Welcome to Quito! After nearly two weeks of baking in the Galapagos sun, the cool, night air that greeted me in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, was a welcome change! Quito is way up in the highlands, built on the side of a volcano at an altitude of 9,350ft (2,850m) (for a couple of reference points, Denver, CO is at 5,280ft/1,600m, and Cusco, Peru is at 11,200ft/3,400m… so Quito is somewhere in between). Unfortunately for me, the cool temperatures didn’t extend to daytime hours, so I was still sweating my brains out most of the time.

Last time, we left off on Isabela Island, and the trek from there to my Quito hostel was… lengthy. It involved a 2-ish hour ferry back to Santa Cruz (this was a rough one… I did that thing where I closed my eyes and repeatedly told myself that I didn’t feel nauseous in the spirit of “fake it ‘til you make it”. Didn’t work), a 40-minute taxi ride across Santa Cruz to the northern dock (with our good friend Fredy from our visit to the Santa Cruz highlands!), a 5-minute ferry ride to Baltra Island (where the airport is located), a 10-minute bus ride to the airport, a 4-hour wait at the airport (my family’s flight was earlier, but it didn’t make sense to go separately), a 2-hour flight to Quito, and finally, a 1-hour taxi ride to the city (I researched public transit and it was NOT worth it). Woof.

I have lots of botanical garden pics, so I’m going to start putting them in now. Enjoy!
More dangly flowers! They’re like Christmas tree ornaments.

I gave myself one “chill/get organized” day in Quito before reentering sightseeing mode. After nearly 4 weeks of constant go-go-go, first with my parents in Peru and then with my aunt, uncle, and cousins in the Galapagos, I needed to pull myself back together, take a few deep breaths, and most of all, do some laundry! My clothes were all gross, to the point where it was a struggle to decide what to wear/forgo washing while everything else was being cleaned. I lugged every single item of clothing that I had (7lbs, apparently) to a nearby laundry shop and paid a lady $4.50 to wash it all. Not bad. When I got them back, I think my clothes were the cleanest they’d been in 10 months.

The next day, I rejoined the world. It was a Sunday, so I found an English-speaking church online, got some public transit advice, and set out on my first adventure. Well. The day got off to a rough start. On Sundays, some of Quito’s major roads close to car traffic for the “Ciclopaseo” (bike path). It’s actually awesome – people can bike/walk on 18 miles (29km) of closed roads! But for me, it was a headache. Bus routes on those roads are rerouted, so I hopped on the first bus that was headed in the right direction and figured I’d walk the rest of the way once I got close.

Okay, great, except Quito is HUGE. Since it’s in a valley, it’s somewhat narrow but very long, and for some reason, I could not get a handle on its scale while looking at google maps. I would look up the location of something, see where it was in relation to me, and think, “Okay, looks like maybe a 10-minute walk.” Get directions… “40 minutes”. WHAT.

So, I got off the bus thinking, “I’m pretty close now!” NOPE. 25 minutes. Church started in 20, so I powerwalked it. That would have been fine… except that the high elevation soon had me panting, and surprise! HILLS. My gosh. I juuust made it on time but had to pause outside for a minute to avoid passing out. Inside, I spent the beginning of the service attempting to silently breathe heavily (impossible) and trying (failing) to stop sweating. Well, the good news is that I’ll never see any of those people again. (The bad news is that I’ve gone to church a bunch of times throughout my travels, and no matter how much time I allow to get there… I show up nearly late/panting and sweaty EVERY TIME. I guess that’s just kind of my thing now.)

This flower is crazy! And pretty! But like… what?
Ah I love this one too. (Spoiler alert: I love them all.)

