Sunday, October 19, 2008

First week of work

(I tried to post this yesterday, but apparently it did not work. Probably a good thing, since I neglected to run spell check on it. Let us see if I can post it today...)

Well, I survived my first week of work... Let me tell you, six hours of teaching a day is A LOT of teaching. Then, you have to figure in several hours of planning the next day´s lessons, a class full of teenagers, a case of Ecuabelly, and you have one exhausted teacher. But I think things went reasonably well. As I realized pretty early on this past week, the advantage of having had such a crappy teaching job in Prague is that there is not a lot that can faze me now. (Of course, saying that is just inviting some awful event to take place). But my schedule is excellent: 7-9, 9-11, and 2-4. (I have my Spanish class from 11-12.) That means that it is not dark when I get out of my last class, which means that I don´t need to worry about taking a taxi home.
My first two classes are going to be pretty good, I think. The second one will be a bit tricky because my students finish everything so quickly, so they are really going to keep me on my toes. My third class is mostly teenagers. We are in a small, dark room with a low ceiling and tiny windows. 2pm is when the afternoon rain starts, so everything gets really dark and we usually have nasty-sounding thunder. The teacher in the classroom right next to us has a lower-level class, so naturally they don´t have to do as much grammar as we do. They are always laughing and talking, and we can hear every word clearly. Meanwhile, my poor teens are stuck trying to learn the differences between independent and dependent clauses, and what a prepositional phrase or a direct object is. I do feel sorry for them (and, quite honestly, I´m not sure WHY they need to learn these things. But they are going to be on the first test, so I have to teach them...). I´m trying to make the class as lively and interesting as possible, but there comes a point where we need to settle down and learn at least a little bit of grammar.
After I finish my last class, I head back to the main building and spend some time checking the internet and taking care of errands (copies, research, etc). I usually head home about 5 pm, in the rain. Walking in the rain in Quito is a challenge. First, the presence of an umbrella makes it difficult to maneuver around other people with umbrellas, especially when the street narrows slightly. It also restricts your field of vision, making it more difficult to be aware of your surroundings (very important here). Also, remember that, by this time, it has been raining for about three hours--usually pretty heavy rain. Quito doesn´t really have any real drainage system to speak of, so the sidewalks are pretty much submerged. If you really look hard, you can usually find little islands of pavement (I call them islands when they are only about an inch under water, as opposed to three or more inches). Jumping from island to island takes a certain amount of concentration and skill, of course. And let´s not forget that I have a large purse with all my books on my right shoulder, which alters my center of balance slightly.
Not only are the sidewalks more or less submerged, the street is as well, especially around the curbs. That makes finding a place to step off the curb to cross the street without stepping ankle-deep in water an adventure. And, of course, you can´t stand too close to the curb while waiting to cross the street or a car or motorcycle will zip past you, spraying water all over you. While crossing the street, not only do you have to watch for cars, you have to pay attention to where you are stepping. Most of the streets contain a significant number of potholes, all filled with water. Dancing around this potholes is more than a matter of simply keeping your ankles dry--if you trip and fall in the street, you might be struck by the very car you are racing across the street to avoid.
Halfway between the school and my house is a park, which after three hours of rain contains a complex system of swift-moving rivers that I have only begun to chart. The main one, which flows directly across my path right after I cross the street, has no islands. For this particular river, the question is always: Do I bolt across as quickly as possible, or do I step across gingerly? I´ve tried both, and the final answer is that it doesn´t really matter which option you chose, you will get wet.
After a half and hour of this obstacle course, I finally make it home, where I can change out of my wet shoes and take a (occasionally) warm-ish shower (Ah, the shower. I dream of showers past. This particular shower gives me the option of a warm shower with no water pressure, or a frigid shower with okay water pressure. Add that to the fact that my hair has become mysteriously oily since I´ve been here, leading to my need to shower every single day, and you have a wholly different experience fraught with its own perils.), and prepare my lessons for the next day.
Ah, and the other excellent thing about my schedule is that it almost perfectly coincides with the two-year-old´s nap times. That means that, when I´m in the house, the kid is usually asleep. (He occasionally wakes up in the evenings, but I think I went about two or three days last week without seeing him at all).
Well, that is all the news that I have now. I´m still working on planning my classes for next week--I still have to think of some more review and practice activities my students can do. But I feel pretty good about what I´ve got now, so... I can relax a bit.
Oh, wait! I didn´t talk about my case of Ecuabelly! I was talking to a couple of teachers at the school, and they said that, when you live in Ecuador, you spend more time talking about your poop than you would have previously though possible (Thanks to my grandmother, I, of course, know just how much poop talk is possible, but out of politeness I refrained from mentioning this to them). Anyway, about an hour before my third class (remember, this is the class of teenagers), I can down with a swift (and violent) case of what is locally (and less than lovingly) referred to as Ecuabelly (I don´t think I need to explain this one to you guys). I hadn´t eaten anything different, I hadn´t chowed down on a skewer of mystery meat cooked on a filthy grill by a street vender oozing pus from open sores on his face, I hadn´t chugged down a giant glass of tap water (don´t drink the water here! If the locals won´t even touch it, you know it is bad). In fact, the main reason I chose to come to Ecuador a FULL MONTH before I was to start teaching was to give my stomach time to do its thing and then adjust to the local... eh, dietary dangers.
And yet, my stomach had other plans. Instead of giving me problems immediately (which it would have done in the past), it decided to wait until an hour before I was supposed to stand in front of a group of teenagers I had only met the day before. My stomach has an evil sense of humor. Anyway, I found myself racing from person to person in my schoo, asking in a variety of languages if anyone had anything at all for a case of Ecuabelly. Finally, someone gave me directions to a Pharmacy (which, at that point, might or might not actually be open, they said). TEN MINUTES before my class, I find myself in the (open) pharmacy (Oh, and hey--did I mention that it was hailing the entire time I was doing all this?), trying to purchase the medicinal equivalent of a cork. The pharmacist wanted to know if I was pregnant, if I had pain (and where it was). He wanted me to list what I had recently eaten (at this point, nothing. I hadn´t even bothered to eat lunch, knowing that it would have been (literally) sh*tting away my income). Finally, FIVE MINUTES before my class was supposed to start, he sold me something to STOP EVERYTHING (and something to--hopefully--kill the bugs that had started everything in the first place). I gulped it down, thanked him, and ran (through the hail) to my class of teenagers.
The following day I put myself on a diet of bread and gator aid (and you know that, if gator aid doesn´t taste like the worst substance in the world, you are pretty dehydrated). The following day, I branched out into vegetables, rice, more bread, and a bit of tofu. Yesterday, I managed some fruit juice and peanut butter and chicken (in addition to the above mentioned bread and rice). Today I braved the iffy world of cheese (a very small amount on my bread this morning. So far, nothing too dramatic has happened). At some point, I will re-introduce yogurt (which I probably need at this point, having killed off everything in my stomach with whatever it was the good pharmacist gave me in my minutes of need). I can´t wait until pizza is a possibility--I´ve really been craving it lately.
Well, hope everyone had a good week, and I will probably post more next weekend, depending on how crazy everything gets.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


