This is a short post – mainly to share a new album of photos taken during a API bike tour in Palermo through the majestic Rose Garden. This area is also close to the Japanese Gardens, the Horse Track, numerous lakes, and lots of very popular parks. It is on the east coast of Buenos Aires and north of the center. The ginormous park borders the city’s edge separating it from the Rio de Plata. It was an awesome bike tour and somehow I managed to take a bunch of photos mid-peddle without killing myself!
- Sun, but no sunburn
- Pretty birds and flowers
- Exploring the city on bright orange bikes
- only one: the bike (read: skateboard) helmet that kept falling into my eyes every time I turned my head.
P.S. BONUS VIDEO OF LAST SATURDAY’S SWING DANCE – JAM at 3AM: I’m the first couple dancing (with Bobby Bonsey)!
(If that link does not work, here is my video – though the beginning is cut off 😉 )
And Lastly: my new boyfriend.
Thanks for flying with me,
Last night I got to see an AMAZING performance. FOR FREE!!!
Here is a link to a blog that gives you all the information about the performers and if you are any sort of fan, you will see why I am just so ecstatic to have seen such a spectacular show. Click Here. It is written in Spanish and the English translation follows underneath.
No one wanted to go with me (they have no idea what they missed), so I took the subte straight from my home to the 9 de Julio stop and when I got out, a mass of people were waiting in line to get in! Seeing three lines and not one of them moving I relied on my spanish to figure out which one it was! I ended up having a conversation with a woman and her son who finally realized the one we were in was NOT the right one (two women who I started to speak spanish to were like “WE don’t speak Spanish” so they were no help at all because in English they Still had no idea. haha.)
When I got in to the show, I was sweetly escorted to a seat where I got to peak at the stage and a video screen, conveniently divided by a tall person’s head 🙂 Luckily, no one sat in front of me! Two Japanese women were confusingly trying to figure out where to sit, and when they got escorted to the row in front of me, they had no idea what the man was saying (in spanish) and a couple behind me (portenos) convinced them to give him a tip (haha). I convinced them not to take the chairs in front of me 😉
The Argentinean couple behind me were very sweet and in spanish I asked them what colectivo was the best way to get to my destination (a swing dance) after the show, and if the one I had chosen was correct. From there we ended up talking about Tango, a few places to go (in Villa Crespo/San Telmo) and what we like about the dance. During the performance her husband would keep telling me the name of the performers and the types of Tangos being played (which were just majestic) and he kept making cracks about dancing with me, but in my flip flops I had to deny myself the pleasure. Near the end, he finally couldn’t keep his feet from moving and he grabbed his wife for a very cute milonga. They were in their late 60s or early 70s I think. I loved that I could communicate with them in spanish, and even laugh at tourists inability to understand basic spanish (for which I am very thankful I took last semester or I would look equally dumb haha).
I actually kind of loved that I went to the show alone. I wasn’t afraid to close my eyes, sway to the music, tap my feet and hands to the intricate rhythms, laugh at the over-dramatic nature of some of the performances, and enjoy sitting in the middle of a closed down 9 de Julio and watching the highly skilled musicians play as the street lights changed from red to yellow to green.
My show neighbor, new friend, and fellow dancer from NYC:
Crappy Videos of the Music and Performances to come!!
PLUS I left a tiny bit early (:() to go to a swing dance, and I have a video of a silly jam that took place to a classic swing tune that people might remember as the theme to Chips Ahoy.
Note: If you didn’t get to see the new albums I posted of my tour CLICK HERE to get to them!
These first two weeks have been a marathon. A marathon of walking, dancing, touring, navigating, spanish lessons, and meeting lots of wonderful people.
As it is raining and very cloudy outside I am taking this opportunity to pause and reflect for a bit (every minute has seemed to count here – running back and forth to and from class, home, activities etc.)
