we arrived in Otavalo, we began to explore the massive market, but soon food was needed so we sought out a restaurant for lunch. We apparently chose the slowest one in town, because what should have been a very quick, typical lunch took over two hours. By this point, it was nearly three in the afternoon, and a consensus was made to head back to avoid driving in the dark, so we headed home having spent less than an hour in the market. However, everyone else in Otavalo seemed to have made the same decision so along with more checkpoints and road closures, we didn’t arrive home until well past seven.
From Guayllabamba, we headed to Santo Domingo de los Colorados, where the majority of the family lives, and where Sheena’s mother was raised. Before I continue, l need to describe this city so it can be fully appreciated. Santo Domingo sits on the main crossroads from Quito to entire western section of Ecuador. As such, it has grown exponentially, from a small farming community to over 500,000 in twenty or so years. There is no center, no soul, to Santo Domingo. It is one big, unplanned sprawl. The farm of 27 hectares that Sheena’s family once owned has been reduced to little more than a few trees and a house, boxed in by the crush of the city. There was once a river running through the land, but it has long since dried up due to overdevelopment.
We arrived and were treated incredibly well, again shown the kind of hospitality that only a Latin American family can provide. One morning, a decision was made that they wanted us to see Mindo, as it was supposed to be beautiful and not too far from us, so we went to the bus station and caught the next bus there. It turned out the “next bus” was not a direct one, so three and a half hours later we finally arrived. Mindo was beautiful, a small hamlet tucked into a valley surrounded by peaks and rivers. After a bite at a not-so-good restaurant, we decided to check out the aquarium in town. We paid our $3 entry, and walked into a dimly lit room full of mildewy fish tanks and empty display ponds. As we exited a few minutes later it began to rain, so the majority was set on leaving, after maybe two hours in town. At least this time we paid the extra for a taxi, and 90 minutes later we were back in Santo Domingo.
Family is wonderful, and I am grateful to have finally met Sheena’s family after so many years together. We were treated with the utmost hospitality and kindness by everyone. But when we boarded a bus bound for Baños with Sheena’s cousin, we were ready to start our trek towards the Amazon.