Destination: Quito, Ecuador
Date: June 2016
Activity: Visiting our son, Colton, mission
Visiting Ecuador had never been on my bucket list. However, when my son was called on a two year mission to serve in the Ecuador Quito North Mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we knew we would go back and visit once his two years was up. Our son left our home June 18, 2014 to go to the Missionary Training Center in Mexico City where he would spend six weeks learning Spanish, and how to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ relying purly on the Spirit.
On May 31, 2016 he flew home to Texas and was released as a missionary of our church. Since missionaries don’t do anything except preach the gospel, serve the people, and attend church meetings they don’t go to any tourist attractions. Well they can go to some but very few and only on their day of preparation, which is Monday’s. The rules of being a missionary keep them from going swimming, any dangerous activity, or anything that will distract them from the work. So when our son was released as a missionary we wanted to go visit this foreign land, see some of the sights, do some tourist activities but most of all meet the people he taught and worked with.
We decided to make our trip 8 days. That way we could be in country for two Sundays and visit the most congregations that we could. We arrived on a Sunday morning and after checking into our room at the JW Marriott we headed off to our first block of church meetings. It was fantastic to be introduced to the people with open arms even with my language barrier. My son, Colton was quick to translate and since my husband also speaks Spanish it made for easy visits.
Right away we were asked to come over for dinners and visits and our list of people to see grew and grew. While in Quito we visited many of my sons contacts he made and shared the gospel with. We also visited with many of the families who helped take care of him as he served as a missionary.
While we were in country we made a point to visit the areas he had worked in. Our son was in the city of Lago Agrio which is often called “the Orient”, Otavalo a very indigenous town, Esmeraldas on the coast and a few locations all over Quito. When we flew out to Lago Agrio it was a short thirty minute flight that had taken my son 11 hours to reach by bus when he was a missionary. The people of Lago were amazing. Since my son had contacted a few people on Facebook they knew we were coming and planned a large party on my sons behalf. The party started at 5:00 and didn’t end until 11:00. There was a religious meeting, dinner, live music, and then a dance party. The people were gracious and generous and it made me glad I’d had my daughters clean out their closets so we could bring a suitcase of extra clothing to give to them.
On to Otavalo we had a great lunch with the missionaries still serving but had to keep it to an hour so they could continue in their work. We lunched at Balcon De Imbabura overlooking the shopping square. Once the missionaries left us we were off to do a little shopping. Since I love to collect nativities I hit the jack pot in Otavalo. I will mention that if you are looking to shop while in Ecuador, Otavalo is a great place to barter and find cheaper prices than Quito.
But Otavalo is more than shopping. The quaint town is something out of a book. The indigineous Ecuadorian Indians live close and so the long black braids of the men, and the bright embroidered white shirts of the women, make this place feel like you’ve stepped back in time. We enjoyed staying at the resort Puerto Lago right on the water of San Pablo Lake with the view of Imbabura Volcano. Take time to hike the area. Check out the waterfalls and if you see missionaries in white shirt and ties give them a hello or a free lunch. They are just kids who are working hard!
From Otavalo we headed down to the coast. It is a gorgeous drive but very windy so if you have any kind of car sickness (or even if you don’t) take some pills with you. The roads are paved and good but they climb and desend mountains, and altitude, so its easy to get sick. In Esmeraldas we visited two families in the neighborhood of Regecio. The first family shared a meal of fried fish, fried platinos and a cucumber salad. The home was humble but we could feel the Spirit very strong. The love they showed to us was overhelming and at one point the mother touched my heart and then her own as she held me in her arms and our communication of love was strong. It was fun to see how the youth would hold on to our son and walk arm and arm with him on the street. They were excited to have him back though this had been his first area on the mission and he barely spoke a word of Spanish while he had been there.
On our trip back to Quito we could see more of the damage that had resulted from the earthquakes that hit the area in April 2016. The roads were still good but in some places they were broken up or fallen off the mountain so the traffic would go down to one lane or a dirt segment. Drive carefully because there are also lots of speed bumps as you pass towns or houses out in the country where the locals want you to stop and purchase whatever they are selling!
Back in Quito we enjoyed many restaurants referred by Trip Advisor, visited more families and were invited yet again for dinner. Again these families were willing to share everything they had. My advice to a family traveling with their missionary would be to try and locate families you’d like to visit on Facebook before beginning your journey. Take bug spray, light coats, and an international cell phone plan so you can enjoy the ease of Waze or Google Maps while traveling. Both of these apps worked great but they don’t use addresses as much as they just use locations. Take small gifts to families, bring extra clothing to donate to families, take American candy and soda to the missionaries. When you take a picture of a missionary get their mothers cell phone number and send an unexpected photo of their son their way. These moms only get to email with their son or daughter on Mondays and they only get to talk on the phone during Christmas and Mothers Day. An unexpected photo is always appreciated and lets us missionary moms know our child is still safe! Most importantly enjoy this time with your return missionary. Use the time traveling to talk about their mission memories, their thoughts of the future or what they have learned. I don’t think I realized how my son had become a man until I saw him glide through his mission country with such ease. I loved to sit back and watch him giggle with other missionaries, bare his testimony to members or investigators and see how the Lord had indeed changed my child into something better, something I could never have done myself!
Safe and Happy Travels!