My schedule as of now is settling down and it seems to consist mostly of this:
Waking up slooowwwly and b-fasting at 8:30 – 9:15
Taking the Subte to my Intermediate (yeah boiyeee) Spanish Class from 10am to 3pm (w/ a twenty min morning break and a forty min lunch). I really do enjoy these lessons and they are at the perfect level for me.
Sometimes my endurance wears out a bit and at the end of the day I am ready to venture out into the city and do anything other than Spanish grammar. Often I do some exploration with other students from my program (such as this AMAZING Dinosaur Museum) but recently I have been looking at my map, walking alone toward different touristy attractions, and observing the city in-between. (See my first day-light outing alone in the area of my University: Belgrano)
This is usually in-between 3 and 7pm, and like I said, I usually go out and look at pretty buildings, museums, gardens, parks etc. Though this last week I was so tired/hot that I went home and slept for 3 hours everyday!
From 7-9:30 I do homework and spend time with my host mother.
9:30 to 11 is either spent getting ready to go out, going out, or on Tuesdays my host mother’s children (who are actually all grown ups) and their spouses come to eat dinner here.
by 11pm I am usually out on the town, dancing, at a bar, or dancing at a bar (haha) – Night life here usually starts round 12-2 (depending on the venue/event) and ends around 3-6 (same story). There is just an enormous amount of things to choose from. Recently, I have been focusing on the Lindy Hop community, going out to their practices and dances, meeting the local community and making some great friends (from Argentina and the U.S.). It is really important to me to have a place I can go to whenever I feel overwhelmed or lost. I can totally see myself having that here (for that I thank the Lindy Hop Community around the world, and I feel so privileged every time I can go out somewhere randomly and still have people who will have my back!)
So, depending on the day of the week, the event I go to, and what part of the city I am in, I either take a bus or taxi home (or sleep at a friends) and pass out by 2,3,4,5 am.
And then I do it all again! 😀
Here are some pictures of my apartment/home stay.
I love it. It’s the perfect size for me, and I only live with one other person (my host mother who is in her 60s). C is a very pleasant woman who sadly lost her husband recently (~7 months ago) and I am sure she is eager for the company as her three kids (2 sons in their mid 30s and a 40 yr old daughter) have all moved out, are married, and either have a child or are about to!
C loves to cook, sew, paint, and knit! I think we will get along swimmingly in the next few months. She doesn’t go out at night, but during the day she might venture to the gym or babysit her grandson who is an adorable 1.5 years old (and I love him to bits).
Every week all the family comes over for a weekly dinner on Tuesday nights (I love this) and I get to practice my spanish and her kids get to practice English (which is very funny for us all). This coming Wednesday they are even taking me to a futball game!!! Estudiantes and the Brazilian Libertadores (I think?? haha)
C doesn’t speak any english but we seem to communicate fairly well. I have enough Spanish to communicate basic needs, desires, observations, plans etc. In fact, I have been conversational with Taxi Drivers, Street Venders, and inhibited bar-goers. It’s usually harder for me to speak to my friends in Spanish because I am either nervous that they’ll make fun of me or I’ll embarrass myself and say something completely offensive/stupid. So I am working on being less reserved, and I’ve taken a friend’s advice to speak as much as possible and use any words I know to get my ideas across. It’s really helped me to improve!
More to come later – such as my plans for traveling (to Patagonia, Cordoba, and other awesome places), a review of the Bike tour in Palermo, FOOD, and Dancing!
Love and Kisses,
Just a quick update here: photos and a fun fact!
2. Thanks to my dedicated readers (which YES! I am surprised to have so many!)
I have had about 130 consistent readers these last few weeks, and I’d like to thank those who keep coming back to stay in touch with me! Feel free to comment (or not if you don’t feel so inclined) but know that I appreciate your interest and curiosity!
p.s. Check out my fellow travel mate Dan at his blog here!
I FINALLY have more than an hour to just sit and stare at a wall.
It is Sunday, I have slept a good 7 hours (which is a lot for BA), taken a shower (washed of the sticky foam residue from Carnival), ate some ravioli, did my spanish homework, went through the 900 photos I took in ONE WEEK (-_-) and mapped out my schedule for the next semester.
