We had a great flight over to Quito, with a stopover in Miami. As we checked in, we were told that we would not be able to be seated together on the New York to Miami sector. I was not particularly fussed, as I figured that I would be able to swap with someone, although Alex and I were several rows apart. As it worked out however, I ended up sitting down next to a lovely lady called Louise. After chatting briefly, she asked if I would like her to swap with Alex, so that we could sit together. She seemed like such an interesting person, that I declined the offer and we ended up chatting all the way to Miami. As we parted company, I had a new friend, whom had already asked me to visit next time we were in Miami. I told her to beware, as I often took people up on these kinds of offers!
As we we approached Quito, I began to feel anxious.........with excitement! It's always an amazing feeling flying into Quito, but quite frankly, it's not the safest! Mariscal Sucre Airport is nestled in the heart of Quito, surrounded by mountains, and only the most skilled of pilots are able to fly into it (having said that, the odd crash occurs all the same, which is why a new airport, well away from these mountains is currently being built). As we neared touch down, a knot formed in my throat, as I recognised familiar landmarks, peaks, parks and many other spots I had come to know and love when I had lived there 10 years ago. Ecuador, and particularly Quito, holds a very special place in my heart, and indeed it is my second home. A little piece of my heart always remains there!
Touch down! It was just on 6pm on the 28th of May. Alex and I looked at each other, nervously grinning from ear to ear. It had been almost three and a half years since we had been here, and if I was excited about seeing everybody once again, imagine Alex! This time, we would be meeting our brother-in-law, Christian, for the first time, as well as our new little nephew Thomas, who was not yet two months old. We were both feeling a wave of emotions.......how would we find everyone? Had Quito changed? The line to get through passport control was extremely long and it seemed to go on for ages. At one point I looked up, and behind the glass panelling I could see Karen (Alex's sister), Jean Pierre and Rodrigo (Alex's brothers), Samantha (his little cousin) and his aunties Patty and Gladys waving furiously. I was totally overcome with emotion, and I started to cry as I waved back. Finally, we got through customs and picked up our luggage.
We were surprised to find that before exiting the airport, every single person was being screened by a doctor with some kind of heat-gauging machine......yes, to see if they had pig flu! That was a bit of a surprise, especially as no similar such thing had been done in the USA. Also, everyone here was wearing a mask! After all the hoo-ha of leaving Australia in the middle of the pig flu crisis in late May, we hadn't seen anyone wearing masks anywhere....up until now! We were virtually the last ones in the line, but once through, I noticed that Alex was not behind me. I turned around to see where he was, and could not see him. Finally, I saw him step out of the toilet, as he had splashed water on his face. I gave him this quizzical, "What the f#$@k look", and he proceeded to yell out, "Te dijo, soy caliente!" (I told you, I'm hot!). I looked away in this "Gee, I don't know this guy" kind of way. As it works out, Alex who (seriously) gets hot quite easily, went through the scanners, which detected a high body temperature, and he had to cool down just to rule out pig flu! What a laugh!
Finally out, there were hugs all around, and everyone had a laugh, especially with Alex's pig flu debacle! (Karen Ivanyi, I know you will love this one!) As Karen (Alex's sister) lives close to the airport, we were there in no time at all. As we came through the doors both Axel and Denisse (our niece and nephew) came running towards us. More hugs all around, as I adore them both. Then, we met Christian, whom we liked instantaneously (we had already "met" and chatted on skype) and saw little Thomas, although he was sleeping. Alex and I would be staying with Karen and her family. As Jean Pierre (or Piero as he is also referred to) is currently living there at the moment, it really was like one big happy family. That first night there was lots of chatting, hugs, and reconnecting. We also saw Daisy, who works in Karen's house and her children Christina, now 8 and Diego, 4. Daisy started working with Karen in 1999, just months before I moved in to live with them. I have a soft spot for Daisy. We did not see Alex's Dad until a couple of days later, as he often travels for work.
