Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Feliz cumpleaños a mi

Do I really only have a week left here? Not even…I leave for the states early Saturday morning. I think a semester here would be a bit much (each day is sort of like a game of crime and hit-by-car roulette…anyone remember that show on Game Show Network called Russian Roulette where you could get dropped below the stage if you answered a question wrong?) I’ll probably still be writing things after then, since with midterms and packing and spending as much time as possible with people I won’t have time to cover it all while I’m here. But I’ll try to get through as much as possible. So…hm…

Last Wednesday instead of having class we first went to a museum whose name I’m forgetting (Museo de la Ciudad, perhaps? Nothing like STL´s city museum) right now to look at history stuff; each room was from a different era or century of Ecuadorian history, from preindigenous times to the 19th century. It was alright, but we’d already covered as much as I really cared to learn about history in class, and that all got repeated and then some. And after we were done with the tour our Spanish professor decided to take us through most of the exhibit again to give her own tour. I just don’t do well with guided museum tours; I hate being told what to look at at any given time and it’s more fun to extract the significance of something on my own. In the end we did get to go into a gallery of German photography (mostly black and white portraits) that spanned from the 30s until the fall of the Berlin Wall with minimal tour guide interference. Even if we had had a guide, I think it still would’ve been my favorite part of the museum. I feel bad since it had nothing to do with Ecuador and all. I think most of it was that I’m way more into 20th century history than, say, colonial times. Of course in every history class I’ve ever taken we’ve run out of time at the end of the year and haven’t had time to delve too deeply into modern history. I’m still bitter that my high school made me take math senior year even though I’d completed the 3 necessary years when I wanted to take a class on the Cold War.

Oh, right, Ecuador. And then that night we went to see a drag show with my culture professor and his partner. It was really cool. Instead of the more glam drag that’s more popular today where one would try to look as much as the opposite gender as possible, the performers were intentionally obviously men in women’s clothing (the style of drag more popular until the 90s). Two performers told a story of a gay man who was killed in Ecuador in 1987. Homosexuality was only legalized in the mid 1990s in Ecuador, when people started to speak out after a bunch of police brutality. The show was humorous at times (and lip-synching was still a part of it), but the emphasis was on social justice issues. The venue was in a fairly sketch part of town and at the end of the night I wavered between feeling really unsafe having a drag queen hail a cab for us and thinking it was really cool that the performer felt comfortable going outside dressed in a tutu. But all in all it was an awesome night.

Thursday I went to school and then hung out with my abuela for a bit (I’m really going to miss her) and then we all opted not to go out in order to get some sleep. But then I played the Sims for way longer than intended. It was a problem since the next morning I had to wake up early to head back to Otavalo for Inti Raymi.

A Bit on Crazy Coincidences
The day I realized coincidence and coincide were from the same root my mind was blown like whoa. Here in Ecuador one day I realized that descansar (to rest) was literally to become untired, since cansado means tired. Nobody on the bus seemed quite as wow’d when I announced what I’d discovered.
But, yeah, so the night before leaving for Quito I was on Facebook one last time before finishing packing and bed. I was about to log off when I saw that my friend Anna’s status said she was going to Ecuador in the morning. She used to go to WashU and we hadn’t talked much since she’d transferred, but I’d missed her a lot. So I immediately commented on her status and, in case she’d already logged off, texted her to get to the bottom of this. And it turned out that she was studying at the same university! So, yeah, we’ve been getting lunch together a lot and this weekend we traveled to Otavalo with her friend Sarah.

(As an aside, I’m listening to Aqua’s Aquarium right now. It’s kind of refreshing since I’ve been essentially listening to nothing but “1979” by the Smashing Pumpkins, but I still intend to skip “Barbie Girl”.)

Inti Raymi
So we took a few buses from Rio Coca station in Quito and got there midday. We checked into our really cool hostel (the courtyard was full of plants and hammocks and the free breakfast was actually good for once…my first time having pancakes since getting to Ecuador since they’re a Sunday food for my host family and I’m never around on Sundays) and then headed over to see the Inti Raymi celebration. We found a muddy field with what looked like a county fair and a plaza outside a church where indigenous people (some dressed in traditional clothing, some dressed in Western styles, and one man dressed in a Tommy Girl shirt with obviously self-adhered fringe) sat in two rows and received corn in plastic bags to hold them off while they waited for chicken. Oh, and they served chicha. We had learned about it in class; it’s an alcoholic drink made from corn or yucca, and in order to help the fermentation process a woman traditionally (always it’d be a woman) would masticate and spit out the grain. And there’s a risk of river water incorporation. Anna’s book said that nowadays it’s rarely made that way, but when it is chances are it’s at an indigenous festival. The book also said that it’s highly offensive to refuse it when offered. But when they stuck the communal cup into the pickle tub and handed it to us, Sarah and I still turned it down. Anna politely accepted and feigned enjoyment of something she later said tasted like the smell of mierda de vacas.

After that we watched a brass band play the same song a few times in a row and decided that this Inti Raymi celebration was neither very Gringo-accessible (there was only one other American-looking person there and he seemed to have an in with the group there, so we were the main interlopers) or very festive, though the guide book said that some Otavaleños lived and died for the festival. So we left and went to the market for what would be time two of three for me. And we ate pizza, and though the sauce was sickeningly sweet I managed to eat a large one by myself. Then we went back and planned on going to bed early, but we were kept up by the sounds of a hipster outside playing the ukulele and a group of people with various accents chatting right by our room. Eventually Anna and I gave up on sleep and went to hang out with them. They were from all over Europe and there was an adorable couple from Colorado there as well; I couldn’t tell who was traveling with whom but I got the impression that most of them had recently met. We were telling them how we’d gone to Inti Raymi and there wasn’t much going on, and they told us that all the good stuff happened at night (“It’s when they draw the blood!” enthusiastically said one English guy). So we tagged along with them and found our way to the celebration, which consisted of a group of people congregating around a band and dancing in circles until someone signaled for them to go the other way. Every once in a while the group would pick up and start a precession to somewhere down the road. That night everyone joined in, children and tourists included. It was really fun!