I promised Barry that I would post something on my blog about this (and I will certainly be posting more in the future). Mom's and my neighbor, David, died earlier this year (I hate to use euphemisms, and I figure David would not have minded my not using one here). A perfect neighbor for Mom (he loved gardening and collected dishes. In fact, our Christmas presents from him last year were dishes from his collection). Sharp, witty, clever, and he had lived a fascinating life. Anyway, he left both Mom and me some money in his will--$7,500 each. In true Mom fashion, she is going to spend it on the house and yard (in fact, I think it may be gone already--she just had the house painted. As she says, it is no longer "nipple pink"). And I, in true Deirdre fashion, will be spending it on travel. Where to? Well, I was thinking about doing something that I normally wouldn't do--like a cruise to Antarctica. Or an African safari. Or something. I'll come up with some unique idea. But I'll post more about it in the future.

Nariz del Diablo

Okay, I recently mentioned something about riding on top of a train, and that made a couple of folks a little nervous (Mom and Auntie Em, to be specific). Well, obviously I survived. The Nariz de l Diablo train is now a tourist attraction, where you can pay $11 (and rent a cushion for another dollar) to ride on top of a train for anywhere from five to seven (or more) hours. (Our trip was seven hours, due to a certain situation I will explain more about in a bit). No worries, though--the train does not zoom through the Ecuadorian countryside--it chugs along at a nice pace. The Devil's Nose itself, with two switch backs, is not as terrifying as certain guidebooks make it sound, Still, the trip was well worth the money, and I'm glad I did it.

We started in the station in Riobamba at, what was it, 8am, I think. I met up with several friends I had made during my trek around the Quilotoa Loop: there was a Dutch couple, a New Zealander (the Kiwi)--though he found a group of Kiwis to drink with on the train (which should not have happened, as the sale of alcohol was prohibited, it being an election day), a fellow American (born in Maryland, I might add!), an Italian couple living in Switzerland, a Dutch girl traveling solo, and an American dude I met while on the train itself (who may or may not know one of my relatives in Oklahoma). We chatted and shared food (fried bananas! Yum!) and took pictures of the scenery and , well, had fun. No danger. (Well, I take that back. There was one time when I did get a little bit nervous, and that was only because one of the conductors riding atop the train looked a bit nervous. We were passing next to a mountain--just plain dirt, no ground cover or anything--and some dirt and rocks started to fall towards the train. But nothing major).We passed several families--children tending sheep and mothers doing laundry in the rivers.

