By: CAITLIN SALVINO
Saturday, July 6, 2013
At 12:35 am we finally arrived in the capital of Ecuador – Quito. The first impression I got from this country I had been longing to visit for a year was the cold and the size. While waiting for our bus to arrive outside, it was absolutely freezing; this was the first of many moments throughout this trip that I wish I had packed a pair of snow pants with me…The other thing that struck me was the size of Quito; it took us over an hour to get to our hotel all while driving through the city. To me, it seems like this city never ends.
Due to baggage delays and other factors we arrived at our hotel around 4:00 am and I was exhausted. To add to this, Rebecca’s and my roommate was extremely sick. Eventually she moved into our facilitator’s room while Rebecca and I tried to take advantage of the few hours of sleep we could salvage before beginning an early walking tour of Quito in the morning.
Unfortunately, as I was going to bed I was hit by altitude sickness. The capital of Ecuador (Quito) is 9350 ft. above sea level (2800 meters) in comparison to Ottawa, Canada where I have lived the past 16 years of my life. Ottawa is 545 ft. above sea level (166 metres). I jumped almost 8000 ft in less than 24 hours and my body was struggling to adjust to the lack of oxygen in Quito. There is no easy way to describe altitude sickness. Some of my symptoms were exhaustion, dehydration and extreme nausea (to the point where I couldn’t even sleep). I took the altitude sickness medicine that had been prescribed to me by my doctor but felt little to no relief. Due to my extreme nausea, I couldn’t lie down so I ended up spending the remaining few hours sitting up in my bed – awake. I can honestly say it was one of the toughest nights of my life, being so far away from home and feeling so awful. However, true character is defined by how you handle adversity. So at 8:00 am that morning, I forced myself to get up, nibble down a bit of breakfast and embark on the walking tour of Quito.
Our tour was lead by an indigenous Ecuadorian woman who talked a lot about the indigenous culture and carried different medicinal herbs on her back that she would occasionally get us to smell.
Throughout the whole tour I could barely absorb what she was saying because I was so overwhelmed by all of my surroundings. Quito is a beautiful city – very old style, colorful, packed, and busy. I was struck by how similar it is to Naples, Italy with the aggressive driving, closely packed buildings and the old Spanish style architecture. What struck me most was the people. Every person I saw, I wanted to go up to them – ask them about their lives and learn their stories. I wished I had taken grade 9 Spanish at the start of high school so that I could understand what people were saying around us and get a snapshot of how they live their lives. On average, the Ecuadorian people were significantly shorter than me (who is 5’8), had a large amount of different races (very similar to Canada) and wore fantastically bright colors. There were children of all different ages everywhere, running around and strapped to their mothers’ backs.
Right before heading off to the Equator museum we ate a picnic lunch overlooking the city of Quito. This just helped reinforce my notion of how huge Quito is. It continued on for my miles. I couldn’t see the outer edges of the city.
We then made our way to the Equator museum located in the “Middle of the world.” There we learned a lot about the indigenous culture in Ecuador such as their values (no lying, no stealing and no laziness), their practices of eating guinea pigs, and the origins of the shrunken heads. We then got to stand on the world famous Equator, something I remember first learning about in grade two. Unlike what I had pictured, it was not as monumental as I thought it would be. But it is something that I’ll never forget.
Despite seeing and experiencing so much, I had a very rough day, having to constantly overcome the feeling of nausea while touring. That night at the hotel I sent an email home to my parents and friends and for the first and only time in this trip did I feel homesick. Dealing with altitude sickness alone was extremely difficult and I know a hug or a few words of encouragement from my parents would have given me more strength. However, this experience made me a stronger and more mature person. I learned to overcome adversity on my own without my friends or my family. These are lessons that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life and has helped prepare me for my move out of home in September.
That night, I finally got some sleep – 40 hours after the last time I had slept (back in Toronto). I’m extremely excited to be driving up tomorrow to the community we’ll be working in for 10 days but I’m also nervous to be going to an even higher altitude while still struggling to adjust to Quito.
I have no idea what the future holds but I’m excited that this journey has finally begun.