The next morning we got up before the sun to see what the animal market was like. It’s like a bunch of screaming pigs and pens of confined guinea pigs that I wanted to buy and set free somewhere where cuy’s not a delicacy. But they’re not confined in factory farms, so yay. And it seems like a lot of the people selling animals there included their kids in the business, which was cool to see. After that we took a much needed nap and headed back to the market. Somewhere along the line my goal became to find a seal or sea lion pendant to buy myself for my birthday (did I mention yet that Saturday was my 21st? Only in every entry, probs). They had these gorgeous flat silver ones with colored inlets, but they were a bit out of my price range. So I went around asking people if they had any foca jewelry, and they all had the same ones for the same price. I’d pass tables by again and they’d recognize me and remind me that they had a seal for me. Eventually I found a three dimensional one that was all silver that someone was willing to give to me for a reasonable price. Win. The chains were hellsa expensive, though, so I have to wait until I get back to the States and make a Claire’s run before I can wear it. But get ready for me to wear my seal necklace every day after that.
Afterwards the three of us walked around town for a bit and ate lunch and birthday cake before going back to the hotel room for more festivities on my part. And then later that night we headed back out to Inti Raymi. This time we didn’t partake in the dances because the only ones participating were indigenous men (very drunk ones at that. Wielding whips and sticks), while tourists and women stayed to the side. After watching an inebriated circle dance on a side street, we decided we’d maybe be better off in the main plaza, so we went back there, and after a while we saw everyone who was on that street bolt across the plaza to another street (women included this time) cheering and yelling. Needless to say, we didn’t decide that it was a great chance to join in.

The next day, when we got up the sun was already out, but it was still unfortunately earlier than ideal for the day after one’s 21st. We went to hike around Cuicocha, a crater lake maybe half an hour outside the city. It was gorgeous so I didn’t mind the four hour walk…sort of reminded me of Capri with actual trees. The worst thing was the rapid changes in temperature as we walked, but it’s Ecuador so that’s to be expected. We drove to the trail and sort of walked with a Colombian guy and a Swiss girl.

Then today we were back in Quito and Anna and I tried to go to a museum that my abuela was shocked I hadn’t visited, to discover that my class hadn’t gone there since it was closed because of construction. So we walked in a nearby park for a bit and then went to a restaurant to satisfy our locro (it’s this cheese potato more cheese avocado soup thing) craving. Also, a bird flew into the house this morning and nearly flew into a window when the dog tried to nom it. My abuela caught it but then got freaked out and dropped it. I think it got out more or less uninjured, though. And then while we were eating the birthday cake my mom called Ecuador to get delivered we started hearing something buzzing in the floorboards and the dog went crazy. All the while there was a giant moth (polilla is the word for moth. I asked my family what a big ugly brown butterfly that liked light was called in Spanish) above the table that had dropped down from the lamp during dinner so that I was already way freaked out. We never found the source of the buzzing…I’m hoping it was the big bee that was in my room on Thursday night cause that would mean that I’ve gotten rid of it. And there’s a spider in my shower. Bathrooms in Ecuador tend to have open window panes at the top and all.

Anyways, it was nice sharing my cake with my family and they got me a really nice scarf for my birthday. All in all, an awesome weekend!

Also, I advise that you listen to as many Nigel Thornberry remixes as possible. Here´s one to start you off.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

More Touristy Tales

Let’s see…where was I, even? Having days that are packed with stuff to do both gives one lots to write about and keeps them from actually writing about it. And then last night I finally had a night with nothing to do and ended up crashing at 9:30. Sleep is nice. I’ve nearly forgotten how to use an American keyboard (that’s what happens when your laptop is only used for watching Sailor Moon and playing mundane card games). Bueno, let’s see…
Last Saturday we went to Otavalo, where there’s a high indigenous population and a huge artisan market that we spent a day at. I got gifts for a few people and a hammock-chair-thing for myself, which I’m very excited to put up in my apartment (though I might need to devise a clever hanging maneuver). They sell all kinds of things there—jewelry, little trinket keychain things, American brand clothes (likely counterfeit equals fodder for my project), spices, backpacks, T-shirts, meat (luckily I didn’t happen upon any cuy (that’s guinea pig)), what have you. It's pretty cool, but once you realize how similar each vendor's merch is, it starts to seem just like a flea market in the US (which, don't get me wrong, I love). And I'm sure all the tourists that go there (myself included) buy things in hopes that they were made by small family-owned artesanal companies, but some of the things could have very well been mass produced in factories. And we talked in class about how a lot of the indigenous people still wear traditional clothing, but others who work in the tourist industry wear it because it's what travelers are expecting when they look for an authentic experience. We talked a lot about the tourism industry in class today, and how some people (mainly in Peru) charge tourists for spiritual cleansings/training to be a shaman and do the workshops while leaving certain things out (like the indigenous belief that white and mestizo people come and steal the body fat of natives and sell it to Western makeup companies) and don't tell a lot of the history, just what the tourists want to hear about. And certain rituals are supposed to only be done once a year since, according to traditional belief, they extract a lot of spiritual energy from the earth, but they do them a few times a day for tourists. I mean we haven't done anything like that, but it makes me really uncomfortable being a tourist anywhere, knowing that the activities I partake in might have huge rammifications for someone.
Anyhow, after that we went to visit a family that makes and sells instruments and plays music. A woman showed us how to make a pan flute and a few family members played music for us. Also that weekend, we went to a place where they collect reeds and make baskets and got to try basket-weaving. I thought we'd be able to each make something, but instead some of us just got to weave one row of something. I was bummed, but even a small basket would've taken forever, I realize. What else? I need to make it a point to write things down right after the fact cause I'm sure I'm forgetting stuff.
Anyways, I'll write again if I remember stuff. There was a waterfall, too, for example. And I'm going back to Otavalo, which should trigger my memory.
Anyways, and then there was a big volcano.