The advantage of being on top of a train is that you can take pictures of people without them knowing it.

The train only derailed once. Just be glad that you can't really see the condition of the bridge it is on in this picture.

Ah, Ecuador. It really is a beautiful country. Here you can see the train tracks where we will be going. Down, down, down...

Parque Cajas.

Last, what was it, Tuesday, I think, I went to Parque Cajas with Daniela, a traveler from Switzerland. Parque Cajas is about 45 minutes west of Cuenca. We hopped on a bus to Guayaquil and asked the driver to let us of at Tres Croses. As the bus wound up the mountains, the land became more and more barren and cold looking. It was foggy outside, and I stared out the window, wishing I had worn more than a tee-shirt and a fleece.

Finally, the bus pulled over on the side of the road and let us out (and true to Ecuadorian bus fashion, I had one leg still on the bus as it was driving off). Once it turned the corner, we were completely alone, and Daniela and I looked at each other with wide eyes as the wind sliced through us. Our four to six hour hike through Parque Cajas no longer seemed like the smartest idea in the world.

Tres Croses.

Instead, Daniela and I opted to walk down the road a little ways. We were afraid that if we went too far down one of the paths, the fog would descend and we would be, to put it frankly, screwed. So we found a path we could take along which we could still see the road. We walked for about an hour or so, to a high point. Once at the high point, it started to sprinkle a bit, so we turned around. In a few minutes, it was pouring--cold rain that the wind blew everywhere. Not only that, but there was some sleet mixed in as well.

The Parque itself was beautiful--high in the mountains, there were no trees, only a series of lagoons filled with ice cold water. There were small streams of water everywhere--in fact, the past we took doubled as a stream, and we had to step carefully through the water. The barrenness of the park was its beauty, and I would have loved to have spent more time there--had the weather been just a bit nicer.

When we made it back to the road, Daniela and I walked down it a bit further, then stopped to wait for a bus to flag down. After about half and hour or so, a bus came and we were able to board it to return to Cuenca.


(I'm posting everything backwards). While I was on the Nariz del Diablo train, I met up with some friends I had made while on the Quilotoa Loop, and I also made friends with a young Dutch girl traveling by herself. We were both planning on going to Cuenca next, so we agreed to travel together. At Alusi, the last stop of the train, we found the bus to Cuenca but we couldn't figure out where to buy our tickets, so we would up standing on the bus for the entire 4 1/2 hour ride to Cuenca. Not fun. On the bus, she made friends with a couple of Dutch guys, who were traveling with a Canadian--who had made friends with a Swiss girl. In Cuenca, we all agreed to go to a hostel together. The one was went to was pretty bad, so the next day we all went elsewhere: the Dutch group and the Canadian went to an $11 a night place, and the Swiss girl and I went to a $6 a night place (which was quite nice--it was run by a man out of his family's home, and included breakfast).

Cuenca was quaint--Colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. I spent a day and a half wandering the city, and the Swiss girl and I also went to Parque Cajas. While in Cuenca, I got to see Elizabeth, the daughter of one of the professors at S. University. I also managed to catch a cold (there was a cold that had been making the rounds among the travelers, and I guess my name was up).

What else... oh, I got to see shrunken heads at the Museo de Banco Central in Cuenca. Well worth the $3 entrance fee...

Street in Cuenca.

Incan ruins behind the Museo.

Amazing lacework in another museum I went to.

The new cathedral in Cuenca.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

From Cuenca, I was faced with a choice: head straight back to Quito, go inland to the jungle, or head to the coast. I had meet a Swiss girl who was heading to Puerto Lopez (and had also talked to several other people who were either going there or coming from there) and it seemed to be the place to go, so I tagged along with D., the Swiss girl, and we went west to the ocean.

Puerto Lopez fishing boat.

And--Puerto Lopez fish!

Blue-footed Boobies on Isla de la Plata, also known as the poor man's Galapagos.

Tai Chi on the beach! It was overcast and windy and chilly, but the water was warm. After a bit of time in the water, I needed to warm up and dry off some, so I went through some Tai Chi.

Tortuga Beach. But no Tortugas. Bummer.

Feeding the fish. We had the option to go snorkeling with them, but it was just way too cold (the water was fine, but getting out of the water would have been a little too difficult).

This is just an outline of the tail end of my two-week trek through Ecuador. I will be posting more (much more), but my internet connection is really slow, so please have patience.


Back in Quito!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Still in Cuenca...

... still freezing my ass off. Tomorrow I head to the beach (Porta Playa or Playa Porta--not too sure on that one).

Going to splurge on a vegetarian almuerzo today--looking forward to some veggies.