Ecuador Part 2: Without Regard

This journal documents a two-week journey to Ecuador, South America during the year 2010.

Note: This section of my trip is what inspired me to film and edit a documentary about the oil pollution and the communities it has effected over the 40 years. You can watch it here: CLICK HERE FOR MY DOCUMENTARY!

Part 2 – Continued! Re-Visit PART 1!

That next morning the sun was absent from the sky and the weather cool and dry. When we arrived at the airport, the sun began to peek through the clouds, and as I looked out towards the long horizontal landscape of Quito, the buildings were illuminated in a breathtaking purple haze. The whole day that followed was simply breathtaking. Just the plane ride alone was the most beautiful aero-trip I had ever been on. It was a small jet with two rows of seats, one on the left and a two-person row on the right. I spent most of the flight watching the sun rise into the clear blue sky as we soared over a massive layer of full white clouds. It sat underneath our plane as a vast expanse of clouds that looked like something out of a children’s fairytale story, like Jack and the Beanstalk. It felt like we were approaching a magical land in the sky. Or maybe the clouds were actually a soft blanket of snow, covering the air for miles and miles and I could jump and leap in graceful bounds. It was just gorgeous. A few times a snow-covered mountain top peaked through the white layer of fluff. It was mind-blowing and just fascinating, as I had never seen mountains that tall. As we descended towards the ground, flying through the clouds, the blank white fog opened up to an expanse of pure jungle canopy. The foliage and geography had changed dramatically in comparison to Quito. While the city was crowded with buildings and lights, this oasis was overflowing with pure jungle, Amazon rivers, handmade huts, and small sporadic towns.

The Lago Agrio airport was heavily guarded by army personnel who carried rifles and automatic guns. The town of Lago Agrio is near the Colombian border and a land bursting with natural oil and gases. The stifling air immediately felt ten times more hot and humid than the dry, crisp air of Quito. I wore a sweatshirt over my tank top, and I didn’t hesitate for a second to take the heavier layer off. The town in which we stayed was even more impoverished than Quito. Buildings were ruined in unexpected places, roofs were missing, electrical wires exposed, and trash was strewn everywhere. Wild dogs roamed the streets and a feral cat even haunted the outside dining area of the hotel. Beggars were constantly passing by to ask for money. One blind woman came repeatedly to my table. After giving her some money, against my natural tendencies, I was forced to begin to ignore her because she kept coming back. I am never sure how to act and behave towards someone who seems to desperately need help. It is hard not to feel compassion and a desire to help those in need, but it is hard to know when to draw a line and create the comfort balance in one’s own life. Though I question why I shouldn’t sacrifice my own privileged comfort for someone else’s. Whether I should or not, I always feel guilty after an interaction with an impoverished person. That is something that will never go away being some one in the “have” category.

Though deeply devastating, it was hard not to see beauty within the town. Something was strikingly different about the people and buildings so that I had a strong urge to film and photograph them. But wanting to be respectful and not unconsciously exploit them, I kept to myself mentally capturing the moments.

Once settled at the hotel, I had a breakfast of fresh mango, pineapple, guava, some eggs, and bread with cheese. I was already cutting down on food, and ate slowly and in smaller amounts (which is actually healthier). I then left to take a small van towards the oil fields of Petro Ecuador. Originally, much of this land was owned by indigenous tribes such as the Cofan. The oil companies that came to exploit the land’s resources in the 70s removed these people and have consequently polluted their land and water supply. A private (and I’m not sure if it was legal) tour took us through gated farms and behind oil drilling facilities into the jungle where I was able to document on video the leaking of oil and gas emissions into the jungle, and the pools of oil and water the size of large ponds, hidden within the jungle’s canopy. Large pipes ran throughout the area carrying the oil that had been drilled from beneath the jungle floor. The pipes stretched hundreds of miles through Ecuador to the coastal city of Esmeraldas, where it would finally be refined and exported. They transport it so far away to refine it because it is cheaper to transport it through the pipeline to Esmeraldas than it is to refine it at the drill site and ship it out afterwards. However, these pipes are old and corroded and when there are spills and holes, they are not maintained or fixed – the land and wildlife surrounding them are punished for it.

