Sixty pages in my travel diary, one video, and 958 photographs document the most amazing travel adventure I’ve had the privilege of experiencing thus far in my 40-plus years. What I expected was to meet my friend’s family, pick up a few more words in Spanish, taste different foods, and visit local attractions.

Sixty pages in my travel diary, one video, and 958 photographs document the most amazing travel adventure I’ve had the privilege of experiencing thus far in my 40-plus years. What I expected was to meet my friend’s family, pick up a few more words in Spanish, taste different foods, and visit local attractions.


While all of that did happen, what I didn’t expect was to be forever changed by the experience. My friend’s family treated me like a family member. I felt so comfortable with them, it was as if they had always been my relatives. Despite the language barrier, we now have shared inside jokes and experiences that will forever bond us.


I did pick up a few words and phrases in Spanish. I did my best to use what I learned. But each day, I also understood more and more of the language. My new goal is to be fluent by this time next year. The next time I visit Quito, I don’t want to waste any time with language interpretation.


The food was incredible. Those of us raised far north of the equator have no concept of the depth of tropical flavors. Sure, we have tropical fruit flavored bubble gum and antacid, but the artificial flavors do not accurately emulate tropical fruits. I tasted fruits I’d never seen or heard of before. Every piece of fruit tasted fruitier, sweeter, and richer than any other I’d ever eaten.


The juices Ecuadorians make with fresh fruits were just as delicious. And while some folks preferred the freshly squeezed fruit juice with added sugar, I always drank it plain. To me, it was already bursting with flavor and perfectly sweet.


Ecuador offers much, much more than amazing fruit. There are lots of great breads, vegetables, meats, and desserts. At least 50 of the pictures on my SD card are of the delicacies we consumed.


One of my favorites was the empanada. An empanada looks like a small calzone. It can be filled with cheese, plantains, pork, or a variety of other ingredients. I thought they would top my list of favorite Ecuadorian foods. And then I visited Academia Cotopaxi, the American International School in Quito.


I was scheduled to share my Thurston T. Turtle books and talk about writing with the early childhood classes during my stay. During a break between presentations, the librarian offered me a snack. That was the moment I was introduced to pan de yuca, or yuca bread. It melted in my mouth.


The dough for pan de yuca includes a flour made out of yuca root and a rich, sweet cheese. Neither the flour nor the cheese are items we can walk into a typical American grocery store and find in the baking or dairy sections.


Thankfully, there is an international grocery store that sells both just 35 miles from my house. I’ll be heading there soon so I can learn how to make pan de yuca. From now on, I plan to have this rich, delicious bread at every holiday meal. Pan de yuca is sure to perfectly complement my sweet potato souffle and green bean casserole.


As for attractions, I was so very fortunate to tour the colonial area of Quito, including a stop at El Panecillo, the mountain upon which stands an angelic statue of the Virgin Mary. My new extended family also took me to Papallacta, where we soaked our cares away in natural volcanic springs. Relaxing in the hot springs while gazing at the incredible scenery provided by the Andes Mountains calms and strengthens the soul.


We also stood on both sides of the equator at the same time, shopped at the market at Otavala, and enjoyed lunch lakeside at San Pablo Lake. Just before my friend and I traveled back to North Carolina, we spent the day celebrating her niece’s birthday at the beach.


One of the hundreds of pictures I snapped captured the first time I ever set foot in the Pacific Ocean. That makes two down and three to go. But even if I never get to experience the others, I’m proud to have dipped my toes in the two biggest oceans in the world.


Before we departed, my friend’s sister asked me what was my favorite experience of the trip. At the time, I was too overwhelmed to answer. But after a week digesting all that we did, I can now honestly say I was moved most profoundly by our visit to the Guayasamin Museum. I was deeply moved by Oswaldo Guayasamin’s paintings, history, and estate.


Traveling to Ecuador forever affected my attitude and outlook on life. I am less concerned about the World Wide Web and much more deeply concerned about this glorious planet on which we live and its extraordinary inhabitants.


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Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and the author of Thurston T. Turtle children’s books. She and her family live in North Carolina. Her e-mail address is mickibare@gmail.com.