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Quito Homestay

 

 

Majestic snow-capped peaks, bustling markets, and shy but friendly natives. These are the elements of armchair travel, the source of that voyeuristic surge of inspiration felt while thumbing through glossy travel books and magazines.

 

Post-card perfect landscapes and safe, self-contained cultural encounters. This is the stuff of expensive packaged tours where everything is painstakingly planned, right down to the cute pink umbrella in your cocktail. Check out the local sights and sounds with your friendly guide and at the end of a long day check in to your hotel, complete with cable TV, and those fun little crème-filled mints on an over-fluffed pillow. This is zoo travel: you can see it without having to get uncomfortably close to it. Picture-perfect and neatly packaged, complete with continental breakfast buffets (included of course!), and air conditioned suites (view of spewing volcano extra)—don’t pet the natives, please.

 

Fine for some, but not for me. Give me cold electric showers, rice and potato dinners, and drinking games with drunken uncles. The blood and guts of travel by the seat of your pants, outside the First World comfort zone: a country skinned and served uncooked and underdone. Red, rare, raw, and dripping with the unrefined realities of everyday living in a foreign country: Ecuador, alive and kicking.

 

Stripped bare of the travel brochure bombast and tour guide diplomacy, the country may appear dishearteningly lackluster, and surprisingly similar to the life back home. No ad-agency adjectives or airbrushed photos: a homestay in Ecuador promises the willing traveler a very different spread.

 

Snap. Breakfast with the family, sipping coffee and discussing the latest political gossip.

 

Snap. Christmas dinner. Tossing back drinks and enjoying the warming tingle of inside jokes and that easy, liquid conversation between brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers.

 

Snap. Crowded on a couch with your Ecuadorian family, sharing a blanket, and watching poorly dubbed American horror films. And these are just a few highlights. While living with an Ecuadorian family, one can expect unexpected encounters with the mundane mechanisms of everyday life. You will have the rare opportunity to eat, sleep, live, and breathe Ecuador. A homestay may not boast five star hotels, gourmet spreads, or National Geographic natives. In fact you’ll be lucky to get red meat and green vegetables once a week.

 

There are no class five rapids to write home about. No survival stories of hairy encounters with men in loin cloths. And you may as well forget about top ten lists of “picture-perfect landscapes” and “things to see and do before you die.” What a homestay does provide is a wild adventure into the heart and soul of a country, its natural rhythms and the heartbeat of its people. It is a rare opportunity to drop the accoutrements of an outsider and don the apparel of an insider.

 

Packaged tours, while certainly convenient, do tend to serve the country on a silver platter. Plucked of stray hairs and injected with aesthetically appealing souvenir-shop-markets, majestic mountains, and built-for-tourist towns. The wildest adventure, perhaps, involves traveling into the hearts and minds of those who inhabit the country and discovering the subtle similarities and differences between your life and that of your host country family.

 

It is about sitting at its kitchen tables, eating its food and drinking with its uncles. Living with a family in Ecuador offers the opportunity to roll up your sleeves, brush up on your Spanish and dive into the strange and bizarre events that inevitably accompany the uncut, unrefined, realities of family life in a foreign country.



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