Micah: Unmitigated

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Archive for July, 2010

I Me Mine

Monday, July 26th, 2010

I had a decent weekend. Plans changed, but for the better. Everything seems to be coming up Micah.

The island tour trip thing got cancelled due to a lack of people. So I spent 2 days on the beach, sculpting sand humans and catching my first sunset. My sand creations drew some attention, with passing locals stopping to make additions. One little girl either asked if it was a young boy or said that I was acting like a child. I couldn’t really understand.

Brother, can you spare two dimes?

Brother, can you spare two dimes?

Sunday, I was supposed to move in with one of the professors, but upon my arrival, he informed me that plans had changed. He had an unexpected guest coming this week and recommended a hostal. I opted for my former home on the other side of the tracks and they welcomed me back with open arms. I didn’t really want to live with the guy anyways and was just being polite, so I was feliz with the turn of events.

I have a new Spanish teacher this week, another young attractive female to try and make laugh. She speaks a little bit of English, which has helped. The next step in my training is verb definitions and conjugation.
Ex:   gastar = to spend
Yo gasto largo tiempo en casinos.¨
or
Mi padre gasta su ultimo dollar en cerveza.

I am developing the knowledge base for proper sentence forming, I so greatly desire. English was always my worst subject, so I have to remind myself about pronouns, possessive pronouns, “to be” verbs, adverbs, and adjectives.
Ex: ¨To be¨Verbs = Verbo Ser
I am = Yo soy
You are = Tu eres
He/She/It is = El/Ella/Esto es
We are = Nosotros somos
Y’all are = Vosotros sois
They are = Ellos son

Those are only for permanent characteristics like “El Papa es Catolico” and “Yo soy pobre“. That is all I will bore you with now, maybe more next time.

Today, I had more fun learning verbs, this time the irregular ones. We are now actually able to have simple conversations about family and food. I even attempted to explain to her the difference between Catholics and Lutherans, in Español. I think I got a few of the key points out, empahasizing that we are the ones going to Heaven.

After class, the clouds parted for the clearest sky I have seen in 2 weeks. A new guy in school and I hit the sand and enjoyed possibly the best beach conditions I have seen in South America. Almost makes me want to stay for another week of class. The new guy also happens to have Portland roots: He grew up in Florence (OR), went to Gonzaga, and then taught theology at Jesuit High School for a couple years. He is just the 2nd person I have met with Portland ties. In Quilotoa, I crossed paths with a girl wearing a “Kell’s” shirt who had lived in PDX for a short period of time.

Now, I must leave this free internet and begin the walk back to the bad side of town, where I belong. Tres días de clases restantes, luego regresé a la pista gringo.

E = 82

Apartment Story

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

It has all been bueno. With 4 days down, I feel like I am learning a lot and eating a lot. I even caught a glimpse of the sun the other day.

School: It is small, with only about 10 students throughout the day. We have cubicle like spaces where we sit across a table from or tutor. The 1-on-1 sessions have not been as boring as I thought. The teacher guides me through a lesson book, while I copy down what she points to. If I get stuck, she encourages me by saying that 7 year olds learn this stuff quicker than I do.

My mind often wanders during the 4th hour, but I power through. Wednesday night, I did homework for the first time in 9 years. It is fun to write grammatically correct sentences and be able to attempt humor. Some vocabulary still requires a dictionary despite my teachers drawings and charade like motions. I believe, or at least hope, that some of it has found space in my brain to be recalled.

Eating: I am on somewhat of a dairy binge, with a large pot of chorizo potato chowder, a grande batch of spaghetti with a tomato cream cheese sauce, and cereal every morning. I also feel the need to consume everything I purchased, so now it is a race against the clock to finish a dozen eggs in 36 hours. (I am considering “Cool Hand Luke” style.) Throw in a lack of exercise, and I should gain at least 5 pounds by the end of the week.

Other Stuff: I hit the beach one afternoon when I saw a break in the clouds. But mostly I just relax on the couch, read guide books, study Spanish, and watch movies. Yep, despite the noise from nightly fiestas and fireworks, apartment life is treating me well.

a typical afternoon

a typical afternoon

The school also offers tours (not free) to nearby spots. I signed up for a trip to a nearby island that includes whale watching. Should be fun, but expensive.

