There may be moments where it’s up to you to offer a counterpoint to crass generalizations and cultural falsehoods. That obnoxious Uncle in the MAGA hat who keeps suggesting Latin American countries are dangerous (whilst never having traveled beyond the tri-state area) is wrong. You’re well within your rights to let him know how wrong he is. Diminishing an entire group of people based on cultural differences is, to put it lightly, fucking bullshit. But do it gently and respectfully. Remember that we’re all human beings working towards similar goals. Far from being polar opposites, most of us are reasonable people, occupying some spot in the middle ground of the human experience.
For some, the Great American Road Trip is exotic, big game, to be hunted and bested, mounted like a trophy. For us, it was the beginning, the prototype of the life we want to lead. It was something we wanted to befriend, to find the secret scratching spots behind its ears. The US is its own ecosystem, and every line on a map a different species. The vast stretches of the upper Midwest, the endless forests of the Northeast, the towns that dot the Gulf Coast; all are beasts we would love to study. Not to capture, not to claim as a spoil-of-war, but to reveal more of the tapestry of humanity. There is no upper limit on the knowledge and experience to be had, and our aim to see just how far we can stretch our own. One of my favorite parts of the trip was discovering the myriad threads that tie humanity together, whether it was the creation myths of the Pueblo nations or commiserating with the bartenders we met along the way.
Early on, I learned about the concept of literary deconstruction and examining works of literature through various lenses to break them down and analyze them. It becomes increasingly difficult not to see the signposts all around when you apply a socialist or feminist bent to your observations. Our journey across the country in many ways acted as a highlight reel or slideshow for the United States as a whole. Our adventure was the best education I’ve had to date. Even as we traveled, social media and current events kept us plugged in, placing us everywhere and nowhere all at once. We directly witnessed so many different human interactions, and being removed from the geographic and cultural confines of the Rust Belt, the answers to questions weren’t as readily apparent. We were able to see the nation from so many different angles, applying the techniques of literary and cultural criticism through it all. It reaffirmed many of our beliefs, it also led us to question others. At the very least, our experience has given us newfound empathy for those we don’t always agree with, and renewed vigor in formulating our personal philosophies.
As a young girl, I remember sitting in a dark theater watching Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. I wanted to be just like Indy. I was captivated by the sight of Petra, a city carved into the mountainside; enchanted by the canals and footbridges of Venice. I wanted to explore ancient catacombs, ride a motorcycle through the countryside. I also hate Nazis (but I’m not afraid of snakes).
Cuenca’s position in the foothills makes it a city of layers. We climbed a long stairwell, past graffiti, and cafes, to the Plazoleta Cruz del Vado. The charming plaza is circled by museums, shops, multi-level houses, and craftsmen’s studios. A prominent statue depicts Ecuador’s version of a greasy pole contest and a large cross sits sheltered in a gazebo of sorts, providing protection to travelers. However, its real draw is a balcony offering panoramic views of the new city and the towering peaks of the Andes Mountains behind it. Our plans for staying in Cuenca were undetermined. We gazed out onto the red tile rooftops and allowed the city to make a case for itself.