I remember walking past a wire fence, crawling underneath an opening, hiking through the jungle, hearing the noises of distant birds, and then… a menacing and slow rush of air that sounded like a doomsday machine that would destroy anything in its path (think LOST). I later learned that this sound was the gas being released by a valve and sent through a pipe across an open field and then high into the air, where it was set on fire. I walked a few feet parallel to the pipe and it was burning hot. The temperature had already risen to at least 90 degrees. The guide stated that all over this area they would burn gas 24 hours a day because there was no way to dispose of the chemicals other than burning them. He basically said that it was cheaper to burn it than to actually utilize the resources. Throughout our tour we came upon this apparatus within the jungle. Our guide said that the fire and poisonous fumes would kill the many bugs who were curious enough to approach it. Birds and other wildlife that fed on these dead bugs would be affected too. We walked further and deeper into the jungle, and came across at least three large pools of oil.

They were just sitting there, unattended, uncovered, and completely exposed to the surrounding environment. In one area, oil had dried on the edges of the pool and we were able to walk closer. There were two birds that flew over the deep, black oil-covered water and landed on the other side. One almost went into the ominous death “water,” but instead just sat on the side and cleaned itself. Seeing animals so close to the poisonous oil made me so angry and emotional – I immediately wanted to do something about it. On top of the pool and nearby the pipes, I saw hundreds of dead bugs, some nearly the size of my hand. It was a blatant example of how the mistreatment of oil can affect the surrounding biosphere.

Feeling unbearably hot, we took a break from the tour to eat under a small, roofed platform building that had a stereo system and sugarcane stand. The tour guide said this was where the oil workers got together to dance and relax. The restroom (like most restrooms in Ecuador) had no running water and was basically an outhouse with a toilet but no toilet paper. I was glad that I had stolen a roll from the hotel that day for the hike, but it instead came handy at this rest stop (if there are two items one should never forget they are paper/tissues and hand sanitizer. seriously). We had a bagged lunch of white bread and cheese, a banana, and tang. It is hard to find natural or hearty food in this town because they are so poor – they are forced to sell all their prized fruit and coffee to foreign countries in order to pay for housing and clothing. However, because we were near a sugar cane farm we were able to buy freshly made sugar cane juice with fresh cut lemon.

While I rested, one of the girls walked a little further down the road and found a couple farming cacao, the plant used to make chocolate. She was excited to discover this odd looking fruit and asked them if she could buy one. They were happy to see someone interested in their crop and gave her three for free. It is a reddish brown colored fruit that is shaped like a football and ribbed with bumps. Once cracked open, the inside looks like mold, but it is actually a white, soft juicy covering that surrounds the inner seed. It was messy, and to eat it I scooped out a few of the white seeds and sucked on them. It was a slightly sour yet sweet tasting fruit, slimy and chewy, one that I had never seen the likes of. I don’t recommend biting into it, though, because the seed is very strong and bitter, and it juxtaposed the chewy sweetness of its outer covering.

After lunch, many of our accompanying travelers were worn out from the day’s walking and the dramatic images we had been exposed to. We stopped by one more farm and walked a little into the jungle. I came across an old Texaco oil barrel, like the kind people see in images of oil cans being dumped into the ocean. It was strange to come upon one in person, and in the jungle, just…sitting there. Nearby, there was another farm where a large truck was releasing water and oil into yet another pool. Across the way was a smaller oil-filled pond where a drain directly filtered the waste into a nearby stream that flowed into the rainforest. You could actually see the pipes that lead into the jungle. astounding.

When back in town, my translator and the guide discussed how many of the townspeople are surprisingly unaware of the true destruction that is going on. Many don’t believe that it is harmful to their environment, and many are forced to work for these companies to survive. It is ironic and sad that the thing destroying their home is also the thing keeping them alive.

