Friday, October 23, 2009
Location: Espanola Island
Weather: Overcast in the morning and evening with lots of sun midday—pleasant
I woke this morning at 3:30 AM when I felt the rocking of the ship stop suddenly and everything went quiet. The Southern Cross was directly above my head and I watched the sky for a while. A shooting star prompted me to jostle Shannon awake, who, after a bit of incoherent muttering, rolled over and went back to sleep, so I tapped Adam's foot. He opened his eyes just in time to see a second star streak over our heads. The sky was magnificent and we stared in wonder at it for a while; however, sleep was overpowering.
Three hours later in the morning were spent hiking around the island to see the waved albatrosses, blue-footed boobies, iguanas, and, of course, sea lions. The cliffs of Espanola are all volcanic rock and as black as could be, a striking contrast to the aquamarine ocean behind them. It may be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I know my pictures can't do it justice. We took turns edging up to the very farthest rock, pretending we weren't afraid of the crashing surf and rocks, trying to out-do each other with the most risky pose, the most creative picture, the most interesting snapshot to capture of the immense beauty of the place.
Professor Melampy gave us permission to jump from the very top of the ship into the water while we were anchored. We decided it would be a memorable experience and I'm proud to say that every single member of the B.W. Group took the leap—even the Professor himself! (I have a picture to prove it.)
Heights have terrified me ever since I got stuck up in Dakota Long's tree and had to be rescued by his mother, way back in preschool. It was a traumatizing experience. But with one leap into the air, I was one step closer to overcoming that fear. There is nothing quite like a jolt of adrenaline when you're free falling 30 feet above the loveliest ocean in the world. I jumped five or six times for that thrill.
Despite the beauty of noon, clouds rolled in just as we headed out to snorkel; therefore, I opted to skip the steel-gray water. Alberto (“Cholo”), the dinghy driver, took me on a private tour of the coast while the others made their way around massive black rocks, through strong currents. I was vaguely jealous when I saw they would be able to snorkel in a cave but felt better after I watched half of them emerge from the water shaking and blue. Emily got a bloody coral scrape on her shin and had to sit (fairly) still while Alberto poured vinegar over it to disinfect it. Kyle was close to freezing and even Adam, despite his muscle, couldn't take the frigid water. I think I made the right choice in skipping today.
Fassi took us back to the island for a few free hours on the beach. Again, I say that Espanola is stunning. All the adjectives in the dictionary are not able to describe it. One of the first sights when we landed was a baby sea lion so new that it was still attached to its mother by the placenta. Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest stemmed from what he saw in the harsh habitats on the Galapagos. I simply see the islands teeming with life—not the harsher realities he saw. Tidal pools were filled with emerald algae and frequented by Sally light-foot crabs. I couldn't walk five feet without nearly squashing a marine iguana or mistaking a dozing sea lion for a rock.
We had fun messing around and enjoying the freedom of being young and carefree and in the middle of the most magical place on earth while our friends back home are freezing and in class.
But I'll try not to gloat.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
October 13, 2009
Location: Santa Fe Island
Time: 6:35 PM
Weather: Began misty and cloudy then sunny and absolutely stunning all day!!!
The. Best. Day. Ever.
We woke up at 5:30 AM to eat and tour Santa Cruz for a bit with Fossy, our Ecuadorian guide for the week. Our first stop was Los Gemelos, pit craters located on the very highest point of the island. Several theories exist to explain the random craters in the middle of nowhere: a big lava bubble could have formed and burst, leaving the hollow, rounded spaces; a lava tunnel could have collapsed; or another one which I can't seem to remember at the moment. At any rate, the two craters are enormous and covered in vegetation now. The sides are steep and nearly sheer rock. If not for a few low guide rails, it would be an easy mistake to step into the mist and tumble right over the ledges.
Next we toured Primicias Ranch. Giant tortoises roam the area in the “wild.” Did you know turtles pass gas? I bet you didn't! Their poo is also larger than my foot. I have the pictures to prove it. At the same ranch, we walked through a lava tube: a cave in the ground formed where lava flowed through a hardened crust and left an open space. It was gloriously muddy and wonderful to spelunk through.
A bit more shopping at the Port allowed Megan, Ashley Hand, and I to explore the fish market. Remember how I said that sea lions feel a sense of entitlement to everything? The pelicans do as well. We saw a whole flock of enormous pelicans along with several sea lions begging for scraps of fish and trying to steal whole ones from the fishermen. It was unbelievable. I also found a pair of black shoes I just had to buy.