Let me introduce you to my friend Cotopaxi. It's a few hours from Quito and one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, and the second highest summit in Ecuador. It's on the Equator and yet it's freezing and there's a shitton of snow on it, if that's any indication. And the wind. Yeah, so we've all been advised on altitude sickness and cold and potential snow/sleet ish and stuff like that. And they might've mentioned that it could get windy. But when we got there even our instructor said that the wind was the worst he's ever seen it. December/January's the leasy windy time, see, and we were at the opposite of that (might be total troll physics?)
Anyways, so we're trying to make it to this refugio hut where you can buy tea (Coca leaves are illegal in Ecuador, but processed as tea leaves it's sold to help treat altitude sickness) that's like not even a third up the mountain. And we're walking on sandy gravely stuff so when you take a step you slide back two. Oh, remember the wind? It knocked me over maybe three or ten times. And sunglasses were necessary. Not for the sun (there was, in fact, zero visibility at times so sun wasn't an issue), but for the sandy gravely stuff. It likes to be picked up by the wind so it can lovingly hit you in the face. Anyways, I was holding onto the trip organizer with all my life as we went up, and he decided it wasn't safe and that we were going back. I never would've given up on my own, but it was definitely for the best. He tried to beckon everyone else down, but they were determined. So I went down holding onto our Andean culture professor's friend as he went to retrieve another student. Getting down was pretty awful, too. I nearly fell on my face. A big rock hit me in the ankle and I again tumbl(e)d over. It probably wasn't that big, I didn't see it. But it hurt like hell. Was not a happy camper. I felt kind of like a failure when I got back to the bus, but I was glad to be back and in retrospect probably would've keeled over and died somewhere on that mountain. The only reason I really wanted to do it was to redeem myself after chickening out of the cascades in Mindo. But, you know, keeling over on an active volcano isn't quite worth it. And I introduced the professors to Sporcle back on the bus. And the altitude gave me an excuse to eat an entire package of lemon wafers, since sweets are supposed to help (I didn't feel that sick, but they were yum). I won't get too much into when I tried to pee outside the bus, but remember the wind?
Afterwards we went to and Incan tambo (a resting point for Incan messengers and warriors) turned into an hacienda, turned into a hotel and restaurant. It was gorgeous and they brougt llamas out for us and we got canelazo (a hot alcoholic drink) without the alcohol (so apple cider essentially) and there were ducks. It was really gorgeous, but afterwards our professor pointed out how they've tried to erase the place's history as an Incan site conquested and more or less turned into a slave plantation. So many place here try to make money off of the site's indigenous history, but once met with a darker side of history it's just completely ignored.  Now in retrospect it does just seem like a place owned by a wealthy white family where workers of indigenous descent served us, a bunch of privileged foreigners. And they apparently charged us a lot a lot for some soup and salad (which was delicious, but not filling at all).
I'm sure stuff happened during the week, but I'm blanking. We've been trying to walk more to counterract the fact that this place is carb city. I think we're hiking this weekend near Otavalo when we're not celebrating the Incan sun god. Umm, yeah, I'll get back to you on that.
This weekend...let's see...Saturday we went to Papallacta, which houses lots of hot springs and is on the frontier of the Andean region of the country and the eastern jungle area. So we were thinking jungle=not as cold, right? Nope. Try hopping into a steaming hot pool when you're acclimated to cold mountain temperatures. Try getting out of a steaming hot pool in the cold mountains. Unpleasant much? But it was still fun, and much more pleasant than the hummingbird garden before then. Just like nobody told us about the climate there, nobody told us this garden constituted of a muddy trail we'd be walking on through a cloud forest instead of a closed in area like the butterfly garden. Nobody told us we were going into a cloud forest where it would rain. Maybe we could've looked it up, but all the other trips have had a packing list, so we thought the lack of one just meant all we needed was a swimsuit. Muy bien.
Sunday we went to a football game and rooted for Liga. Which means nothing to any of you, but we got pretty into it. So it sucked when they tied the other team (Olmedo, I think). 1:1. But it was cool watching the obsessed fans in one section of the stadium, with their banners and fireworks (we weren't allowed to bring water bottle caps into the stadium since they could be thrown at the players, but fireworks are totally cool. And people have died at Ecuadorian soccer games because of fireworks, but you know, they're prettier than plastic caps.) Afterwards we went to the mall and ate sushi and ice cream before seeing Piratas del Caribe in 3-D for only like 7 dollars. Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz. Happy Happy. Which reminds me, I have a copy of Blow to watch. Anyhow, our other option was the Hangover 2. Spanish title? Que paso ayer (What Happened Last Night?) (I've finally nearly gotten the hang of Spanish-language titles only having the first word and formal names capitalized). I'm disappointed that the Ecuadorian title for Hangover isn't El chuchaqui, the term here for hangover/hungover (which stems from Quechua).
Monday we ate lunch at a restaurant at Mariscal Foch (where there are bars and a few clubs that apparently aren't the safest at night, but it's quite nice during the day) and went on a wild goose chase looking for medicinal herbs to bring in for class (though we had no intention of using them, it's what the profa wanted), wound up in a place that wasn't La Marin but looked exactly like it, and immediately gave up. I also picked up someone's thesis on recent intellectual property issues in Ecuador. A law thesis written in Spanish. My brain's going to hurt for quite some time during and after writing this paper. But I'm actually getting really into intellectual property issues and interviewed an IP law professor at school today, who was really friendly and helpful...and she went to WashU for law school! So that was way exciting. And meant that whenever I tripped up on Spanish we could talk in English. But we didn't need to revert to English much, so go me!
I'm sure there's plenty more to write about, I'll try to write fairly often the next two weeks. Gah, only two more weeks left. One more weekend essentially. Le crazy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

