It’s 7:30pm on Monday, the night before I’m scheduled to leave for Quito, Ecuador and I’m frantically making a trip to a Fedex-Kinko’s to mail one last package to my parents before I leave.  I’m bummed because I’m going to be missing out on going to one last dance at Rhythm Junction.  The day before leaving has been frantic to say the least.  I’m freaking out.  I stay up until 11:30 still trying to setup my laptop before I go.  My flight leaves at 6:30am, so I wake up at 3:45 so that I can drop some things off at my friend, Lynn’s place.  Thank god for friends.  After a tearful goodbye, I’m off.

My flight leaves on time and after I arrive in Charlotte, NC, I receive a text message from Lynn that reads:

I know shit’s crazy, your brain is full, your bag is overpacked… All part of the process.  This is what it is to truly live in the human experience, to take leaps of faith and live your dreams,  doing the best that you can.  So proud to call you friend, and my phone/email box is open 24/7.  You are more powerful and capable than you know – and you’re going to make it.  The universe wants this for you as much as  you do.

Yeah.  I got this.  I’m okay and it’s time for this adventure to get under way.

I arrive in Quito at 8pm.  After strolling through customs, I locate a TGI Friday’s in the airport and have a beer until my hosts pick me up around 9:30.  Yolanda, Yulia, Ilia, and Roberto meet me at the entrance.  Giving me hugs and kisses, they welcome me into their family.  Tomorrow, I’ll meet Yolanda, Yulia, and Ilia’s mother, Margarita and then go out to see Quito.

The next morning, Yolanda, Yulia, Ilia, their mother Margarita, and I sit down and have a light breakfast.  Margarita tears into a grapefruit and offers me one.  Don’t mind if I do.  It’s delicious.  It’s at this point the 20 questions begin.  While everyone else is mostly quiet, Margarita starts by asking me general questions.  What do you do for a living back home?  What is the purpose of your trip?  Are you married?  The last questions prompts a huge discussion of some of my past relationships and why they might not have worked out.  She becomes philosophical and starts to tell me where men and women commonly go wrong in their relationships with each other, and why they should fight to close the distances that divide them.  She’s like an Italian grandmother who now has a new child to harass about marriage and grandchildren.  Actually, she’s Russian, which makes it that much more potent.

We head out for a nice walk around Itchimbia Parque before going to The Virgin of El Panecillo.  It’s my first taste of Quito, and I’m quite taken by how beautiful the city is.  After some pictures and sightseeing, Roberto drives us through the old town, Centro Historico de Quito.  I want to stop and look around but lunch is waiting.  Ilia assures me that we’ll be visiting the old town tomorrow afternoon.  We arrive back home where lunch is waiting:  Potato and Cheese Soup with Avocado, Garlic Bread, and salsa.  I wolf my meal down and head for a siesta.  I wake up in the evening and decide to accompany Yulia and Yolanda for a Solo Jazz class that they’re teaching that evening.  While there, I attempt to chat up some locals using my Spanish.  It’s rough but getting better.

After returning from the Solo Jazz class, I’m (lightly) pressured to get my guitar so that Margarita and I can face off against each others musical abilities.  Accordion vs Guitar.  Mano y Mano.  Actually, it’s not so much a battle of the bands as its a sharing of one’s cultural music abilities.  Margarita performs traditional Russian music, while I offer up (mostly) contemporary and popular rock and blues.  It wasn’t much of a match and I personally feel that Margarita’s musical abilities outweigh my own.  Margarita tells me in the end that the word for “sharing” is very similar to the word for “competition” either in Russia or Ecuadorian.  I can’t remember which.  We end with some more talk getting to know each other before I excuse myself for the night.

The next morning, I decide to take my time getting up.  I skip breakfast knowing that I’ll be eating a good meal in the Historical Center of town later.  Ilia, Yolanda, Yulia, and I depart around 11am and take a bus to the Centro Historico de Quito.  We walk for a bit and finally end up at San Agustin, a restaurant that Ilia likes very much.  Yulia and Yolanda have some helado while Ilia and I order lunch.  I have the Seco de Chivo which is stewed goat with rice, potato, and salad.  I found the food to be quite enjoyable.  Afterwards, we make two more stops and head back to the house.  The afternoon is spent napping and the evening is spent in a restaurant watching Roberto and his band-mates Ming and Valentin play in their band Art Class.  I was quite impressed with their music.  They started out playing some traditional Ecuadorian music and then slowly progressed to some recognizable popular American fare.  There is nothing like hearing Michael Jackson and U2 played with a violin in the background.

The next morning, I spend my time getting up.  The drainage isn’t working in the house that day, which impedes Ilias cooking a bit.  We have lunch around 3:00pm which consists of potato patties, a beet and carrot salad, watermelon, and some figs and cheese for dessert.  After lunch Ilia and I step out so that I may try and find the South American Explorer‘s clubhouse in Quito.  I had heard from a woman before leaving Minneapolis that it’s a group that helps other travelers in South America plan their trips.  Unfortunately, the club was closed by the time we got there.  I’ll have to wait until I reach Peru to discover their usefulness.  Afterwards, Ilia takes me to Foch Plaza for a beer.  We return home and later, Ilias friend, George shows up and we decide to go back out to Foch plaza so that they can check out all the beautiful women.  We later meet up with a female friend of Ilia and Georges wife.  After a couple of drinks, we retreat to the house.  I have to leave early tomorrow for Mindo.

The next morning, I got up early.  Ilia, Yolanda, Yulia, and Margarita have a going away breakfast for me.  They’ve been the most incredible hosts, and I’m sorry to say goodbye.  Ilia accompanies me to the bus terminal and I commence my journey to Mindo.