These last two weeks I have been eyeing the Cuencana women's shoes. They have the capability to wear heels everywhere and if it isn't heels they're wearing, they're wearing sharp little boots or strappy sandals. I would kill for the shoes these women wear. So I finally bought a pair of black shoes. They're perfect for hiking through mud and soggy areas and positively the most hideous shoes that my feet have ever touched. My toes practically recoiled at the sight of them but they're necessary. I don't want to get my hiking boots soaked and I can't wear sandals.
Setting sail for Santa Fe was magnificent. I was so anxious to get into the sun, I was giddy. The three hour sail was enough time to get a lovely tan and take a bit of a nap. Apparently the towel wrapped around my body inspired my fellow students to drape another towel across my feet and take a picture of me as a mermaid. Thanks, guys. The waves in the open ocean were large enough to send half the group running to their cabins. Fortunately, I had no problems and remained on deck the entire day. Nate and I had fun swinging from a large beam running the length of the ship as it rocked under us. I can't even begin to describe how perfect the afternoon was. The sun was glorious and bright and hot and if I didn't know any better, I would worship it. I love the hot, hot sun but the wind whipping through my hair kept it from being overpowering. The experience of being on a ship makes me want to play Titanic (“I'm flying, Jack! I'm flying!”).
Walking at sea is a treat. I haven't acquired my sea legs quite yet, nor has the rest of the group. Several of us nearly went overboard and we did fall on each other frequently.
We arrived on Santa Fe in the mid-afternoon and immediately broke out our snorkeling gear. I plunged backward over the side of the dinghy and right into a school of tiny fish. Several brightly-colored fish were weaving among anemone-covered rocks. Near the shore, a sea lion dove into the water right next to me and Jenny. She spun around me, blowing bubbles in my face and making gurgling grunts. We took pictures of her before we were yelled at for being too far away from the group. I swam with a sea lion: a legitimate, live, wild sea lion in her natural habitat! This is better than Sea World!
I was so terribly cold after snorkeling that I couldn't stop shaking until I'd consumed four cups of hot coffee and layered fleece up to my eye balls. One of the crew members teased me about how much I shake. For those of you who've had the pleasure of seeing me in an Ohio winter know how violently I shake. I'm worried that I won't be able to stay warm enough for longer than a half-hour in the water. The Pacific is warm, but the Humboldt current sweeps icy water from the South. It's the reason why penguins are able to live on the Equator but also the reason why I wimp out of swimming here. Mama Isa has tried to stuff me with carbs in the last 10 days but I have yet to acquire the layer of blubber under my skin to keep me warm.
The crew brought us to the island before dinner to show us land iguanas and more sea lions. Each alcove had a harem of females jealously guarded by an enormous alpha male bellowing his claim over them as he patrols the coast. Quite a few pups played among the protective crown of rocks on the beach. They make me want to weep gumdrop tears, they're so adorable. They are sleek as satin when wet but velveteen fur balls once the sun reaches them. It's amazing how they can simply not care less about what you're doing. Santa Fe belongs to them and they know it.
Our dinghy ride back to the boat at sunset was punctuated by white-tipped fins protruding from the water and nervous titters. We just snorkeled in the same bay.
Food on the boat is very enjoyable so far. We still eat rice, but it's brown. We have salad. We have vegetables in olive oil—not smothered in mayonnaise. We have PASTA! Glorious spaghetti! Cake! American food! I know I'm being ethnocentric but I've had enough freaking white rice to last me a life time. No mas. Really. I mean it. Mom, please don't make rice for the entire month of December, the entire month of January, and so on. Blech.
The crew of the Golondrina seems very sweet. One of the younger ones, Randy, came up to talk to me last night as I was trying to write and I was able to carry on a conversation in Spanish—mostly.
We set sail in fifteen minutes for a seven hour sail to our next island. This is truly an adventure of a lifetime.
The fish market and the curious, brave sea lions and pelicans
A huge tortoise!