That night, Amy and I went swimming in the hotel’s pool, a nice and refreshing change to the contrasting heat and intensity of the day. The rooms of the hotel were nice, large enough for two twin-sized beds, but without space for much else. The bathroom and shower were interestingly constructed on a slant, angled when connected to the room, reminding me of one of those circus fun houses. Much of the lobby area was under construction, and at most hours we could hear the workers clacking away at the wall’s tile. In the center of the hotel was the pool, surrounded by a pretty garden (though many plants weren’t flowering and some were even dead) and there was no roof covering the area, and the sun could peek through to warm the bathers. It was cool to be inside and at the same time feel like I was outside when sitting by the poolside. I was perfectly satisfied with everything, but can see how a high-end North American traveler might think less of the accommodations in Ecuador. For the bargain price we paid, we got everything we needed: a place to sleep, eat, bathe, and even a place to hang out and cool off in the humid jungle heat. Personally, I feel over-privileged when I have such nice places to sleep and the people right down the road are crouched on top of rubble under scraps of clothing…

After my swim I sat outside and wrote in my journal, watching people until the sun began to set. Looking at the various Ecuadorians and townspeople near the hotel and on the street, I once again I realized how different I was from them. Not only was I a woman alone in a foreign country, but I was a white, freckled, young, English-speaking woman, in a Spanish-speaking country. I couldn’t strike up a conversation with just anybody, and I also had to protect myself from dangerous people, especially sketchy looking men. In the U.S. I find that many times I make comfortable eye contact with strangers in the street or at a café. I even casually make an acknowledging comment or talk to them. In Ecuador, I felt out of place and I couldn’t blend in as easily. I was unaware of local customs, and on top of that I couldn’t even speak the country’s language! (note: how different from my experience in Argentina after having a year of spanish under my language belt.)

Meanwhile, while I was contemplating my isolation, two of the other girls, Lizeth and Katie, had gone walking together down the road to explore the town. They had been hungry and had stopped to buy a salad and steak from a street vendor, against our travel guide’s advice. That night, both became sick and spent the night awake and ill. I wasn’t planning to eat food from the street, but their experience just reinforced my decision tenfold.

We flew back the next morning bright and early, and watched the sun rise over the misty rivers of Lago Agrio, an unforgettable experience that will last a lifetime. I was sent back with a feeling that something had to be done, and that these pools would not be hidden for much longer.

~La Mariposa

photo credits: Amy Clark (these photos are the still-shot counterpart to the footage I filmed!)

Please continue to follow this travel account in the future! It will be located under Travel and Ecuador! More parts to come soon!


Back From Patagonia Part 3: Road Trip to the Tip of South America

>>>This posts PHOTOS can be found at: The Never Ending Road Trip<<<

If you don’t have an idea of what awesomeness I am about to write here, you should probably scroll up and re-read that title.

Did you read it?

Don’t believe it?

Oooohhyeaaahbaby. I made it to the “top” of the world (as they like to say it “down there”, oh geography humor).

LETS GET STARTED!

From Part 2 of BFP we left of at the beginning of my roughly 24 hour bus ride to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. A port town, developed from a population of prisoners and isolated explorers exiled from the center cities, Ushuaia receives annual tourists every summer/spring/fall (deeefinitely not winter, that place is COLD!) to visit the beautiful state parks and join boat tours that lead to isolated islands with PENGUINS! YAY!

Isn’t this post exciting already!?

Well, sorry but I got to stop you from jumping up and clapping your hands shouting PENGUINS PENGUINS for just a sec. Because, being the poor student I am, I elected to take a bus, to see the country side, and well… to save a few bucks. So, first:

THE BUS(ES) TO USHUAIA:

What we (my traveling mates and I) thought might be a semi-cama (bed) bus that traveled straight to Ushuaia, turned out to be much much more than a sore butt and a quiet journey where one can catch up on their reading. oh no. This is Patagonia and everything is an adventure here.

