Un Pedacito de Mi Corazón.

Peace Corps should make this their new default photo, imo

As I descended the mountains of the Central Sierra on Monday morning, I was glad that I stayed awake like my friend and fellow PCV Charli suggested (thanks girl!). With my eyes fixated on the rolling hills (no pics can do it justice), and my ears clogging due to the sudden drop in altitude, I ruminated deeply on the quality time I was able to spend with a good number of my cohort over the feriado (holiday) weekend of Día de los Difuntos (also known as "Día de Los Muertos/Day of The Dead"). While traditionally, countrywide celebrations are held as communities take a pilgrimage to their hometowns and cemeteries of their passed loved-ones, many small towns and cities host other events that reflect the changing dynamic between tradition and modernity of Ecuador.

On Thursday, I traveled to Guayaquil, where Shakira graced me and my friends Casey, Meg, Jaquis, Amanda & Patti with her iconic presence, talent and non-lying hips as she moved about the stage while we sang as many lyrics as we could remember. She sang most of her hits en español so we did the best we could from the cheap seats in Estadio Modelo Alberto Spencer Herrera, haha. Whenever, wherever, we were meant to finally be together. *ba-dum-tissssss*

At the crack of dawn, in a successful attempt to beat the large crowds traveling on a holiday weekend that's as big as Thanksgiving in the United States, I said a groggy goodbye to my sister/sitemate Ivonne and PCV Tim who offered us a place to crash for the night (thanks so much!), and headed to the bus terminal to meet up with PCV Jak where we hopped on the earliest bus we could towards Salinas de Guaranda, Bolívar. I crashed immediately upon departure (trying to keep up with Shakira's dance moves wore me out), but after a 5 hour bus ride, an hour in the back of a crowded taxi camioneta, and an uphill climb, we made it to the 9th Annual Festival de Queso!

Along with a good number of my omnibus (cohort), we rented a rustic home nestled in the hills of Guaranda for the weekend while experiencing the amazing cheese, culture, and community of Salinas, where one of our own, Roxy, is a volunteer. We stayed out all day watching dance performances, eating BOMB hornado (roasted pig), and trying to keep warm because living on the coast makes it difficult for me to handle anything below 65 degrees F anymore, lol.

Monica, Eric, Hannah, Me, Mikayla & Amy with our heartfelt appreciation for the existence of CHEESE.

Finally heading to drop our things off at the house, I decided a nap was immensely important to my enjoyment, and I relaxed while the fireplace was crackling, and friends were laughing throughout the house. Waking up, we headed back up the hill into town and had a family style meal to celebrate birthdays and our arrival at one the cities at the highest altitudes in all of Ecuador.

Nothing but good vibes, food and music followed us into the town square where a metal band was rocking out and a small mosh pit (including a few babies on shoulders) formed at the front of the stage. There was a lot of freedom in the place, and the energy was electric. We wrapped up the night hanging out with some other groups of volunteers that were also in town for the festival, and retired to our cabin-like arrangements after a 25 minute walk downhill in the pitch blackness of the evening. Though I was super tired from the long day, and still altitude adjusting, those of us sleeping by the fireplace cracked jokes until we fell asleep. It was a great day.

Metal: Ecuadorian style. Check it out :)

Saturday morning, we awoke to a beautiful sunny sky that quickly turned dreary due to clouds, but the impending rain could not dampen our mood. After a great breakfast, while some went out on a morning hike, the rest of us stayed back and continued to catch up, listen to music and relax. Eventually, hunger came upon us and it was time to go back into town to search for lunch options. Walking 30 minutes uphill in the rain was not at all something I was equipped to accomplish, and was very relieved when a camioneta passed by to let me and Monica catch a ride up for 25 centavitos. Thank GOD.

We stayed out and about in the town until the rain got too strong, and a group of us decided to turn in for the afternoon to hang out by the fireplace. We played card games, talked about all kinds of topics, and took naps until nightfall, when Jak and Jared decided to cook a delicious Italian-style dinner. YUM. Still lounging around at the base of the warm wooden flames, we finally (some of us reluctantly) decided to go uphill again for the evening music show. Thanks to God's grace, a few of us were able to flag down another ride to the top...

...AND OMG; Salinas de Guaranda knows how to put on a show! We made it there in time for a rock band, followed by a reggae artist, Adelking Farmer from Venezuela who stayed true to his afro roots (I fan-girled and got a photo, haha), and then the headliner, Papaya Dada completely transformed us into their newest fans. We danced all night to all kinds of a fusion of traditional Ecuadorian music from both the Sierra and the Coast with modern vibes. They are going to be in the US in the coming weeks, so if you are into dancing your behind off, go check them out if they will be near you!

Papaya Dada! And the amazing crowd. Sorry for the shaky hands... I was jumping too!

Walking back in complete darkness again while having a heart-to-heart with my friends, I settled into a spot by the fireplace and read until I fell asleep in the quiet. Waking up in the morning, I decided to indulge in sleep a little bit longer before eating breakfast solo and packing. Roxy, who is also an AMAZING COOK, brought us these amazing berry muffins. I scarfed down four of them unapologetically.

We said goodbye to the beautiful home in the mountains and made our way back to the main city of Guaranda, where I took a regional bus to another city, Chimbo with my friends Charli and Hannah. Charli, who lives in the Chimbo area, took us to what people say is "the best hornado in all of Ecuador" for lunch, and I have to say, I think they're right. We shared stories and chowed down on crispy skin and flavorful meat until the downpour of rain finished, then headed up the mountainside of Chimbo to a small pueblo called Asunción, where Charli lives and serves as a volunteer.

Trekking up and down the hills of Asunción was breathtaking, literally and figuratively. A girl was tired, but in awe. Because it was just after Dia de los Difuntos, the Cemetery still had candles lit and fresh flowers brightly adorning the graves of the ancestors of the town. It was the most beautiful cemetery I have ever been in, and a direct reflection of the Ecuadorian commitment to legacy and community.

We went back into Chimbo later that evening for tasty tortillas con cafecito and sweets from the bakery, then spent hours back at the house talking about life, PCV service, and everything in between. It was a beautiful moment that is etched into my memory; just 3 young women around a table being open and vulnerable with our stories. Hannah and Charli, you two are the best.

So dropping 12,000 feet from those big ol' mountains, I reflected on these lasting memories from a weekend packed with activities and celebrations. With so much on my mind, the one phrase that summed it all up as we winded down through the cold clouds and into the humid flatlands of Los Rios was made clear: I love Ecuador so much, and a piece of my heart will be in this land forever. I am so honored to have this experience alongside amazing friends, and to share it with as many of you as I can.

Que Viva Ecuador!

Note: As you may have noticed, my domain name has changed, because I didn't want to pay to keep it hosted with Wix, and currently don't have the time to rebuild a new website on a different platform. So, Ii you have the website bookmarked or wish to share with someone, please change it to https://aripiphany.wixsite.com/packlightbelight. Thanks for your flexibility!

#festival #culture #cultura #ecuador #party #travel #sierra #concert #music #food

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