18 On A Gap Year: Green & Blue

A lot of my memories in green and blue are outside my host community of Ricaurte, when I was traveling in Ecuador or Peru. I’ll take this time to list all the cities I travelled to and share a story.

In Ecuador, I went to the cities of Quito, Ibarra, Otavalo, Tena, Azogues, Cuenca, Vilcabamba, Playas, Puerto Lopez, and Guayaquil.

In Peru, I went to the cities of Juliaca, Puno, Cusco, Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Pueblo, Ica (+Huacachina), and Lima.

In total, I’ve probably spent more than 30 hours on ground transportation including private cars, taxis, and buses.

 

My favorite destination was definitely Cusco! In the few days I spent in Cusco, I embarked on many excursions, i.e. to Macchu Picchu and La Montaña de Siete Colores. 

One afternoon in Cusco, while it was pouring, my parents sent me into La Plaza de Armas (a square close to our Airbnb). The sole instruction I received was “find something cool to do tomorrow and let us know.” My budget was < $100 / person.

After a couple minutes at the first tourism office I stumbled into and a phone call to my parents, I purchased 2 bus tickets ($60 each) to Vinicunca, La Montaña de Siete Colores. There was a hike included in the package. My dad had a cold so he opted out, but my mom wanted to go if the hike was not too extreme. The man behind the desk assured me el camino es facil, corto y tan hermoso.

“The path is easy, short, and beautiful.”

That night, my mom and I bundled up for the day-trip and packed lightly. We set out our comfy walking sneakers, as recommended by the man in the excursion office. “Nothing special needed” he had said when I asked if we were to need special shoes/clothes/items.

At 3:36 AM, my mom and I were picked up by the company bus (I know because we took a ridiculous commemoratory photo). We arrived to the base of the mountain at 7:30 AM.

It was heavenly.

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And then the hike  TREK up was demonic.

We were given an option of either walking up the mountain path or taking a horse up. My mom chose a cute brown horse. The rest of us were given broomsticks as a kind of economic trekking pole.

I found out much later that the venture was 22 km total.

People were on all fours and some were even sitting down, defeated. It had just rained the night before, so bodies were hitting the ground left and right. The trail could have been mistaken for a slip n’ slide. There was mud in all my orifices by the end of the first hour and my broomstick snapped before I reached the top (but I think that was just a bonus experience since nobody else’s did).

Meanwhile, my mom was riding her horse daintily somewhere ahead.

At one point, as I was sliding down a small slope after another fall, a kind stranger grabbed my broomstick. We played a kind of tug-of-war mid-slope, both of us hanging on to either side of the flimsy wood, except that in this case the objective was to save me from body-sledding all the way down to the bottom.

I started on the path with two feet, but as I approached 16,000 ft I found myself on all fours. And there was my mom, sitting on a rock, unscathed, waiting for me at the 16,000 ft checkpoint.

We walked/crawled the last leg up to the top together.

 

If you look closely, you can see the death in my eyes. I think I made the entire climb down on my butt. Like I said, a slip n’ slide.

But without that struggle up, I wouldn’t have gotten these bad-ass photos. And in the midst of the adrenaline, in that moment on top of Apu Winicunca, the Mountain of Seven Colors, I was so proud. Here was something I decided to do and I did.

On April 22, 2018, the Sunday I came back to Boston, I attended TEDxBostonCollege. There, Lawyer & Assistant Professor at the Carroll School of Management, Juan Montes, told his story. He was a mountain climbing enthusiast. Juan had climbed Mt. Everest and other sky reaching mountains, he wasn’t interested in baby slope tourist bumps like the one I had climbed. Juan shared incidents of accidents and deaths, casually mentioning ungodly conditions including hypothermia, frozen toes, and sharing oxygen. And the whole time I was thinking wow. This dude is crazy.

When he showed us the pictures, I thought of my own, now seemingly painless and insignificant, expedition.

One of his last slides was a question: Why do people climb mountains?

I stared at this slide and whole-heartedly wanted to know why people chose to put their lives at risk for this extreme hobby, because everything he had told us so far painted a picture of suffering.

“Because it’s there,” Juan quoted George Mallory, a famous English mountaineer.

And an image appeared in my head. This one.

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And I understood. A little.

 

18 On A Gap Year: Orange & Yellow

One of the most notable fruits I’ve tried for the first time in Ecuador has to be granadillas. They look like orange raindrops and are in the same family as passionfruit. The insides are similar to passionfruit in that the seeds are encased in a kind of goop, but it differs in color and taste. Granadillas are sweet and mild, and a favorite among the Southern Cohort! Above you can see Natalia with a bright orange bulge (that’s the granadilla).