So many things to learn about this country! Let's see...
  • Abortion is illegal, and birth control is frowned upon...yet prostitution is legal, since the church can recognize the economic benefits of it. If your cultural norms and moral code are going to be based on religious beliefs, so be it, I won't interfere if it's not my culture. But some consistency would be nice. Also, there are no laws protecting women who are sexually assaulted. Wut.
  • Even though the Catholic church has condemned homosexuality, civil unions are legal here. So that's exciting. But adds to confusion about what they base their laws off of if some things are dictated by religion and some aren't.
  • Corporal punishment is allowed in schools. So teachers hit indigenous students a lot.
  • On September 30th last year President Correa was giving a speech to a bunch of police officers that were angry that he cut their benefits. One shouted something threatening to him so he was all, ''If you want to kill me, go ahead'', so someone threw tear gas at him and his guards got him out of the building, but it was hard since he had just had knee surgery. Anyhow, so he eventually got taken to...the Police hospital (perhaps by choice) and the police all took to the streets and Correa allegedly was barred from leaving the hospital. So there was no police service cause they may or may not have been busy kidnapping the president (though the verdict's out on that one) and the military took over and schools were closed and people were afraid to leave their houses for a week. Also, in the past 20 years they've had nine presidents, some of which have only been in power for months, because the people keep uprising and then the presidents have to leave on a plane while still being pursued by angry mobs.
So, yeah, gorgeous country and I'm for the most part loving my time here, but it's definitely not without its problems.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Medio del Semestre

So I’m halfway through my time here…so weird. But considering how much has happened the past three weeks, I’m sure plenty more will happen. For example, the chiva (party bus) we’re probably renting out for the three June birthdays in our group (and just for the sake of partying it up after classes are over).

Speaking of birthdays, during the week of mine instead of dying in the Amazon with the rest of my group I’m returning to Otavalo (where I was this Saturday and Sunday) to observe/possibly participate in Inti Raymi, an indigenous festival that celebrates the sun. And next weekend we go to Papayacta which has hot springs and fun stuff of that sort. 

Let’s see…where did I leave off? Well, my Freecell addiction is well under way. Like seriously, in the past 3 hours I’ve played over 15 games of it. This is why I shouldn’t get good at things; then I get compulsive about them.

In more exciting news, the weekend before this one we went to Casa Blanca, this gorgeous resort area in the province of Esmeraldas (The city of Esmeraldas itself is…not the safest of places…from what I hear. And it’s close enough to the Colombian border that we can’t go anyway unless we want to be kidnapped and forced into drug muling. But Casa Blanca’s gated off and guarded from FARC and all that)

So we got there on Thursday night, after a trip to a few museums displaying the work of Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guyasamin. All of it was really awesome. Here are some examples:

 This one is the dome on the ceiling and depicts impoverished Potosi miners trying to make it to the light.

From there we stopped back on campus for lunch before taking off for the beach. Maybe a six hour drive through towns and cowlands that gave off various smells and brought various biting insects into our bus and my iPod decided to be fickle, so I turned to a crossword book and a subpar yard sale paperback…about a woman who writes crosswords. Great fun. But anyways, we got there and the first night there we stuck our feet in the water before going back to our apartment to watch a movie. First time touching the Pacific, and I approve greatly. In the day the waves got pretty strong, but the water was always warm (whereas in Jersey it’s maybe warm midday in September, when nobody’s going to the beach anymore).

What else…oh, by our first full day there I had achieved my first severe sunburn, with peeling and everything. I knew the sun was strong on the equator, but still. Thanks to the type of anti-malaria medicine some people are taking, they were unusually sensitive to the sun. Not good at all, but a good indicator of a day well spent swimming and sunbathing. There were a few restaurants in the resort, right on the beach, so we didn’t have to venture into sketch territory. They served lots of apparently delicious seafood that I didn’t eat. Instead I got lots of noodles with weird tasting cheese that didn’t melt nicely. Om a nom. At night everything closed down save one bar full of Gringas and the unskilled bartenders that wanted to dance with them (the weekend before is a holiday in Ecuador, commemorating the Battle of Pichincha, so that’s when most Ecuadorians would have traveled). All in all, an awesome weekend.