Our boat: the Golondrina
(copied from my hand-written journal)October 12, 2009
Location: Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
Time: 9:19 PM (2 hours behind Ohio)
Weather: Cloudy and rainy upon arrival—not pleasant island-ish weather
I should be exhausted. I slept one hour on the bus and one on the plane to the Galapagos. Over than that, I've had no sleep in the past two days. The bus picked us up bright and early at 2:30 AM from the Fundacion so I found no reason to try to sleep. Instead of catching a few winks at “home” then attempting to call a taxi at 2 AM, wrestle my luggage out the door, and lock the gate without waking Mama Isa and Manuel up, I opted to stay at the school overnight. Everyone chose the same fate. Narcisa was kind enough to allow it so I got quite a bit of much needed internet time in.
The four-hour ride was horrendous. I've become an excellent sleeper during bus travel because it's so long and tedious, but when everyone is grumpy and tired and about to toss the closest person over the next cliff, it's very difficult to enjoy it. Here is how our trip started:
“So,” the bus driver asked, after we all loaded onto the bus at exactly 2:30 like we were told, “where am I taking you folks?”
Narcissa to the rescue! We called her frantically and she was already on her way with her son, who accompanied us to the airport in Guayaquil. We arrived grumpy and whiny and I regret to inform you that there were many gringo fits pitched the whole way through the mountains: it was too hot, it was too cold, the time was bad to drive, the flight was late, the roads were bad, the food was bad, there was no food, etc., etc., all at a very loud volume. It's times like those when I would prefer not to associate with Americans and simply represent myself and my God, not an entire population of people known for exactly this type of behavior.
Being a good example of Christianity is difficult, I feel, when you have a wide vocabulary composed of even the offensive words. It's a bad habit of mine to swear but I feel like doing something like whining all the time would be far worse and far more offensive than flavoring my statements with a little pepper. I am definitely trying to keep a positive attitude on the trip, even when I'm exhausted, like today. I'm typically a pessimist (wonder who I got that from!) but trying to be an optimist and an encourager has made me feel a lot better when everyone else has steam pouring from their ears. Several have noticed and commented. I hope I can keep it up.
We flew into the Baltra airport on Santa Cruz (which is actually a glorified driveway with a barn for customs) and drove across the island to Puerto Ayora, where our boat is docked in Accademy Bay. The boat, the Golondrina is fairly small for the 16 of us but I've found that I am quite spaciously accommodated because of the multitude of drawers, shelves, and nooks to stash my stuff. I'm sharing a cabin with Megan Post for the week and I'm glad. She is sweet, calm, happy, and doesn't whine or gossip. (Speaking of happy, Professor Melampy is a totally different person in Ecuador: he is downright cheery! It should make the trip much more pleasant.)
I had my first full meal of fish since I was a wee youngin today. Aren't you proud of me, Daddy? I was eating my delicious lunch on the boat and remarking on how tender and delicious the chicken was when Melampy told me it was fish. But that doesn't mean I'll eat Ohio fish, Dad. You'll have to fish in the Galapagos for that to happen again.
After getting somewhat settled in our cabins, we all were ferried back to shore to visit the Darwin Research Center to see marine iguanas, land iguanas, and loads of tortoises, including Lonely George, the sole remainder of the Pinta Island turtles. It took a while for our guide to pick George out among the bushes, but we saw him! “He will not reproduce,” our tiny, wrinkly, adorable old guide told us, chuckling to himself. “He is either sterile or gay!”
Sea lions are everywhere. Their audacity exceeds that of any animal I've ever encountered, including Canadian geese, because they feel the right to take over space anywhere they please, including boardwalks, buoys, and boats—unoccupied or occupied.
We had 1 ½ hours of free time to explore Santa Cruz before dinner so we shopped in the port. It's a sadly touristy place, complete with high prices (shocking after cheap Cuenca), discotheques, and what appears to be a strip club. Lovely.
I have been musing over foods we'd like to eat since beginning the 11 hour journey to get here. We saw an Italian place and decided to honor our heritage by eating there and refuel our depleted garlic tanks (think I'm lying? You must not be Italian...). Upon discovering its dark windows, we opted for lobster instead. It was divine. No rice, no plantains, just sheer heaven. Everyone but Brittany Goetz, who joined us half-way through the meal, was about drowning in their own drool when they found out. Rice and fish for them. Bwahahaha. On the way out of the restaurant we saw a full, perfect double rainbow. Then I ate an entire bar of dark chocolate between town and the ship. It was a beautiful day.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
1. I went to a discotequa (sp?) with my cousin Leslie, Nate, Kara, Angela, and Adam. It was loud and fun but Ecuadorian men have a strong sense of entitlement to everything, including the Gringa having fun with her girl friends. There were a few unwanted dance partners and several clever maneuvers to get away from them. Don´t worry, Dad, I am not even swayed in the slightest to bring home a Latin man. I miss Trevor so much.