We left our hostel at 2am in the morning, just as the last backpackers went to bed and the solo night staffer was setting up camp behind the desk. Our backpacks stuffed and our iPods charged, we ventured out underneath the bright starry sky and headed down the dirt hill to the bus station. Like always, we picked up a guia dog who took us all the way to the station, where she even quietly laid down next to our things while we waited for the bus to arrive. We boarded and were happy to find chairs that unfolded into nice slightly elevated beds. Once I figured out how to lean back the damned thing, I was out like Ke$ha after a big bottle of Jack.

The next moment of consciousness was to my SUPER STRESSED OUT companion looking confused as all hell, and everyone on the bus was awake and up collecting their belongings. I thought for a second why this was happening and then I remembered I had TWO tickets. Must have meant something. Probably that we had to change buses as some point. Guess that point was now. We had reached Rio Gallegos, capital city of Santa Cruz, and pit stop for all buses that lead to Ushuaia. It was now 7 am (where did the time go?) and we sat for an hour looking up every time a bus came having absolutely NO idea which was ours and how everyone else seemed to know what to do except for us. Finally a bus pulled up with the same name as the one on our ticket and we grabbed our bags only to be told last minute that we had to “CHECK IN”. Crap.

Rushing back into the station and searching frantically for the right kiosk, we registered and then ran back in time to catch the bus. THIS bus was the long haul. I spent most of my time reading D.H. Lawrence’s “Women In Love” , and catching up on some Zs. At least that is until some stranger woke me up to tell me to get off the bus…which brings me to the next section.

BORDER CROSSING:

For some historical and complicated reason, the tip of South America is split between the countries of Chile and Argentina. And for some complicated and historical reason, we travelers have to pass through not one, not two, but FOUR BORDER PATROL CENTERS. Each one 10 minutes away from the other, and each one takes 30 to 60 minutes to do the following:

  • Get off and back on the bus
  • Get your bags (all of them) back off and on the bus
  • Have all your ID’s checked
  • Have all your bags checked (yes, every damn time)
  • And get your passport stamped (woo!)
  • Also you get to ride a ferry (not so bad…except when the storm we had been out driving caught up to us and we happened to be riding that same channel that shipwrecked hundreds of people and oh look the waves are getting a little more ferocious looking, are we supposed to rock like that????)

So yes. more exciting that sitting on one bus for FOREVERRRRRRRRR.

After changing buses once more in Rio Grande, the next part of the trip wasn’t too exciting, the sun had begun to set as we started to weave through the mountains on our way to the town. The geography had changed from flat lands and golden fields to green forests and mountains. The last hour was my favorite as I got to watch the beautiful sunset over the Andes and lakes. As we reached Ushuaia, the last bit of sun set and a crescent moon rose over the glowing water. It was a beautiful and perfect way to feel we had passed through the gate into Tierra del Fuego and the End of the World.

~La Mariposa

Patagonia: Part 1, Part 2; Part 4


Back From Patagonia Part 1: Entering El Calafate

[[[PHOTO ALBUMS FROM THIS POST: FIRST El Calafate…. SECOND Perito Moreno]]]]

Everyday, I come home from school thinking about what I want to write and share on my blog.

Everyday, I try to cross one more item off the list of things I want to get done that day… and while “doing” them (i.e. reading a book for school while actually daydreaming about something completely different), I actually narrate to myself what I will write later. sick, I know.

Now. If I actually WROTE a damn word, my head would be a lot less full and I think I’d actually get SOME of those things DONE.

I suppose a brief explanation for the lack of communication is warranted, but let me sum it down to this.

1 week was spent traveling in Patagonia, Southern Argentina (of which I will post about now), 1 week was spent sleeping that trip off while signing up for classes, attending said classes, and completing other menial tasks for school, and lastly, I’ve been dancing my butt off and was just bombarded with school work and every time I come home, all I want to do is just SLEEP!