Let’s see…this past week…I went off campus to eat with a friend a few times, so subpar caprese sandwiches were completely avoided. Had midterms of sorts, which consisted of turning in my reading/observation journal for Andean culture and writing a paper/giving a presentation on the Awá tribe of Esmeraldas for Conversational Spanish. Discovered that there’s a bar called Strawberry Fields that plays classic rock and is decorated with Beatles memorabilia and where all the drinks are named after Beatles songs and thought I died and went to heaven. A few of us got lost and ended up in a crazy bus terminal in La Marin, which we quickly learned isn’t an ideal place for anyone to get stranded. A few days later the same group of people got stranded in the Centro Historico when we couldn’t find a cab. A nice cop came and stood with us since it was getting dark, but it even took him like an hour to hail us a cab. One day we explored Guapálo, which is a really pretty part of the city built around this one crazy-windy road. There’s a pretty church and lots of cool graffiti and we discovered a restaurant overlooking the city and sat there for a bit. Another day we took a cable car up Pichincha and on the top had a gorgeous view of the city.
I do believe I’ll save the details of this past weekend for the next entry, as I’m sleepy after trying to climb the world’s second biggest active volcano in nutso winds (and both falling and failing) today. If that’s not enough to get you to keep following my blog I don’t know what is. Now comment or I’ll climb I again and try to get to the snowy peak of Cotopaxi this time.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Post about the beach and goings-on in Quito soon, but I finally named this blog! Here´s the namesake. It´s L´america The Doors.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

All she wants to do is dance! (And write entries that´ll scare her family)

So, this one time I had to do this activity where we had to think about instances in which we took advantage of being the gender that we were. I blanked and stammered out something like “I get out of doing a lot of heavy lifting at work”. Other people came up with things that were hellsa insightful and my response was way mundane in comparison.

But, k, I have a good one now:
This weekend I was able to cling to a tour guide begging him to hold me tight as I nearly cried, and I wasn’t ostracized by a culture replete with machismo for it. We were a bajjillion feet up in the air and zooming by ginormous trees at who knows how many miles per hour.
Yup, I did another zip line. 
I’m pretty sure after I panicked throughout the 5 lines or whatever we did in Alaska I said “never again” (save a few shaky glides through my high school’s tiny ropes course). But this weekend we were in the lindo town of Mindo (lindo means beautiful if you didn’t take middle school Spanish) in the cloud forest, about 2 hours away from Quito. And the trees were so pretty and I so wanted to feel what it was like to soar high above them like a pájaro bonito (pretty bird). Actually, I had just already proved myself to be a total chicken earlier that day and wanted to redeem myself. Needless to say, I failed. Let that be a teaser for you while I ramble about other stuff.
Woooah, we’re halfway there…
So we got in on Saturday night and the next day we took a tour of Quito and the surrounding area. Lots of gorgeous churches and the presidential palace where guards stand outside stone-faced in uniforms whose style dates back to when Ecuador was part of Gran Colombia. And a lookout nearby where you could see these gorgeous mountains and farmlands in the distance (I forgot to stick the battery in my camera so no pictures now, but I’ll steal them from someone else later)
We also went to La Mitad Del Mundo, where there was a museum about Ecuadorian cultures that housed part of the Equator. After learning about various indigenous groups and Ecuadorian plants, our tour guide took us to the equatorial line so we could do various activities. One involved closing our eyes and trying to walk the line; era difícil. Another was meant to exemplify that we have less strength on the Equator (but I’m a weakling anywhere so I didn’t really prove the point). Some people got to balance an egg straight­-up on a nail, since it’s possible there. And we examined the Coriolis Effect by pouring water down a drain on either side of the Equator and right on the line. On the equator it doesn’t spiral at all, it just rushes out the drain. Gjreggit 33uu4igjrijg so cool! I had a video, but it´s not working, so it´ll have to wait.

