Bittersweet

This past week was very sad for many of us. It was our last few days teaching at the schools, going to Spanish class, having Education seminars and spending time with our families.

On Tuesday night we were invited to have dinner at Paulina and Grace’s house. They live on the same side of the mountain as everyone else, but just further uphill and from the town. It was a very nice meal, especially being that we were all together. Wednesday night, Josie and Tori’s family hosted a small party at their family restaurant. We had the whole back room to ourselves. We were all surprised to see an early birthday cake for Josie as well. It was a very kind gesture, but funny too since the candle was a question mark, not knowing what age she was turning. And to continue the tradition, her head was pushed into the cake after she blew out the candles.

Thursday was our last day of Spanish class. We were all invited to learn to cook at a local chef’s home. He lived further away from most of us, but had a beautiful house. There we made tortillas, some salsa, a hot pumpkin/milk drink, boil some sweet purple potatoes and roast some corn. It all tasted very good, and afterwards all of us played frisbee in his yard. In his yard there were also two young calves and two dogs running around.

Friday was the last day of teaching, and for some it was very hard to say goodbye. Those teaching in the high schools developed a close relationship with their students because of the similarities in age. The others who taught in the primary schools also had hard times saying goodbye, but Josie, Zach and I couldn’t have found it easier to leave. All three of us have had so much difficulty in the past 4 weeks, whether is was breaking up fights, teaching unsupervised classes, helping disabled kids find their classes, or getting oppressed by a teacher. We know that we had all done our best trying to get through to the children. Many of the kids were upset to see us leave, so they attacked us with hugs.

That night there was a farewell dinner, which hosted all friends and family. This was all being held at someone’s property who hosted parties. Brooks and I started walking to the party when we turn around to see our dad in his very old, banged up, red pickup truck. It was one of the tiniest trucks I’ve ever seen, but he picked us up. When we arrived, Brooks and I both made a grand entrance, hopping out of the back and the front seat. Both of us waved hello to everyone like we were famous. We had a wonderful view of San José de Minas and were able to watch the sunset. At this event, we all received keychains, diplomas, and roses. After dinner, all of the families got up and started dancing. We all had the best time ever enjoying our last night and spending it together. After we left, most of us finished packing and went to bed early.

Saturday morning, I woke up at around 4:30-4:45am to watch the sunrise the last time I was in San José de Minas. The original plan was to go to Paulina and Grace’s house because of their view, but since Brooks couldn’t wake up, I went up to the roof and watched from there. It was very peaceful and interesting to hear all of the roosters cock-a-doodle-doing and stray dogs barking. After taking a few photos and listening to the early morning noises, I went back downstairs to finish some last minute packing. Around 7:15am, the whole family had breakfast. We took a few photos, then Brooks and I received a gift from the family. A wooden plaque with a picture and family name engraved on it. They all also asked for our home addresses and Facebook profiles so that we could keep in touch. Leaving the house to walk to the town square, I gave Maria a hug goodbye and we both started tearing up. Even though she wasn’t a family member, she sure felt like one. She fed Brooks and I all meals of the day, and have been the best meals I’ve had throughout this entire trip.

Everyone needed to meet in the town square at around 8:20am to leave with our private bus for Quito, at around 8:30am. The minute Brooks and I arrived at the town square, there were already so many families there getting ready to say goodbye. Brooks and I thought we were lucky to have said goodbye at the house. Our host parents couldn’t walk us because they needed to work. When I saw other people in the program crying and getting very emotional, it made me realize how lucky I was to have been with such an amazing family. I saw Vanessa and Annie saying goodbye to their host family and crying hysterically. I had also gotten to know their mother very well so I said goodbye to her and to their siblings. While hugging their mother, Anderson, their little brother, grabbed hold of my leg to say goodbye. Anderson is a second grader who I thought at the primary school. He and I had become very close, since we had spent our recess times together. When I looked down to give him an actual hug goodbye, he was crying. I was so heartbroken to see him so distraught and upset that we were leaving. This also made me start to cry because it showed me how much we had touched the students just by being there and spending time with them. And before I knew it, I turned around and saw Victor driving up in his old, rickety, red pickup truck. He ran out of his truck just to give Brooks and I some water bottles for the road. I bursted into tears and gave him the biggest hug ever. Though he would be quiet most times, he has been so considerate this entire trip and I couldn’t be more grateful. When we all packed up on the bus to leave, everyone was crying on the bus and no one was talking.

Around 10:30am we arrived in Quito and had the day to ourselves. Most of us went to the mall to buy some last minute things for Peru. That night we went out to dinner to Crepes & Waffles to celebrate Josie’s 19th birthday. We also created a scavenger hunt that was made up of fun facts of everyone in the group, and so she ran around guessing who those belonged to. Everyone rewarded her with gifts. Later we spent the night talking with each other on the roof.

Today, we got up this morning around 4:30am to leave for the airport. While on the bus, I saw the sun rise again for the last time in Ecuador and all I could think to myself was how unbelievable everything has been. I still pinch myself everyday to remind myself that I’m in South America. It’s all been a dream come true.

Our flights this morning were to Lima and then Cusco. Flying over the Andes Mountains was such a crazy view. When landing in the small Cusco airport, the pilot had to land quickly for some reason, perhaps based on the aerodynamics and altitude. It was quite scary, but we all arrived safely and no one lost any baggage. When walking down the staircase out of the plane, I couldn’t have felt more winded. A whole bunch of us felt so weak, let alone having to later carry my 75L backpack up a whole set of stairs in order to get to the hostel. After catching our breath, a few of us girls went out to eat lunch. Seeing Cusco was so different from San José de Minas. Here, it’s very beautiful and I can’t wait to see how our hike to Machu Picchu goes.

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