After church, I made my way, at a much more leisurely pace, to the Quito Botanical Gardens. I estimated it should take 10 minutes to walk there. Ha. 30 minutes later…

Botanical gardens are the BEST because you get places like this in the middle of a city

I LOVE BOTANICAL GARDENS. I don’t know anything about plants, but I love flowers. I mean, I also don’t know anything about flowers, but sometimes, it’s nice to have something that you enjoy without needing its whole backstory. And so, I’m going to tell you a little bit about the botanical gardens in general, but mostly, just enjoy the pretty pictures. I don’t know what anything is.

This is the cactus pavilion. I just made that name up, but that’s what it is.
YUP. Cacti. And like… how beautiful?!?!
Also, what on earth is happening with this one?! Fascinating. (These captions are basically just going to be my internal dialogue, so apologies in advance.)

Ecuador has incredible ecological diversity, and the Quito Botanical Gardens attempt to capture that diversity in one place. There are plants from all of the country’s major ecosystems… I really appreciated the “tropical rainforest” greenhouse. I was already melting outside, and inside, it was EVEN HOTTER. It actually made the million-degree outside air feel cool when I finally exited (an effect that was, sadly, short-lived).

This is some sort of tropical plant. I know because it was in the bazillion-degree tropical greenhouse. I took very few pictures in there because I was dying.
Roses!! There was a rose garden, but it wasn’t doing especially well. I probably wasn’t there at the right time. But these are looking very pretty!
There were loads of interesting bamboo structures around, and since I had just come from Peru where they were finishing up the bamboo roof on our building, I was extremely excited about them.
This is bamboo, too. To make the walls, they split the bamboo and used the fragments to create a flat-ish surface. What a funky shape!
And then there’s this… I am obsessed with this. I want it in my future yard. I don’t know what the thought process was because it’s not especially functional (at least based on my assessment)… but if they were going for pretty and fun to walk through, they nailed it. Except beware because there’s an irrigation system that might surprise you with a nice drip down your back. But hey, if it’s hot enough, that will make you like it even more.
Try to tell me this isn’t awesome
I LOVE THESE. They’re some of my most favorite flowers, and lucky for me, they’re not just found in Ecuador. I’ve even seen people growing them in our neighborhood in Pennsylvania! They’re “lantanas” which I only know because I love them so much and figured it would be good to find out what they’re called so that I can have some someday.
They come in a bunch of different colors.
Some succulents from the cactus area. I think succulents are so interesting and also am sure that if I ever got one, I’d do the impossible and manage to kill it.
The colorsss!
I laughed at this… palm tree? It kind of looks like a ginormous aloe plant, but pretty sure it’s a palm tree? Also, those fronds are a little spiky and VERY intense
These. I love them. A part of me wants to eat them because they look a bit like a delicious candy. Also, honestly, they might just be weeds that were growing but I don’t care. I’m no flower snob.
The greenhouses are beautiful! So picturesque.
This is in the “carnivorous plants” greenhouse. When I first got to the gardens, someone went over the map with me and gave recommendations (in Spanish) for where I should go/in what order. I think that I was focusing so hard on understanding what he was saying that when he got to “carnivorous plants”, my mind was so busy translating that it said, “Wait, WHAT?” My eyes got super wide, and pretty sure I looked terrified. He laughed at me and assured me that they don’t eat people. I felt so silly afterward because DUH, I know what carnivorous plants are, but my brain just failed to process the information properly. Whoops. Oh well. Happy to entertain. Anyway, here they are. Ready to eat me.
These have to be the weirdest plants. (Also, I have to admit that even though I knew they weren’t going to eat me, being around them gave me the creeps.)
This is not a human-eating flower. It’s just a fun, pretty, dangly flower!

The orchid greenhouse was one of my favorites! There are over 4,000 identified species of orchids in Ecuador, and it has the most endemic orchid species (meaning they occur naturally ONLY in Ecuador) of any country – over 1,700! The botanical garden hosts more than 1,200 species. I didn’t know much about orchids and still don’t… BUT, now I’ve seen a ton of them, and I love them.

