Despite my misgivings early on, staying with Ecuadorian families was an awesome experience. I think everyone from our group would agree, especially Dave and John Massie. Dave and John, father and son, were housed in a very, very nice house. Not Ecuador nice, USA nice. Nicer than probably anyone’s house who was on our team. Big screen tv’s, a new fangled tankless waterheater, DirectTV, and other niceties. Dave’s wife Christina and other son Cameron had a very different experience. I didn’t see the house they stayed in myself, but I did hear they had to bathe in a tub and use a pitcher to rinse. All this to say that the experiences of our team members covered a wide range, at least in terms of the actual domicile. In terms of how the people treated us, the range is quite narrow: somewhere between incrediblely and amazingly.
As I mentioned in a pervious post, I, and seven others, were housed with the Salazar family. Hotel Salazar, as we came to call it, is something of a walled-in apartment complex that is home to over 30 members of the Salazar family, two dogs, Connie and Gardel, and a parrot whose name escapes me. The Salazar’s don’t live in Pifo, where the church is, but in Tumbaco, a town about 10 minutes away. Their hospitality was unreal. From the very first night they made it clear that we were now part of the family. Whether it was diving us to and from church, feeding us incredible food, or taking us sight-seeing in the evenings, every member of the family was kind, courteous, and genuine.
The average day at Hotel Salazar would begin with breakfast. All of us gringitos would have breakfast with our host family, usually eggs of some sort, which I love, and fresh fruit juice. Fortunately for me, most of the fruit juices were fruits I’d actually heard of so there were no more insulting the host incidents. The first morning however, there were tomatos in my scrambled eggs and as I was picking around them Jaime asked me, “Mas tomatos Andy?” That was our running joke for the rest of the week. The fruit juices were awesome. No Donald Duck orange juice here. Nothing from concentrate, all freshly blended right on the spot. I felt a little bad that Vivi and Tati got up to eat breakfast with me every morning at 7AM. It would have been ok with me if they wanted to sleep in a little later, but it was a good chance to get to know them a little better.
In the evenings, dinner rotated from house to house. We, the Americans, would all eat together. I know I’ve said it before, but the food was unbelievable and not at all what I expected. Being internationally naive as I am, I figured a lot of rice, beans, tortillas, etc. Honestly, I think I was expecting something close to Mexican food. We did have tacos one night, but the rest of the time the food was almost European. Monday night we had an incredible BBQ of chicken and two kinds of sausage; Tuesday was Hungarian goulosh, which was very good; Wednesday was fish, excellent; Thursday was some very good shrimp, legs included (I think I ate about two pounds worth); Friday was taco night and Saturday we went out for pizza. The main dish was usually accompanied by white rice and a vegetable with more fruit juice to drink.
Most evenings after dinner, Rafael, Josh’s host, and Enrique, the Salazar patriarch, would take us out to see some of the sites. One night we went to Volcano Park, an amusement park way up on a mountain outside Qutio. They had gondolas there that take you even further above the city, but we arrived 10 minutes after they had closed. So we raced go-karts instead. That was fun. Who can say they raced go-karts in Ecuador. I can. Another night we took in the mall, which was not unlike our malls here in the States except their rent-a-cops are armed. Johnny was nearly shot when he faked going donw the wrong way on an escalator. The security guard on duty actually put his hand on his revolver when Johnny walked up to the escalator, and then took it off when Johnny moved away. A little unnerving.
The night that took the cake though was Wednesday. Our whole SRBC group was to go to Historic Quito to view the art and architecture and monuments. Most of the group met at the church and took a tour bus, but our hosts were going to drive us as they had been all week, in a 15 passenger van painted like a school bus. Yes, the short bus. When we arrived downtown, several of the streets had been cordoned off and were being patroled by guys in urban camo fatigues with gas masks dangling from their belts. We couldn’t see any firearms, but given the mall guards had guns, I’m guessing these guys just had uzi’s under their jackets. Apparently the President was having some big to-do just the part of town we wanted to check out. While our hosts tried to talk our way in anyway, we’re pretty sure the South Korean ambassador drove right by us. “Stay strong buddy!” After being denied by the guards, we met up with the rest of the group in a plaza near San Francisco Catholic Church, a beautiful cathedral with a legend behind it’s construction (you’ll have to research the legend on your own). We then all took the tour bus up to a large statue of Mary overlooking Quito. The statue was huge and pretty impressive. After a couple more tour stops, we were back in our short bus and heading home. On our way through Quito we were stopped by the police at some sort of checkpoint. They had us pull over and an officer spoke with Rafael and Enrique for while and then it looked like we were free to do. No. We had to pull further off the street and Rafael and Enrique had to get out and haggle with another officer about something. Before we left for Ecuador, we were told that you need to be careful of the police. They are not always, or usually, on the up-and-up. Naturally, this whole ordeal began to unnerve us a little. The issue at hand was the van we were in. Being a school bus, the cops were suspicious about why it was full of grown up Americans. They assumed that Rafael and Enrique were running some sort of illegal tourist taxi operation and most likely were looking for a little kickback. After 15 minutes or so Rafael and Enrique returned and we were able to leave, without having to pay anything. Home free. Or so we thought. As we were about two minutes from home another police car pulled us over, apparently for the same thing. Enrique got out and was talking to the cops and showing them all the appropriate papers, when, when the police looked as if they were leaving, he inexplicably chased after them, opened up the door and jumped in! They drove toward the house, but passed the street. Rafael drove the rest of us to the house and as we were getting out Rhett asked him what was going on. “No se.” I don’t know. A minute later, however, the cop car, with Enrique in it pulled up to the house. Dr. Schneider tried to help by explaining that he was a dentist who had come to help and had not paid anybody to drive him around, but it didn’t work. Rafael, Enrique, and the short bus all left with the police. The eight of us were then left with the task of telling our families that their patriarch and husband/uncle/brother had just left with the police. They told us that there wasn’t much we could do other than wait. They may be back tonight, they may be back tomorrow. The police probably want some money. Might as well go to bed. Shah! Right! How can we sleep at a time like this. Instead, all of us gathered in Rafael’s house to pray for the Lord to work the situation out. After about 40 minutes, we got word that they were filling up the van with gas and would be home in a few minutes. The Lord answered our prayers. Needless to say, we didn’t take the bus too many more times.
I could go on and on about how great our familes were to us, and I guess I have. I am so thankful that I was able to make these new freinds from another part of the world. Though we weren’t always able to communicate as well as we would’ve liked, we all had Christ in common and that went a long way in bridging the gaps. They were warm and generous and trusting. Thursday morning, most of the family left for vacation at the beach. They had known us for a grand total of four days and trusted us to stay in their homes alone. Pretty amazing. I can’t see many Americans doing the same thing.
Video of Hotel Salazar Activities
Pictures courtesy Anthony Massie and George Schneider.