And now. I can finally give you all an update!
First, sorry for the neglect, but honestly, I’ve just been trying to get from point A to point B without running into a wall or a more appropriate analogy here would be dog poop (of which there is a plethora of different types to step in).
Second, I am very safe, very happy, very healthy (well, it’s a little hot here), and very content.
Ok. Now that that short update is finished, here is a more lengthy and unnecessarily detailed account of the past 7 days (starting with the first two: SAT and SUN).
Last Buenos Aires post, I mentioned at the end that we (the API exchange group) were to embark on a 3+hour bus/walking tour of the main barrios in the city. Which we did. It was very pretty.
If you want to see how pretty and interesting it was, you’d probably get a better picture from actually looking at one (some. a lot.): CLICK Here, Here, and Here!. (
note: Currently in the works and will be updated very soon)
We ventured to Plaza de Mayo (south of Recoleta where I live), home of the administrative and political powers (judicial as well). The center of the court consisted of an obelisk statue and a symmetrical brick path with white stencils of hooded women. These represent the mothers who lost their sons during the Dirty War. There are constantly protests and marches in this area, and although it would be interesting to see one, it’s not the safest to hover around one.
After walking into a beautiful church, admiring the intricate carvings and architecture of the surrounding buildings, we went down into the subway (called: Subte) to take the oldest train left in the city. Down Avenida de Mayo we got out near our next destination: Cafe Tortoni, the oldest coffee shop in Argentina, as well as a cultural center for Tango as it is also right under the Academia Nacional Del Tango.
Unfortunately, we missed the actual train by a hair and ended up taking a newer model (Sorry Bruce!), but got to our destination all the same. I loved the energy of the Cafe, the furniture, the way the waiters wore bow ties and waistcoats with two tails, and that classic coffee smell. Plus I got to hang out with some classy guys.
We hopped back on the bus to continue our tour of the southern barrios San Telmo and La Boca. I pretty much died and went to architecture heaven, but not before I was able to snap some pretty nice photos (for having been on the bus).
These are noticeably less wealthy barrios (or boroughs for you New Yorkers out there) and you can start to see the deterioration of buildings, art, nature, and people. However, the energy is still as bright and lively as it is in the center of the city, and I am sure the famous brightly painted homes help to keep up spirits. Not to mention one of the two famous football teams hails from La Boca: La Boca Juniors!
I will definitely be re-visiting this area for some fun weekend touring.
From there, we took a bus to Puerto Madero, close to the harbors, and right over the Rio de Plata (which is really more of a Rio de Marron = brown). But it was beautiful all the same. This area consists of more modern high rises and symmetrical construction. There’s not much on the ground, and actually, the area was strangely void of people. Would be a good place to shoot another Armageddon film I suppose.
I enjoyed straining my neck to look at the cool metallic structures, but personally I love the european inspired buildings more. One highlight was the Women’s Bridge or Puente de la Mujer which was constructed in 2001 I believe. Very cool graphic vectors and I would have spent an hour shooting photos down there if I could (:D).
Finally, we returned to Recoleta for a lunch break, some walking, and much needed shade. I could see the tips of grave stone monuments peeking over the brick wall of the famous Recoleta Cemetery where Evita is buried (among many others).
Our tour rounded up in the mid afternoon (around 4 I think but who really knows when your in 80+ degree weather and all you care about is the pretty rooftops with flowers) to go to our final “Meeting” and introduction. Boring stuff (read: important information) was discussed and I don’t think I need to recount all of it.
I can’t for the life of me remember what I did that night, but maybe it was fun? I Remember! It was L’s Birthday! I got invited by a few Lindy friends to attend a young woman from Seattle!’s birthday dance. She rented out a small bar and played blues/swing music. It was a lot of fun and I embarrassed myself by dancing completely normally (read: outrageously) but I made a handful of new friends and even got invited to join a Burlesque group (YES!). A young woman and I spent a chunk of time discussing and imitating Bob Fosse moves and I had about a heart attack when of the portenos started practicing a chair routine in front of me (guh.) Needless to say, I stayed till about 4 (Yikes!) and got walked by a nice gentleman to a taxi which I intelligently told exactly the way home and with home I had a fun conversation with in Spanish. (In fact, I usually always get to talk to Taxi Drivers in Spanish). Got home, showered, and passsed outttt.
