Monday, December 31, 2012

Burning El Año Viejo

Hi, I´m not home yet so I won´t elaborate on my travels or post lots of pictures just now, but have some time this morning to devote to a post for the new year and the old year. 
I stopped in the small city of Riobamba to see a friend from here and stay with her family, etc., on my way back from Cuenca. I was going to hike up the volcano Chimborazo, but am putting it off because it´s kind of complicated and expensive to get there by myself and my friend here, Daniela, is planning on spending the day with her family, so she can´t accompany me. Also, I´m a bit travel weary and have no clean socks in which to hike. So, I guess I´ll come another time. It´s not far from Quito--about four hours by bus.
Anyway, today is the last day of 2012 and the way this is celebrated here in Ecuador is by creating and then burning a dummy made from cloth and paper called año viejo, or old year. Usually this dummy wears a mask or is an effigy of some politician, cartoon, or famous person and is on display for a while for an informal sort of competition--who can make the best effigy?--before it is set on fire as a way of forgetting the bad things that happened in the last year. My friend Danhy spent some time last night writing down some things she´s going to burn, so I decided this was much better than making resolutions, which I´ve never done seriously anyway, and sat down to write a list myself. 
The result was actually pretty short and mostly resulted in me being reminded of good things rather than bad. I regret nothing. I wish I hadn´t lost some of my possessions and I yes, I suppose there were a few things that happened that I wish I could have avoided, but it´s mostly been a good year. The only thing I can think of to burn tonight is how much I´ve worried about student loans, finances, finding a job, and all of those grown up things. I´ve spent too much time focusing on my future in the form of worrying, rather than just doing what I can and enjoying where I am and what I have.
In 2013, I am not going to get stressed about the lengthy and expensive visa process I have to undergo or about how I am going to afford a trip to Columbia so that my current visa doesn´t expire. I´m not going to let myself dwell on just how terrifying it actually is that I´m going to be here for at least a year without seeing my family or my Idaho, without knowing how much I´ll like my job or this country in the long run, and without knowing much Spanish. I´m just going to trust that everything will fall into place, because it always does. Of course, I know myself well enough to know I will still probably worry, but hey, might as well give it a shot, right? 
Oops, that was totally a New Year´s resolution. Crap. Oh well.
Happy New Year from the middle of the earth!
 My family's ano viejo.
Get behind me, 2012!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Finding a job, a glacier

I realize it´s been awhile since my last post, but the thing is that on Monday, after two interviews and a demo lesson, I got a job at Wall Street Institute (English school)! It´s a good school with a good reputation internationally and hundreds of locations should I decide, after this year´s contract is over, that I want to teach in other countries. Anyway, shortly after finding out that I got the job and will start the first week in January, I made plans to use what´s left of my money to travel just a bit before a job ties me down. 
So, I´ve been staying at a hostel in Latacunga and have gone on day trips from here to a huge, beautiful crater lake called Quilotoa and the volcano Cotopaxi, where I hiked up to 5,000 meters and walked on a glacier. The volcano itself is 5,800 meters or so at the top and requires all of the official gear like ice picks, a guide, and a midnight start. The whole experience has me wanting to start preparing to summit Cotopaxi and others before I leave Ecuador. I was so giddy about it that a Californian I met at the hostel and I almost went to Riobamba to hike up Chimborazo the day after we saw Cotopaxi, but since the hostels were booked and we only had one day, we decided to wait. And Quilotoa left me missing my backpacking gear and wanting to take a trail from there that goes to a bunch of small villages in the area.
Anyway, I´ll post in detail about the places I visited and some of the funnier experiences when I´m back in Quito. (Also, I have a camera again now, thanks to my awesome, generous family, and I will post pictures when I´m back in Quito.) But now I´m off to Cuenca for Christmas with my uncle´s family. I hope to get some exploring done around there as well.
Happy holidays, y´all. It was snowing on Cotopaxi and I walked on a glacier, so I´m still fine with not being home for Christmas, even though I do miss my family. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