Here’s one of the orchid greenhouses
Prepare yourself for SO MANY ORCHIDS.
But remember, there are 1200 species in the botanical gardens, so this is like nothing.
They’re so interesting! They just look totally different from other flowers
Ooo these are super cool with the multi-colored top and the white bottom! And I clearly have no idea what I’m talking about. Except that they’re definitely cool.
I know that this is totally manmade, but they did a good job of making it feel like a little bit of organized chaos, just like natural nature.
THESE. I don’t have anything else to say. Just look at them!
I think that’s all for my orchid collection.
The plants suspended overhead are my favorite part
Okay, just ONE MORE greenhouse picture.
Love love loveee

Eventually, my wanderings led me to the botanical gardens’ collection of bonsai trees. This was fantastic for multiple reasons. First, bonsai trees are fascinating. Second, they’re housed in the most incredible bamboo structure. I spent more time looking at the bamboo than I did the trees… oops. But come on, can you blame me? Check it out.

Lots of little bonsai trees on their own little podiums
Trees, trees, trees!
I know that this is probably the dumbest thing I can say… but look at this! It’s just like a tiny tree! (Duh, Lara, that’s the whole point… I KNOW. But it’s still mind-boggling.)
Never been happier.
The artistry!
Interrupting the bamboo content with another tiny tree…
…anddd we’re back!
Truly a bamboo masterpiece
Okay, last one. But this one has what looks like tiny little flowers on it, and I am in awe. It’s just like a tiny tree.

I ended my visit in the Zen garden and, since I had nowhere to be, I spent nearly an hour sitting by the pond, enjoying the peace and quiet and reading a book. The botanical gardens are in the middle of a busy park, but somehow, they block out the noise and feel like a secret, silent oasis.

Altogether, I spent about 4 hours in the gardens. I was shocked when I checked my watch. It was like a time warp! It was also the perfect way to start my time in Quito and ease back into sightseeing mode. Calm, relaxing, and beautiful… what more could you want?

Don’t you feel relaxed just looking at it? I feel relaxed.
Zen garden path
The view from my reading spot
Me laying in the flowers

I’m back in Peru! I got in late last Monday night and spent Tuesday wrapping my head around the fact that they poured another floor while I was gone. That’s right, we have a 2-story building now! And even though there are no walls on the third floor, we can walk up there and see what the view is going to be like when it’s finished (the other buildings on the property are only two stories or less, so this is a new experience for us). Essentially, all the third floor means, view-wise, is that we will be able to creep on our neighbors exceptionally well. Like the ones next door who have a pool that we’re all very jealous of (though to be fair, we already knew about that thanks to the drone).

Mountains from the 3rd floor
3rd story views
View of the new building from behind
As you can see, we have two stories on the left (Module 1) and one story on the right (Module 2). The existing bathroom building is in the middle (with the bricks piled on top).
Construction site
With our new view from the “3rd floor”, you can get great pictures of the rest of the property. Here’s the construction site, and at the top of the picture, you can see the septic gardens (top right) and the equipment/workshop building (top center).
Concrete mixing area
Here’s the area where they do the concrete mixing (bottom left). You can see the piles of different materials, and they usually have the mixing drum right in the middle. The long, bamboo-fenced area running along the top of the picture is where we store a lot of construction materials (for maintenance and stuff, not for the actual construction project). And you can kind of see the neighbors’ pool deck.

As I was saying, the construction has made big strides since I left. I was a little sad to miss out on some of the fun, but no need to get too upset about it because there’s still much to do. Now, they’re starting to work on the first-floor ceiling on the other side of the building (Module 2). I wasn’t super involved with the foundation phase up until they started the ceilings, but now they’re finally installing electrical-related things which means I have more to do! As they’re laying things out, I’m making sure that everything is in the proper location and that it’s going to work the way I designed it. It’s crazy getting to see it all come together!