The next morning it was “up and at em” for a nice medialuna (mini croissants) breakfast with coffee and fruit and then onwards to our first Collectivo (bus) ride. We went to Belgrano, and walked a few blocks to the location of our University. It is located in a nice residential area, not more than three blocks from two main avenues, with lots of yummy places to eat, cheap places to shop, and pretty buildings to oogle at. The con of living in such a resi-area? Dog walkers and lots of dogs. Which means lots of stinky dog excrement. This makes me appreciate NYC’s no poop policy. A lot.
After our brief intro to our school (literally 5 minutes spent outside the building) we walked 6ish blocks (cuadras) to the Subte, and went back to our hotel to pack and meet our new HOST FAMILIES!
(TO COME: Fabulous Outing at La Viruta! A Real Live Dinosaur Spotting! A Bike Tour! AND the most beautiful Rose Garden taken right out of Alice in Wonderland!)
In order for me to look forward, forward on to my extended stay in Argentina (Gosh, has it really been 6 days?), to my future in the U.S., and really my future in general, I feel that it is important to reflect on my past. To not forget where I have been, where I have come from, where I have gone to, and how those places, people, and things have affected me. Every day, someone or something contributes to the growth of my spirit. I don’t take those things for granted. I try not to at least. I value my life, my education, my family, my privilege. I want to give back – if not directly, then through the experiences I have had, and perhaps I can help in ways that I cannot normally think of. I can at least make the effort, nu?
To remember, and to share – here is the somewhat unabridged (yet a slightly edited and de-drab-ified version because it was for a class) travelogue.
It will probably be broken into a few parts (4 or 5) and it will take you from the Capital City of Ecuador: Quito and center of the Earth, to the polluted town of Lago Agrio – a place torn apart by oil companies. From there, we’ll go through the forgotten towns of Ecuador by bus to the edge of the jungle in Puyo, where you’ll fly with me into the Amazon and read what it was like to live in the Jungle for a week with the indigenous Sarayaku. If I have time, I will even be able to include what life has been like for me after the trip: working on a documentary (that helped me process some of the trip), teaching dance and art at a thrilling and fulfilling Summer camp, and committing myself as a full-time student – trying not to forget the valuable life lessons I learned during the limited two weeks I spent abroad.
Ecuador Part 1
This journal documents a two-week journey to Ecuador, South America during the year 2010.
~In the summer of 2009, a Communication professor, C, asked me to join him on a trip to Ecuador. The goal was for me to assist him in completing a documentary about the Sarayaku, an indigenous tribe located in the Amazon jungle southwest of Puyo, Ecuador. C was trying to document their interesting way of life: a mix of indigenous rituals and behavior with the technology of modern society (such as electricity and yes, even solar power). He was conducting a small class that discussed indigenous media and culture, as well as oil exploitation and globalization, and he wanted me to be a part of it. The travel group consisted of two freshman students, one named L, an Ecuadorian born American girl who was adopted at a young age and raised in the United States, and one named K, a Vietnamese girl who was also adopted and raised in America. Joining us was a timid young woman, Amy, a senior Spanish major, and N, the assistant group leader who had also convinced his cousin, A, a senior Criminal Justice major, to come at the last minute.
To prepare for this new and exciting trip into the Amazon I went to a local heath clinic to get the necessary vaccinations and health advice. I needed a yellow fever vaccine, a typhoid fever vaccine, and malaria pills. I also needed to purchase ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic used to treat traveler’s diarrhea (not. fun.) (note: though to my satisfaction I never had to use these). Ecuador is a country that does not have very safe/clean water. It is advised to drink only filtered or bottled water, and one can even buy water tablets to the purify water. It is also advised not to eat food that is cooked and sold on the street, or food that is prepared in cold or room temperature water. It is better to eat food at a sanitary restaurant or food that has been at least cooked and boiled.
