Thursday, May 30, 2013

Oh, The People You Meet

Wow, I just reread my last post on here--super depressing. Sorry about that. Gonna chalk it up to PMS and an unexpected fee for canceling a visa.
Anyway, I just returned from another beautiful, relaxing trip to Baños, the lovely touristy town at the base of a volcano and surrounded by the huge, verdant Andes. I went there to visit a friend from Idaho who's been volunteering in the jungle and now is working at a restaurant downtown. We hiked all over and drank good beer (there's a microbrewery that has IPAs there! There are no IPAs in Ecuador.) and I even saw the (active) volcano (Tungurahua), which is usually lost in the clouds. 
For some reason during this trip, I started thinking about all of the crazy, awesome, eccentric, and friendly people I've met so far while living here--many of whom I've already forgotten the names of and many who I know I'll never see or hear from again--but all of whom I've shared a lot of great experiences with. I'm going to start posting about the interesting people I meet every so often now.
Last time I went to Baños it was for Easter weekend. There is a pilgrimage every Easter weekend from Ambato to Baños, which is 45 km or so (27 miles?). Anyway, people walk all night, oftentimes with the whole family. Then, when they get to Baños, they walk up the 600+ steep steps to a statue of the Virgen to ask for forgiveness. Then they go to Mass, drink a ton of sugarcane alcohol, and are absolutely hammered in the streets for a good portion of the day. 
Anyway, I met an 18 year-old American boy who had done this pilgrimage by himself, seemingly on a whim. He knew one of my friends there so he met us for breakfast after the pilgrimage (and after he'd been pressured into drinking aguardiente with Ecuadorians in the street) and decided that yes, he'd like to hike with us around Baños. He had just walked ALL NIGHT, taken shots of probably homemade alcohol, and later confessed that he'd been struggling with diarrhea for quite some time, most likely from parasites. But, he was totally game for a hike up the Andes. We hiked all day, and since he didn't have a hostel or anything, he had all of his belongings on his back the whole time. He also was wearing sneakers full of holes and I don't think he'd changed his clothes or showered for a long time. I don't remember his name now, (Bryan or maybe Ryan), but we hiked all over and hitchhiked back down and had a great time that day. He was really fun and easily excitable and never once complained about how tired or sore he must have been. At the end of the day, since we were Couchsurfing and he had no place to stay, he joined us. (We fit four people on a single bed for the night, by the way, which I'm pretty proud of). 
That trip also resulted in two other new friends--one awesome Ecuadorian named Jorge who knows everything about hikes in the area and a crazy Frenchman named Francois, a master of Spanglish. But neither of them topped the most mature and adventuresome 18 year-old I've ever met. 
I don't seem to have a picture of his face, but here are his feet! 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Six Month Anniversary

WARNING: I talk a lot about my feelings in this post.
Today marks my sixth month as an expat here in Quito and something like my ninth month "on the run," or away from home (Idaho). This is the longest I’ve ever lived abroad, and I think the longest I’ve gone without seeing my family. It’s not really that long in the grand scheme of things I guess, but a lot can happen, a lot can change in six months. 
I revisited the ol’ culture shock curve yesterday and tried to decide what I’m currently feeling. And the truth is, I don’t know. I’d like to say I’m getting to the point where I feel pretty comfortable here—I’m mostly used to how things work and can at least get by with my basic Spanish—but at the same time, I am still very much an outsider. It really just depends on the day. 
Some days I wake up and just love my little life here and can't imagine going home. My students say something sweet and I'm reminded of how awesome it is that this country lets me be a professor; I go for a hike or just get a good view of the Andes while drinking my morning coffee; or I have a good conversation with a cab driver or some random person I wasn't expecting to bond with and I feel great about what I'm doing and where I am. 
Unfortunately, the bad days are the opposite extreme. Sometimes I wake up completely apathetic about teaching, about learning Spanish, and about Ecuador in general. I become especially sensitive to the things I dislike about the culture and I ask myself why I chose to move so far away from the people I love; I check my bank account and wonder when I'll be able to go home and consider just leaving and being jobless at my parents' house indefinitely. On these days, I'm constantly on the verge of tears and about the only thing that makes me feel sane is cleaning and re-cleaning the bathroom like an OCD version of my mother. 
Cultural curves might be a neat, clean way to look at things (and they might serve as a good reference point for people studying abroad), but when you don't know how long you'll be somewhere (with no return ticket to fall back on) and you are there trying to work and support yourself, I think it's less of a curve and more of one of those heartbeat monitors, with extreme highs and lows. Or maybe it's just life and life's not so easy to transfer over to a bar graph. 
Anyway, I don't regret coming here or doing any of the things I've been doing with my life--unfortunately, that doesn't always make it easier on the daily. Whenever I end up leaving, there will be lots of things I'll miss and there will be lots of things I will be glad to leave. I've gained new friends, very valuable work experience, and great culinary, cultural, and travel experiences. At the same time I've lost regular contact with people and I've missed some important events. I'm not sure where I found it, but at some point I wrote this quote in my journal: "Life proceeds; it enrages." Seems about right. 
Thank you all for reading and supporting this kid on the run. Here's to another six months of instability and adventure. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Nesting Update

Since my last post, I've moved out of the hostel and into a little two bedroom apartment within walking distance of my university. It's northern Quito, which has very different feel than Centro Historico (where all of the buildings were incredibly old, with cobblestone streets, a bunch of little markets and vendors, historic churches and museums, and, well, crackheads.) Here, the streets are wider, the buildings newer, and the supermarkets and strip malls plentiful. 
I'm very glad I experienced life in Centro Historico, because it is what most people would call the "real Quito," where it all started. And, it's beautiful. But, it was time to quit the hostel and move closer to my university. I was getting so tired of working nights, even though I capitalized on them by wearing my tie dyed onesie to open the door for our new guests--and didn't always remember to close the butt flap. Still, there are only so many nights you can go without real sleep. Plus, this area is significantly safer. And now I don't have to take the Ecovia (bus) for an hour and a half everyday!
Anyway, I found this apartment through an Ecuadorian woman I work with at UDLA. We randomly took a cab together and she told me she used to sell Idaho potatoes in Miami. I KNOW. Weird. Turns out her parents have apartments here and I told her I was interested and one thing led to another and now I have a purple room with a view, a roommate (Canadian friend from the hostel who works as a translator), and a kitty (rescued by my roommate a few months ago). 
I am sort of nesting, which is odd but not really. I've always been a nesting type, it's just that living in a hostel for four and a half months isn't really conducive to that. Now that I have my own space, I feel so much more settled. I am fine with living out of a suitcase, but it's harder to do so when you have a fulltime job and are staying in one place. 
But, now I have a few kitchen items, a mostly-empty dresser/closet, and most importantly, a french press. I haven't been leaving the apartment that much lately because I prefer to stay here with Chifa (the kitty) and cook or clean the bathroom repeatedly. Yesterday I even had time to go for a run before teaching! 
I know this is temporary though; I'm not nesting in Quito, really, just in my apartment. Last weekend I went to visit some friends who are volunteering at a hostel in the middle of nowhere, the village of Isinlivi. It was gorgeous and reenforced by decision to leave (I don't know where to yet) when this semester is over. 
Centro Historico

New Town

Chifa being a weirdo with me in my purple room

View of Pichincha! (There is also a rooftop, with an even better view)

On the way to Isinlivi. 
Morning hike outside of the village.

View from the hostel.
Hostel cat.
Inside the hostel.