Archive for January, 2011

25th of January

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Even though my semester in Peru is rapidly approaching (less than a week away), Egypt is still strong in my mind, especially with the mass protests taking place across the country beginning on the 25th of January. That day was dubbed “Day of Revolt” and thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in anti-government protest. The largest protest in Egypt since 1977.

This protest falls within the context of political and social satisfaction in the Middle East and a rise in protests across countries, inspired by the “Jasmine Revolution” that took place in Tunisia earlier this month.

Last night for about five straight hours, I was closely following the events in Egypt. I read articles, looked up pictures, watched movies, followed twitter, and got in touch with some Egyptian friends to hear what they have to say. By the end, I just stopped since my eyes were getting tired from staring at the computer screen for such a long time. Those hours were probably the most exciting moments I have had all break.

What makes it so exciting is that I was there and I know people participating or yearning to participate, excited to have their voices heard and striving to change their country so it is more free, has accountable government officials, a place where elections actually matter, and where their voices and desires are no longer stifled. They want to see the gap between the rich and poor decrease, and economic prosperity. They want an end of security law which allows the government to arrest people with liberty. They want the Interior Minister to be kicked out for things like torture, and the President to be limited to two terms.

I also know that others watching these events with dread, knowing that there is no clear plan set in place if the government were to be dismantled. Who may have personal and business interests tied up with the current regime. They may believe that a strong government is necessary to lift the country up and keep peace within the country and between countries. They like the stability and security that Mubarak offers and admire his leadership and strength. They fear that chaos will come and things may not end on a positive note, but may even end up worse.

Then again, their are others watching with indifference, who believe that the protest will not be successful and think that the current government will continue to control the country in much of the same manner as before. The Egyptians in the protest are just following the “fad” of protests and do not fully understand the consequences of their actions and what the next step would be if they were to be successful.

It is amazing for me to think that only one month ago, I was in Egypt, walking around Cairo in the same places that were packed with impassioned protesters  and cordons of police in riot gear.

For me, it is not some distance place, but very tangible and real. The outcome of these events will impact people that I know or have talked to, bought food from, or shared a metro ride with. I can see in my mind the places where the protesters were gathering, the expansive Tahrir Square, the streets through which people were walking and chanting, and the dusty buildings throwing shadows on them.

It was exciting to watch things unfold on twitter and having the ability to hear first hand accounts. I was very disappointed when Twitter was being blocked and only limited tweets from people were able to get around the block through various means.

I have been talking to some people involved. They say that it was amazing. It must have been, with the mass of people lifting their voices up together in protest who have held back for so long. I was told that people in the protest acted in a very caring and brotherly manner, offering food and support. There is a strong sense of excitement and optimism, unity, and great anger and even hatred towards the government.

People in Tahrir were planning on staying in the square for three days and sleeping there overnight. However, the police sent to “protect” the protesters instead began to use violent or forceful tactics against them. The most extreme was the use of live rounds around midnight, after twitter was blocked and the protest began to dwindle down a bit. First there were only rubber coated steel bullets, 11 of which were lodged in the body of a freelance cameraman for Al Jazeera, but later live ones were used.

The protesters have tried to keep things peaceful. At one point when rocks were being thrown between a small group of protesters and the police, the protesters near the rock throwers were chastising them, telling them that they must keep things peaceful and the rock throwing soon ceased.

A friend told me that two of the people he was with fell down during a point when everyone was running and they got stepped on. They could have been trampled to death or severely injured, but luckily they were fine. His mother was very worried about him and was crying since she had heard that three protesters had died and did not want the same fate to befall her son.

There were plans to continue the protest at 9am today, I’m not sure if that was the case or not. Also, there are plans made for mass protests after Friday’s prayer, which would definitely see a huge turnout.

It is hard to tell whether or not this protest and following protests will create massive change, and overthrow the government. Gamal and Suzanne Mubarak , the President’s son and wife, both fled the country for the UK, which is a sign of the unrest and insecurity that is being felt by the government. Yet, the protests need to be much larger for actual change to occur and there needs to be a better laid plan for what will come next. The Egyptian government is not as weak as the Tunisian government and there are many difference between the two countries that what caused a revolution in Tunisia will not necessarily cause one in Egypt.

Some problems that Egypt would face if the government is overthrown, is who would take the lead, could they successfully hold free and fair elections, would tensions between Muslims and Christians get in the way of creating a safe country, how would they address the extensive needs of those living in poverty , and more.

There was one tweet that really stuck in my mind, it was something along the lines of “Even if there is no change, at least a psychological barrier in the minds of the Egyptian people has been broken”. They are now more vocal, and more aware of their power and their ability to make demands of their government.

Hopefully, the government will look at these protests and understand that they need to reconsider their policies and make them more in-tune with the needs and desires of its people. I cannot say whether reform or revolution is better for the Egyptian people or if either is possible, only the Egyptian people can discover that for themselves. I hope they make the best decision for themselves, their country, and their future.

25th of January

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Even though my semester in Peru is rapidly approaching (less than a week away), Egypt is still strong in my mind, especially with the mass protests taking place across the country beginning on the 25th of January. That day was dubbed “Day of Revolt” and thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in anti-government protest. The largest protest in Egypt since 1977.

This protest falls within the context of political and social satisfaction in the Middle East and a rise in protests across countries, inspired by the “Jasmine Revolution” that took place in Tunisia earlier this month.

Last night for about five straight hours, I was closely following the events in Egypt. I read articles, looked up pictures, watched movies, followed twitter, and got in touch with some Egyptian friends to hear what they have to say. By the end, I just stopped since my eyes were getting tired from staring at the computer screen for such a long time. Those hours were probably the most exciting moments I have had all break.