One way I allow myself these kinds of expenditures, I call “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Method” or Bat’em. During one of the brilliantly written scenes in the movie, B & T are in a bit of a pickle and need a diversion. They agree, in their own unique dialogue, to sometime in the future use their time machine to go back before that moment, and setup a tape recorder. Then, by the magic of time travel, their distraction is in place and (spoiler alert) they free the historic prisoners and pass the class.

Now, the way the Bat’em method works for me is this: I tell myself, if I spend just $15 a day for the rest of the trip, I have extra cash now. And then, by the magic of ignorance, I have enough money to go on tours.

(Alternate names for the method: “Serenity Now, Poverty Later” or “Living At Your Parent’s House Until You’re 50”.)

For the last week of class, I will move in with one of the professors for $5 a night. It is a small, empty, 2 bedroom apartment, about a 15 minute walk away. A good step toward successfully completing the Bat’em. Plus, I need the exercise. I enjoy cooking, but I can’t continue to eat this much. Every meal I seem to invoke a food version of the Bat’em. (It is dangerous when abused, please use with caution.)

This weekend, I hope for some sun and look forward to sleeping in. Yo se lo ha ganado

The Captive Mind

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

I arrived in Manta on Thursday, getting my feet in salt water for the first time in over 2 months. The familiar Pacific Ocean littered with fishing vessels was just 4 blocks from my dirt cheap hostal. Few people actually swim at Tarqui beach, on the working class side of town. It’s mostly used for the fish market, traditional boat building, and driving on the sand to cheap seafood restaurants.

Better than my proximity to the beach, was living near the epicenter of the town’s market action. Early every morning, I could just look out my window and see the usual stands setting up and buses rolling by. All very real and non-touristy. During my 4 days staying in that section of town, I saw 1 gringo.

Bonus: That first night, I sampled empanadas from 3 different carts. Each one was 30 cents a piece, cooked in a pot filled with oil, and served with a garlic mayo condiment.

Friday: I walked 30 minutes across town, to the main beach “Playa Murciélago”. Very wide, flat, and crowded in the center. Low tide in the early afternoon results in a near 40 meter gap from water to soft sand. So, I sat on the wet matted down stuff, hoping for sun breaks and occasionally frolicking in the waves.

Saturday: I finally got to the purpose of my visit to Manta, checking out the Spanish school. The original plan was to do that Friday, but did not previously obtain the address. So, with coordinates in hand, I walked in search of “Academia Surpacifico”.

Up the hill, in a nice neighborhood, and at the intersection of 2 busy streets, it is close to things. I rang the bell of the office building and was greeted by a man crashing in the 4 bedroom student apartment on the 4th floor. The school is on the 3rd floor making for an easy commute, plus there is Wifi, ocean views (12 blocks away), and access to the rooftop patio. The fully furnished apartment with kitchen was one of my main selling points, and it was better than expected.

With no staff around due to it being the weekend, I just gathered info and planned to call Monday morning. Then walked downhill to the beach to waste the day away. With a grande cerveza in hand, I sat on a small dune, keeping a safe distance from the surrounding lip-locked couples.

sitting on the soft stuff

sitting on the soft stuff

Sunday: I strolled down to the fishing beach. Normally an early morning show, I was lucky to see a small boat unloading it’s catch, one crate at a time. That alone is interesting, but add in about 100 hungry osprey and sea gulls, and you got yourself an amazing sight. The men shuttling between the boat and dump truck have sticks but never use them. They seem to acknowledge the symbiotic relationship they have with the sea birds or are just tired from years of trying to fight back.

the operation

the operation

The fish are mostly small, but often a bird grabs a large one and is unable to hold on while being chased by friends. These fish fall to the sand, are picked up, and then dropped again multiple times. Before one of them shows he has the chops to swallow the meal. I, along with a few Ecuadorian families, was highly entertained and took numerous photos.

a pick up

a pick up

Breaking my attention from the fish mongers, was a religeous service taking place a little farther down the sand. They began to march my direction, before turning toward the water and getting wet. Not all worshipers joined, it was mostly just a crew carrying elaboratly dressed manequins on wooden platforms. They ventured out to waist height, then walked back the other way, parralleling the beach.

interesting church service

interesting church service

All the while, the sand standers walked with them and sang “Alabare”. There was also splashing involved, but I’m uncertain if it was meant to douse the manequins or the holders.

Monday: Made a phone call and arranged to start class on Tuesday. Settled in to my new lodgings and went grocery shopping. Buying for only a few days was difficult but still fun. (I can only sleep here for 6 nights because it is fully booked for next week.) I made a chorizo and potato chowder that should last me a few days. If I get bored over the next couple days, I may do a food post with recipe.

