I’m on the verge of traveling from San Francisco, where I reside with my family, to Ecuador where I grew up. Though I have most of my family there and have maintained contact with a lot of childhood friends, I’m nervous. Although I love to go, I don’t feel completely settled when I’m there. I’m left with that feeling of not belonging anywhere anymore—you know how when you grow up in one place but live in another for many years, you stop belonging to a specific place and are never fully at home in either. I guess you become, as people say, a citizen of the world, whatever that means.
I take my two kids, ages 10 and six, with me each summer so that they are exposed to the Ecuadorian language and culture, particularly since they go to a Mandarin immersion school in San Francisco. They need this two-month Spanish immersion, which includes visiting with my large family, doing a summer camp, traveling around and visiting the beach, to be fluent in Spanish again. Although I speak with them in Spanish and only Spanish, because my husband is American, at home we speak in English when we are all together. It is also important to me that my kids enjoy many of the positive experiences I had growing up in Ecuador such as going to the beach with my parents and/or grandmother for a month and feeling the freedom of life without constraints or dangers; or going to the countryside and riding horses at my grandmother’s old farm; or hanging out on Sundays with the big family and being able to relate with members of all ages with care and respect.
Unfortunately though, although I visit all the same places I went to as a child, the actual houses I used to live in are gone. The houses have a complicated history of their own. Some were sold as my family needed the money, like the house I lived in from the age of 10 and our apartment at the beach. Some are physically gone like my grandmother’s beautiful art deco house that I lived in with my family from ages one until nine, after my grandfather passed away. That house was sold due to pressure from an expanding hotel company next door. Finally, the environment took its toll on others, like my grandmother’s 200-year-old Spanish farm that was the epicenter of an earthquake in the town of Pomasqui, Ecuador. We had houses galore when I was a child, but barely any when I became a teenager as my dad went bankrupt.
Luckily (though like many siblings of course not so lucky) my awesome family will house us even in the closet if need be. My younger sister—who has two kids around my kids’ age and is not currently living in Ecuador—and I recently rediscovered our favorite place from childhood: the beach of Salinas. For the past four years, we have rented a place there for two weeks, or we borrowed it from one of our cousins, who share similar fond memories and managed to purchase an apartment.
I’m also nervous to go to Ecuador as my younger sister might not be there this time. Going to the beach solo with the kids is a little trickier and just not the same. But I envision doing many fun things on this trip. In the city of Quito, the capital, I plan to go walking in the amazing parque Metropolitano with my kids, mom and sisters where I can see the snow peaks of Cotopaxi and Cayambe. I can’t wait to go out with my friends for lunch or dinner to great Ecuadorian or Peruvian restaurants, visit museums and travel. I want to rent a car and drive from Quito to the jungle with the kids and a couple of my sisters. I’m hoping to visit Misagualli, Tena and Puyo, passing through the mountains via the Papallacta hotsprings at 4000 feet, and returning via Baños or possibly the beautiful colonial town of Cuenca. I also want to go to the cloud forest in the town of Mindo and to my sister’s countryside house to ride horses. I’m hoping my husband comes for the last three weeks of our stay so we can go together to the beach at Salinas or maybe Bahia for a couple of weeks as well as a trip to the mountains. There are so many things I plan to do in Ecuador with my kids. We’ll see!