Hello again! It has certainly been a whirlwind week for the group in Cuenca. We left Cuenca for Guayaquil early last Monday morning, flew to Miami, and left from Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday morning. Trekking through five international airports in two days would be exhausting no matter the circumstances, but the pressures of COVID-19 made our travels even more stressful.
There are so many differences between the United States and Ecuador, but their responses to the public health crisis is another one to add to the list. The Ecuadorian government is trying to take a more proactive approach to the solution, which explains why they have enacted such strict regulations. For example, the week we left, the country entered into a mandatory curfew and basically shut down everything else. All non-essential stores (which only left supermarkets, banks, and pharmacies open) were closed, public transportation stopped, and only certain vehicles were allowed on the roads.
Our host parents, Marco and Eulalia, took the government’s directions very seriously. Despite being devoted to spending time with their children and grandchildren, even that violated the orders to stay home, so there were no visits with them. However, that week at home wasn’t without our own share of fun. Our last lunches were some of the most special we shared together. We had a fondue feast outside on the patio under the beautiful Ecuadorian sun and enjoyed the sobremesa, a Latin American custom of having a conversation after a meal. The other special lunch was the typical dish, churrasco, consisting of grilled steak, rice, French fries, topped with a fried egg.
We spent our long evenings playing Bananagrams while watching the nightly news. I will definitely miss spending time with our host parents!
Although the group was divided on whether or not we wanted to leave, the decision was ultimately taken out of our hands when the United States government announced that they were upgrading Ecuador to a Level 4 Travel Ban, which essentially means that travel would be suspended between the two countries. Thus, began several days of waiting to determine if, and when, we would be leaving Cuenca to return home. Thanks to Dr. McCarthy’s and Doctora’s guidance, we were finally able to confirm our flights home. The airport was eerily empty; totally different from the crowds we experienced not even a month earlier when we went to Galapagos.
Everyone in Ecuador was wearing face masks; in fact, it was a requirement from the government. The majority of people were also wearing rubber gloves. I was shocked to notice that when we were in the American airports that nobody wore masks, but I realize now that may have been the result of the scarcity. Either way, it was such a relief to finally be home after two long days of travel and a long week of waiting.