Three weeks seems like a long time, but sadly it went way, way too quickly! I met little Thomas the next day and was immediately besotted with him. He became the new love-of-my life in a nano second. Despite his tender age, we bonded immediately, and by the end of our stay he was giggling and laughing every time I went near or talked to him. What a gorgeous looking, nice natured little baby! You can clearly see that I am not at all biased.
There were so many things that we wanted to do, but time just did not allow it. Alex was, however, able to spend some real quality time with his family, which is what it was all about. I am very fortunate in as far as Alex's family loves me as much as mine loves Alex here in Australia. I am never made to feel like I am holding the candle, but also understand the importance of Alex having time out with his siblings. It was great to see; as Alex is my great love, my happiness is also derived from his. He both laughed and cried with his siblings, and his profound love, especially for Piero and Karen, is touching. It's moments like these, that I feel very humble and recognise the huge sacrifice that Alex had made to be here in Australia with me. He did it of his own free will, and loves me as well as Australia, but a huge chunk of his heart still lies in his birth country, where all of his loved ones live.
The weekend after we arrived, the aunties and uncles (on his mum's side) organised a big get together, at his Tia (aunty) Marisela and Tio (uncle) Ruben (Chucha's), house. They have a large property north of Quito. Here we caught up with everyone, as well as meeting Andrea, his cousin Santiago's new wife. She was due any day now, and we already knew that the baby was a boy and would be called Samuel. What a day! The boys played table soccer, and a whole heap of us played ping-pong. There was also a spa and swimming pool (too cold to swim though). Lots of music, food and alcohol saw the festivities go on into the early hours of the next morning. Mind you, we had gotten there at midday!
A few days after we arrived, we also opened up two huge suitcases of gifts we'd brought here from Australia. What a pleasure to see their faces. It's such a delight to be able to give and see the joy on people's faces. Alex's family is so big that we never send gifts across, but when we go, we certainly make up for it, with all the things we take across. OK, so I went a bit berserk with Thomas' things......baby's clothes are just so cute!
We had planned a family outing the day after the get together, but the best we could organise was a brunch,when everybody got up close to midday. Our weekends were spent with the family, going out for lunches, including Alex's favourite ceviche (a citrus marinated seafood dish) and ice-cream, which in Ecuador seems to taste so much more natural, than back here. Indeed, their produce and food generally seems to taste fresher and definitely has less preservatives.
But, my how Quito had changed! The area around Amazonas St, or Gringolandia, which is basically where the foreigners hang out, caters to everyone and has everything. Ten years ago, I could barely find a cafe to save my life, and now it's teeming with them...with foreigner prices to match. The number of bars, restaurants and up market souvenir shops has also increased multi-fold. Where had my "little Quito" disappeared to? The prices of the food in the supermarkets were astounding, and I struggled to grasp how one litre of milk could cost AUD $1.50, when fixing up a pair of shoes and a back pack were only $1.00. Sadly, this is still a country where manual labour is very poorly paid.
The old part of Quito has also really changed. The Plaza de San Francisco is one of Quito's oldest and most beautiful sights, and is the place where our very dear friends Byron Ushina and Alexandra Aguirre have opened up, "Ari Gallery - Ancestral Jewellery and Art". (www.ushinajewellery.com) From humble beginnings, with a table at the Otavalo indigenous market, where I met Byron 10 years ago, to an upmarket gallery in one of Quito's most well known areas........I was blown away! As we entered the huge plaza, my eyes searched eagerly for the gallery. It wasn't long before I saw the sign, "Ari Gallery". I was overcome with emotion, and tears started to well up in my eyes. I started to cry! As we entered the gallery we saw Alexa, who was expecting us, yet I could not talk. I was all choked up as I continued to cry. As I hugged her, the words finally came out, and I told her how proud and happy I was for her and Byron. I was overwhelmed by their perseverance and desire to obtain their goal, which they had worked at for so long. What a most brilliant example that achievements can often be obtained with sheer determination and passion. They never floundered, they knew that one day their dream would become their reality! And there we were, standing in the middle of that very much achieved dream. What an inspiration!