I tend to associate orange with warmth, so in this gallery I’ve included times and objects that made me feel at home, included, and just content. This includes sunsets on Puerto Lopez, roasting marshmallows around a bonfire in Playas, making Neoguri ramen in my family kitchen, and the blanket my mom made for me before I left home. The song is Carry Me Home by Jorja Smith. I listened to it whenever I started to miss home (coincidentally the EP cover for Project 11 is also orange).

Countries change but the girl doesn’t! If you’re looking around and I seem to have disappeared, you can probably find me where there are dogs. Bingo is one of my many furry friends I’ve made in Ecuador. He is my brother’s adopted neighborhood puppy. My brother lives separate from us and actually only has one Shiba Inu (Nacho) and a black kitten (Leila). One day, a neighborhood dog (Princesa) showed up with two puppies. We have no idea who the father is, but now Nacho and Leila have a family of three joining them for supper every night!

Yellow is exciting!

Did you know Ecuador is known for their fresh fruit juices? My parents were so amped to learn this, almost as much as I was to see them after 5 months in a foreign country. We traveled all over Peru and Ecuador, trying new foods like cuy (guinea pig), llama, yellow watermelon, choclo (a breed of corn), and more! And of course we drank fresh juice by the tank.

I will probably never look at the color yellow the same again after being surrounded by a sea of yellow uniforms, walls, signs, and stationary for my apprenticeship. My school’s colors are black and yellow, so nothing within a 10 ft radius of the school gates could escape the infectious yellow glow of the institution.

PSA: You can get cheap $2 hamburguesas almost anywhere in Ecuador. If that’s not exciting, I don’t know what is. I can be spotted outside a function or discoteca eating (multiple) hamburguesas (in one night) while dancing to Dura by Daddy Yankee.

Sometimes Ecuador is orange, and sometimes Ecuador is yellow.

 

18 On A Gap Year: Red

 

I had always thought red was too aggressive of a color, but it has come to represent familiar objects and remind me of people that I adore.

Red is the color of the ice cream I buy everyday at the local tienda. I’ll walk down the street in PJ’s and flip flops, in the pouring rain or beating sun, sometimes accompanied by one (or all) of my 4 nieces or nephews, for the heart-shaped guilty pleasure above. I unfailingly, everyday, purchase this addictive dairy product despite being lactose intolerant.

Red is the color of the sweet flesh of sandia that I encountered not only in my local market in Ricaurte, Ecuador, but also in the outdoor markets of Juliaca, Peru. It’s also the color my face flushes into as I struggle to barter in Spanish.

Red is the color of the countless bouquets of roses I have been given while in Ecuador from my nieces, nephews, host dad, and other Cuencano admirers. Some of these occasions include my first day, Valentines, el Dia de la Mujer, and a typical Tuesday.

Red reminds me of my good friends Sophie and Jordan. Sophie, because she’s poppin’ all the time (my true bad b inspiration) and Jordan, because we always find ourselves under red strobe lights in some club. And for some reason, the song Corazón by Maluma, Nego do Borel is always playing in said club.

Sometimes, Ecuador is red.

 

18 On A Gap Year: Intro

As some of you may know, I am in the last leg of my gap year in Ecuador. I have wanted, for a while, to find a way to share my experiences whilst being 18 on a gap year.

There are connotations to being 18. We often see those Instagram posts on 18th birthdays captioned, finally legal! And we can’t forget the classic emoji that unfailingly succeeds the cliche caption. 18 is freedom. 18 is responsibility (or abuse of). 18 is wild and unforgiving. 

And then there are connotations to taking a gap year. There are always interrogations and back-handed questions. “You’re not ready for college?” “You didn’t get into any schools last year.” “You don’t value education.” “Your priorities are elsewhere.” Which is not the case at all.

Now integrate the connotations of being 18 and taking a gap year.

People expect the worse of you, while you are expecting the best. And honestly,  you end up with both. A paradox is born. It is joyous and sorrowful, it is overwhelming and comfortable, it is a coming of age and an undoing of certain experiences simultaneously. It is a lesson you learn compiled of everything you have already known.

I wish I could have overcame my writer’s block sooner to document my experience in words whilst 18 on a gap year. I tried. But I have yet to find the words to paint a picture brilliant enough to embody my past 8 months.

So I deduced last night to attempt to organize my experiences into a mental palette, sequenced by feelings and colors, not following any conventional timeline.

I expect this series to be a tangle of stories, songs, pictures and more. Just as it exists in my memory.  Here’s to being 18 on a gap year. 

The next blog (and first of the series!) will be 18 On A Gap Year: Red. Posting Monday, Apr. 2nd!

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