 Like, it’s crazy how everything works differently if you move an inch in either direction. One unfortunate consequence of being on the equator? The sun sets about the same time year round, which is at around 6:30, just when at home I’d be getting excited for longer days. Limits the amount of time I can spend goofing off at the internet café since I need to be home before dark. Probably a good thing (especially when I have to pay for internet if I’m not at the university), but when I get back I’m going to spend like a week Tumbling nonstop. So don’t make any 4th of July plans with me (I get back July 2, have I mentioned that yet? In case you were wondering. And don’t actually leave me Tumbling alone on the 4th, please. Though I’m sure I’d have plenty of company on the internets. )
Summer School (Fall/Winter School? A little after Rainy Season School? I don’t know what to call this season)
We’re taking two classes at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (I’ll throw in here that the name’s fitting because with the fog and scary-steep roads, Quito reminds me of what I imagine San Francisco, CA is like): one in conversational Spanish (where we compare Ecuadorian and U.S. Cultures) and one on Andean culture (where we have to write a 15 page paper in the end. En Español. Most of the group, including me, has never written anything that long in English). In that class we’ve been talking about pre-Incan cultures and we’re moving on to the Inca and then Spanish conquests. I’ve learned about those topics a bajillion times and they’ve never really interested me, but once we get into the modern social problems unit it’ll be really cool. The campus is located in Cumbayá, a little ways away from Quito and the school grounds are gorgeous. I can use internet there (it’s not that expensive at the internet cafes, but still) and once all the other eating places on campus open in June, I can eat things other than caprese sandwiches (update: yesterday I found a place that takes our campus cards with seitan…carne de gluten! It’s called Wok n Roll and when we went the first time, Aerosmith played throughout our meal. Also they have a really good strawberry fountain soda in Ecuador that I always get.) Speaking of food, because of scheduling confusion we rushed out the door on the first day and I didn’t know we were leaving that early and didn’t have time to eat breakfast. So I sat through a few hours of lectures of all the ways we’ll get mugged and killed on this trip with a as my stomach screamed in agony, only to then take a tour of all the food places on campus. It was still an hour before I got any of the food, and even then they forgot to make the vegetarian dish so I picked at a plate of rice until they brought the soy chicken out. They eat a lot of starch here. Like, bread, rice, and potatoes at every meal. I’m not complaining.
I’m leaning more and more towards doing my research paper on intellectual property (driving back from Mindo I saw a pet store that used Blue from Blue’s Clues in their logo and a restaurant that used Sylvester the cat). I’ll probably include research on agricultural knowledge since that’s the kind of intellectual property I’ve been studying for the past semester. But it would be really cool to study the people that juggle in the streets here; when the light turns red they all run out into the crosswalk, and tonight I saw that when it gets dark they juggle fire. They usually accept tips, but I can’t imagine they make enough to sustain themselves doing it.
Let’s see…what else…oh, last night I either got robbed by a taxi driver or he was just incompetent at his job; I can’t tell which. Five of us were coming back from Cumbayá after dark last night and we called a cab, since that’s what you’re supposed to do so you don’t die on the bus. The thing never showed up. So after waiting eons for a taxi with a legit company/number/license plate to pass by we finally hailed one and got in. At first he was all, “Oh, we have to go a round about way since the tunnel’s closed”, which made sense, so he dropped the first four off and chatted with us about his time in Spain and blah blah. Then I told him my address and he was all “What sector of the city is that?” And I didn’t know, but it was like 2 minutes away from the last girl’s house. So he starts driving and I realize we’re going the wrong way and he’s like, “No, no, we’ll find it.” So then later he’s all “okay, where’s your house?” And I give him a map that he can’t read and at first when I offer to call my host mom for directions he’s all “No, that’s fine” (if it weren’t for that detail, I’d be leaning towards a mere fail of a cab driver, but as is…sketchball). Eventually he agreed to get directions from mi madre and we made it to my neighborhood…and then hit my one-way street in the wrong direction. So we circled around and he missed the turn so we ended up going down the street the wrong way anyway, at my insistence. I wanted to argue with him over the two dollars extra that the trip cost since we got lost, but my desire to get home and get the eff away from him won over. And getting that lost would’ve cost like 10 bucks in the US so I couldn’t complain too too much. And I’m not sure how convincing I would’ve been in Spanish anyway. But, yeah, transport here is just generally nutso.
Speaking of taxis, let’s talk about the ones in…
¡Lindo Mindo!
So the first step to going adventuring in Mindo is hopping onto the back of a pickup truck, where you stand while holding on to a metal bar as you’re transported to whatever bonkers (MS Word doesn’t like my use of the word “bonkers”. “Consider revising”, it says. If Word came with a paperclip still it’d be crying. Sorry, Word. Word up.) activity you’re attempting to do in the forest. At one point I ducked down to avoid being smacked in the face by a tree but instead hit my head against this bar. Read on for another head injury. But it was a fun bonding experience keeping our balance as these “cabs” coasted down bumpy mucky country roads, if nothing else.
So our first stop was a series of waterfalls we were to rappel down. When the truck dropped us off, we still had a 30 minute uphill hike, and by the end I was panting and dizzy and ready to pass out, even though I’d had plenty of (store-bought, bottled, microorganism free) water. Not good conditions for climbing backwards down a bunch of slippery rocks when you already hate heights. So I opted to go last, and before I even got over the first fall I started slipping and sliding and freaking out, so I eventually opted to go not at all. So back down the hill, and travelling downhill isn’t necessarily easy if the trail is way-steep and muddy. When I got to my resting point I met an American who had retired to Cuenca (the third biggest city in Ecuador) and was waiting for his wife to finish rappelling. He was just learning Spanish; apparently there’s a pretty big community of English-speakers who retire to Ecuador since it’s inexpensive for them, though. I took some pictures of the rest of my group as they climbed down the final waterfall and plopped into a big pool of water, and off we went for lunch at our new hotel.
The night before we’d stayed in a hotel that looked great (very trendy eco-lodge-esque, with hammocks and a swimming pool) on the website, but once we got there we decided we weren’t staying a second night. Chintzy tin roofs, grody bathrooms, pillows with sketchy stains and the like. Some political rally was going on outside.  And a baby next door that wailed all night. None of us got much sleep. Great for adventuring the next day!
So our next hotel only cost a dollar more per person and was gorgeous in comparison (or just gorgeous in general…hummingbirds and orchids and stuff). It’s owned by an American who’s been in Ecuador since 1987 and is currently working to build a clinic in Mindo. She was really friendly and helpful. And had 2 dogs, one of which had really soft ears. The dogs are allowed free roaming throughout the hotel and pretty much throughout Mindo and know their way around. And this hotel had delicious food, and all of their fruits and vegetables were sterilized so I was able to get a strawberry smoothie without any worries (they use the word “frutilla” for strawberry instead of “fresa” here). There was another restaurant that we went to for dinner both nights to get fajitas…they even had vegetarian ones om nom.
So after lunch on Saturday (sorry for the non-extant chronology in this entry) we went back out to do my favorite treetop activity. The first few lines went alright, since we took off from the ground instead of a dinky tree platform. But by line four of lucky thirteen I was ready to get down. Nope. The lines got faster and longer and that’s what she said and there was no backing out. On one line I didn’t like the way I was gripping the…whatever you grip on to…so I leaned forward to move my hands. My forehead grazed the wire (they didn’t give us helmets for rapelling, but they proved useless here) and everyone saw and was really concerned. No giant lacerations on my face, though. Sad day. After everyone else got a chance to ride with the guide while flying Superman-style or upside down, I rode the rest of the lines attached to him, rightside-up, still wimpering the whole time. But it was comforting having a treetop cuddle buddy (though afterwards he invited another girl in our group dancing. [sarcasm] You won’t believe how broken up about it I was [\sarcasm]. And it really was beautiful up there, when I was willing to open my eyes. In the end, after hopping in the back of another truck, a much-needed shower, and more fajitas, I was glad I took the leap, as it were. 
Before leaving on Sunday, we went to the Mariposaria (butterfly garden). I remember once when I was little being all excited to go to an indoor butterfly exhibit and then getting there and freaking out upon realizing that I was in a giant room of big flying bugs. Apparently, when it comes to the bigger butterflies, my fears have not subsided. I love the idea of all butterflies and like most types of them in actuality, but whenever one of those came close to me I shivered a bit. So of course they were the friendliest, most clingy butterflies there. I at one point realized there was a butterfly on my back and was all, “Oh, cool! What kind is it?”, to get an unfortunate answer. Seeing that one of these big ones had been latched to one girl’s leg for an hour as she walked around, I asked someone to take it off of me. But a pretty little one landed on my shoulder and looked just like a brooch. The butterflies were generally way friendlier than the ones in Key West; I remember trying really hard to get one to land on me there to no avail. They also had a board where they pinned up chrysalises that were about to hatch, and we got to see multiple butterflies emerge and dry off their wings (a gross brown liquid dripped off of them and out of the cocoons all the while). These young adults (how long does long adulthood last when you only live for a month?) started off wet and droopy but by the end were almost ready to start flying around. It was way cool. Miracle of life and ish.
Eco-tourism has its issues, with environmental degredation due to transport and Western infiltration in indigenous areas and whatnot, but overall the things we did didn’t seem to have too harsh a footprint on the earth, minus some trees cleared for the zip line. It seemed like a pretty substantial number of Ecuadorians travel to Mindo, so it’s not just foreign tourists taking advantage of the attractions there, and shorter distances traveled mean less pollution because of planes and stuff. So yay. Ecotourism’s another thing I’m considering writing about.
Driving back from our mini-vacation, we were met with another reality: little shanty towns on the outskirts of Mindo and Quito where people live year-round in houses looking like the hotel we suffered through for one night. Graffiti scribbled onto highway walls advertising numbers one could call for an abortion. Generally run-down areas. There isn’t as much overt poverty in Quito as I thought there might be, but in rural areas it seems really rampant.
K, so that’s a depressing note to end on, so here’s a nice little privileged-gringa-traveling-in-Latin-America ditty for y’all, to lighten the mood:

 Despite the fact that this place is way cray cray, I actually am having a lot of fun and my possessions and my being are still intact. Happy day.
Sorry that this entry’s way-long. But you know what? They’ll prolly get longer; we have a packed couple of days ahead. We had dinner with one of our professors tonight (he told us about even more crime in Quito, but otherwise it was a really chill dinner in an amazing restaurant with lots of vegetarian options) and dinner with an Ecuadorian friend tomorrow and Casa Blanca (a resort town in Esmeraldas, on the coast) for the weekend. That one hotel’s website was deceiving, but I’m willing to believe from the pictures of this place that it’s gonna be gorgeous. And fun fun fun fun. So, yes, I’m looking forward to the weekend.
I still like comments when people read entries, if you’d like. Even if it’s just “hey, it’s blablabla, I read your blog. Have fun and be safe!” I also like Freecell. A lot. I just played 4 games in a row. I’m getting good at it.

If y´all are super nice, I´ll upload some pictures of Mindo for you. I probably will anyway. But yeah.
Ciao, loves!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

aqui estoy

Via la Ecovia
You know what sucks? Playing trivial pursuit and getting all the wedges right away but getting 10 middle-space questions wrong in the end so it takes forever to win. You know what sucks more? When you’re playing alone in your room on your iPod so you don’t have people to groan/laugh about it with.
You know what sucks the most? Public transportation. I mean, it’s a great thing to have, but sometimes…

Tuesday was the first time I had to take the bus to school, and luckily I had bus buddies from my group. Didn’t mean I wasn’t totally freaked out. The night before I was reading a newspaper that talked about how some woman in Brazil had her hair stolen on the bus. Someone just came and chopped it off and ran off to sell it and she freaked out at first cause she thought they had gotten to her backpack, but then she freaked out even more when she realized what happened since it’s against her religion to cut one’s hair. I mean, I’m not in Brazil and my hair’s not long and gorgeous and even if it were I’d be more pissed than worried about hellfire and damnation, but still…the things people do. Luckily I made it to school and back with my belongings and my lovely ball of uncombed frizz, so yay. But still…to get to the bus you have to cross streets chock-full of the most-ever batshit traffic to get to the bus lane and then run onto a way-crowded bus where you don’t get a seat, so you’re jostled around while clutching to your bag so it doesn’t get dropped or go the way of that lady’s hair. I take two of these things to get to and from school. It’s nice that the buses run like every 5 minutes, though, and there was cool music playing and stuff. And, come on, it’s 25 cents per ride, so I shouldn’t really complain. 

But…let’s start at the very beginning. A very *insert adjective of choice after reading* place to start.
On Saturday morning I woke up at an ungodly hour, made sure I had everything I could possibly need, realized my bags were too heavy and took some ish out, ate yum blueberry pancakes, had an anxiety attack and barfed them up (the bluish vom bouncing back from the toilet into my face the whole time), sat in the car as my parents tried to determine where the short-term parking was, refilled my stomach with Auntie Annie’s, found the terminal, went to check my suitcase to find that our dinky bathroom scale isn’t as accurate as the super-strength ones they have at the airport, took stuff out so my suitcase became exactly 50 pounds (boo-yeah!), checked my bag, hid my face as my dad started joking about bombs in the airport, hugged my parentals goodbye, went through security, bought headphones (third pair in a row that, on purchase, have had one broken earbud. Wut.), dug around for my phone to send goodbye texts to everyone and their cousin’s ex’s ex-roomate’s cockatiel, went on Facebook in the airport to find that my mom/Trixie found my phone in my bed at home, tumbl’d from the airport, wrote horrific run-on sentences, realized that this was going to be a long, long blog post that nobody was going to read, told a BS story about how I went for a ride on the baggage claim belt to make sure my readers were still with me, and boarded the plane. I proceeded to watch Sailor Moon and play trivia games on my iPod as we flew to Miami. 

