The (k)Night Bus: wk. 10

My time in Quito has come to an end. In ten hours, I’ll get on a bus for nine hours and travel south, down three hundred miles of the Panamericana highway. I only wish it were during the day, because the Andean scenery is incredible.

11_1 Ecuador Map

Quito is indicated with a blue arrow, Cuenca with red. Ecuador is only as big as Colorado, but the mountains make for long bus rides.

ISP time is upon us, and at last I’ve sorted out my life, at least for the next four weeks! I’ll be studying urban agriculture in Cuenca, living with a host family, making the acquaintances of engineers and agriculturalists and activists. I’ll be working under the auspices of the municipal (autonomous, decentralized) government – which, frankly, I feel more comfortable with than branches led by El Presidente, who recently challenged another legislator to a fistfight. I won’t name him because he seems to google himself on the daily to find out who’s criticizing – then calls them out in his weekly address to the nation. It’s the quickest path to fame I’ve seen around here.

Back to Cuenca. The two of us with projects there would have left at the crack of the crack of dawn this morning, but then it turned out that that bus didn’t exist. As we are often reminded, nothing goes according to plan in Ecuador. Thankfully, we discovered this detail the night before, saving ourselves a trip to the station. So now we’re on a night bus (service for the stranded witch or wizard) and headed on to the next adventure.

This last week has been exclusively focused on pinning down requirements and logistics for the ISP (Independent Study Project), and there’s been a lot of high blood pressure going around – between students, who decide their topic/destination and fill out paperwork about it, and program directors, who help us arrange everything. Ours is a small group, which makes things easier – I can only imagine going through the process with fifteen people.

Back at the house, all of my belongings have been crammed into two backpacks and a suitcase. The windows are shut, the bed is made, locks are on the luggage, money is stuffed into my socks and the contents of my smaller backpack are meticulously layered in order of priority. I’m always amazed by the way my possessions seem to multiply when it comes time to pack them up. It happens in college dorm rooms, but I wasn’t expecting it here; after all, I am but a humble student, traveling with a week’s worth of clothes and a few necessities. I should be able to whip it all together in an hour or two.

Not so. After 24 hours of sporadic effort, it’s all ready. I’ll arrive in Cuenca early tomorrow, with circles under my eyes and a new pair of hand warmers (courtesy of my fabulous travel buddy, who knits in her free time). Then we’ll embark on our separate adventures.

10:19 Doki&Beto

I hope my next family has dogs.

La vida desde arriba

Esta entrada de blog le dedico a Maura, la doña responsable por mi falta de acento gringo, que me dijo que escribiera algo en español para subir aquí.

Hoy subimos en el teleférico, después de un incidente con un taxista pendejo que nos dejó media milla debajo de nuestra destinación (en una montaña, a 10,000 pies de altura) cuando demandamos que usara el taxímetro. Espero que sus próximos pasajeros sean tan malcriados como él, y que nieguen de pagarle. Respirando como caballos agotados, alcanzamos la caseta de venta de boletos y subimos en una góndola.

La vista (un poquito borrosa) de la gondola hacia Quito

La vista (un poquito borrosa) de la gondola hacia Quito

Desde la cumbre de la montaña/el volcán Pichincha se ve la ciudad entera de Quito, tendida entre la cordillera oriental y la cordillera occidental de los Andes. Es una vista impresionante que me dejó sin aliento. Igual de increíble es la vista en la otra dirección, hacia el acantilado rocoso que sobresale de la cima de Pichincha. Éste es lo que veo cada día en el camino de la escuela al bus. Decidí durante me primera semana en Quito que amo la Pichincha, y por eso mis obras favoritas de Guayasamín son sus retratos de ella.

Encima de Pichincha, mirando hacia el sur

Encima de Pichincha, mirando hacia el sur

Tomo esta oportunidad para hacer una reflexioncita en mi vida ecuatoriana. Me encuentro ahora en un estado de pre-transición; en una semana, me voy a una destinación deconocida (tal vez Cuenca) para estudiar un tema no decidido. No es una etapa fácil del semestre, y por lo tanto gasto más y más tiempo mirando videos en el internet. También, la semana que viene será nuestra última en Quito, y quiero pasarla visitando todos mis lugares favoritos: Cafelibro, la Liebre, Cine Ocho y Medio, la Carolina y tal vez La Ronda.

