The Galápagos Islands are part of the country of Ecuador, and the language spoken there and on the mainland is Spanish. With the ubiquity of the Spanish language in our culture, I know a number of words and phrases but would be hard pressed to carry on a conversation in Español. My kids still tease me about the time a man asked me in Spanish how I was, and I answered, “Delicioso!”
Traveling to a country with a different language can be difficult, as I discovered on our recent family trip to Ecuador and the Galápagos. Although our guides spoke English, there were many times when my family tried to order food, purchase something, or get directions from someone who spoke only Spanish. Luckily, my four kids all studied Spanish in high school, so they were a big help. I was impressed as the Spanish rolled off their tongues in restaurants and taxis. But even they admitted that it was hard to understand native Ecuadorians because of how quickly they spoke.
Language is just one of the many differences that can make foreign travel uncomfortable. Different currencies and time zones, use of the metric system instead of our less rational but more familiar measurements. By the time we left Ecuador, I vaguely understood that 24 degrees Celsius was pretty warm. And interestingly, Ecuador had recently converted to U.S. currency, so paying for things was easy – provided I could understand the amount being rattled off in Spanish.
It’s a good thing to leave one’s comfort zone for foreign travel. You get to see that there are different customs, practices, and attitudes, some of which seem odd or unappealing and others which you might want to bring back home with you. For instance, the plumbing system in Ecuador can’t handle toilet paper, so signs instruct you to throw it into a small wastebasket instead of flushing it. This was also the case when we visited China many years ago, and I suspect it’s true in many parts of the world. On the other hand, I enjoyed the pace of life in Ecuador and Galápagos. Meals were lengthy and relaxing affairs, something I’ve noticed in European countries such as Italy and France. We Americans could learn something from this approach to dining, as most of those countries do not face the same obesity problem we have in the U.S.
Shortly before we left for home, my daughters and I took a little field trip from our hotel in the Andes mountains on mainland Ecuador to see local people plying their trades in small villages nearby. We visited the shops of indigenous people who hand-craft clothing and rugs out of sheep’s wool and alpaca fur. They showed us how they use natural ingredients to make dyes that give the hand-knitted objects such vibrant colors. We wandered through a market filled with all manner of handicrafts made by the local people. We were less than half a day’s travel from Miami, Florida, yet it felt as if we were a world away.
It’s always great to get home after a long trip. Sleeping in our own beds, eating familiar foods, and traveling easily to our accustomed haunts felt good after 11 days away. Still, I’m glad we got to experience another little part of the world. It not only makes me appreciate the richness and diversity in the world, but it helps me appreciate the familiar pleasures of home.
¡Feliz año nuevo!