2. The unwated attention is not just in the club but on the street, in stores, everwhere I go. Being a gringa means carrying a reputation for being easy. (Muchas gracias, Hollywood!) It means getting whistled at, honked at, stared at, hit on, given the once over, etc., every day. I am really, really tired of it. I do not feel like I am a rude person but it makes me want to be rude. Thank God most of my clothes are baggy, or Trevors. I wear his shirt and his sweatshirt out and about. At least it also means getting into clubs for free, not paying the cover charge!
3. Today my family took me to a water park an hour away in the mountains. I will never be satisfied with Great Wolf Lodge for, what, like $30 a person? When I swam in a pool overlooking the Andes as far as the eye can see when it cost only $3.
Mas mañana, folks. La discotequa adventure ended at 2 AM. (Again, no worries. I was between a 6 ft. guy and an ex marine all night. Totally safe.
Love you all!!!
Thursday, October 8, 2009
October 7, 2009
Time: 9:22 PM
Weather: Cloudy with rain in the morning, hot in the afternoon
Yesterday I couldn't write much because of my homework load and other unforeseen circumstance.
Yesterday afternoon was the most fun I've had in Cuenca so far. About 10 of us went to the “Wunderbar,” a German-owned bar/ restaurant on Calle Larga rated high in my travel guides as being an über-trendy place to be at night. We decided to hit it up for happy hour before we had to be back at school. It's a beautiful place right on Cuenca's southern river, Tomebamba, (it has three or four surrounding the), with greenery and a lovely view. We met a 25-year old Canadian there who had decided to leave the cold of North America to live cheaply in the heart of Ecuador. Wanna know how much his rent costs living here in the city? $60. No, that isn't a typo. 6-0 dollars a month. He splits it with his Ecuadorian room mate, but he said it's just as nice as the $2,000 a month apartment he had in Canada. The guy was a bit shady and smelled of goat, however, so our general consensus was that he was into some sort of illegal business that allowed him to pay the $30,000 to get here—or else he was very rich and very lucky in the stock market business he's in.
Dancing with Pancho was hilarious. His shouts of, “Uno, dos, tres... cinco, seis, siete, BASICO!” will forever be ingrained into my mind as I dance Salsa. We danced for well over two hours and ended laughing. Leslie, Nate's sister (and my cousin) invited us to go dancing tomorrow night so I just might.
Today was okay.
I really resent Profesora Isabel (not to be confused with Mama Isabel) sometimes for pushing us so hard. I feel bad for it because she really is a nice woman, but when the other class has a paragraph of homework and our class has two full sheets of irregular verb conjugation, three chapters of Spanish literature, and a corresponding sheet of questions, I get very resentful. The most frustrating thing about learning a new language is the fact that self-expression through words is my major. I am used to having a firm handle on a language and bending it to fit my own ideas. There isn't a book I feel I can't tackle (okay, with the exception of James Joyce's Ulysses) or a paper I can't whip into shape with the help of a bit of effort and reflection. Now the language is tying me up and dragging me over the cobble-stone streets of Cuenca. Not being able to express myself orally or in writing is driving me absolutely insane. I'm too impatient (and proud) to accept the fact that I'm back to a pre-school vocabulary, relying on the pictures in my Spanish book to tell me what the story is about. After the four hour class period today, I was on the verge of a panic attack thinking about all the homework due tomorrow. A couple of the other girls saw what was happening and gave me a big hug to calm me down. You all know I've never been good at handling stress. This is no different. I'm sorry this sounds like whining but I need to get it out of my system here so I don't take it out on an unsuspecting Ecuadorian.
The girls in my class sat down this afternoon to work on the homework and we got all of the reading summarized. Two of the work sheets were not difficult—just time-consuming.