To continue: I knew that I would not only be traveling to the populated and lively city of Quito, but that I would also fly out to Lago Agrio, and take a bus to Puyo and a small plane to Sarayaku, which are places situated further in the Amazon. I used a hiking backpack to store my belongings in a transportable and easily accessible fashion. The plus side was that it was the perfect size for a carry-on (Yay for no extra baggage fees!). To keep it lightweight, I only put in a few tank tops and t-shirts, shorts, leggings (which are very useful for jungle walks because they keep bugs and gnats from biting you – which they do. a lot.) and hiking sneakers. I also brought a long sleeve shirt, a wind-breaker, and a pair of jeans and sweatpants. Ecuador is situated on the equator (duh) and the temperature usually hovers around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. In the jungle it is more humid, and therefore hotter, nearing 80-90 degrees F. At night, in the mountains and in the city, it can get cooler, around 60 degrees or lower, which is great for late night walks between salsa and karaoke bars(a fun story to come in one of the following posts). I tried to pack lightly, not only because I would be traveling a lot and I didn’t want to be hindered by a heavy bag, but also because I wanted to leave space for souvenirs that I would purchase during the trip (which I did and I use at least one every day).
After picking every one up in a van, we used the two hours driving to the JFK airport during a giant snow storm as a meet and greet, sharing our fears and expectations for the trip. From NYC we flew directly to Guayaquil, a city south of Quito on the coast of Ecuador. The plane ride took about six hours, but adding that to the three hours for driving and another three for waiting at the airport till takeoff, it had been a loooong trip and we were fairly tired (yet somehow extremely awake due to the excitement). Because there is limited space in the city of Quito (which means that large planes can’t fly in), the capital of Ecuador, we had to take a short ride (half an hour) on a smaller plane from Guayaquil. However, when we got to the smaller airport in Guayaquil, we had to wait for our plane for three hours. This was somewhat of a challenge for me because it was about 80 degrees + humidity, plus the constant chaffing of my shorts and bra = not fun. Then there was a delay that lasted four more hours because a bird had flown into the plane’s engine (yes, that does actually happen in real life), bringing the wait to at least seven exhausting hours (that’s a whole day of school, a shift at my job, or a marathon of Arrested Development).
Upon my entry into the country (read: Airport), I immediately felt like a foreigner. I only knew a few words and phrases in Spanish such as ‘Qué hora es?’ and ‘Hola.’ I felt silly and stupid when mispronouncing easy phrases such as, “Where’s the bathroom,” in broken Spanglish. Not being able to automatically understand spoken or written words was a hard thing to adjust to. I remember not being able to order my dinner at the airport in Guayaquil and having to put to use my six years of French in order to differentiate between ‘chicken’ and ‘fish’ or ‘cold’ and ‘hot’. I was glad that many words were similar (thanks Latin! You are useful.), and also glad that so many Spanish speakers live in North America, where I had at least been exposed to some words. Amy, the Spanish major, gladly taught me certain words and phrases when I asked her to translate. Not knowing the country’s language made me realize what foreigners immigrating to the U.S. feel like, and I gained compassion for those who have had to adjust.
Once our plane finally took off and landed in Quito, the group took a shuttle bus from the airport to our hotel, Hostal Jardin del Sol. The hotel was small, squeezed in between a restaurant and a tourist shop, but it had a significant number of floors (four) and quaint (some were quite large) rooms with balconies. They shut the power off late at night and didn’t turn it on until the morning, so the shower water was freezing cold. They also turned it off during the late morning till the late afternoon to preserve power. I shared a room with Amy, a small double with two twin beds and a view looking at a magnificant…brick wall? But who really cared, because all we could think was: Sleep.