Once there, I had to get my bags and lug them to the other side of the airport, with not much time at all to spare. And reteach myself to use a payphone to call my mom. It ate a quarter that could’ve been used on the bus. I then ordered a disgustingly greasy and cheesy grilled cheese (and I like all grilled cheeses/grilled Cheesus) and, a bit worse for the wear, met up with my group. None of us ended up sitting together—probably for the best since I could then watch S Club 7: Boyfriends and Birthdays without being judged by those who’ll compose my social circle for the next six weeks. I instead sat next to a really nice woman who works for the college connected to the University I’m studying at, who gave me a lot of advice. To her other side was a Canadian girl talking about how strange it was to be oot of her small hometown. I gladly followed her group through customs, oogling their accents.

Then it was time to meet our host families! In the car I told them right away that I don’t speak Spanish as much as some hybrid of it and Portuguse, and we all talked in Portunish for a while as I got my first glimpses of the city. It was dark, so I couldn’t see much (save the fact that the strangest combination of American chain businesses have made it here…so many KFCs. Also, I’ll try to take a picture, but there’s an ice cream place that blatantly uses the Rolling Stones tongue in their logo. I’m considering doing my final project for the culture class on notions of intellectual property here), but I could tell that I was crazy-high up. Like, even if you’re at a low point in the city you’re still a bajillion feet above sea level. I’ve managed with little altitude sickness and no sunburn or difficulty breathing thus far, but those are all at risks at such a high altitude if you’re not used to it. I’ll probably talk about the weather more later (It’ll be like y’all are people I’m forced to make small talk with!), but I’ll say here…you know how they say if you don’t like the weather in St. Louis you should just wait a day and it’ll change? It’s like that in Quito, but you just have to wait an hour or drive for fifteen minutes and it’s like a totally different climate. 

 Then we got home, I met their dog, my host-grandmother made me a grilled cheese (one of my favorite foods, of course, and this was worlds better than the one I got on the run in Miami). We listened to a radio station that was a mix of Spanish-language music and older songs in English (I mean older like 1980s, not “OMG Hey Soul Sister is soooo old!!! [as an aside, Movistar, a phone company here, overuses that song like whoa. When we went to get our phones it played as each one was set up. Nah, it wasn’t even the whole song. Just hey-ey! Ey-ey-ey-ey-ey…tonight!]. “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama came on and I felt like I was in a movie with a musical reprise since I’d definitely just looped that song while staring angstily out of the airplane window for quite some time. Speaking of bananas, they have a lot of different types here. And lots of fruits that I’d never heard of and still am not sure if I have the names down. Every morning we drink juice from this little tomato, but it doesn't taste like tomato juice at all (thank God). In restaurants we've been served it with mango or pineapple juice added in and then it goes from good to delicious.

Anyhow, my family’s great! 3 generations live in the house, so I have a host grandmother, mother, and brother, and they’re all really sweet. They lived in Spain for a long time so I was able to talk about my time in Seville with them. They have a Yorkshire Terrier that follows the mom everywhere and likes to join us at the dinner table or in front of the TV and rides in the car with us sometimes. When she wants to be petted she drops what she’s doing and flops to the floor and it’s really adorable. Her barking’s been very helpful in letting my family know when I’m at the door since I’m coming to terms with the fact that I don’t actually know how to use most house keys. My host mom’s a travel agent who works out of the home (my room is right behind her office on the first floor; it’s really secluded and nice), and I’m coming to find that it must be a really stressful job. There are a bajillion different tourist locales in Ecuador and she knows a bunch about all of them and is organizing a bunch of trips (one of which is huge and for her own family). But yeah, the food is good (I’ve managed to eat more than rice and beans; my family has made a bunch of soy and vegetable dishes om nom), they’re all really friendly, I’m getting into a Brazilian soap opera that they watch called Cuna del Gato (except I’m missing it right now, but I don’t know when I’ll finish this entry if I don’t finish it tonight). But ohh man, this is dangerous. I remember in Spain my roommate and I got hooked on a telenovela called Dáme Chocolate and the night before we left a character got locked in a car and we never figured out what happened to them. To this day I check Telemundo periodically to see if it’s on.

Anyways, yeah so I’m exhausted so you’ll have to wait to hear about the tour of the city tour/trip to La Mitad del Mundo (crazy things are possible on the equator, let me tell you. For serious.) and fun times at the University (like showing up an hour early for my first day after rushing to get there). And after this weekend I'll be able to write about our trip to Mindo, the cloud forest, where I'll get talked into doing a zip line or waterfall rappelling, climb to the top of wherever I'm supposed to go and then start crying uncontrollably. Get excited. In the meantime, shower me with love in the comments box, or at least shower me with indifference by letting me know that you read this. And shameless plug for my Tumblr ask box will go here. Sorry I talked more about blueberry vomit than I did about Quito in this entry; if it’s education you want you (and I) will get it soon. And next time I shall try to remember to bring some photos to school so I can post them here.

And now, with this:

I bid you all adieu. I guess I should bid you adios instead. iHasta luego!