Expanding the friend rolodex, making cultural connections abroad

TEMP ORARY November 28, 2012 0

I’m working on expanding my friend-base. I aim to create friendships with people residing in all corners of the world. This will allow me to become both familiar with other cultures and reap the benefits of traveling with free lodging. While I already had connections in Quito, I can now also cross Cuenca, Ecuador off my list.
Cuenca is a city in south, central Ecuador – about 8 hours (almost directly) south of Quito. I had been acquainted with this Cuenca chick before last weekend, but she has definitely advanced to friend status.
Johis Inga, a 22-year-old Cuencana, studied in my Pennsylvanian high school four long years ago. If I’m being honest, I really didn’t remember anything about her. However, she noticed on the ever-trusty Facebook that I was currently living in Quito and proceeded to invite me for a weekend.
She seemed eager to have me visit – as I was the first person hailing from the United States (from, more specifically, the town in which she herself had studied abroad) to come to her home country. Unfortunately (not really that unfortunate), BCA trips had packed my calendar; thus, I had to put off the Cuenca expedition. But, finally, after many weeks of bopping around Ecuador with my BCA peeps, I found a free weekend to head south.
I set off on an overnight bus two Thursdays ago, not knowing what to expect upon the bus’ arrival. Would she be super weird? Would her family feed me cow brains? Would they invite me to stuff? I had no idea!
Sleep came and went as the bus went south, south, south. I was awakened by the aisle lights at 6:30 a.m. as we pulled up to the station. Three hours later, after getting terribly lost, Johis found the station, and, with infinite apologies, took me to her house.
As it turns out, I had zero reasons to feel anxious. We were first greeted with kisses from her new Schnauzer puppy, Rafa, and then by her wonderfully hospitable mother, emerging from the kitchen with mountains of breakfast options.
In addition to showing me around the city, introducing me to friends and treating me to ice cream, Johis and her family spoiled me with an evening at a nearby spa. She, her sister, her mom and I piled into the car (oh, how nice it was to travel without needing a bus!) and headed to “the pools.” My visions of a crowded, full-of-freezing-water hole in the ground were soon erased; in their place sat an elite, clean, steaming pool, requiring a hair cap and a pre-entry shower. We suffered together in the blazingly hot sauna, and then enjoyed the biting agony of hopping to and from the hot and cold pools.
As is Ecuadorian custom, her family spent a lot of time together. Both her sister and father were home for the weekend; they live away during the week, working hours from home. Thus, they packed the family activities into the two days they all shared together. Many family meals were eaten at Johis’s grandparents house; her grandma, grandpa, aunt and cousin all resided within the same house; they lived just three minutes down the road from the Inga’s house. Johis’s seven-year-old cousin, Augustine, found me (with my blondish hair, white skin and inability to eat crabs correctly) quite intriguing. He kept shooting me glances and giggling giddily as if I were wearing a strange costume or something.
Ecuadorians love fattening their guests— it’s like the most key ingredient to good host etiquette. They fed me crabs! And homemade pizza! And French fries! Hunger was not a problem during my stay. If anything, I was uncomfortably bloated the entire three days.
Staying with the Inga family was infinitely lovely. They included me in all of their plans. They had a puppy that reminded me all too much of Georgie, my darling Westie-poo waiting for me back in Lancaster. They live in suburbia, and I woke up to the songs of birds sitting outside my window rather than the roaring of cars and airplanes of Quito.
They invited me back, saying I would always be welcome there. I aim to clear a weekend and return as soon as possible.

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