I told Mama Isa I wasn't coming home for lunch (almuerza)so we could work on our homework. We went to a corner cafeteria and got the almuerza deal. Most restaurants serve an ever-changing menu that includes soup, rice, meat, vegetables, juice, and some sort of desert for a set price. Today's special was soup with yuca (a potato-like root of the yuca plant—not yucca—which is the same as cassava, I think) and meatballs in a clear broth. The meal was fried rice with sausage, peppers, raisins (weird), onions, peas, and a fried egg laid overtop. A glass of fruit juice and sliced strawberries in syrup were also included. In America, a full meal at McDonald's costs about $5. The almuerza deal was $1.50. Amazing. I can't get over the prices. Rolls are about $.10 each and are the airiest puffs I've ever eaten. Panaderias are on every corner filling the air with a smell that practically grabs you by the collar and pulls you in.
City living is...city living. Walking to school is about 15 minutes, which is nice. I'm going to have buns of steel by the time I come home. The bad part about walking is having to cross Pumapungo, a four-lane road with a 5-second walk signal. I do not exadurate. I thought I was pretty darn good at jaywalking thanks to Bagley Road at B.W. Three days of hiking through the city has taught me that Bagley is NOTHING. Crossing roads is like playing Frogger: only the sharpest get across without getting squished. A big difference between America and Ecuador is the traffic rules. In America, you can get pulled over for any miniscule infraction. In Ecuador, you can run red lights, not use your turn signal, use stop signs like yield signs or signs that simply ignore them, run over pedestrians, go double the speed limit, drink and drive, do anything, really, without consequences. The police are few and far between and are able to be bribed with a few bucks for any given violation. We've heard many stories about bribes given to get out of arrests, impoundments, and even passport violations. So my walk to the Fundacion at 7 AM definitely wakes me up!
Mom, Dad, family, friends, don't think Ecuador is a lawless wasteland of corruption. Everyone is very nice and extremely accommodating. It's just different. :)
I love you all!!!
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Thank you all for your emails and prayers! I'm sorry I am unable to reply to everyone individually but getting adjusted takes up the entire day and I only have internet at the school. I have been going to bed every night at 9:30 or 10. Walking to and from school wears me out because of the altitude and the brain power it takes to get through the day is exhausting.
Blah, blah, blah. I shouldn't be drinking. But I was with like 13 people--totally safe. And it's totally legal. And we were only two blocks away from the school.
The bar on Las Escalinas (Just south of Calle Larga at the end of Hermano Miguel) is called Wunderbar. Owned by a German couple, it's trendy, relaxing, and incredibly expensive by Cuencano standards. By expensive, I mean beer is $3 instead of .50 cents. Still vastly cheap by American standards. We were the only ones in the bar and we took over completely. Adam bought the first round of drinks for all of us and I sent one back over to him by the end of our time there. I sat next to Nate at the bar staring at the lines of bottles stretching out like the upcoming days. Sometimes I don't know how I'll get through this trip. Other times, I am so in love with the experience I think I'll never want to leave. Maybe another few cuba libres will help me decide.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
October 5, 2009
Location: Mi casa
Weather: Cold, cloudy. Not the kind of weather I am fond of.
The first day of the Fundacion was not at all encouraging. I feel overwhelmed and stupid. The class of 7 (Shanon, Megan, Brittany, Kara, Jessica, Angela, and I) is taught by Professora Isabel, who speaks almost entirely in Spanish. It's, as I said, overwhelming to attend a class for four hours a day when I only understand every tenth word. I'm hoping I'm just freaking myself out, but we have to read 3 chapters of a book written entirely in Spanish and answer the questions for it by this Thursday. I'm very angry that we have jumped head first into conjugating verbs on the first day when the other, larger class is going over numbers and days of the week. Okay, so I sound like a whiney brat, but verbs???
Amauta wants us all back at the school by 2:45 this afternoon so we can go to a museum. I hope the information is in English. I think I may attempt to walk to the school. I'm going to have to do it some time.
Later, 8:40 PM
Today has been hard. Between feeling absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of Spanish I can't understand and the trouble it gets me into, I just feel like crying.
I didn't understand that Manuel was going to pick me up at school at 6 because I couldn't understand Mama Isa when she said so.
The Museum of the Indigenous was interesting but confusing and very, very dimly lit. Our tour guide spoke poor English, so I wound up hoping that she'd speak Spanish so at least Sara could translate for me. We saw real shrunken heads! The entire hillside behind the museum has been cut away into layers by ancient Incans. Mummies were found buried there and it was a significant place of religion for them.