I’ve been going through some highs and lows, but I think I’ll leave that to the next post (Culture Shock part 2) and I also have some fun ideas planned for future posts (Weird Things That Porteños Like) but for now I will just leave you with the EPIC TALES OF PATAGONIAAAAAA:

(I’m a nerd.)

……..

We start the scene at 4:30 in the morning, where a fine young Gentile Man named D accompanies me in a radio taxi to the Aeroporte. Along the way, we pick up companion E, a sweet young lady from the V of Mont, and we reach our destination at not 1 minute past 5.

(already fun isn’t it?)

Whence upon our arrival, we acquire our last travelling amiga, the name of S shall do her justice, and we go on our way through security (in literally TWO minutes – TAKE THAT USA) and then we sit FOR TWO HOURS.

So, next time you are taking a 7 am flight, you really do not need to get there THAT early. Ok? ok.

Also I bought the most expensive water there. 10 pesos. Really? really.

She brought her own sleep sack. o Em.

We arrived after our two 2 hour flights to a place where the golden grassy flat lands roll into the milky white & blue-tinted glacier water, bordered by the snow-covered Andean mountains. A sight to behold. A fresh view and breath to be taken.

Only one major highway passes through this town (route 11) , and it goes east to west. Looking down it’s vanishing point, it finally hit me that I was IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. 😀

I made it to the Hostel America Del Sur, and when I stepped outside the lounge area, I fell in love with Lago Argentina and it’s buddy, the Andes.

El Calafate has beautifully tempered weather this time of year: 70s with the sun to keep you warm and a breeze to cool you down, I never needed more than a light long sleeve fleece over my tie-dye t-shirt (I had to go backpacking in style 😉 ). Many roads are dirt, pebbled, and… awesome. I wish I had more time to explore the outskirts of the town, where brightly painted houses and interesting architecture exists (such as those cool bungalows where the v-slanted roofs simultaneously act as the walls). The town itself has a few main roads, but RT 11 carries the traffic through the main stores and attractions (artisan and tourist shops) and a walk further will take you towards the natural reserve by the Lago. Dogs run rampant through the town, but in actuality they are all quite clean and very sweet (in comparison to dogs I’ve seen in other small towns). Each time we walked to town and back a different dog would accompany us, expecting food most likely, but I like to think to myself that they were our own personal guides.

After settling in at our very fun looking and welcoming hostel (run by young adults with dreads and hair wraps – reggae was a constant audible companion), we took a nap in our private room, with double bunk beds and a sweet view of the town/landscape, and once we re-energized we began our tour of the town.

We started out with an informational guided walking tour through the Walichu Caves. Discovered right on the coast of Lago Argentina, these 4000 year old “caves” contain red hand drawn paintings with hidden symbolism, revealing a bit about indigenous life.

A negative hand print perhaps signified the impact and position of a woman’s hand during the birthing process, the force she gives as she presses against her companions for help. A circle of dots spiraling into the center allude to a person’s life line. Other more recognizable figures such as a man, a young stag, and a warrior exist to pass on their history, forever stained on the rock’s edge.

Though not a jaw-dropping cave walk, where gigantic stalactites and stalagmites (do you still get those confused?) tower over you, it was still a beautiful place to walk around, what with the pretty rock formations, the coast of Lago Argentina at your feet, and a piece of cultural history to learn.

My first account of I DON’T SPEAK YOUR LANGUAGE FLUENTLY happened soon after our tour. We were riding back to town on the bus when the tour guide, looking directly at me, asked in Spanish (and this is roughly what I think she said) – “Do you guys want to get off here? or are you continuing?” And me, not really mastering the whole language after 4.5ish months and having a much hindered ability at reading body language because I didn’t have my glasses on, turned to my compatriots (all Avenzada Espanol Estudiantes) asked them, “Do we have to get off here? Is this the end of the tour?” I figured that A. we only paid for the Cave tour, and B. this bus was going somewhere NOT in the direction of our hostel…we should probably get off…but they all just sort of shrugged and off we went to continue what was called the CITY TOUR… and not something that we paid for. In the end it didn’t matter and some fun things included:

Spotting Cristina Kirchner’s (El Presidente) home (basically large and covered with lots and lots of trees), Passing a very pretty boardwalk along the Lago A, and stopping at a history museum, at which we finally realized our mistake and were graciously given a free ride back to town.