I'll [not] Be Home for Christmas

I looked at the date today and realized 1) I've been in Quito one month and 2) Christmas is rapidly approaching. This will be the first time I won't be with my parents and siblings in God's Country (north Idaho) for the holidays. And, although I try to be grinch-like by criticizing the rampant consumerism and awful music that happens around this time of the year, I am usually still brimming with holiday cheer by the time Christmas break rolls around. 
I don't really understand what celebrating the birth of baby Jesus has to do with giant, glowing, inflatable reindeer in every lawn, or the differences between Papa Noel and Santa, but I do understand an appropriately-timed Christmas carol, the joy of being snowed-in, late-night family bonding, a plate (or twelve) of delicious sugary treats, and the over consumption of holiday ales. 
I'm the one in my house who stays up late decorating the tree, listening to the same Christmas music I've secretly been listening to since October, and probably drinking aforementioned holiday ales long after the dog and cat (Roxy and Diego) have retired near the fire. I don't know why--I wish I could stop it, honestly, because it's pretty embarrassing--but I guess I've always been begrudgingly sentimental and this is no exception. 
Anyway, this Christmas will be different and I'm trying to decipher how I feel about it. I am of course a little sad that I won't see snow or my family and that I'm missing the Stuvland Holiday Ale Taste Test, but I'm not actually that sad. I mean, it's hard to think about Christmas right now. Every day here is like late spring, like baseball season. How can anyone be sad when the sun is up and the birds are chirping everyday before 6am?
Not only am I not very sad, but I haven't even had the desire to listen to Christmas music or bake elaborate goodies--I did make lefse last week, but I didn't even finish it because I got distracted with something else. Now I don't have any desire to make it. I've only thought about getting people presents once, a couple days ago, when I was talking to my sister and wondered what my nephews might want. But that was just a passing thought--I haven't even acted on it yet. It's so strange--it's like Christmas can't actually happen here for me. 
I guess it will happen anyway though, so, I am planning on going to Cuenca with my aunt and uncle and their kids. Cuenca is Ecuador's third largest city and has a very famous Christmas festival. I'm excited because Cuenca is home to Incan and pre-Incan ruins, the cloud forest, and a way of life that is rumored to be much slower and more traditional than Quito. But I've not really thought of the holiday itself as much more than a chance to see Cuenca and meet some of my uncle's family. 
This lack of yuletide cheer is all very new to me, but I guess I'm thankful that I'm not super homesick right now. Maybe if I thought about it for a long time, I could get sad, but that seems silly. So I won't. I'll continue living in some weird fantasy land where I skipped Christmas or Christmas just didn't happen here or whatever. I hope my seasonal apathy won't effect me or those around me in a negative way. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Life Undocumented

Shortly before I left Idaho for the East Coast, I lost the camera my parents got me for Christmas last year. I also lost my ipod, my backpack, and a moleskin notebook—full of what I now believe were brilliant ideas for stories and poems—because I’m really quite good at losing things. The point, though, is that I’m now in one of the most beautiful countries in South America and I don’t have a camera.
This has caused me to think a lot more about something that has troubled me in the past: the difference between experiencing something beautiful or meaningful or real in that moment versus experiencing something while trying to capture it with a camera. If we rely too much on our cameras to capture life as we are living it, are we really remembering what we experience, or are we remembering something other? It’s hard because I love taking pictures, but to do so requires attention and focus on capturing an image of what I am doing or where I am instead of fully investing in that moment while I’m there. Am I capturing a memory, or am I creating a new one that I’ll remember differently whenever I encounter it?
I like taking pictures for myself, to document times, people, and places I’ve experienced. And, I like taking them to share with other people. But some of the best memories I have are of times when no one was bothering to capture what we were doing. And I think that might mean something. What happens when our cameras or phones are doing the remembering for us? What happens when we have a billion pictures of some pretty place somewhere, but we don’t even remember why we were there?  
Of course, I have pictures of some great times I’ve had too. And I don’t mean I’m happier not having a camera here, because I don’t think I am. But I’m not unhappy either. I’ve seen some great views of Quito that I’ve wanted to capture, but part of me is somehow at peace with not being able to do so. It’s more exciting and more permanent at the same time. 
I think my qualms with rampant picture taking has something to do with me being part of the Facebook/Instagram/Twitter generation. We are a generation that loves to share, and often over-share, via social networking sites or text messages. We love to feel like we are connected with other people or to feel like what we are doing matters to others. I think a small amount of this is natural and healthy; however, I think that if we are not careful, it can interfere with the way we experience real life. It can also turn into a competition of whose life looks more interesting online--but the interaction between photography and social media is a different topic for a different day. Right now, I’m talking about the interaction between photography and reality.
I read an article in the New Yorker this morning that made me think more about this. It was written by a father who has become somewhat addicted to capturing the life of his young family with his iphone. It’s actually pretty cheesy, but contains some gems like this one:
"Perhaps everyone should make a weekly ritual of twenty-four hours of undocumented life. Periods of time in which memory must do all the heavy lifting, or none of it, as it chooses, the consequences being what they may be. No phone, no eclipse glasses to mitigate the intensity of what lies before you. The only options are appetite, experience, memory, and later, if so inclined, writing it down." (Link to full article:
Do I still wish I had a camera right now? Definitely. But if and when I do get a camera again, I don't want it to interfere with my real experiences and my memories. I want to be more aware of when, how, and why I take pictures.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Food (& Poop) in Quito

