Today was my third full day in Ecuador. It’s been so difficult trying to write down what it’s like here that I’ve been putting it off for fear of not relating my thoughts well enough.

The full day of traveling on Saturday was exhausting and uncomfortable, which is what I expected. But it was also ridiculously exciting, especially because I was undeniably very alone, going somewhere I had never been, going to meet people I didn’t know. Right before landing in Quito, the capital city, I saw the network of lights carpeting the black earth, rolling over the hills, and crawling up the bottom of the mountains to the West. I was overcome with wonder at arriving on a new continent, and I had no idea what to expect.

The Mariscal district where I was staying is the choice district of many Americans and Europeans - that is, it’s the gringo district. “Gringo” is a not-so-bad term for white people. At least, no one has ever used it in a derogatory way towards me, and we all call ourselves gringos anyway. In Spain, the term was “guiri,” which is the word in my link. It’s still a confusing feeling standing out as a foreigner, and more so here than in Spain. I don’t know what people are thinking when they look at me; do they resent my presence here as a tourist? Do they think I am just here to make myself feel more cultured, to snap some pictures and then go back to America? Why is this the impression I have?

A girl who works at my hostel directed me toward a market nearby, so I set out walking. I don’t usually bring a map around with me in a new city because I like to learn the streets by memory. Looking at a map also makes you look lost, and I feel that it’s best to look like you know where you’re going. It’s already obvious by my light skin that I’m foreign, so I try to play that down.

The park with the market was beautiful - large, green and open. There were hundreds of people there: children on bicycles, parents with picnics, couples meandering, teenagers in packs, soccer games, vendors selling shishkabobs and cotton candy. The market was a string of tent stalls set up along a path around the park selling clothes, jewelry, figurines, purses, and knapsacks.

My second day of exploring Quito, two friends and I walked through the streets and up a long, steep hill to get to a small art museum featuring a famous Ecuadorian painter Guayasamín. Many of the paintings were Picasso-esque, some quite grotesque and all powerful and bursting with pain.

The streets of Quito are fun to walk - they’re dusty and loud with craggy uneven sidewalks. The black exhaust from the traffic is overwhelming. Children try to sell you packs of gum and cigarettes for fifty cents. We got a big lunch of rice and meat with a bowl of potato soup and a glass of juice for $2.

I got to know the people in my group - there are twelve of us, plus the five leaders. We are a diverse group - there are students, amateur mycologists, a reporter, environmental activists. Some have been traveling in other South American countries, working on organic farms, some want to start their own mushroom farms. All of them are passionate, vibrant people that have incredible knowledge about fungi, medicinal plants, microbiology, botany, chemistry. They are independent and well-traveled people, with interesting perspectives on life and I’m lucky have this time to get to know them.