We strolled along, window shopping, looking at pretty artisan crafts, and then we walked along the boardwalk where water weeds, trees, and birds inhabited the stagnant part of the lake. I sat facing the seemingly ever-expanding landscape and contemplatively munched on some lays potato chips. Always salty and crunchy when you need ’em. Em, the adventurer, jumped the fence/wall, hopped over a couple of rocks, and stood on the water’s edge. I enjoyed myself by just watching her and the birds flying overhead.

Did I mention it was windy?

Another 2 hour nap later and I woke up to the smell of yummy yummy Asado – an Argentine version of BBQ Grilled meat, choice of Beef. and can I just say YUM.

We ate at the hostel with the buffet styled dinner and some Quilmes to wash it down. We also purchased a cheapo bottle of Malbec to hang out with post-dining. Sat with us was a couple who had just arrived from the wilderness. They had been backpacking (actually hiking and tenting) in Torres Del Paine, the Chilean national park with beautiful beeeauuttifulll mountains, views, and wildlife. Jim was happy to shave, and Anna pleased to have a warm cooked meal. They came from Long Island, he a boat sailing lawyer and she a partially retired Czech model who once graced the cover of Vogue (if you can believe it!). I thoroughly enjoyed their conversation and shared wine (which trumped ours by about 10 points).

We made it an early night, satisfied and full of meat and drink, we fell asleep easily enough.

_____________

The next morning it was Up and At ‘Em at 7:30 am. I was greeted by dry bread and dulce de leche. Coffee was a happy friend that day. 20 minutes later we were on a very comfy coach bus heading out to Perito Moreno and El Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. We passed by Estancias (horse ranches) and rolling hills. As the sun rose, I was soothed by the voice of our tour guide who spoke about the history of the area (a location originally inhabited by farmers who have now mostly left due to the dryness of the land) and the glacier I was about to oogle (a constantly growing “piece” of ice that is 80% below water and the chunk above water towers over 60 meters high)

When we got to the park and paid the 100 peso (15 for students) fee, we embarked upon a boat ride that would carry us to the glacier’s edge. Yippee! It of course was freezing and bitterly windy, but I was too excited to see ICE. why? I have no idea, but for some reason it is just the bees knees.

Words can’t really do it justice but, here’s a visual taste:

SPLASH!!!

(those tiny specks on the ice are PEOPLE!!)

Alas, I must leave off here, as I am to go to a breakdancing/hip hop dance club tonight and will be taking a tour of La Boca tomorrow. Don’t let me not post for 3 weeks people! I don’t want to forget anything and I want to stay in touch.

Te Amo…

I still have miles to go before I sleep.

~La Mariposa

 Patagonia Posts: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

[[[PHOTO ALBUMS FROM THIS POST: FIRST El Calafate…. SECOND Perito Moreno]]]]


It’s Getting Better

{{{PHOTOS: Recoleta Cemetary and Parque Norte}}}

After such a mesmerizing, magical, and thrilling first 20 days, it was only inevitable that I had to experience some negativity and struggle.

Before that “negative struggle,” however, only blissful paradise existed.

