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!


  1. i'm jealous of your awesome time! can't wait to see you when you return/share travel stories. miss you love!

  2. hey, it’s blablabla, I read your blog. Have fun and be safe!


    ps game