During the first day in Quito the group took a bus/walking tour through the old part of the city. We visited many churches and government buildings, and walked through renovation sites, stopping to look at historic monuments on the way. La Compañía de Jesús, built from 1605-1765 was almost covered entirely in gold. It shined brightly and was intimidatingly large. It was quite a sight to behold – and one of the most detailed and beautiful architectural works I have ever seen. I could probably walk around staring at its walls for hours. If you happen to be a church-goer, definitely put this one on your list of places-to-see.
Another church on our stop was creatively constructed symmetrically. Everything done on one side of the building was mirrored by the other, except for the art. The art on the left hand side was holy, positive, and godlike. The art on the right side showed images of sin, darkness, and the devil. On the back wall to the left, there was a spiral staircase that went up to the organ. Yet on the right an artist had actually painted a staircase that spiraled in the opposite direction to maintain the symmetry. (I wish I had photos of these places but unfortunately they were lost in a computer crisis.)
Later that afternoon I visited the president’s office, the capital’s city hall, and the main square in which a group of protesters were speaking out against the government for shutting down independent radio stations. They were singing and chanting songs in the name of the indigenous groups fighting against the oil companies from taking over their land. They declared that the indigenous should be allowed the right to speak out and defend their homeland. Cops were lined up around them but nothing dangerous occurred. It was disheartening to know that they were not even allowed the right to freedom of speech (one our our basic rights in the U.S.) and twice as disheartening to know that oil companies lack the mindfulness and morality needed to prevent such crimes against human beings (and our planet).
Walking the streets of Quito was exciting. There were many many people, more than I am used to seeing when in a city. The weather was beautiful and tons of people were out shopping and selling items. There is a lot of poverty in Ecuador, and in Quito there were plenty of street merchants who carried items such as paintings or scarves. They constantly followed us around trying to sell their merchandise. It was hard to deny them because they needed the money, and it was a challenge to avoid being confronted by them. I bought some pretty scarves for my brother and his fiancée, and at $2 a piece. Though it is hard to say this, one must be careful to watch one’s money and other valuable items when traveling. I think it’s best to travel in average plain-looking clothing, and not wear expensive looking jewelry or accessories. That way you are not a target, and can feel less guilty when not buying anything you don’t need (it sounds sucky, but it’s true – I’d rather not rub my privilege in someone’s face, thanks).
(this man was beautiful to watch – so much soul and emotion into one song – I will post a video of him at some point)
Ecuadorian culture is a bit different from the North American one. For instance, it is very machismo. Men are very much the dominant sex and they will not hesitate to cat-call or hit on a woman, especially white foreign women who are seen as taboo. Mostly, as I would walk with Amy around Quito, the men would whistle or say, “What beautiful chicas,” in Spanish (or more demeaning phrases that they thought we wouldn’t understand, but Amy did). But one day in Quito, as Amy and I were walking out of a store on a populated street, a man dressed in a suit and carrying an open newspaper was oddly staring at us. I looked at the strange expression on his face, which was a mix of interest, flirtation, and suggestiveness, but when I looked down I realized that he was actually flashing us in the open market! I wasn’t so much as disgusted and offended as I was surprised, and my thoughts were mainly about how ridiculous his behavior seemed. I just couldn’t comprehend how he could do such a thing in such a public place! (insert: me laughing) So – my current advice after experiencing that, is to be wary of everyone, as you never know what kind of people they really are and maybe keep your eyes above the waist level until date(meeting) 2. or 3.. (insert: still laughing)
Quito and much of Ecuador is very high up in altitude when compared to the places I have lived and visited in North America. Quito itself is around 9200 feet high, (developed in the valley of the high mountains of the Andes, it is about 40 km (24.85 miles) long and 5 km (3.1 miles) at its widest (cite:wiki. yup.)) and from the disorienting heights I experienced nausea and vertigo multiple times. When going up or down stairs, driving, or even getting up from bed, I was out of breath and dizzy. The first time I walked up my hostel’s stairs I practically fell down again. When I woke up the first day, I stood up and one second later I was back sitting on the bed (haha). It took me a day or two to adjust. At one point when touring an art building in old Quito, I almost fainted and had to stop to drink some water and sit for a moment. (I recommend ginger or sucking candy to eliminate some of the nausea – because seriously I was going to vom.)