At some point last weekend (about two weeks ago) I woke up on a lazy sunday afternoon with the goal to “get out of the house and go explore the city!” Since I lived in Recoleta, and I was slightly lazy that day, I decided to “explore” my own barrio. After a soothing breakfast of sweet medialunas (mini-croissants), tea, and a chapter of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love (I am “Loving” this novel) I found the central location of the most touristy sights to walk around (read: because they are close to each other, and I was/am lazy). I headed out of my apartment around noon to get some lunch (a yummy and cheap (10 pesos!) tostada aka grilled cheese sandwich with ham, and a licuado aka a banana smoothie) and then continued down towards the Recoleta Cultural Center. When I arrived I was pleasantly reminded by the familiar architecture and landmarks that I had already been there once for lunch during my Intro to BA tour. As I walked towards my destination, I happened upon some lovely live jazz music (somewhat influenced by Dixie Jazz –  they were playing a nice version of “Oh, Lady Be Good” with a banjo and guitar player, a clarinetist, and a trumpeterrr…(?)) anyway – they were good, and I happily delayed my plans for a few minutes, wondering to myself where all the Lindy Hopper (Bombers) were.

Nature called and I popped my head into the nearest open venue which happened to be, OH I DON’T KNOW…THE RECOLETA CEMETARY?! Good Planning Mari.

So, I did my business (tip – always carry a portable amount of TP or tissues…really. No. Really.) and when I got out, I bought a 5 peso map of the cemetery and was about to head out into the maze of scary and creepy old graves, when – Hark! I heard clapping and laughing amidst a very good Jazz tune! Once again I was lured back outside and to my delight – I found those lindy hoppers I was so keen to dance with! A mother and a daughter from Seattle, WA were there dancing together and a crowd had formed around them. I ran up to them with a huge grin on my face and said HEEEEYY Guyssss!! Giggling was had, and then we all busted out some charleston, balboa, and the best swing-outs we could do in flippyfloppies/bare feet. See the short and silly video Here

After a few tunes later, we all decided that going into the large cemetery together was probably better than getting lost while going it alone. Thus a group adventure in the creepy crawly spider weby cemetery commenced. The Full Album of my favorites can be seen here: CLICK!

Things to look out for when at the Cemetary:

Kitties – there are sooo many!!!

Open doors – no matter how many you see – don’t go in, you will probably fall down the stairs and land on an open casket. Shiver.

What happens when you take a picture of a dark and open grave with the flash

Trees – there’s actually a little park in the middle of the cemetery – you can sit and…picnic?

Evita – and other famous people I don’t really know much about but should probably know about are buried there.

Pretty and very photogenic sculptures and grave stones – I realized why I love to photograph them so much! They have emotion, posture, and angles carved right into them – the perfect models!

Cathartic moments – the times when you wander for a bit on your own, look up, look down, and look sideways and think “huh.” – completely necessary when walking in a place of memory, peace, rest, abandonment, and did I mention kitties? It was Kitty Palace there. There will be an update with more places for Kitty Spotting (The Botanical Gardins, Villa Crespo Natural Science Museum etc).

We're Besties Now. Seriously.

Since we got to the cemetery a little late in the afternoon (around 4pm) the sun was beginning to set and the clock tower bells chimed 6 pm and in a cinematic moment, the park began to close just as the beams of sun started to glare through the numerous stain glass windows, illuminating the cemetery with color and a sense of magic. In another cinematic moment, I, having gotten separated from the mother-daughter duo in a moment of “chase the cute kitty,” ran into yet another group of swing dancers (yay!) and we left together to met up with the others.

We all sat for a minute, chatted about the wonders of the location, meeting/running into dancers – and then we had another good idea. ICE CREAM! Yum. So me and L being young and cute, were treated to yummyness – I got dulce de leche, frutilla (strawberry) and some other kind of fruity flavor. So much ice cream. So much. I died.

Then we walked around the feria (artisan market) located just outside the cemetery, watched some street Tango performers, and then ended up at a salsa rueda demonstration – which I hopped into at the last moment. Exhausted and wanting to get back to the casa before sundown, I said my goodbyes and headed home.

Lots more good and fun things happened between then and last weekend (Club 69 Baby!!!), but it probably consisted of school, working on a project about Villa Crespo, being slightly sick, more school, taking naps, and planing my upcoming Patagonia trip.