Ceiling scaffolding
There’s nothing like a good scaffolding forest…
Looking through the roof supports at the existing building
Standing in the second floor hallway looking towards the new building… these buildings are going to be connected when we’re finished!
Module 2 in progress
Ceilings coming soon! The beginnings of the ceiling for the first floor on Module 2!
Boards covering half of the Module 2 classroom
Halfway there!
Module 2 from above
Adding in the steel for the beams
Junction boxes on Module 2
You can see the little, white electrical boxes sitting on top of the wood. Those are for the lights, ceiling fans, and smoke detectors in this classroom.
Stack of bricks on the ceiling formwork
Nearly ready to start adding the bricks!
Looking up at the ceiling
This is what the ceiling scaffolding/formwork looks like underneath after the bricks are added. Between the bricks, above where the wood planks are, is the poured concrete.

I’ve also had fun getting to be somewhat hands-on in the construction process. For example, the electrician came last week to direct the construction crew on where he needs tubes for the electrical wiring, and first, he and I walked around and made sure that we were happy with the locations of the devices. I chalk-marked the walls in the stairwell showing where I want the lights, and he and I talked through some locations for the electrical boxes. This is way more than I would be involved with on a job in the States. There, the engineer essentially just shows the way they want the system to work and then leaves the details to the electrician. Here, I had to include much more installation-related information on my plans, and now, I’m getting to see it all through. How cool!

Me and the electrician on site
Me talking to the electrician and looking very official in my hard hat (though not wearing appropriate footwear).
One of the guys standing on a board spanning between a ladder and a water drum
Do you like this work platform? Very safe… Don’t worry, he’s not doing anything dangerous… just using a saw to cut the channels in the brick wall for the conduit
Box and conduits set into a wall
Nice and ready for some wires!
Mason putting stucco on the wall
Applying the stucco
Half of the wall with stucco, half still brick
Stucco job in progress
Mason smoothing out the stucco
The mason working on the stucco. I’m still not quite sure how he manages to get it from this lumpy mess to completely smooth. He’s using that piece of metal in his hands to level it out a bit, but that seems like a very long process
Finished stucco wall

Besides the construction, things have been nice and chill since I got back… well, with the exception of actually getting back into the country. I had a little scare in the airport on the way in because I’ve already overstayed my welcome for the year. You can technically only stay for 90 days each year without additional paperwork. When the lady at immigration told me I had already exceeded my allowance, I was worried that they were going to put me right back on a plane home! But thank goodness they let me back in, only giving me a 30-day visa instead of a 90-day… which just means that I definitely can’t leave the country again this year until I’m sure that I’m ready to be gone for good, and when I do leave, I’m going to have to pay 60-days’ worth more for the exit fee (that’s the punishment for overstaying your visa, a fee that accumulates for each day beyond your allowed stay).

Aside from that whole mess, though, things have been good. I’m not feeling overwhelmed or overworked (yet). I’m happy to be back working on the project. It’s been a fun week of hanging out with the roommates and getting back into some good habits. I think my trip home came at just the right time, and now I’m back and feeling ready to have a strong finish to my time here.

I want to make the most of the time I have left, so I’m trying to be more proactive about doing things on the weekends. On Saturday, Julie, Jocelyn, and I went on an adventure walk (aka a hike, but Julie thinks that doesn’t sound fun enough). The mountains near where we live are usually nice and brown, adding some extra brownness to the rest of the brown of the desert landscape. Since it’s been such a humid and misty winter, some of the mountains have turned green! I don’t know how so many little plants managed to spawn in such dusty ground, but I’m not upset about it! From a distance, the mountains look like they’ve just gone a bit moldy.

Road cut out of a brown mountain
Spot the moldy mountains
A half-green, half-brown mountain
How weird is that line between green and brown??

We’re starved for green landscapes here, so we decided to take advantage of this favorable development and investigate. What does that entail exactly? Well, we had to cross over one row of brown mountains before getting to the green ones, so we looked for a path that didn’t seem too exhausting. We walked from our property through our neighborhood and the next one until we got to the foot of a low point between two peaks. I thought maybe that would mean it was easy to cross over. No. I was wrong (rare occurrence, but happens every so often).

