Photo credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

48 hours later: lessons learned from moving abroad

I’ve done a lot in the last 48 hours, including moving 6,000 miles from England to Ecuador, setting a microwave on fire, and attending an 87-year-old woman’s birthday party.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned somewhere between leaving my house in England and writing this post in Ecuador:

#1. Travelling gets harder as you get older

Until last week, solo travelling was an absolute piece of cake, which mostly involved a much more youthful version of me waltzing off into several beautiful (but ultimately commitment-free) sunsets. This week, solo travel means moving across continents with two pieces of checked baggage to last you for two years, and leaving your significant other behind in a move you may live to regret for the rest of your life.

I suppose the older you get, the more roots you put down, and the harder it is to let go.

I also got really upset saying goodbye to my parents before leaving, which can only mean I’m emotionally unstable growing up. My response? Well, I’m not sure I should be giving away advice this good for free but … I watched a lot of sad films on the plane and just cried a bit. You heard it here first, folks!

#2. American Airlines wants you to suffer

I flew London to Miami to Guayaquil, and American Airlines told me I’d have to ‘pick up my bag at customs in Miami and re-check it to Guayaquil’.

What does this actually mean? It means that when your plane lands an hour behind schedule, you have to sprint through a multi-terminal airport devoid of any useful signage, frantically race to your baggage carousel and pay $5 for the privilege of using a trolley to ferry your suitcases about 200m down the hall to another, slightly smaller baggage carousel.

Are American Airlines incompetent, or are they just trolling me? Answers on the back of a postcard …

#3. Some things never change …

… like Guayaquil Airport, for example. It has not changed one iota, and that is a beautiful thing because it means I know exactly where to go, what to do, and how to get through immigration in the shortest possible time.

I also met a sales rep from a chocolate company who was travelling to Guayaquil for a cacao conference. (How do I get that job?!) He asked for some Ecua-tips, so I told him it was the end of humpback season in Puerto López. He didn’t seem to know there were whales in Ecuador – why does nobody seem to know that there are whales in Ecuador?

#4. Surprise! You suck at Spanish again

One month away has played havoc with my listening, accent and vocab. (On the bright side, I did get told that my accent is pretty guayaco last night, but I think my apartment manager was just being sweet.)

In July, after two months of solid immersion, I got pretty used to not having to try when speaking Spanish. That privilege has definitely left the building.

#5. A single Reese’s peanut butter cup is not enough breakfast to sustain you after 24 hours of transatlantic travel

Breaking news! Warn your loved ones!

#6. Access to drinking water is the greatest privilege known to man

Wasn’t sure if the tap water was safe to drink in the apartment and I still don’t own a saucepan, so I filled a mug with water and put it in the microwave for seven minutes. Thing is, it already had the teabag in, and when flammable materials like string and paper get very, very hot …

You can probably take it from there.

#7. Flatmates are horror stories waiting to be written

After 24 hours in the apartment, I’d met a grand total of zero flatmates, and started to wonder if anyone else actually lived here. This evening, I decided to bite the bullet and knock on a few doors to introduce myself.

Door #1 opened to reveal a fully naked guy who seemed to only remember he was fully naked when it was too late, and made a half-hearted attempt to hide behind the door while letting his head peek out at an awkward right-angle.

“Hi, I’m Sanchia, I just moved in here and I wanted to introduce myself!”
“Uh, hi.”
“Nice to meet you. I’ve got the room next door.”
“Okay. Is there a problem?”
“No, I just wanted to introduce-”
*door slams in my face*

Okay then.

#8. Community is everything

So I took all those positive, peppy life lessons and went to see my Ecuadorian host family, the people that looked after me while I was volunteering in Flor de Bastión from May to July this year. And as usual, they made me feel like I was just a long-lost older sister who had finally returned to the family. Mirka told me about her first week at university, I took Dalila to school, and then Zoila took me and Jonas to her mother-in-law’s 87th birthday party, where we had caldo de gallina (chicken soup but made with hen meat, which has a slightly tougher texture), pasta salad with rice, and cake and jelly.

