I fell asleep to a strange bird call and a warm tropical breeze flowing through the window beside me, making the curtain flutter and suspend in mid air. With it came the fresh scent of mangoes and guavas from the trees outside and surprising silence from the largest city in Ecuador. We were a little out side of the sprawled and growing city, on the other side of the river. We had taken at least two seemingly endless bridges over the various rivers that run through the city to arrive at my friend’s aunt’s house.
In the late morning, I awoke to a torrential down pour. As I pushed the curtain aside and looked out the window, I saw Ecuador in the daylight as if through a layer of television static. It was dark and gray and fuzzy with moving water all over. The room I slept in was cozy and welcoming, decorated with the colorful and intricate handicrafts that her aunt makes. In this same room, the night before, we stayed up late and talked of our previous time together in Italy.
That was where we all met, in Florence, Italy- in a small apartment just outside the city where my friend and I were to be room mates.
At that point, the communication between us was a bit of a struggle as I and my friend’s Aunt spoke Italian but my friend did not, my friend and I spoke english but my aunt’s friend did not and my friend and her aunt spoke spanish but I did not. Even though we communicated in a round about way in three different languages, we still had a lovely, but brief time together. They were very kind to me and took an interest in me and my culture. I was very thankful to have the immediate gut feeling that this was going to be a good thing. My friend and I had a fantastic year in Italy, but it was in those short hours that I first spent with her and her aunt that I realized both of these women had a passion for life and people.
This time around in Ecuador however, a year and a half later, as we sat on the bed in the lovely room at her Aunt’s house late at night, we could speak together in the same language- Italian, which later made for quite a spectacle in Guayaquil when ordering food or discussing excursions options. All in all, I found that it bonded us together even more. We shared common interests in art, beauty and adventure and our Italian was a living talisman of this truth. The beautiful thing about sharing a bond like that with wonderful people is that whenever you reunite with them, no matter after how long, it feels as if no time had passed at all. I was fortunate enough to find this with my friend and her aunt. It was magical, and so was our time in the enchanting city of Guayaquil. And as for the passion for life and people I previously mentioned these women have, I soon came to realize (and even to a greater extent in the later parts of my trip) that this was a common trait in almost all Ecuadorian people. People looked happy with friendly looks in their eyes, they almost always returned a smile, they wore bright colors and flowers in their hair and there were many young families with children and ones that spanned several generations out and about in the cities.
I became very curious about this happy feeling I found in myself and the people here, so I began a focused course of observation and came to a conclusion. The major contributing factor to the Ecuadorian people’s joyous spirit I believe, is the abundant and breath taking natural beauty that surrounds them. In every city I visited there, I searched for barren earth, but I couldn’t find any, only green, green, green and even brighter green. This is due to the uncanny fertile nature of the soil in the country which produces the most bio-diversity in one area than most other places on planet earth. I believe it is Ecuador’s immediate proximity to nature’s magic that sparks a true love for life in its people. The bright colors that you find in nature are reflected in the architecture and urban planning. Buildings and walls are painted with vibrant colors which evoke visions of the surreal environment around you.
When I explained this to my friend, she spoke to me about the slogan I saw when I first arrived at the Guayaquil airport, spread above the entrance to customs, and one I would see through out the country, “Ecuador Ama La Vida.” (Ecuador loves the life). In bright colors alternating in rainbow writing, this national slogan of identity was coined by the current president Rafael Correa to remind and encourage his people that you can do whatever you want to do if you put your mind to it and work hard. These words proved to be truer and truer as a continued my stay in Guayaquil and through out Ecuador, the spirit and the dedication of the people to their country really impressed me.
Finally, the rain stopped and almost immediately after the sun came out with an unabashed force. Outside it was hot, humid and wonderfully tropical. Inside, we stayed cool and comfortable preparing for our day trip around the city. We laughed as we tried on each other’s hats. My friend’s aunt put on a cowboy hat and looked in the mirror and said, “Texas!” It was that same light hearted fun that carried us out the door and on to our next adventure together.