It wasn’t “easy”, but we made it over after nearly 30 minutes of walking up a mountain slope that might as well have been vertical. Seriously, it had to be at least a 75-degree incline. And then we had to walk around the mountain on a skinny, slanted path, only one foot-slip away from a tumble all the way down the steep mountainside. The verdict? Not the best route we could have taken, but live and learn!


Climbing up the mountain
Julie and Jocelyn having so much fun…
The neighborhood from the top of the hill
The neighborhood!
Selfie at the top
We made it!… to the top of the “gap” between mountain peaks
Jocelyn walking on the little path
The long, winding path around the mountain
Selfie in the wilderness
Our discussion topic at this point: “When I imagine the wilderness, it looks something like this.”

After that, though, it was heavenly! We learned that the moldy green is mostly wildflowers! There was practically a line separating the brown from the green, and after we crossed over, it didn’t matter how steep the path. We were too busy raving about the smell of plants in the air and the fact that there were actual flowers (no irrigation system required!) and marveling at how much happier we felt being surrounded by green life instead of brown dust. It was magical.

Pretty green mountains
It’s like we’re not even in Chilca anymore! (spot the Jocelyn)
Green mountain selfie!
Just happy to be here, breathing in the fresh, plant-supplied air
Green mountains
It doesn’t even look real!! Such a vibrant green
Me laying in the flowers
Just happy to be here
Mountain color progression
Contrast… Green to less green to less green to BROWN
Cactus in a field of green
Despite the addition of these new plants, we’re still in the desert!
More green
Can we live here? I’m moving.
Line of identical little houses
We walked through this weird little neighborhood on our way home. This is what they usually do when they’re marking out plots to be sold. You get this wonderful patch of dirt and this completely customized hut with your purchase!
Little, purple flowers
More purple flowers
Can’t. Get. Enough.

On top of all of that, and I’m sure that I cannot possibly convey the extent of my excitement for this next part, we discovered a new neighborhood gem. One of my favorite things to eat here is cheesy bread… exactly what it sounds like. Cheese + bread = Lara dream meal (I’m very easy to please). Our usual cheesy bread supplier is at least a 15-minute drive away, and it’s been closed for the last couple months with no explanation. BUT we recently discovered that there’s another cheesy bread place just a 15-minute WALK from where we live. We walked there to check it out at the end of our hike, and they have now been quality approved by us. This is life-changing! (no exaggeration… it doesn’t take much) I’ve never meant it more when I say that the future is looking bright!

Cheesy bread
Cheesy bread!!! This one has ham in it too

It’s amazing that it’s taken this long, but I finally got hit with a little wave of culture shock/homesickness. The trip to Darjeeling is definitely what triggered it. Four straight days with a combination of not much “me” time, lots of people not speaking in English, being in an unfamiliar place, constant miscommunications and misunderstandings, and limited contact with friends and family back home added up to me having a VERY grumpy couple of days.

Most of the time, I don’t mind not being able to understand anything. Sometimes I treat it like a (lame) game because even when people are speaking in Hindi or Nepali, they say some words in English, either because there’s no translation or just because that’s how everyone says it. Usually, I think it’s fun to try to piece together the sporadic English words and people’s hand motions and imagine what the conversation is about (the conversations that I imagine are probably way more fun than what’s actually being said). It’s good because then I’m paying attention to what’s happening, and people don’t feel like I’m bored or ignoring them (instead, they often think that I understand since I look so engaged… but that’s a whole different problem).

As you read about grumpy Lara, enjoy these pictures from Darjeeling of pretty flowers.

Anyway, as I said, most of the time, I don’t mind, but I learned that even I have my limits. This was DAYS of never knowing what was happening, and any translations were either an afterthought or because I begged someone to tell me what was going on. As a result, I never knew what the plan was, and on the rare occasion when someone did tell me something, it usually changed and then the new plan was never communicated. Kind of exhausting.

