A walk in the park

Today I was solo as Chris has been hit with a case of gastro – at least that is what we think it is. We ate exactly the same things yesterday, but by the end of the day, he was finished – fever, headache, body aches, and of course diarrhea.  Relax, that’s all the details I’m giving.

Let’s just say, the little drugstore I packed for this trip has come in handy.  That being said, everything I brought down – Advil, Tylenol, Advil Cold & Sinus, Immodium, Benadryl, Gravol – is readily available at the local grocery store – at a fraction of the cost.  I’m talking name brand drugs.  For instance, you could buy a bottle of 24 Advil for under two bucks.  We haven’t been in a pharmacy yet, but I imagine there would be an even bigger selection, and most likely even cheaper drugs than in the grocery store.

At breakfast, I met an American woman, Vicky, who has retired in Ecuador.  She is one of a growing trend of Americans who are retiring here.  She has been living cloistered in an ex-pat community for eight months and has not learned any Spanish whatsoever as she doesn’t feel there is a need.   She was in Quito trying to resolve some Visa problems which she blamed on her Ecuadorian lawyer.  It’s supposed to be a relatively straight forward process to apply for an immigrant Visa – all you need to do is demonstrate you have a minimum monthly income from your country of origin (e.g. a pension) of $800 and you complete the necessary documentation.  She was quite desperate to have this issue resolved as she was leaving the country for a 10-week vacation on Saturday, and if she did not obtain her Visa before then, she would not be allowed back in the country!

After breakfast, and drugging my husband, I made my way to the Spanish school – a 10-15 minute walk from our hostel.  I was a little nervous venturing out on my own – somehow I managed to find my way to the school without a) getting lost or b) getting mugged.  We have read and heard so many stories about muggings, rapes and other miscellaneous crimes against tourists that it’s hard not to be totally paranoid when venturing outdoors.  My experience thus far has been that it is quite safe during the daytime especially in the busy areas we are frequenting.  We are, however, being very cautious at night.  In fact, most nights we are back at the hostel by dark, and then we stay in for the evening.  If we are out after dark, we are in a restaurant within a few blocks of the hostel.

My Spanish lessons are intense.  My teacher’s name is Marco.  He is 31 years old and is married, no children.  He told me this in Spanish – somehow I understood him – don’t ask me how.  In Spanish lesson number one (yesterday), we dove right into the verb “to be” which actually has two equivalent Spanish verbs – “ser” and “estar”.  First my teacher conjugated each verb and then proceeded to explain the circumstances in which you would use these verbs, along with examples – all in Spanish!  It was a little overwhelming as I managed to understand about every third or fourth word.  I was ok until he would ask me a question, such as – where are you from? Do you have children? How many? What do they do? Where do they live? And he expected me to answer – in Spanish of course.

After two hours of listening, taking notes, and stumbling my way with my limited vocabulary, we had a twenty minute break.  I met up with Chris at the break and he looked the way I felt – pretty overwhelmed and completely exhausted.

For the second half of the lesson, my teacher showed me my exercise book and asked me to do several exercises with him.  There’s no way this was beginning material – one exercise had four or five words, one of which was the conjugated verb, and I was supposed to put these words into a sentence.  Anyways, I muddled my way through these exercises frequently saying “no se” – “I don’t know”.  I was given a page of homework – it felt like I was in grade 2 again.

I realize I am digressing here.  This post was really supposed to be about a walk in the park that I took this afternoon complete with photos that I hope will help you get a sense of the neighbourhood I walked through.  Please bear with me a little longer as I feel I must describe Spanish Lesson number two, at least the highlights.

Today we jumped right into conjugating verbs in present and past tense.  This would be helpful if only I knew some verbs to conjugate!  Well, that came next as my teacher then bombarded me with verb after verb after verb.  I wrote furiously, each verb and the corresponding English meaning (often my teacher had to look it up in the dictionary as his English is so limited).  And of course there were examples that he gave.  And with each example came new words that I did not know – what a surprise – did I mention I don’t speak any Spanish.  I only wish I could tell my teacher!

We had an interesting conversation this morning where I learned a lot about Ecuadorian life.  Marco spoke slowly, with many facial and hand gestures, and here is what I learned.  Before I go on, I feel I must add a disclaimer here – I believe the following information to be true but since I heard it all in Spanish, read it at your own discretion.

Ecuador’s government is socialist.  There are over thirty political parties.  There are three government newspapers and over ten private newspapers.  Public demonstrations are a way of life, especially here in the capitol city.  We saw one yesterday afternoon in the Plaza Grande in Old Town.  Propaganda is alive and well as demonstrations that are favourable to the government are well covered in the government newspapers, and not mentioned in the private newspapers, and vice versa.  Voting is optional; however, when you vote you receive a type of a receipt.  If you don’t have this paper, you cannot buy a house, you cannot go to university and you cannot benefit from many other government services.  They have one hundred percent voter turn-out – imagine that!

The average Ecuadorian salary is $300 per month.  Taxes on a small house are $12 per year and for a large house $20 per year (and no, that is not a typo).  Food is very cheap, at least local food.  For example, a large head of broccoli costs 25 cents.

Ecuador has two official languages: Spanish and Quichua.  There are about 30 indigenous languages as well.  Everybody in Ecuador speaks Spanish, even most of the indigenous population, but not everybody speaks Quichua.  Apparently the current president lived in a Quichua community for 12 years and he recently passed a law making Quichua an official language.  It isn’t taught in the regular school system – yet.  Marco believes that will change soon. Today, students learn English in school as their second language, right through university.  Most can read and write English quite well, however, they can’t speak or understand the language because they have no way to practice it.

One final note, my exercises today were to read out loud four paragraphs, each one describing an Ecuadorian celebration.  And then I was to explain what I read in my own words – Spanish words that is.  Well, with my very limited vocabulary – let’s just say it was awfully painful – for both of us.  Homework tonight:  Write a paragraph describing our Easter celebration.  I deserve this, I suppose, because when asked how Canadians celebrate Easter, I mentioned chocolate eggs – mainly because I knew how to say eggs – huevos (since we eat those every morning at the hostel and we’re good at ordering them either “fritos” or “revueltos”) and I guessed at how to say chocolate in Spanish – when in doubt just add the sound “eh” to the end of the word.  Marco was intrigued by this custom and thus my homework assignment.

And now I think I must do my homework – and no I will not use Google translator to help me, no matter how tempting that is.

Stay tuned for my walk in the park as I will get to that next. Sorry there aren’t any pictures in this post, I’ll make up for it in the next, I promise.

Category: Ecuador, South America
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