After the tour of the city, my group drove up a hill to visit an outlook point. On the way, one of the girls, L, stopped the bus.
As mentioned earlier, she was raised in the United States, but she was actually born in Ecuador having spent her early childhood in Macas (a town south of Puyo). When she was 5 years old she was put in an orphanage by her mother, and was later adopted by a couple from the United States. On this trip, she was visiting Ecuador for the first time in her life, and during this bus ride she had actually spotted the orphanage she had been placed in (which is why she had stopped the bus). We were given permission by the Nun overseeing the facility to go into the building where L saw the places where she used to play, eat, sleep, and learn. There was a church room filled with benches, a bedroom full of bunk beds, a dining room, a kitchen, a playroom, and at the top there was a laundry room with skylights that allowed one to see the sun and look outside at the city’s vast landscape. Children were sitting on the large spiral staircase that wound through the center of the building; they were laughing and playing together. They looked very happy and healthy and eagerly welcomed us in with wide eyes. While exploring the building, L spotted a photo of an old nun standing with some children. She recognized the woman as one of her caretakers, and learned from the current nun that she had passed away eight years before. It was very sad to learn that the woman she remembered had died, and at this point L broke down in tears. It was a very emotional (happy and sad feelings twisted around one another in a very complex and unrelated version of strawberry/cherry twisted twizzlers) experience, and one which I am glad to have shared with her and been available to support her.
After leaving the orphanage, we proceeded to the top of the hill, upon which sat a giant statue of an angel towering high above our heads. From this point we were able to look out across the entire city, which was quite beautiful (and it is also the current background of this blog). In the distance we could see large mountains with snowy tops, and even a dormant volcano. Quito is a valley city built between two parallel lines of mountains. The city is considered a long horizontal belt that is constructed in a line rather than a grid or circular pattern. There are layers and layers of houses and shops, all colored in shades of red, yellow, blue, orange, and green. The homes are simple, square and rectangular shaped, not more then two stories high, but they go up and down the sides of the hills, stacked one on top of the other.
From this hill we proceeded by bus to another touristy destination just outside the main city. This was the Center of the World, or point 0’’0’0 on a GPS. Many years ago, the Spanish colonists determined what they thought to be the center of the earth and they marked this location with a brick tower and a cannonball-like sculpture on top.
Just a few years ago some Ecuadorians came through the area with a GPS device and they were able to determine the exact center point, which turned out to be only a small distance from the anciently (not the Spaniards’ one but the Indigenous one) marked spot (which could actually be seen across the street!). It was a very interesting tour in which we learned how gravity is different on the equator, the direction of water flow is different in the northern and southern hemispheres (demonstrated by crossing a line between the two hemispheres and YES I WAS on both at the same time – too cool for school), and that a person standing on the equator has less muscle resistance. This was demonstrated during a funny activity where one holds their arms up and can not keep them elevated when someone presses down on them (there’s some funny video footage of this too).
After the tour we had our first authentic Ecuadorian meal at a nearby local restaurant. We drank a juice made from corn, cinnamon, and water that reminded me of watered down apple cider. Then we all shared empanadas and I had a chicken and rice dish. It was very well done, easy to eat and digest. Much of the Ecuadorian diet is rice, beans, poultry, and fish.
We went to sleep early that night because the next morning we had to wake up at four to take a bus and a short plane ride (not more than an hour) to Lago Agrio. TBC in PART TWO.
It didn’t really hit me that I was actually leaving the U.S. for 5 months until the plane started to rise in the air and the wheels began to fold up. And then suddenly I was like. Damn. I’m never going to see those trees and those lights and those fields again. Well, for a while at least. and Then my conscience was like. Mari, you have no idea where those lights and trees and fields are from. So everything was okay again.