And suddenly, everything was perfect.

260º West | Teaching English & Getting Educated in Ecuador

7 things I love about Guayaquil

1. Community is everything here.

I’m not really an emotional person. There’s a reason why I studied maths at university – I like it when the answer is either right or wrong. For that reason, I find it incredibly, unbelievably difficult to empathise with most people. People are not made of clearly defined rules – they’re a terrifying jumble of thoughts, feelings and emotions, most of which I’m not very good at processing.

This is why I was so surprised at how quickly I became attached to the community of Flor de Bastión in Guayaquil. As much as I’d have liked to chalk it down to just the thrill of travelling or volunteering, it wasn’t even close to my first time living in a developing country, staying with a host family or serving the community. The real reason was that every single person I met took a genuine interest in me – my obsessions, hopes, dreams, fears, pet hates, ambitions, opinions – everything about me.

And just like that, without even realising it, I had been totally accepted into a community halfway across the world.

2. It’s South America’s best-kept foodie secret.

Oh god. Anyone who knows me knows that my relationship with food comes before absolutely everything. My dad’s family own a restaurant on the west coast of India, and he basically taught me to cook before I could walk. I would say that the way to my heart is through my stomach, except I’m pretty sure that I have a second stomach in place of where my heart should be. It’s the only explanation.

Anyway, the point is, I’ve had the privilege of tasting a lot of different food in a lot of different countries – but Guayaquil is the only port city that came up with encebollado. Imagine lazy Sunday mornings slurping an aromatic broth of rare tuna flakes simmered in a rich base of tomato, coriander and yuca, served with a light smattering of banana chips and a mouth-watering hit of lime juice on top.

Well played, Guayaquil. Well played.

3. Equatorial nights like Equatorial days.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m from India. I have Indian skin and Indian hair, which means that any time the temperature drops below 20°C my skin literally starts to turn grey from the cold, and any time the humidity is less than 50%, the air is so dry that no amount of Frizz Ease in the world will get my hair back to a state considered acceptable by western society.

Guayaquil, weather-wise, is basically my Indian hometown without my extended family; the climate is almost identical. And that suits me and my body just fine.

4. The west coast > everything else.

Have you ever taken a bus out of the sprawling city centre, past the endless banana plantations of Guayas, and followed the majestic Pacific Ocean up along the coastal path of Ecuador, humpback whales breaching in the distance, untouched beaches as far as the eye can see?

I rest my case.

5. Guayaquil speaks Spanish better than you.

My first week in Guayaquil, I remember wondering what the hell everyone was saying. My second week, I remember thinking that I still didn’t know what anyone was saying, but my goodness what an incredibly expressive, gorgeous, melodic accent they were saying it in.

Spanish is sexy; that’s a fact. But it’s just so much better with a Pacific-Coast accent.

6. It has a gloriously bad reputation.

When you tell people that you live in Guayaquil, they look at you with a mixture of fear and sympathy. Holy crap why would anyone live there traffic noise pollution muggings gang violence absolutely no peace and quiet whatsoever poor girl clearly has no idea what she’s got herself into. Then they offer you the palatable alternatives of Quito and Cuenca, serene colonial cities tucked away in the tranquility of the Andes, all cool breezes and cool attitudes.

Thanks, but no thanks – I like my cities with a little life in them, please. And maybe it’s the Indian in me, but I never could sleep in a city that goes quiet after dark.

7. The airport is literally. Right. There.

As a serial traveller, my ultimate pet hate is landing at an airport located so far outside the city centre that you feel you might as well have booked a holiday to a different city. I’m looking at you, London Southend.

Guayaquil has no such issues. The airport is only ever half an hour away from anywhere. Let’s all just take a moment of silence to recognise superior urban planning here.

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What’s your idea of a perfect city? What factors make you fall in love with a new place? Let me know in the comments below …