Byron met us at the gallery later in the day, whereby I repeated my behaviour. When I saw him walk in, I was once again, overcome with emotion, and I hugged him whilst I cried and told him how proud I was of him. After some chatting, we closed the gallery and all went to a place called, "Vista Hermosa", a cafe/restaurant offering spectacular 360% views of Quito. Vista Hermosa means beautiful view......the views were indeed impressive, but the prices ridiculous. Alex coined the cafe, "Beautiful views, ridiculous prices!" So, we all just had a cup of coffee, took in the breathtaking views, and caught up on the last few years.
We also went to visit Byron and Alexa in Sangolqui, only 35 kilometres east of Quito, where they live. My, my how that has changed too! Although nestled in a beautiful valley, the traffic is horrendous. Indeed, Alex and I have noticed how many more cars there are compared to only three and a half years ago. Many of these cars are (expensive) four wheel drives, prompting us to ask, "How do they do it"? That's another story, but without a doubt, many are spending way beyond their means. It was wonderful to see the children again, Mishell, Amy and Dylan. Such good natured and polite children, and an absolute pleasure to be around. We got them a little gift too, and needless to say, they were very happy and all thanked up profusely. At Byron's we had fresh cheese, fresh bread and a great home-cooked meal, including the famous "aji de mani" (chili peanut salsa), which Alexa knows I love. The house had grown bigger since we last saw it too, as they had extended. We love coming out here, and the air is so fresh. Having said that, so fresh, that it often puts us to sleep. By midnight I was spent and had to go off to bed. It was an early rise the next morning, and after a quick shower we had another wonderful home-cooked breakfast, before hitching a ride back to Quito with Byron.
We seemed to have done so much, yet we still hadn't seen many of our friends, nor gone dancing, nor gone to Mindo, which I had never been to and had been wanting to see for years. I want to do it all...some things never change! All of this in the next blog.
(English): To our special friends, Byron Ushina and Alexandra Aguirre. We feel honoured to have you in our lives and to call you our friends. We are so proud of you. You relentlessly pursued your dream, which finally became your reality. We feel privileged to have been part of that journey. With humility, we thank you!
(Spanish): Para nuestros amigos especiales, Byron Ushina y Alexandra Aguirre. Nos sentimos honrados en tenerles en nuestras vidas, y llamarles nuestros amigos. Estamos muy orgullosos de ustedes. Persiguieron su sueno, lo cual llego a ser su realidad. Nos sentimos honrados para haber podido ser parte de este viaje. Humildemente, les agredecemos!
"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters to what lies within us" - Ralph Waldo Emerson.
(Photos: 1.- Quito Airport, smack bang in the middle of the city, surrounded by mountains. 2.- A woman with her children, Old Town, Quito. 3.- The new "love of my life, Thomas - or Thomasito as we affectionately refer to him. 4.- Alex and Thomas, in Karen's house, Quito. 5.- The whole family having icecream at Heidi's Ice-creamery. L to R: Jean Pierre, Axel, Christian, Karen, Rodrigo, Denisse and Alex. 6.- Ombi and Spider Man, aka Diego, Daisy's son. 7.- L to R" Denisse, Karen and Ombi with Thomas in the middle. 8.- Denisse and Alex at our family reunion at Maricela and Ruben's place, Quito. 9.- Axel, in his bedroom. 10.- Plaza San Francisco, Old Town, Quito. 11.- "Ari Jewellery Gallery; Byron and Alexa's gallery, Old Town, Quito. 12.- Ombi and Byron at Vista Hermosa Cafe in the Old Town, with resplendent views of the Old Town. 13.- Back in Sangolqui with Byron's family. L to R: Alex, Mishell, Alexa, Byron, Dylan, Ombi and Amy. 14.- Ombi and Thomas with his new "Melbourne designed" kangaroo. 15.- Alexa, Ombi and Byron at their house, Sangolqui. 16.- Alex having a bad hair day! Family get together, Maricela and Ruben's house, Quito).
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