El páramo me captó el corazon!

El páramo me captó el corazon!

Es interesante llegar a este punto en el semestre y darse cuenta de que amo a Quito más que nunca, y que verdaderamente estoy en el proceso de hacerse un “ser intercultural,” como dice nuestro director de programa. Tal vez esta consciencia de que verdaderamente he cambiado es un efecto no-entendido de irse en el Teleférico y ver tantos gringos en el cumbre de Pichincha, e imaginar cómo debe ser su experiencia del país. Yo también soy gringa, pero gracias a varios factores he tenido la oportunidad de sumergirme intensamente en la vida ecuatoriana; tengo una premonición de que no reconoceré cuánto he internalizado costumbres ecuatorianas hasta que vuelvo a los EE.UU. y me encuentro extranjera.

La cumbre sublime de Pichincha, al oeste

La cumbre sublime de Pichincha, al oeste


The Mighty Jungle: Ecuador wks. 7-8

10:19 CacaoTree

Cacao tree, with red unripe pods. Can be split open to nibble the fruit around the beans, which has a zesty flavor.

“It’s the second day in the Amazon and I’m using bug spray as deodorant.” -Anonymous

As usual with excursions, there’s too much to cover in one post. It was a gastronomic adventure, very different from anything I’ve experienced thus far: I ate the fruit of cacao, chirimoya, guava and guavilla, crunched on baked ants the size of bumblebees, and ingested rice beyond belief. It was on this trip that I finally understood – rice is a way of life. It has become part of my spirit, my essence. At breakfast, lunch and dinner, an unvarying mountain of it would appear on my plate. I became an expert at ratios: how much rice I should eat for every one bean, every bite of plantain, every sliver of egg, so no food would outlast any other. The more I ate, the more my powers of eating grew, until I could plow through everything with no problem. It helped that our host mother was a very good cook.

Plantain grove

Plantain grove

I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel misplaced. The life and the people were quite different from anything I’ve ever experienced, and we stayed around the house all day (since there were no classes). It’s not a place where tall white girls show up as a matter of course, so we were something of an oddity. Things could be stilted at times, and I also felt a little guilty that we were sleeping in two of the house’s three rooms.

10:19 B&W treeofLife

This tree has such charisma. Think Avatar, but full of tiny monkeys.

That said, experience was utterly unique, and undoubtedly good practice for the final project. A little context: this trip is essentially a practice run for the final month of the program, in which everyone conducts independent research all over Ecuador. For now, students were paired off to stay with Amazonian families and learn about the host culture, documenting everything in a work journal. Fantastic experiences included using a machete to clear brush on the family’s plantain farm, seeing a group of squirrel-sized monkeys darting around in a tree, and sitting in a hammock with three giggling children piled on top of me. My rain boots also earned their credentials during a long, squelchy hike along an Amazonian mountainside. The mud was so deep, I almost lost my left boot. It took two of us to heave it out.

After a week, we regrouped in a hostel, where I made the acquaintances of several sassy macaws, planted a mahogany tree and swam in the rainwater pool. In the daytime, we visited a nearby cooperative that makes The Best Chocolate In The World, and got instantly intoxicated by the smell of roasting cacao beans. The cooperative uses only non-GMO chocolate; the modified version, “CCN-51,” is bigger and more disease resistant, but tastes like hooey. Most chocolate companies mix the two, or add flavoring to disguise the rankness of the GMO flavor. There are no words for corruption like that.

10:14 BlueMacawI bought several bricks of the raw ground-up nibs, possibly even more than I can give away – it’s completely unsweetened, but still ambrosia. With luck, it will last me until my senior exams, when I predict I will be eating it by the pound. Stronger than coffee and better for the soul.