Dear Ecuador

Dear Ecuador,

Over the last six weeks, you have made me feel at home with the warmth of your land and people. You have shown me your beautiful mountains, charming cities and magical rainforests. You have provided me with new experiences and memories that I will never forget. Each day you challenged me and pushed me outside my comfort zone. From traveling solo to speaking Spanish every day to living in four different homestays, these challenges helped me become more integrated into your beautiful culture.

When I first arrived on September 2, I was nervous and worried; however, as soon as I was greeted with hugs and warm tea, I knew I had nothing to worry about. From that very first moment, I was surrounded by the warmth that is so ingrained in your people. They were patient as I struggled to find the words for what I wanted to say. They shared their culture and cuisine with me every day, never making me feel like an outsider. Your people are inquisitive and talkative. Every day they asked me hundreds of questions from basics like “how did you sleep?” to deep questions about race, politics and health. Whether it was in the home, the clinic, a hostel, a restaurant or on one of many long bus rides, I was always surrounded by the kindness and chattiness of your people.

Of course, there were issues, as I’m sure you already know. You have poverty and violence and lots of men that don’t respect young female travelers like myself. There were times I worried about getting my purse stolen, or getting grabbed on the street by a guy that cat-called as I walked by. There were days I worried about the small children I visited in some of your poorest neighborhoods, those children that didn’t receive enough to eat let alone the right medical treatment and vaccines. I saw the trash some of your people left in heaps in the middle of the streets, the stray dogs and poorly built houses. I saw how your people worried about earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions as destruction hit from hurricane Irma and the earthquakes in Mexico and Chile.

However, it was hard to solely focus on these issues, when I also saw how much love your people had for their land, culture and neighbors. They protect your land through parks and reserves, sharing it with tourists from around the world. From the turquoise water of Quilotoa to the snow on top of Cotopaxi to the vastness of the Amazon rainforest, this beauty is valued and shared with a message of conservation. They dress in beautiful cultural clothing, dance traditional dances in the streets and welcome indigenous culture into the cities. These cultures are diverse and unique to each of your landscapes, and individuals are so proud to announce where they are from.

I cannot write this letter without mentioning the uniqueness of the work done by the Ministerio de Salud Publica, which I was lucky enough to witness in six different clinics and hospitals. Despite being one of the smallest and poorest countries in South America, you have one of the highest ranked health cares in terms of accessibility and cost of care, and exceed surrounding countries in infectious disease prevention. I was able to experience a whole new side of healthcare, which included visiting schools, community centers and homes to make sure care was accessible to everyone.

There are certain moments that I will never be able to forget (not that I would ever want to). I will never forget the beautiful hikes I took in Cajas national park, Quilotoa or in the Amazon. I will never forget drinking homemade tequila in the jungle and staying up late dancing with the kind indigenous people of San Virgilio. From the crazy new experiences like bridge jumping in Baños and eating cuy (guinea pig) and flying ants to the little things like jamming to Reggaeton music in the car and getting an amazing lunch for $3 anywhere, every memory will stay with me forever.

I promise I’ll be back one day!

With much love,