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.