You all should already realize how important food is to me because of this post: because I have a passionate relationship with food that has gotten even more serious since my broken jaw fiasco. 
Anyway, here's my take on the food in Quito so far:
Fresh fruit and veggies are everywhere--maybe a little more fruit than veggies. It costs about $4 to fill up a reuseable grocery bag with bananas, mandarines, avocados, mangos, papayas, etc, etc. from any old fruteria (and they are on pretty much every street). Also, there are fruits I'd never known about before, like guanabanas, tree tomatoes, grenadillas, taxos, etc. Tree tomatoes make the best juice ever; it's like a cross between passionfruit, tomato, and something citrusy. The others I've tried haven't knocked off my socks, but they are also good. (My god, the juice though! All of it is so good.)
As far as other food, most Quiteños eat rice and some kind of meat as well as soup and a class of juice for dinner (dinner is midday and one of these meals is usually $2.50-3.50). Locro, which is a creamy potato-vegetable soup served with cheese and avocado, is delicious, and beans and rice are always good. Llapingachos, little fried balls of potato-goodness, are pretty common here also. When I go into a restaurant and say "I'm vegetarian. What can I eat?" I usually can eat some salad or soup and some rice, corn, mote (hominy?) or something--although people seem to think by "vegetarian" I really mean "no red meat." I accidentally bought a chicken empanada the other day and had to force it onto a friend--oh, empanadas are also common. 
There are some special, traditional meats such as cuy (roasted guinea pig) and hornado (roasted pig). These are on display at mercados like El Mercado de Santa Clara, which is a happening little market not far from my house. And by on display, I mean that a whole pig, with an apple or something in its mouth, stares at you from a table. Teeth, nose hairs, etc, are all intact, reinforcing my vegetarianism. They are everywhere right now because it's Fiestas de Quito tomorrow--a celebration of the founding of Quito--and there are crazy parties happening all over the city. 
Speaking of Fiestas de Quito, I went to one of the many free concerts for the celebration last weekend and tried my first canelazo (, which was delicious. It's especially popular during the fiestas. 
I also went to La Ronda, which is the prettiest part of Quito's Old Town, during a parade. It was an accident. My friend had just wanted to take me there to show me how pretty it is at night, but we were suddenly in a swarm of people, listening and watching marching bands, dancers, and people in masks perform. Some people lit fireworks off right there in the crowded street (no one seemed to think this was dangerous but me) and everyone drank canelazo to stay warm. (I mean, it's gets down to maybe 45 degrees here at night--gotta bundle up). Which reminds me, people mostly drink instant coffee here, which is a crying shame, since it's produced in Ecuador and not expensive and, um, not disgusting? Nescafe has just done a terrific job marketing here, but real coffee is also available at legit coffeeshops and at the supermarket.
All of this talk of food has undoubtedly made you wonder how I can have regular bowel movements if all I do is eat fruit, drink juice, and slug coffee. Two words: queso fresco (I'm in love with this as well). One more word: bananas (they bind you up). 
But in all seriousness, many people have poop problems here. If you aren't careful with fresh fruit and vegetables, it's possible to get parasites (possible, not terribly common anymore) and in general I've heard expats say their BMs just aren't very normal here. But, I've been lucky so far--only a couple incidents. I've even had a little tap water to drink (don't tell my aunt). I have some friends who haven't had a problem with tap water though, so I guess you never know. I also just met some people who are doing a parasite cleanse though...
Welp, that's my food & poop update. Here are some pictures I stole from the internet, so that you would have a better idea of what I'm talking about:
Tree tomatoes!
Santa Clara
La Ronda