This past weekend I went dancing Friday, and on Saturday I had the same “Sieze the Day” kind of feeling as Sunday, and at JUST the right moment, I called my U.S. friends (from API) and we all met up at Plaza Italia and caught a collectivo to go to Parque Norte. Aka The best decision I have made yet.

It was Paradise- or close to it, because what I needed at that moment was to hang with the girls, be petty and put on a bikini, get some sun, exercise, and swimmmmm.

Which I did… but we can also add to that: feeling really pale, noticing that portenas don’t wear bikinis but instead thongs are the norm (but SERIOUSLY. their butts are amazing. probably from all that walking) and I got an ear ache. All necessary prices to pay for the amazing day I had. PICS HERE. I HIGHLY recommend going there – its 25/30 pesos during the week and 50 pesos during the weekend – for a DAY (to 8pm) of a park with 4 (or more?) pools, umbrellas, chairs, a water slide, and hey let’s throw in some water aerobics and volley ball –  you name it. Outside the pool area was a basketball court, a tennis court, a football court, a food court, and the food wasn’t a whopping 50 dollar overpriced amusement park price, but a normal (even cheaper than normal) 12 pesos for a hamburger or small pizza, and 5 pesos for a ginormous amount of ice cream. So. DEFINITELY worth it. Plus, a 2.50 peso fare round trip on a colectivo (not more than 20 minutes) that rides along the Rio de Plata and drops you off right by the subte Green Line D.

So. That was relaxing.

And then the wave of “you’ve had way to much of a good time, here, taste some misery” came. You can just call it “being sick.”

I missed two and half days of normal scheduling, sweaty/feverish/chills, throat was killing me, ear ache was making my brain want to explode, and head was pounding. Oh, and did I mention that the final exam that counted for 60-70 percent of my class was the next day? Well it was. And well, I passed – with high marks (who knows how I did it). Today, I finally acquired the brain power and energy to stop by the University medical center (which is free btw) and the nurse gave me antibiotics and advice to get better – which I have. I feel about 50 times better than I did earlier, and though all those things that sucked about being sick earlier still exist, they exist at a smaller and more whispery level. At least they are quiet enough for me to finally update this blog. And for that, I thank you, Doctor, savior, my hero.

Next week I will be on “Spring” break – traveling through Patagonia – El Calafate, El Chalten, and Ushuaia. I most likely won’t be on the internet too often (this week was an exception because I was getting antsy being in bed all day) but I will be sure to post tons of photos when I get back!

I will be right HUR in 3 Days.

Lessons Learned:

  • Sometimes it is good to make plans (parque norte) and sometimes it is good not make plans (recoleta cemetery)
  • I can’t spell “cemetery”
  • Kitties are always cute – but try to refrain from petting the mangy ones
  • Sun is good – Sunscreen is good too
  • Sleep is good also

~La Mariposa

HAPPY ONE MONTH ABROAD!!!

(Tip of the Day: The Mama’s and Papa’s will get anyone in better spirits.)


A Home Away From Home

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,

~La Mariposa


Your Intro Tour to the Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires

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.

Date of the revolution of Argentina from Spain

Every Thursday, these women come to walk in a circle around the obelisk in a peaceful protest

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.

This is the Cats Corner of Tortoni.

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).

 

Women's Bridge

Apparently, it is supposed to represent two Tango Dancers. Do you see it?

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!)

~La Mariposa

 

Universidad De Belgrano

 

The View


Ecuador Part 1: The Journey to Quito and the Center of the Earth

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.

photo credit: Amy

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.

La Compañía de Jesús

The Exterior

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.)

photo credit: Amy

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).

photo credit: Amy

photo credit: Amy

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).

photo credit: Amy

(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.

photo credit: Amy

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.

photo credit: Amy

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.

photo credit: Amy

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.

photo credit: Amy

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).

photo credit: Amy

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.