Afterward, a group of about 10 of us went to get ice cream and drinks. The ice cream beats Baskin Robins hands down—and for only $.80 for a cone. The boys wanted cerveza (beer) so we went to a cute little restaurant across the street from the Cathedral Nuevo in the heart of the city. One of the girls got a mojito and I opted for a pina colada. (No, mother, I didn't even get a buzz—chill, por favor.) After, at about 6:30, I hailed a taxi and left for home. The cab driver had no idea where he was going because he was from Quito, so I, the lost American, had to give him directions. I got home at about 7 because of the traffic and the many circles we turned.
Manuel let me into the house and, after 15 minutes of translating in my English-Spanish dictionary, I realized he had gone to the school at 6 and couldn't find me and was worried. He was very, very nice about it, as Ecuadorians are, but he told me that a taxi was a bad decision. He said taxi drivers are, in general, not good people. People in the city are simply not good people. Gee, it sounds like you, Daddy! He said they were robbers and kidnappers and very dangerous. I felt so bad for misunderstanding, I started crying, which is the last thing any man wants, regardless of the country, continent, or hemisphere. Manuel looked horrified. He accepted my apologies and told me not to worry about it.
Isabel is picking up her husband. I think. I don't know when she'll be back. I don't know how I'm getting to school tomorrow. I don't know. No se. No entiendo. No, no, no.
The flower market
One of the beautiful old buildings near El Centro
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Location: Mama Isa's house
Time: 9:20 PM
Weather: Cool, not cold, very clear. Partial clouds during the day but strong sun for the majority of it, which really heated me up quickly.
I woke up this morning at 8 and had breakfast with Mama Isabel. She made a wonderful fried egg fresh from the back yard, french fries, instant coffee (blech--not what I had the first time I was here), cantaloupe, and rolls, even though I had no time to dig into the rolls because we had to be at the Fundacion Amauta at 9. We dashed out of the house, swung by Tia Olga's to pick up her and Antonia.
The Fundacion Amauta is like a very large house. I am reminded of Clara's house in The House of the Spirits because the hallways twist and turn and end in tiny rooms or nothing at all. It has a very large indoor courtyard in the center with a glass ceiling. Most houses that I've seen so far have this feature with openings at the top of the wall to let in a breeze, since Ecuador is mostly very pleasant through the year. Supposedly the rain is unable to get inside the building because the furniture is pushed right up against the walls and is unblemished. The Fundacion has a small kitchen, several tables, a computer lab (which have Spanish keyboards that require you to press “control” “alt” and “2” to type the @ sign—very confusing), and several tiny offices and class rooms. A lounge area upstairs is filled with couches and sunshine. Too bad B.W.'s sterile classrooms don't show as much artistic inspiration.
Our walking tour of the city was all in Spanish so most of it was lost on me. We walked to the New Cathedral and saw the Old Cathedral across the street. It is the oldest church and was the tallest building in Cuenca when it was built in 1559! The New Cathedral is massive. Think the National Cathedral in D.C., but bigger. The alter is gold, the building mostly pink Italian marble. It also houses the famous of Cuenca: mayors, powerful people, and poets underneath the tiled floors in catacombs.
Outside the Cathedral is an explosion of color. A flower market selling everything from Calla lilies to roses to Birds of Paradise to daisies. I've never seen so many flowers in one place. All are very cheap and very beautiful, being sold by women wearing traditional garb. Close by is Cuenca's cheapest market place and center for artists. Everyone: expect gifts from San Fransisco Market this Christmas.
We at lunch at Tia Eulalia's (or “Tia Lalita” for those of us who are unable to pronounce her proper name properly) house. Sunday lunches are a family affair, I suppose. Lalita's son Jose II, his wife, his two children (one baby boy named Jose III and a little girl whose name I can't remember), Abuelo Jose (I), and several cousins came to lunch. One of the cousins, Adrian (I think) is married to the only black person I've seen in Cuenca, Letti. All are very nice. Abuelo Jose is one of those darling old men I just want to snuggle up to and listen to his stories of the past. He is absolutely adorable.
For lunch, we had cool potato soup (delicious), roast pork chunks, mashed potatoes, rice, corn kernels, salad with peas, white wine (“Salud!”), and lots of ahi. Ahi makes even the rice delicious. I ate more than I could have ever thought possible. Then we had dessert it was a yellow cake with a course texture and what seemed like pudding seeping from it and sweet, creamy fluff on top. It was very cold, as well. I'm not quite sure what it was, but it was divine.