Other food purchases: I plan to make a spaghetti with chorizo later and daily cereal with bananas (no chorizo). I can’t satisfy all of my cooking desires in the short time frame, but this menu should help me pack on a few pounds.

About school: Plan is to do 4 hrs a day of 1-on-1 for 2 weeks. 6 days in apartment, then either hotel or homestay. Currently have one roomate, a female from Philly, who is studying medical Spanish.

Tuesday: Class from 8:30 am to 12:30, with break and free milkshake. Teacher is a female who doesn’t speak English and is with child. Very kind and patient but tough to fully understand all vocabulary by way of drawn definitions. I began learning masculine and femanine forms of stuff and proper use of “el”, “la”, “los”, and “las”. Also did plural forms. I am hoping I can get her to devote a day to casino lingo.

Right now: The weather is comfortable, but not ideal for swimming. I am content with lying on the couch, listening to Beethoven, and punching keys on my Ipod. It’s as close to home as I will get for a while, free from the everyday stress of traveling. Hopefully, I come out of this break with a reenergized body and a bilingual tongue. Y yo pensaba que estaba demasiado fresco para la escuela.

E = 79

Go West

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Coming to you live from Guayaquil: This is not the prettiest of big cities, but it satisfies a few of my current needs. The street market is loaded with cheap electronics and the food market is loaded with cheap fish. It feels good to be back near sea level and to wear shorts again. Plus, empanadas are so abundant, they can be used as a form of currency.

Getting here was a long 7 hours of bus trips through rain and fog. It was fun to watch the scenery change to tropical, with flat land and large banana plantations. At one point, the driver blasted an unedited version of Eminem’s song “Without Me” for all ears to hear. I like to think that since it is in a foreign language, to them it sounds beautiful, like opera to us. Maybe some Ecuadorians think he is holding back tears while talking about love and women, and how his heart feels everytime his wife touches his hand. Or, is all of the opera I have listened actually vulgar and obscene. I vote for us all just listening in ignorant bliss.

Being Ecuadors largest city, the bus station here is enormous. In an attempt to get a cheap ride to the city center, I observed the 100+ route city bus system for about 30 minutes, but was unable to crack the code. With the sun setting, I opted for a $4 cab ride to a known hotel but walked to a cheaper hostal a block away.

The main drawback of this city is the cost of accommodations. My first night was $10 for a decent room. Walking the streets later, I saw a sign adverstising $6 rooms and decided to make the switch the next morning. Upon my arrival, they informed me that the cheapest room was $11 and that the sign was incorrect. So, I wandered the downtown streets some more and settled for another $10 place. It is not as nice as the first, but they might be doing my laundry for free. I was directed up, past the unfinished 3rd and 4th floors currently used to contain dogs, to a sink with a scrub brush. With the going rate only about $3 a load, I figured I would just take it to a shop, but the owner said that she found someone who would do it for me, and I handed my bag to a young lady.

Monday: After all of the the hostal switching fun, I hit the market for a delightful lunch. First, a bowl of some fish soup that was nice and thick. Then, a plate of rice with shrimp ceviche and a cup of juice. All fresh, tasty, and only $1.50.

Satisfied, I strolled the Bahia Street Market to hunt for bargains. Purchased some rechargeable batteries and got numerous wide ranging quotes for an 8gb USB storage device. I had one guy down to $21, but he was unable to locate the desired product in his storeroom. So, I went through again today, ready to haggle, and I think came away better off. I picked up a 16GB Kingston for $24, and so far it appears to work.  Hopefully, I am now done with all necessary electronics purchases.

The cleanest part of the city is their “Malecon 2000”, a long riverfront promenade. There are many shops and restaurants, but mostly just a nice boardwalk passing by a small zoo and a natural history museum. I followed it the whole length and climbed the stairs through the  historic neighborhoods on the hill. At the top, a tourist lighthouse with good views of the city and river.

view through the rain

view through the rain

Even strolling the dirty areas of the city, I kind of like this place. I like it when local action is going on all around me and for the most part, I am left alone. I like that they have a city park filled with free roaming large Iguanas and a turtle pond.

Iguana

Iguana

I think it is cool that for protection in the park, they just have 2 rangers armed with what look like tranquilizer shotguns. I enjoyed hanging out at the local empanada stands along their main commerce thoroughfare. A group of university students chatted me up in English, the best they could, with one girl calling the stand owner mom, while the owner called the girl crazy.