La Ronda at night

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Sante Fe English School

Last week in my post about my transportation difficulties here, I briefly mentioned that I was working at an English school part time. Well, let me tell you about the Sante Fe English School and how much it makes me want a real job. 
After I finally found Santa Fe, I walked in the door and spoke with the director for all of five minutes, signed a piece of paper with only my first name on it ("Cristel") and found out the times I was to work that week. It all happened so fast I didn't know what to do. They didn't ask if I had a college degree or even a high school diploma. They didn't ask anything about me once they knew I was a native speaker. The man who hired me simply said, "I will find you some work" and his secretary said, "Okay, so come on Monday to give oral examinations and then we'll give you a new schedule on Thursday for next week." 
Oral exams. Okay. So I asked for her to show me/tell me what I was to do. She said, "Oh, just come fifteen minutes early on Monday and I'll explain." 
I was there 15 minutes early on Monday and she came in about 5 minutes later and busied herself at her desk for a few minutes, ignoring me. I went up to her desk and asked her about the exam I was to give in less than 10 minutes. She handed me a sheet of paper with students names and five different categories: Fluency, Comprehension, Vocabulary, Grammar, and Pronunciation. "Grade them 1-5 in each of these categories." 
Well, okay. But the only thing I had to go by were some scribbles at the top of the paper saying they had covered "wh-questions," "there is/are," "simple present tense," and "simple future tense." No mention of what vocab they knew and no indication of what "Basic II" (which is what their language level was supposed to be) meant. 
I asked the secretary more questions and eventually she got a little sick of me I think because she found a textbook and shoved it at me and said "look at units 5-8." Alright, I was getting somewhere, except now it was time to give the exam. 
Before I went into the room, the secretary said, "remember to go easy on them." 
I introduced myself to the class to be greeted only by blank stares. I stopped and said, "Do you understand me?" They turned and whispered to each other in Spanish in response, until the class speaker said, "No. Repeat please." 
Things got better from there out, as I realized that "Basic II" probably meant beginner. But I couldn't believe that this school would just stick me into a classroom to test their students (and this was like a midterm exam, it wasn't just a quiz) without explaining hardly anything to me. And without even knowing if I knew anything about teaching English. I could have been anyone, but just because I am a native speaker I was dishing out grades to students I knew nothing about. 
The rest of the week was pretty much the same, with me giving exams to five different classes of different levels. I enjoyed working with the students though, and by Thursday the secretary knew to just give me the textbook for the class I was going to be working with as soon as I walked in the door. 
However, my troubles with Santa Fe have not ended. They were supposed to call me to tell me next week's schedule on Friday. I called them this morning and no one who speaks English was around, so I couldn't figure out my schedule. The guy I spoke with said they'd call me later. The trouble is I accidentally stole one of their textbooks and I also have not gotten paid. I wouldn't mind quitting there because I'm already sick of how much of a fiasco the whole place is, but I'd like to take the textbook back and get a few dollars for the time I worked last week. 
Anyway, all of this has made me much more keen on finding a job at a legitimate school--language school or not. I've been applying like crazy and am hoping to hear back from some places this week or next. The trick seems to be finding people who know people or checking the newspapers rather than online listings. We'll see. In the mean time, I'm doing some more writing for my uncle and memorizing Spanish vocab.