A year seems like a lot of time, at least that’s what I was thinking before I came to Ecuador in August. Five months of my exchange year have already slipped away and I still can’t believe it.
People aren’t kidding when they talk about how time flies when you are enjoying yourself. I have been so busy the past few months with two trips to the Amazon jungle, the “Fiestas de Quito,” Christmas, New Years and then changing host families.
The Amazon jungle is the most breath-taking part of this beautiful country. It is a land untouched, full of beauty and tranquility. From birds to animals to fish to plants and trees, I saw hundreds of intriguing species just an arm’s length away.
I fell in love with the nine different types of monkeys, which played and danced in the trees around me.
Imagine swimming in a black-water lake of pure rain water among piranhas, crocodiles and other creatures. I will forever be mesmerized by memories of the Amazon.
Ecuadorians haven’t stopped to amaze me with their pride of culture, country and traditions. Every December in the capital, Quito, the “Fiestas de Quito” celebrates the founding of the city during a week-long parties held throughout the city.
Typical events include bullfighting, dancing, concerts, opera and theatre shows, parades to present the new Queen of Quito and school marching band competitions.
Block parties are held with live music, bands and lots of dancing. People also rent “Chivas,” which are open party buses with music or a live band and ride around the city. I’ve never seen a celebration quite like it. I fully enjoyed my first, and hopefully not last, “Fiestas de Quito”.
Christmas was very different for me this year, but a truly beautiful experience. Ecuador is a very religious country.
The nine days before Christmas are called “Novena” and every night, family and friends get together and recite a part of the story of the birth of Jesus, followed by the singing of Christmas carols and then a delicious meal.
Christmas Eve is spent enjoying a huge family feast at midnight followed by the opening of gifts, which are simple and not so elaborate or expense as in North America. Christmas Day is spent with family and a leftovers feast for lunch.
Or, in my case, trying to keep cool in 35-degree weather, seeing as how I spent my holidays in Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador.
I welcomed in the New Year at midnight with fireworks while burning my “muñeco,” a paper doll that for every individual may represent an irritating person, a disliked political figure or even disappointment about past mistakes or unachieved goals.
Every doll is unique, and might look like a cartoon character, famous soccer player or other celebrity, or just a person or animal.
Along with your doll, you write a testament of things you will leave behind. Thousands of dolls of all shapes and sizes and testaments are burned in the streets at the stroke of midnight, leaving behind any misfortunes of the past year.
Also, men dressed as women to represent the “widow” of the year that has passed. They dance in the streets and on top of the moving cars during the evening. It was the most entertaining event I have witnessed to date.
I recently changed host families, which is Rotary tradition. It gives the exchange student the opportunity to gain more from their trip by experiencing different family customs and traditions.
I am now living with my second and final host family. I’m truly fortunate for both my host families, who have been nothing but welcoming and loving since the start.
It was hard leaving my first family, seeing as how attached I had become with these complete strangers. After a few months, I even found myself calling them mom and dad.
I look forward to my new experiences with my new host family and for my exchange journey to continue.
Courtney Mullally is a Rotary Youth Exchange student from Sudbury who is spending the year in Ecuador. This column will appear every six weeks during her trip.