Today: Another market lunch, watched the Iguanas explore the park space some more, and made my daring though possibly stupid purchase.

Tonight: More empanadas and, now that I got my long pants back from the laundry, possibly some casino fun.

Tomorrow: Heading farther west, I hear life is peaceful there in the open air.  Though I feel like I haven’t been doing all that much over the past week, I think the beach will be good for me. No commitment yet on the Spanish school, I want to check out the city first and didn’t feel right about making a down payment online. Also, just found out that one of my favorite bands, “James”, will be doing their once a decade stop in Portland this October. That will be tough to miss. Animo a todos a ir a verlos.

E = 64

Eruption

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

It is an amazing sight. From the abbreviated summit of the 16,500 ft high Volcan Tungruhua, a dark gray smoke billows into the sky and trails off into the distance. It is entertaining, it is humbling, it is momentary.

I caught my first glimpse on Monday, after a short hike with the American I met in Quilotoa (I’ll call him Guy) and a girl from Seattle we met on the old dusty trail. (She’s a former Underdog Sports participant, of the minigolf variety.) We sat at Bellavista for over an hour, talking and staring at the peak. Girl said it was the most action she had seen from the volcano during her 4 day stay.

blowing off some steam

blowing off some steam

Back in town, Guy and I parted ways with Girl, checked out a hanging bridge over Rio Pastaza, and tried some Curry Vindaloo at the local gringo joint. The curry with bananas was ok, but the roaming local band that stopped in to entertain us was better.

Guy headed off to Quito and a flight home the next day. It was good to talk with someone in my same age group and of similar interests. He studied Math in college as well and recently fell into a 6th grade Math teaching job in Nashville. Not his desired position after getting a Doctorate in Archeology, he is like me, still looking to get on a path.

Tuesday and Wednesday both revolved around World Cup soccer matches. Market lunches, short hikes, TV, and fast food dinners filled the hours.

Thursday: With no International sporting events on the magical picture box, I was free to roam the hills and try to get closer to the action. I wandered through the small farming village of Runtún and stumbled upon a viewpoint known as “La Casa del Arbol”. As the name implies, the property contains a tree house but more importantly a swing. I do love swings.

me on swing

me on swing

Clouds blocked views of the Volcano, but there was a 30 second window which was timed nicely with an exhale from the rock. A rumble was also heard and felt, reminding me of it’s proximity.

The highlight though was meeting the 3 American women who strolled up to the vista after their bus broke-down. A mother/daughter pair from Memphis and a friend from Atlanta. They arrived with the owner who upset them with his foul odor, firm hugs during photos, and free beer (they prefer cocktails). I showed my pics from the swing and convinced most of them it was safe. Then, I was handed cameras and given artistic freedom while they nervously relived their childhood.

With darkness looming, I joined them in the jaunt along the gravel roads back toward town. They were staying in a sweet hotel on the hill above Baños with the best views around. Finding it was a bit tricky though and required help from locals and a trusting walk down a dirt trail. I enjoyed listening to the teasing that can only be shared between close friends and family, something that is hard to find on the backpacker trail. It reminded me of home.

With my hostal another 45 minutes down the hill in Baños, I said goodbye to the friendly trio at their casa. Then made a quick stop at bellavista for one more view of some spewing ash, before racing darkness into town.

Friday: Slept most of the day under the influence of allergy medicine. Some places give me minor trouble, but not near as bad as back home.

Saturday: Crossed the bridge to hike up the other side of the valley. I had a high point in mind, but wasn’t sure how to get there. Luckily, the quiet road took me to a vista with benches. After 30 minutes of fog and rain at the top, sun and near perfect views of the volcano. The perspective from farther away was better than expected, allowing me to see the old lava path on the western slope and the full shape of the geological wonder.

taking in the view

taking in the view

Today: Watched the sloppy World Cup final after some market ceviche. I like the way they do this dish down here in Ecuador. They put fish in a bowl, pour in a tomato soup with onions, give you a lime to squeeze in, and a bowl of popcorn to put on top. Add condiments to reach your desired spice level and enjoy. More interesting but less filling than the standard market almuerzo: chicken soup, plate with beef or more boiled chicken, rice, salad with beets, and potato cakes (seems to be a Baños thing, which I love), and a glass of juice.

I am now in the process of booking Spanish classes in Manta, via email. Looking forward to living in the shared student apartment and cooking for myself. Tentative start date is July 26th.