A topic of conversation was about how Americans want hamburgers and french fries and Coca-Cola all the time and that most don't like to try Ecuadorian food. We, I think, are the exception. The only thing I've tried and disliked so far is the bananas we ate at the Macaw Hotel in Guayaquil. A banana is still a banana, no matter what country. Blech.
We all talked in the living room for a while until our brains hurt from concentrating too hard on deciphering what our families were saying. Nate's room was a blessed escape from the steady stream of Spanish. Nothing is as frustrating as hearing your name come up in conversation or have someone ask you a question and have absolutely, positively no idea what is being said.
I often think, conceitedly, that because I am an English major, I have a better handle of the English language than most of my peers, and that my verbal communication skills are above average. All it took was two days of not understanding a single thing to realize how lost I am in another language. Latin was great in assisting my SAT score, but its practical abilities were lost since the Catholic church switched to English.
Mama Isa and Tia Olga took Antonia and I to walk the route to the school from my house. It's quite simple, really, and it only took 15 minutes at a normal/slow pace. Go up the hill of Cacique Chaparra, turn left at the top of the hill, make an immediate right onto Calle Larga and follow that until you hit Hermano Miguel. Presto! You're on the road of the school. Calle Larga is the street for bars, discotheques, restaurants, and large houses. The street before Hermano Miguel is called Bakers' Street because of the many panederias (bakeries) on it. We stopped at one on the way back from the Fundacion and peered inside the huge brick oven, still warm from the day's baking. Mama Isa bought about 8 rolls with cheese for under a dollar. Quite a few delicious-looking cookies were calling my name in the glass case near the front of the store. Since it is on the way to school, I just might have to stop in every now and then. You can't beat the price!
The four of us plus my cousin Maria and one of Tia Olga's granddaughters attended mass in a good sized church in town. Catholicism is a totally different beast than the evangelical church I am used to. Basically, I played follow the leader the entire hour: stand up, sit down, cross yourself, stand up again, repeat after the priest, kneel, cross yourself, repeat. I spent the time attempting to comprehend the Spanish story of woman's creation written in the bulletin.
Mama Isabel and I had a dinner or beef with tomato and onion (very strong—not my favorite) and rice for supper. The silence was very awkward until I began to ask for the names of objects in Spanish: tenador, cuchilla, plato, mesa, puerto, vaso, ventana, basurra, etc., etc. I helped her wash dishes and immediately went to bed.
Bed time has been around 10:00 every night. I must be getting old.
Monday, October 5, 2009
At the Scarlet Macaw, Guayaquil
Nate and Mark getting their beauty sleep on the plane
My last night at home
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Location: Paseo de los Canaris y Cacique de Chaparra, Casa del Vincente Jerves y Isabel Cordova, Cuenca, Ecuador
Time: 11:23 PM, Central
Weather: Quite cool.
If I expect to be eased into Ecuadorian culture like I was eased into college life--taking a few credits at a time until I worked my way up to a full course load after I graduated from high school--I was wrong.
“¿Habla Espanol?” my host mother asked, after we'd kissed hola on the street in front of the Fundacion Amauta.
“Me Espanol is...muy...malo. Lo siento. ¿Habla Engles?”
We both laughed and laughed, probably with thoughts of “My God! How am I going to communicate for 10 weeks???” and “Mi Dios! Todos los Americanos son estupidos!” (or whatever it would be in proper Spanish).
Mama Isabel is wonderfully friendly. If we can't communicate verbally, we'll at least get by with smiles, gestures, and trial and error. She introduced my to Antonia's mother and Nate's mother. As it turns out, Isabel, Olga, and Eulalia are three sisters out of the 14 (!!!) Cordera children.
Mama Isabel lived with her husband, Vincente Jerves and her brother Manuel in a large house on Cacique Chaparra in the Eastern Side of Cuenca. So far I have seen Tio Manuel for a whole five minutes and Papa Vincente not at all. I tried to ask where he was but was unable to understand the answer I received. My room is good sized, complete with a set of drawers and a closet, a large desk, a queen-sized bed, and a tv. The wall facing the street is a solid window with a bit of a balcony outside. I am too afraid of heights to attempt exiting my window because the railing is so tiny. Maybe later.
