Latawhere, Latacunga

Just before swearing in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer (whoop, whoop) in April, we had our site reveal day.

Site reveal was a day we had all been waiting for since we arrived in Ecuador, roughly two and a half months prior to the day itself. Over the course of training, we heard chisme about who was going to the Coast, who was going to the Sierra and why. Rumours circulated that if you had your interview with one Program Manager, you were going to be sent to a specific place or if you had lived in a big city prior, they were going to send you to Guayaquil or keep you in Quito.

The truth was…it was all BS. No one knew for sure and there was no way of knowing. The only thing we knew was when site reveal was going to be and that until then, we were going to be constantly scrutinised. I had heard that it was the longest interview process I was ever going to have, and it couldn’t be closer to the truth.

The day site reveal finally arrived, I was no longer bothered where I was going to be placed the next two years. I was done with weighing the pros and cons and hoping I would get sent to a specific site. I had already decided that no matter where I was placed, I was going to love it. Fortunately… I would.

The staff and all the volunteers gathered around in one of the main rooms. They decided to give us our site placement by having us all stand and then slowly list statements that would narrow us down until only one was remaining. They couldn’t just make it quick and easy. They had to make us sweat it out for just a bit longer.

Two hours of squirming in my seat, watching all the other volunteer pick up their folder with information on their school, site and host family, made me mildly nervous. Most of the volunteers were content, a couple cried tears of joy (or tears of disappointment) and the rest remained indifferent. The truth was, we didn’t really know what to expect. Only a few of us were sent to sites that other volunteers had visited and the rest of us had never heard of our new homes.

“This volunteer is a girl. She is wearing a purple shirt. She went to university in Paris.” (Just for the record before the third statement, I had already sat back down as I thought my shirt was more of a maroon colour than purple but quickly stood up again after I realised they were describing me.)

I was going to Latacunga. Latawhat? My thoughts exactly.

According to the folder and Google maps, Latacunga is a large town about 89 km south of Quito. It has a population of roughly 98,355 inhabitants with the majority being mestizos and indigenous. It is hidden between mountains at an altitude of about 9,055 ft (2,760 m) above sea level. Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s largest active volcano, is only about 25 km away which is relevant as the site had actually been closed for about two and a half years due to volcanic activity. I, along with four three other volunteers, would be the first group of TEFL volunteers to return to the site since it’s reopening.

Along with a brief description of the town itself, it also had information on where I was going to work. I was assigned to work in a large public school with twelve counterpart teachers, one of them being my host mother. I would live with her and her 24 year old daughter that would visit on weekends but would eventually live with us. I would also live with one dog and one cat which ended up being a total of 2 dogs and 4 cats when you add the neighbour’s dog and boyfriend’s cats.

This was all the information I had. No more, no less.

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What do you do?

Many of you have asked me what it is exactly that I do here as an almost Peace Corps Volunteer (I graduate and swear-in in two days–woot woot). I know it might seem a bit confusing as for the past two and a half months we have been in training, and traveling to the four corners of Ecuador but before telling you what we do during training, I will start by telling you what we don’t do.

What people think we do as Peace Corps volunteers:

Save lives.

What we actually do during Pre Service Training:

  • Talk about our bowel movements 90% of the time
  • Make memes about our lives. In fact, we have an entire album of memes in our Facebook group.

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  • Complain if we have to spend more than 25 cents on transportation
  • Avoid stray dogs or practice defence techniques for avoiding dog bites like picking up imaginary rocks.
  • Carry rehydration packs, bug spray and ibuprofen with us at all times.
  • Chisme. Chisme. Chisme. (Subtitles: Gossip. Gossip. Gossip.)
  • Talk about how to get rid of the obscene amount of rice we have on our plates for each meal.
  • Compare host families and observations we have about Ecuadorian culture
  • Make plans to travel
  • Sit in class all day
  • Take overcrowded buses
  • Play Russian roulette for two days of diarrhea
  • Go looking for wifi
  • Look for a place that is open and that sells something other than instant coffee
  • Eat carbs on carbs on carbs
  • Explain fifty times what vegetarianism is
  • Take over karaoke bars and play gringo tunes
  • Have a curfew
  • Complain when receiving fifty cents in change in all pennies and nickels
  • Going to the toilet for privacy because there is no way to get it anywhere else
  • Pooping in bags

That about covers it folks.

But seriously, we do other stuff as well…

Banos

A few of the Peace Corps trainees and I went to Banos (gringo, outdoor adventure-filled city) for a short weekend trip. I think we all needed to get away from site for a night.

No curfew. No training. No street dogs of Nayon.

Just 8 trainees in an Air BnB canyoning, zip-lining, biking, hiking, drinking craft beer, listening to terrible music and dead leg dancing our way through town.

This is our adventure summed up in a few minutes.

Listen Up

9 hour training days, traveling, and Peace Corps volunteer visits have eaten up all my time. However, we were let out early today which means I am able to update you on a few things.

  1. A video is going to be coming out soon of our trip to Banos (outdoor adventure sport and gringo central).
  2. This weekend we are going on an Afro-Ecuadorian trip to an indigenous community for three days (look out for a video from that trip as well).
  3. We are going to know our sites next Thursday which is exciting but also equally nerve-wracking.

That is all in terms of the Peace Corps update though I do have a couple observations for those who are making plans to visit, (which by the way I am thrilled about).

  1. Ecuadorians eat everything with spoons so good luck for those who eat meat. All I can tell you is it takes a lot of practice (or so I have heard from my meat-lover friends).
  2. Guinea pig is a food not a pet and yes, we will be trying some whilst you are here.
  3. Outdoor adventure sports are cheap so be prepared to bungee jump for 10 dollars and go zip-lining for 5 dollars. Its a cheap to risk your life here.
  4. Beers are 1 dollar. Anything more than that and its considered expensive.
  5. Full meals are 1,50 (at most 2 dollars).
  6. Despite Ecuador being coffee bean central, most shops and restaurants sell instant. Please bring a french press and I will be eternally grateful.
  7. I will not have my own place until October which means if you stay with me you will be staying with an Ecuadorian family. How good is your English?
  8. The cheapest way to travel within the country is on a bus which means minimum 10 hours cramped with one bathroom (if any).
  9. People do not queue up for anything here and have no transportation etiquette. (Brits, do not be offended).
  10. Nearly no one speaks English. ¿Hablas español?
  11. Most places do not have toilet paper so, make sure you carry around a toilet roll with you.
  12. Despacito by Luis Fonsi is the national anthem here.
  13. Barter. Barter. Barter.
  14. American products cost 3 times more here.
  15. Rice. Potatoes. Yuca.
  16. A pound of sugar is added to everything you drink.

Just a few thoughts, now go home and pack mosquito repellent, a french press, and a camera. I have my calendar marked down with days for when all of you arrive!