Quito, Ecuador homestay

Mum is currently ironing Ando’s shorts and pants to get him ready for a flight to New York. It is refreshing to be surrounded by such domestic normality. However I do not pass the opportunity to tease him about being ‘madres poco nino.’

I am enjoying torturing my new family with bad Spanish while sleeping with my pack in a room the size of a beer carton. There is no floor space and to sleep I have to spoon with my pack. Spooning with big red has not become weird yet, we have shared some highs and lows this year and have formed a strong bond in the process, there are no secrets between us.

Mum is the head of the household and compensates for an almost empty nest by taking in lost Spanish students. Mum comes up with a new nickname for me every time I see her. This morning I was a ‘povrito’ (poor little boy), this afternoon ‘delicisio’ (self explanatory) tonight I have been promoted to ‘cholito’ (Spanish version of nigger). Dad makes the odd tired and grumpy cameo appearance between shift working. Their son Ando is a very muscular and very gay flight attendant. I spent much of last night teaching him how to say platypus. This is a very difficult word for the native Spanish speaker to wrap their tongue around, “Try again mate…Plat-a-puss.”

“Plant-i-pies….plat-u-pees…..plat-a-push, oh, just forget it Ben. Hey do you like to party?”

As well as improving my Spanish I have learnt that when a gay flight attendant asks if you like to party the correct answer (for the straight man of course) is “No.” Confusion reigned supreme after Ando got the wrong impression with my reply, “Yes, a bit, depends on my mood mate. I used to go out and party with just about anyone at every opportunity you know, but these days I mainly just enjoy staying in on weekends and partying with a few friends.”

My new home is in a very secure compound which from the outside closely resembles a gaol. This is some comfort to me as Shaun recently had his house entered by four armed robbers. He and his family were tied up for four hours and held at gunpoint while the men casually loaded televisions and anything of value into a waiting truck. Suffice to say I do not begrudge having to open three separate locks to arrive home.

Walking to Spanish school and watching the psychotic traffic I think about the little differences that make Quito such an interesting town. Young people walk with salsa songs squeaking from mobile phone speakers, they strut along the cracked pavement like it is their private WWF walk on music, “aaaand In the blue corner is the Juan Bigflank!”

People more dance than walk about their way, this is a skill I am working on and have only mastered after one too many Mojitos, similar to dancing and karaoke.

It is impossible to get a decent feed of vegetables without paying some kind of gastronomic tax. The weather is very stable and the scenery spectacular. Things are cheap; one litre of beer is one dollar, mineral water only forty cents. Police do not equal safety, if you were in trouble they would just as likely watch the action with nonchalant disinterest and wait for a payoff from the aggressor. One really comes to value friendship with a walk to the ATM becoming two vastly different experiences with or without friends, as does catching a bus or going to the shops.

That said the city is beautiful, it is bristling with parks and old colonial buildings. There are some truly spectacular sights to enjoy whilst firmly clutching wallet and camera inside coat pockets.

People are happy and do not know what an ab-blaster or toasted sandwich maker is. They do not care much for material things. Group them together on a sunny day and press play on an old scratchy stereo and they morph into one single, stomping, ecstatic entity. Compare that scene with the unhappy house wife in suburbia. She is surrounded with shiny big screen watsits and plug in thingamies all pre-ported to make life both easier and happier. She waits all day for her husband to return from work with more funds for that much needed 20 000 amp poo-wizzer. She whiles away her time pushing a Dyson 3 000 and trolling the internet on her brand new 100 inch Dell million giga-thingo deluxe ‘master hub’ searching for the secret to happiness.

I wander into the Spanish School very glad that I am off that bus, red rucksack, crappy old camera and myself are doing just fine. I am slightly disappointed I have never seen a

20 000 amp poo wizzer in action though.

My last week of lessons are very difficult. Having mastered present tense and obligatory statements my teacher and I have moved on to tackle future and past tense. I would be happy to just walk the parks asking people for directions with my teacher laughing from a safe distance like last week. Thankfully I now possess enough Spanish to upsize my KFC meal and to order more than one beer at a time. The more Spanish I learn, the easier it is to learn. My current work is to translate a paragraph and answer some questions. My translation reads as follows;

‘Such how agree tomorrow. Seven months, ten to reunite the people plaza. Think morning delicious and the day is presented. On seven point arrive the bus immediate sound first gear. Hurrah! Mr conductor. Roll up your rucksack and seat occupants each trip results in singers of songs. Own the occasion, for some count jokes and laughs…’

My confidence about navigating South America alone is high as written Spanish is harder than spoken. I think.

I hope I never need to reunite the people plaza or I will be in big trouble. Staring at my books I have reached an executive decision not to learn past or future tense, it is much more fun just living in the present.

Own the occasion for some count jokes and laughs.

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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