In the Air Force, I was a member of a “Crash/Fire” medical rescue team and stationed overseas. Frequently, we would get home sick and talk longingly of the “World,” as in “I can’t wait until I get back to the World.” Of course, we weren’t talking about Mars or another planet in the solar system, but about the United States of America. Or more specifically, about where we lived. Home sweet home. Anyone who was in the military probably knows what I am talking about. Moreover, for many of us in the military, including myself, this was the first time away from home, as well as traveling outside the United States.
I have little doubt that during my around the world (RTW) trip, I will occasionally be homesick. For anyone who has family and close friends, this is a natural feeling. Perhaps, I will see something that is reminiscent of home and I’ll lapse into homesickness. Or, I might hear a song that reminds me of something fun I did with someone earlier this summer and I will miss home.
Last year, while back packing Central and South America, I was homesick on my birthday. I was in Quito, Ecuador, and I was a bit moody and I hate to admit it, even feeling sorry for myself. The emails and Facebook text messages I received from family and friends actually accentuated the loneliness, rather than diminished it. Of course, it didn’t help that it was one of the few days on my trip that I was alone; in fact, I had just arrived in Quito from Panama City, Panama the day before and I didn’t know a soul.
When I am in a funk, doing something fun will usually change my mood. So after doing my morning exercises and having a hearty breakfast, I explored the historical area of Quito. I immediately fell in love with the meandering, twisting streets. I quickly discovered that Quito has one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centers in South America. According to Wikipedia, “Quito, along with Kraków, were the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO in 1978.” I found it reminiscent of old world Europe, e.g., Salamanca, Spain, is a place I visited in the mid-1970s which immediately comes to mind. A gorgeous mixture of colonial and independence era architecture (Late 1500′s to 1800′s), relaxing plazas and an overwhelming number of cathedrals.
Later that evening, after resting a bit at my hotel, I wanted to do some more exploring, so I walked north past various shops and restaurants and went down a narrow stairway that brings you to La Ronda street, which is of Pre-columbian origins. This street has many art galleries, restaurants, and night clubs. I discovered a coffee, chocolate and gift shop, which also served hot appetizers/small meals. I decided that I would have an early meal here and a cup of coffee. The proprietor, a woman, who along with her husband, managed the place, struck up a conversation with me. She asked where I was from; how long I would be in Ecuador; and, what my impression of Quito was . . . we chatted throughout my meal, which by the way, was delicious. A type of Ecuadorian fajitas, with chicken, cheese, and avocado, wrapped in flour tortillas. I asked for a refill of my coffee and I wandered over to where they had a large display of the Ecuadorian candy and dark chocolate they sold. I ordered a few pieces of hard dark chocolate, then sat back at my table, relaxed, slowly relishing my coffee and chocolate.
I reflected on the day and decided that I had really enjoyed my first day in Ecuador exploring Quito. I thought back to earlier in the morning, when I was having pangs for home and going through a sort of mental anguish over celebrating another birthday . . . umm, which quite frankly I stopped celebrating after I turned 39; albeit, my Mom sort of takes a cruel relish in reminding me that I am not getting any younger. HA!
In any event, I decided that the day had turned out fine . . . And then my mental reverie was interrupted by a very attractive young Latin woman, who asked, “How long have you been in Quito? I heard you speaking English with the owner and you sound American. Am I right?” She started giggling and before I answered – I observed that she was with two other female friends, also giggling (I found out later that one of them was her sister) . . . I said, “I just got in yesterday afternoon. Are you from here?” She responded, “No, all of us are from Chile and we are back packing most of Ecuador and Argentina.”
We continued to chat, with her sister, who also spoke English fluently, joining us. I soon found out their names, Francesca (who initially spoke to me), her sister Cammeth, and their friend, Alle, whom didn’t speak English very well, but seemed to understand what was being said.
They invited me to sit with them and quite frankly, the rest of the evening was a blur. That evening we ended up joining the other Carnival revelers on the street, listening to rock and latin bands at various squares, where there were many people gathered. We also enjoyed taking in the numerous fireworks displays and elaborate costumes of the Carnival participants. Late that evening, we went to La Mariscal, a district that caters to Americans and other foreigners, offering tons of places for dancing or just drinks. I haven’t danced that much in years! That evening and the next few days I would spend with them, going sightseeing in Quito, as well as traveling to a couple of towns nearby, Otavalo and Cotacachi.
I finally got back to my hotel room at around 3:30 a.m. and remember thinking to myself, “Hmm . . . Things really picked up after breakfast.”