I also got especially frustrated when I heard someone say my name, so I knew that they were saying something about me, but then no one translated. I’m sure that no one was ever saying something mean; that’s not the issue. It just gets old very quickly, and it starts making you feel a bit like a child and a bit isolated… as if I didn’t already feel a little of that ALL the time.

Combine that language isolation with the feeling of separation that comes from being a guest who isn’t asked to do anything, and you’re like a forgotten island. Like imagine that all of the other women are in the kitchen helping to make dinner, but you’re not allowed to help because you’re a guest… so they’re all laughing and having fun working together, and you’re left on your own. It’s nice that they don’t want to make their guest work, but in that moment, you would do anything just to feel included (hence me forcing my way in on momo-making night).

Another thing that starts to get tiring is the politeness of people always telling you to sit or come or this or that. This really threw me off during my first couple of weeks in India when the school coordinator would summon me and tell me to sit in her office. I’d go and sit, thinking that I was in trouble or that she had to talk to me, but then she’d leave the room and never come back. I finally realized that she was just being polite and trying to give me somewhere to go. This happens everywhere though… every house you visit, every public bench that you happen upon, etc. I’m going to give a bold, 100% guarantee that the person you’re with will suggest you take a seat. Sometimes I just want to stand, and when I say that, I get these looks like, “You should really sit. Your legs must be tired. You should sit. Just sit. SIT!” And I’m looking back like, “PLEASE JUST LET ME STAND. I WANT TO STAND. PLEASE. PLEASE. I WANT TO STAND.” And then it’s a… wait for it… stand-off. Hahahahahaha that was great. I’m hilarious.

People are also always asking me if I’m bored or tired. It’s fine sometimes, but then it will happen when I think it makes literally zero sense to ask. For example, when we were walking around the zoo, someone asked me if I was bored. Huh??? No! I love the zoo! Do we have a different understanding of what that word means? Is this just how they teach “small talk” in India? Or if not, how much stimulation do people think I need to feel interested?? I’m very rarely bored, actually. Of all the people in the world, I’d venture to say that I’m up there with the most easily entertained. Put me and babies right next to each other.

So those things started adding up, and you know how once you’re annoyed, EVERYTHING annoys you? That’s pretty much what happened. My irritation level grew and grew until the slightest thing made me want to snap. I knew that it was ridiculous, but sometimes it’s hard to control how you feel. Then, there were ENDLESS pictures and selfies which made it all worse because 1) I don’t love being in pictures anyway, 2) the selfies felt excessive and that annoyed me as well, and 3) I felt like I should smile because that’s what you do in pictures, but I was SO unhappy that my smiling just felt like a lie. That made me definitely not want to be in any pictures (to avoid the risk of my grumpy face breaking the camera), and when you’re already annoyed and people are still trying to take pictures even after you’ve said “NO!”… anyway, it just wasn’t very good.

Thankfully, after a couple of days of being back in a familiar place and self-imposed solitary confinement, I managed to get my head on straight. I’m okay now, but I’m not going to let myself forget that feeling. It all stemmed from me feeling isolated, and that’s a good reminder to always be thinking about making people feel welcome and included in situations where they don’t necessarily fit in.

Related Posts

Darjeeling – explore the mountain town of Darjeeling, India… without the risk of homesickness

Road to Sonada – join me on the trek across West Bengal, India from “home” in Jaigaon to Sonada, a town near our vacation destination of Darjeeling. Always an adventure!

So Many Languages – what makes India lingustically even more confusing/stressful than other countries? Learn about my language discoveries as I tried to make my way as an English Literature teacher in Jaigaon, India.

India Friends! – come along on some adventures with the friends I finally managed to find in India who made me feel like a normal human instead of an alien

Bath – want more flower pictures? Fly on over to Bath, England to visit the botanical garden… and a few other sites along the way