By Christina Petsas

What are my first impressions in Ecuador?

I can’t believe it’s been a month since I arrived in Quito! The time’s flown as I’ve gotten to know this large city, its friendly people and its rich culture. My airport pick up was seamless and my driver, Franklin, briefed me on helpful tidbits I should know for heading out into this Latin paradise.
One tip was that Ecuadorians use American dollars as their currency. So weird to see my country’s money working like normal in a completely different place. Though, in Ecuador, many more coins are used as things are just that cheap! My dimes and nickels finally get use as I go to my local mercadito (small convenience store) and buy my favorite cookie for just 30 cents! A dangerous, yet delicious, habit 😉
Another custom to get used to was greeting people, which I have been doing a lot of in this first month! The formal handshake is very rarely used, replaced by a more affectionate cheek kiss. Ecuadorians are so welcoming that having the distance of a handshake between two people is too much. Their open embrace is a way of happily accepting you into their country. Often times, it does not stop there and they practically accept you into their family as well.
In Latin America, family is highly important. I was naturally welcomed into my homestay with cheek kisses and open arms, and soon I was meeting extended relatives as well. In one week, I got to know my host mom’s aunt, mother, sisters, niece and nephew. Though I’m far away from home, this reception helped ease my homesickness and showed me that I have people to support me here in Ecuador too.
While I’ve been working hard during the week at my internship, there’s still been time to explore the city and its surroundings. EcuaExplora organized a tour of the city center for me on my first weekend. I got to climb to the top of Quito’s main basilica and see the sprawling city in its gorgeous valley, with pastel painted houses covering the surrounding hills.
After work, I’ve loved going to the parks in my neighborhood. My homestay is right between el Parque Metropolitano, basically a huge, wild forest in the middle of the city, and La Carolina. There’s always events throughout the week in these parks-nighttime group walks, pick up soccer, volleyball and basketball, yoga workshops, fitness classes, paddle boating, food stalls, and much more!

I also took part in an excursion through EcuaExplora. Excursions are easy to book and they’re cheap too. It’s comforting to know that you can escape the city to experience beautiful landscapes and nature any weekend you’d like! On my excursion, I went with other new arrivals and we were able to socialize while we hiked Quilotoa.
This rare geographic landmark is a lagoon inside of an extinct volcano, only 15 exist in the world, 2 of which are in Ecuador and one of which I have now seen! Quilotoa is at a high altitude, making it very windy.
After our chilly climb, we sat down in a local restaurant and warmed up with “locro”, which means potato soup. Ecuadorian food involves a lot of potatoes, corn and meat, but vegetarian options are available in the city too. The most surprising thing about the food is the prevalence of soup. Soup is involved in most meals- it can even be served at breakfast. Ceviche is a typical dish and, in true Ecuadorian fashion, it isserved as a soup as well. The produce in Ecuador is amazing as well. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the fresh avocados, bananas and choclo (big, white corn). Chifles are another favorite snack- a fried chip made from plantains.
While my adventure has just begun in Ecuador, I’ve already learned so much and feel like I am assimilating well into the lifestyle thanks to the support of EcuaExplorer. With 5 more months ahead of me, I’m eager to continue exploring, making new friends, practicing my Spanish, and, of course, trying more soups.