The first thing I noticed when Mama Isabel pulled into the driveway (through a large gate that is continually locked) was a brick-red feather and a pile of fecal matter that looked suspiciously like something I see every day at my own home. I turned the corner and saw a Red Star putzing about the yard. Several more—and a large Leghorn rooster were further back. I cannot escape chickens, no matter how hard I try.
We all ate lunch at Tia Olga's house: chicken soup (green, unusual, but muy, muy delicioso), roast chicken, salad, french fries, corn kernels which looked like garlic cloves they were so enormous, and—of course—rice. All of it is livened up with ahi, a red sauce made from chilies. I can tell you that without a doubt, it is my favorite condiment on this continent. It livens up even the driest, blandest white rice.
Eulalia's daughter, Leslie, who is 21, took Antonia, Nate, and I on a tour of the city. It. Is. Beautiful. Crazy, of course, with the driving verging on the edge of suicidal and the pedestrians crossing wherever they choose and the one-way streets winding in and out of lights and parking lots and median sections. (Ayiyiyiyi.) She drove us to a corner store where she bought us the first legal drinks of Nate's and my life. The legal drinking age here is 18, so I don't feel guilty about being accepted into Leslie's fold with a bottle of Guayaquil's finest beer, Pelsener. Legal or not, beer is still revolting and I couldn't even finish the bottle.
We drove up a mountain until we came to a place where the entire city lay below us, like a cat curled up in the late afternoon sun. Cuenca means "basin" in Spanish and from there, it was clear why. The entire city is nestled in a hollow of the blueplumb Andes, its rooftops winking orange in the coming sunset. I already knew that Ecuador was the most beautiful place I'd ever seen but that panorama set it in stone. Of course I forgot my camera.
Later, we went with Leslie's friend Pamela to get ice cream on one of the more populous roads in Cuenca. I got Dulce de Leche flavor (I think) for a mere $.80. That's what I call a good deal. Outside the Heladria, we ran into several more of Leslie's friends: three self-proclaimed caballeros who were very fun and very funny and very, very full of machismo. All of the girls had been warned that Latin men were in love with the thrill of the chase—especially when it came to American girls. Did I expect to come face to face with that during my first three hours in Cuenca? Not necessarily. The one boy (man, I suppose) who called himself “The Robot,” or “The Terminator,” or something else automaton-ish told Leslie in hushed Spanish that he liked me and to stay a while to hang out with them.
“My novio would not be pleased,” I warned.
He replied, Leslie translating, “So? You can have two boyfriends. He's not here, is he? You need an Ecuadorian cowboy.”
“I prefer military men.”
“Ah! Good luck! My uncle is—” (shmuckety shmuck) “—of the Ecuadorian military!”
Latin men. It is apparent that the amount of machismo in Ecuador is overwhelming, despite the outward appearance of modernity in the lives of the wealthy. Pamela told me that she did not trust her boyfriend at all, even though they had been dating for five years. I think it is generally accepted that the men can “enjoy life,” as Fernando told me. Women, on the other hand, seem stuck in the woman's sphere of the home life and its responsibilities. Fernando explained the loose actions of those in relationships by saying that one should enjoy life—not let opportunities pass you by just because you're in a relationship. He said that women were treated like roses in Ecuador. Once in a marriage, the man would stop his flirtations and cheating and become monogamous. He said that if you couldn't be monogamous in a relationship, you shouldn't get married. If you weren't ready to be that way, you shouldn't get married. How different from the United States!
The Cuencanos all agreed that I looked like a Cuencana, an Ecuadorian native of the sierra. That made me feel very, very good. The more I can blend in, the easier my time here will be. Sadly, I'm finding that the only way I can blend in is by not opening my mouth.
The group wanted us to go out and party for a good portion of the night, but I made it very clear that I was “muy, muy consada” and wanted to be home at a decent hour. Leslie dropped Antonia and me off at Tia Olga's house because Mama Isabel was at an internet cafe (I think) and was to pick me up later. She and her daughter Maria cooked us “pasta y queso” —macaroni and cheese, straight from the blue Kraft box, for our light dinner. They added bits of chicken left over from our lunch and a dash of parsley to liven it up.
Mama Isabel picked me up and brought me home, where I have unpacked the majority of my suitcase, written a bit, and now plan on going to bed. Maybe I have jet lag, but more so, I feel like my brain is working in overdrive. It's only about 8 but this bed is deliciously comfortable and I'll be asleep in no time.