That was until I got to D.C. and I had to walk like 50 gates to my connection, which after I had raced there thinking I only had 30 minutes till they boarded, I found out that it was delayed.
I frantically tried to search for access to the internet (apparently the D.C. airport charges ridiculous amounts for (7-20 dollars for 2 hours or so) but I only needed it for 5 minutes to send an email to my director about the delay. So I found a swipe-your-card and pay-as-you-go station (who knows how much that cost because I was too busy nursing my vertigo and my hot, sweaty, back from the ever-growing and increasing-in-size bag that I thought was “oh so light” ten minutes ago (aka 50 gates ago)).
Crisis averted and plane boarded, I ended up sitting next to a very nice porteño named Adrian who helped me with my Spanish review by calling out the BS terminology that only 80-year-old Spaniards use. He also taught me the castellano pronunciation: ll = shj (like “asian”) not a “yuh” sound and vos vs. tu. We had good fun speaking to each other in our native languages (though his English far surpassed my Spanglish – obviously) and joyfully compared our Kindles to one another’s along with various gadgets and gizmos (he works for a Google-type company in BA). For the record, he said an iPad was a larger iPhone and completely useless. Though he seemed to enjoy playing a game where a shark (you) eats as many fish and people as it can. Seemed amusing (read: addicting and thebestgamever).
Some other highlights of the plane ride were: waking up to notice I was flying RIGHT OVER CUBA, and from the dark abyss of ocean appeared a gorgeous array of lights and patterns that highlighted and outlined the numerous islands. Another was waking up again to the sunrise and descent over Uruguay which allowed me to see the beautiful plains, farmland, and towns.
Some not so great highlights? The seating was smaller than my BDL to DC flight. Tiny. really really Tiny seats. Poor Adrian was at least 6′ 3″.
After the flight (which I was able to sleep on for about 5 hours), going through customs was lengthy, but I was able to compact all my bags into each other, so it was fairly easy to pass through, albeit stopping and going with two 50 lb bags is hard to do after 12+ hours of traveling.
I quickly met up with the API group, we shared our backgrounds, travel stories, expectations etc. and then we were left on our own at the hotel to run out into the city for lunch.
At this point my body was d-e-a-d but my mind and heart were like omgyou’reinbuenosairesgodothisgodothat, so a group of us went across a few blocks to a bad restaurant and I ate a simple jamon y queso (ham and cheese) sandwich, which was fine, but not my style.
Sitting in the sun with the heat in our pretty sun-dresses in the city was a very pleasant experience after all that traveling, and even the weird man who gave one of the girls a photo copied love letter, which I have yet to decode, could not take away from my moonstruck eyes whence looking over the city architecture and life.
Buenos Aires reminds me a lot of NYC, except instead of a third of Spanish-speaking people, everyone speaks Spanish. There are trees on every block, every few meters, so it’s breathable, very bright, and pretty, but I can definitely see myself getting claustrophobic here if I don’t visit open parks enough. That is definitely on my list of to-dos.
After lunch we had more orientation, and then a great dinner of pizza, salad, and tapioca pudding was had (they serve SO MUCH FOOD) I never want to eat more than once a day. and we all got complementary a shot of lemon meringue y vodka. yum. I met my other director and she’s going to really help me get involved in the Tango scene by giving me the down low on the social patterns and popular clubs. Sweet.
I was able to meet up with my friend Agus and she took me out to a Lindy Hop practice! Despite the fact that (by that time) I’m suuuper exhausted, dizzy, wobbly, and full full full, I had a blast dancing. It was a small room, but just full enough (a good size for the big dancing that Lindy hoppers do) and the skill level was great! Very high 🙂 So I’m happy, and people were very welcoming and sweet to me.
Tomorrow I go off to Recoleta, San Telmo, La Boca, and other touristy places for a quick walk through introduction. After that it’s time to study study study, and nap nap nap because I’m going to ANOTHER dance party. Word.