I moved out of my host family’s house and to Hostal Macondo during this last week, where I became the strange guest who lurks in the kitchen after hours with only the glow of a computer screen lighting the room. I left occasionally to scout for provisions (read: guava ice cream), but largely confined myself to the hostel. It was a pretty but mundane place, despite the its magical namesake – except for the wooden parrot hanging in the courtyard that never stopped swinging, breeze or no breeze. On the fourth night I finally finished Cien años de soledad, with a sense of fulfilling destiny.
On Wednesday I went to the urban agriculture site for the last time and planted the herbs I’d bought from a local market: rosemary, thyme, lemon verbena, mint and lemon balm. I said my goodbyes to Angel, Fidel and Juan (the workers) and the eleven puppies behind the compost, bought a round of bread for everyone, and left the farm.
That afternoon, I taught the last English class to my small group of municipal employees; there was food, music by Simon and Garfunkel, lively debates on immigration and the American dream, and the exposition of English swear words that I had promised to give before I left, complete with a few gestures to give my students a well-rounded skill set. When the municipal boss man dropped in to shake my hand, three of us hastily obstructed his view of the whiteboard, giggling. In short, the best class ever.
Friday was my last day in Cuenca. In between printing and binding my final essay (now a plump 28 pages long), I paid $2 to attend the national orchid exposition behind the cathedral, where I saw an astounding variety of orchids, bonsais and succulents. There was also a man selling honey and bee products, including bee bread (“Take four pieces a day for fifteen days, to correct your nutritional deficiencies”). I struggled not to spend the rest of my money, and eventually left with a little jar of hand cream made with bees’ royal jelly. I already have honey shampoo from the agro-ecological fair, and my collection of apian curiosities grows.
Later, another night bus – but not before I almost stole my room key after checking out of Hostal Macondo. On the way to Quito, the driver’s mild road rage set me a bit on edge (we passed the same van about five times on curvy mountain roads- it wouldn’t surprise me if this conflict had started generations ago). Still, I enjoyed the nighttime scenery. Once I thought we were passing by a glacial lake, until I squinted and saw a valley cloaked in clouds. As we drove into Quito at dawn, Pichincha looked like a cutout on the horizon. I realized again how much I love this city, even though I didn’t expect to. I’m travel-lagged from a near all-nighter, but it almost feels like home.
Less homey: the creepy man in orange who ambled up to me when I got off the bus, started up a one-way conversation, and resolutely ignored the much-friendlier Ecuadorian man on my left. Man in orange said he was Argentinian; I told him I was from Cuenca, declined to name my family, and hoped he would go away. He had a roll of wire and pliers, and as he talked he twisted a small treble clef and broke it off. He stuck the treble around my ear, remarking that this was much easier than getting a real piercing. I declined to pay for the adornment, and he bristled, but said an Argentinian never rescinds his gifts, and finally walked off. I climbed into a taxi, bargained the driver down to a slightly more reasonable price, and was on my way (“¿Me ve cara de gringa? $2.50”).
The sense of déjà vu when I got to the hotel was incredible. I stared into the room where we had all waited for our Quito host families to pick us up three months ago, nervously twisting our fingers. I didn’t realize how far I’d come until then, arriving alone after 280 miles of independence. Leaving the hotel for lunch brought an echo of my first walk in the city, hand clenched over my bag, looking around warily. A lot has changed since then. Buses sped by, packed to the gills with people, and I actually missed riding them.