Tomorrow, the plan is to arrive in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, and say goodbye to the Andes. Sun and beaches are next. Necesito mi bronceado vuelta

E = 56

Cool Blue Reason

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Laguna Quilotoa is pretty spectacular. It’s a 2 hour bus ride from Latacunga, that rises up 1,200 meters to 4,000 at the rim of the crater lake. The air is thin, the temperature is chilly, but the views are amazing.

Laguna Quilotoa

Laguna Quilotoa

I stayed 2 nights in a hostal a few steps from the rim, paying $10 a night for a warm bed, two meals, and a wood burning stove to sit around. All necessary after getting rained on my first afternoon of hiking down to the lake. The first night (Thursday), it was just me, a German guy, and the host family, drinking tea and hot chocolate by the fire.

Friday: I hiked around the rim, stopping often to catch my breath and take pictures. The weather was near perfect, with early views of a pair of snow capped peaks. I was unprepared for the sunshine though and subsequently burnt my nose for the umpteenth time this trip. The circular path takes about 5 hours, but I stetched it out to 7, sitting on the rim watching the afternoon clouds.

The Lake and I

The Lake and I

The white fluffy stuff would creep over the far side from the surrounding valleys, dissipating before it could reach the water. That night, I shared the fire with a funny couple from Finland and a Dutch couple.

I tried to compare this site with “Crater Lake” in Oregon though it has been a few years. Quilotoa is smaller, higher up, doesn’t have the cone in the middle, the water is not as clear, the rim is more well defined and better for hiking, it’s cheaper, and I would call the surrounding views about equal. So, it kind of depends on what you like.

more Laguna

more Laguna

Saturday: Looked at the lake some more before grabbing some lunch and meeting a guy from the US. He was a cool guy, originally from the Bay Area, who took pity on this long term vagabond and paid for my meal. We were both planning to be in the city of Baños on Sunday, and exchanged info in order to meet up. Thus, he will make another appearance in this blog.

I got a ride to the bus stop from the American and his guide, and was joined there by the Dutch couple from the previous night. Our next destination, the village of Chugchilán and some altitude relief. The thrilling ride measured only about 14 km, but lasted nearly 2 hours. Being market day, each stop of the crowded bus required multiple sacks to be unloaded and people to be squeezed out. The highlight was the old drunk man, sitting on a sack of potatoes in the aisle. He was the butt of constant jokes by nearby Ecuadorians, but also behaved inappropriately toward some women. The driver decided to kick him off the bus about 30 minutes before his desired destination. He was removed by a few men and placed on the ground, before clumsily attempting to chase down his departing transportation. I laughed, but only because I was confident he would be able to procur another ride shortly.

My accommodations in Chugchilán were in another comfortable mountain hostal, full of adventurous souls. Meal and drinks were had with the Dutch couple, a nice British couple, a young German man, and friendly older Canadian man. I was tempted by their tales and plans for hiking between villages, but felt like I had already done the signature trek and that an altitude related cold was imminent.

Sunday: I set my sights on getting back to civilization and down to the 1,800 meter high town of Baños. I completed the “Quilotoa Loop” by catching another crowded market day bus 1.5 hours north to Sigchos. There, transfered to a Latacunga bus and stood through 2 hours of hairpin turns. A young girl threw up in a plastic bag and a woman with a baby fainted in the aisle. Both would survive.

I arrived at my destination after 7 hours and 4 buses, but was still able to do some of my best hostal hunting. The Lonely Planet place wanted near $7 for a dorm, the next 2 places were cheaper but not that nice, then I found Hostal Carolina and the best value I have seen traveling. For $6, I get a private room and bath, 2 beds (1 for building a little fort), TV, door opens onto the 3rd floor patio with views, central location yet quiet, free wifi downstairs, and a complimentary bar of soap. All of that and it is right across the street from where the Yank I met in Quilotoa is staying.

Now: Despite the lack of empanadas, I plan to hang out here for a week or so. They have a nice food market for cheap lunches and green hills all around for hiking. Plus, as those I have allowed to be my friend on Facebook know, Volcán Tungurahua is active and close-by. My goal is to stick around until I see lava (from a distance) and/or find a cheap Spanish school in Ecuador via the interweb. I need to get a date and location locked down or scratch it all together, so that I can map out the rest of my time here. Por suerte, este volcán no requiere sacrificios.

E = 56