WORTHINGTON — A little more than a week ago I had the chance to go back to my hometown of Quito, Ecuador to spend Christmas and New Year’s with my family.
I have to admit that every time I am sitting on the plane, on those cheap airlines that charge you $3 for a bottle of water, I feel butterflies in my stomach. I was very excited to go back home after two years, but at the same time I was nervous. A lot of things can change in two years. What if I didn’t like it anymore? Or what if things have changed so much that I would feel like a foreigner in my own country?
After almost six hours of traveling, I picked up my bag and went through the exit door where my dad and sister were waiting for me. Both of them hugged me for at least a couple of minutes, which helped me ease my nervousness.
While driving back to the house, I couldn’t help but see the beauty of Quito’s scenery through the window.
Let me explain a little bit about the city’s geography. Quito is located in the Andean highlands, surrounded by several mountains and volcanoes. If you are lucky, a cloudless sky will let you appreciate the picture-perfect mountains.
I don’t know what it is about Quito, but its colors are very bright and vivid. It almost feels that they are jumping right at you, the blue sky and the different tones of greens and browns of the mountains.
The first thing I told my dad was that all I wanted to do was going to a typical Ecuadorian restaurant. Honestly, when I lived in Ecuador, I didn't eat much typical food, but now that I am gone that's the only food I want to eat. The first dish the waitress brought to me was a soup called locro, which is made with potato, pumpkin, cheese, achiote (a native plant that gives it a orange color) and with avocado pieces on the top.
Another stop that I make sure to do every time I go back to Quito is the Panecillo, where a statue of a madonna stands atop of a small mountain that overlooks Quito’s downtown. Downtown is not like what you find here in the United States, it's not where the tall buildings are or with modern shops on every corner. Instead, it has maintained traditional Spanish-style houses, churches and roads, which in my opinion makes the city a place full of magic and history.
After walking around the little arts and crafts shops, my dad wanted to take me to a restaurant right next to the virgin statue. We had already eaten by the time we got there, but my dad insisted, saying that we needed to try a traditional spiced hot drink from the highlands called canelazo. The canelazo is made by boiling water with cinnamon and sugar, and then it’s mixed with a local sugar-cane alcohol called punta or aguardiente.
When the waiter brought the drinks to our table, each one of us grabbed a glass and said “salud” as we sipped the warm drink. It was delicious, but I wouldn’t advise anyone to drink more than one — if you want to leave the restaurant walking straight.
Something I’ve always enjoyed in Ecuador is our New Year traditions. We have small rituals, which I don’t exactly believe in, but they are always fun to do with my family. One of them is that in the last 12 seconds of the year, you have to eat 12 grapes, with each grape symbolizing a wish for the upcoming year. The goal is to eat all the grapes before the new year, which can be quite challenging. Other traditions include wearing yellow underwear on New Year's for good fortune, and running around your neighborhood carrying a luggage bag (so you can travel in the next year).
There is one tradition celebrated all around the country; each family makes or buys small newspaper dolls and burns them in the street. They are not only dolls, but they could be anything — like a doll of the president, somebody famous or a TV character. We do it as a way to burn all bad energies from that year so we can leave space for new experiences.
As is the case every year — after eating the 12 grapes and running a couple of blocks with a bag while wearing yellow underwear — my family was outside the house on a mild night along with a few stars, watching the old year burn away.
My week in Quito went pretty fast between spending time with my family, visiting different places of the city and catching up with my friends.There were a lot of things that have changed — new buildings, improved roads and restaurants — but the most important things still remain the same, like my family, friends and our traditions.