Sunday, September 21, 2008

September 21

September 21, 2008 5:54 pm

There are certain things that I always put of doing when I move to a new country. One of them involves changing the time and location on my laptop. As far as my laptop is concerned, it is 6:55 pm, East Coast time. I’ll get around to changing it eventually… but right now, it is some basic link to Maryland.

This all makes it sound like I’m homesick or completely miserable here. I’m not. Hell, I’m not even slightly miserable here. Before I left the States, I promised myself that I wouldn’t allow myself to get so stressed—that I would just go with the flow and allow things to either fall into place or not. As a result, I accidentally found a place to stay for the first month. Rather than stressing about finding a cheaper apartment, I just explored the city for a week. Then, last night, I mentioned to my host mom that I would need a new place to live in a few weeks and asked if she knew of anyone. She wanted to know why I couldn’t stay with her and I told her that it was because I needed to find a cheaper place on my income. She asked me how much, I told her, and she said that I could stay with her for that amount. So now I have a place to live—a place that is not in gringolandia or in a dodgy part of town, with a family I can practice my Spanish with. So that all worked out (though we shall see with this 2-year-old. I may not be able to take living with that). I told my host mom I would need to be able to prepare my lunches in the kitchen, and she said that that was not a problem. Anyway, if I need to move I will move. Simple.

I’m also just going with the flow for the next few weeks. Tuesday afternoon, I am going to Latagunga, to the Mama Negra festival with the other folks staying here. It is a really big Ecuadorian festival. The girl from Holland worked in a hostel in Latagunga, so she was able to get us beds. So, no stress there. Then, I am going with the two Americans and the German girl on a special mountain loop to visit some really out-of-the-way towns. It will be really hard-core, I think—it involves catching milk trucks at 3 in the morning (and maybe even a possible chicken truck or two!). So I’m really looking forward to all that. Depending on how all that goes (and when I need to be back in Quito), I might go down to Cuenca after that. We shall see.

The only thing that is sort of stressing me right now is the fact that I won’t receive my teaching schedule until the afternoon before I am scheduled to teach. I really, really don’t like that. I won’t even know what levels I will be teaching. I didn’t sleep too well the night after I found that out. (Instead of sleeping, I tried to come up with different activities I could do with students of different levels). Anyway, I figure now that it will completely suck, but that I will muddle through it.

So, yesterday I went to Otavalo with the two Europeans. Otavalo is the site of the largest market in Ecuador. We took a bus over, and I really do need to explain some things about the transportation here. First, there are the taxis, which are standard yellow with a taxi sign on top. They are the most common vehicle on the street, and anywhere you go you see taxis zipping through intersections. There are also three electric bus lines that follow the three biggest streets through the middle of Quito. They all run north and south. Then, there are the buses. Most of them are blue, but there are also a few green and red ones. I’m not sure if there is any actual physical map of the bus routes, and some bus stops are marked with a basic sign—and some are not. Each bus has a driver and, well, I don’t know what he would be called, maybe an assistant. As the driver speeds through town, the assistant hangs out the door and yells out the bus’s various destinations. When people need to get on to the bus, it may or may not stop (though it does slow down), and the assistant helps yank them aboard. At certain points in time, he goes through the bus and collects the fare. It seems to cost about a dollar per hour or travel, give or take a few cents. (My bus fares so far have ranged from 18 cents to two dollars). Anyway, I’m still in the process of figuring out the bus system—and here is where it really helps living with an Ecuadorian host mom who can explain how to get to the bus. Once on the bus, the assistant (and other riders) are very helpful when it comes to explaining when and where to get off. When I went to Mitad del Mundo with one of the other Americans here, we missed where we were supposed to get off. We were the last two people on the bus when it stopped and the driver started to get out. When he saw us, he asked us where we had wanted to go and we told him. He laughed, said something along the lines of “oh, it’s down there. I’ll be heading back down there in five minutes—just stay on the bus.” Then, on the bus to Pululahua, I told the driver where we needed to get off. About a minute or so before we needed to leave the bus, one of the passengers pointed out our stop AND both the assistant and the driver made sure we got off all right. (Of course, this didn’t mean that the bus stopped, but by then I had figured out how to jump both onto and off of a rolling bus).

To get to Otavalo (and the market), we had to take a bus to Otavalo, then another bus to the actual market. After we got off the first bus, we were told that we could either take a taxi or run across the street and catch a local bus. We, of course, opted for the second. There were some other people waiting at the bus stop and they made sure that we knew which bus to run after. On the bus itself there were no seats, so we had to stand in the front of the bus. After a few second, the German girl nudged me and discreetly pointed to the passengers. They were all indigenous—darker-skinned and rather short. They, in turn, were nudging each other and staring at us. The German girl and I got a good laugh out of the fact that the tables had turned: the tourists were now the attraction.

The market itself was huge, though I didn’t buy anything. At that point I figured that I would have to move again and I didn’t want to have a lot of stuff to move. I also figured that, after I learned a bit of Spanish, I could go back and negotiate better and get some good Christmas presents for everyone. Expect chocolate and necklaces. Even for the guys.

Ahh, then today I went up to Pichincha, an active volcano. It was an amazing hike, about seven or so hours up and down again. My host family is friends with a guide, so we were able to get a discount. The German girl and I went with another girl from Germany who is studying in Quito. I’m not sure what the altitude is, but we were definitely up in the clouds (and the snow). Near the end we had to walk so slowly and stop pretty often (even the guide) because we were so out of breath. But I have to say that there might not be anything better than eating an Ecuadorian banana in the Andes Mountains.


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