What makes it so exciting is that I was there and I know people participating or yearning to participate, excited to have their voices heard and striving to change their country so it is more free, has accountable government officials, a place where elections actually matter, and where their voices and desires are no longer stifled. They want to see the gap between the rich and poor decrease, and economic prosperity. They want an end of security law which allows the government to arrest people with liberty. They want the Interior Minister to be kicked out for things like torture, and the President to be limited to two terms.

I also know that others watching these events with dread, knowing that there is no clear plan set in place if the government were to be dismantled. Who may have personal and business interests tied up with the current regime. They may believe that a strong government is necessary to lift the country up and keep peace within the country and between countries. They like the stability and security that Mubarak offers and admire his leadership and strength. They fear that chaos will come and things may not end on a positive note, but may even end up worse.

Then again, their are others watching with indifference, who believe that the protest will not be successful and think that the current government will continue to control the country in much of the same manner as before. The Egyptians in the protest are just following the “fad” of protests and do not fully understand the consequences of their actions and what the next step would be if they were to be successful.

It is amazing for me to think that only one month ago, I was in Egypt, walking around Cairo in the same places that were packed with impassioned protesters  and cordons of police in riot gear.

For me, it is not some distance place, but very tangible and real. The outcome of these events will impact people that I know or have talked to, bought food from, or shared a metro ride with. I can see in my mind the places where the protesters were gathering, the expansive Tahrir Square, the streets through which people were walking and chanting, and the dusty buildings throwing shadows on them.

It was exciting to watch things unfold on twitter and having the ability to hear first hand accounts. I was very disappointed when Twitter was being blocked and only limited tweets from people were able to get around the block through various means.

I have been talking to some people involved. They say that it was amazing. It must have been, with the mass of people lifting their voices up together in protest who have held back for so long. I was told that people in the protest acted in a very caring and brotherly manner, offering food and support. There is a strong sense of excitement and optimism, unity, and great anger and even hatred towards the government.

People in Tahrir were planning on staying in the square for three days and sleeping there overnight. However, the police sent to “protect” the protesters instead began to use violent or forceful tactics against them. The most extreme was the use of live rounds around midnight, after twitter was blocked and the protest began to dwindle down a bit. First there were only rubber coated steel bullets, 11 of which were lodged in the body of a freelance cameraman for Al Jazeera, but later live ones were used.

The protesters have tried to keep things peaceful. At one point when rocks were being thrown between a small group of protesters and the police, the protesters near the rock throwers were chastising them, telling them that they must keep things peaceful and the rock throwing soon ceased.

A friend told me that two of the people he was with fell down during a point when everyone was running and they got stepped on. They could have been trampled to death or severely injured, but luckily they were fine. His mother was very worried about him and was crying since she had heard that three protesters had died and did not want the same fate to befall her son.

There were plans to continue the protest at 9am today, I’m not sure if that was the case or not. Also, there are plans made for mass protests after Friday’s prayer, which would definitely see a huge turnout.

It is hard to tell whether or not this protest and following protests will create massive change, and overthrow the government. Gamal and Suzanne Mubarak , the President’s son and wife, both fled the country for the UK, which is a sign of the unrest and insecurity that is being felt by the government. Yet, the protests need to be much larger for actual change to occur and there needs to be a better laid plan for what will come next. The Egyptian government is not as weak as the Tunisian government and there are many difference between the two countries that what caused a revolution in Tunisia will not necessarily cause one in Egypt.

Some problems that Egypt would face if the government is overthrown, is who would take the lead, could they successfully hold free and fair elections, would tensions between Muslims and Christians get in the way of creating a safe country, how would they address the extensive needs of those living in poverty , and more.

There was one tweet that really stuck in my mind, it was something along the lines of “Even if there is no change, at least a psychological barrier in the minds of the Egyptian people has been broken”. They are now more vocal, and more aware of their power and their ability to make demands of their government.

Hopefully, the government will look at these protests and understand that they need to reconsider their policies and make them more in-tune with the needs and desires of its people. I cannot say whether reform or revolution is better for the Egyptian people or if either is possible, only the Egyptian people can discover that for themselves. I hope they make the best decision for themselves, their country, and their future.

My Depth Dimension

Monday, January 24th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago we signed up for a weekend trip with a Christian based club on campus, thinking it was going to be a sight seeing trip, like their day trip was.  Well turns out we got the wording a little wrong, it was actually a weekend retreat.  So we really didn’t know what to expect, we just knew there were a lot of sessions on the schedule for Saturday.  A monk named Brother Richard, who is working at UCC for the Chaplaincy, was the one leading us in these sessions.  He turned out to be very interesting and the topics he focused on were surprisingly not religious ones, but more about bettering your life just in general.  His main focus was about how we can reach our depth dimension, I am still a bit unsure of what that actually is, but I equate it with reaching an inner peace of sorts.  He talked about getting past the obstacles of everyday life, some steps you can take to get closer to reaching your depth dimension and just about how to get up every morning and be genuinely excited about life.  All of which I did find interesting.

The part I found the most fascinating was when he talked about the difference between the male and female brain and how those biological differences make it much harder for males and females to communicate effectively.  He was a relationship counselor for a while so I like to think he knows what he is talking about.  Not to mention a lot of what he was saying made complete sense when I thought back on some conversation I’ve had.

Other than the sessions, we went on a long 5 mile walk along the beach on Saturday (was only supposed to be 3 but we got lost), and that was really nice.  It was a nice, sunny day, not too cold, and it was just very relaxing.  The entire trip only cost 20 euros so even though we didn’t get what we were expecting I think it was worth it.

Here are some pictures of the beach, and a little bit of the town.  (Yougal)

Galway!

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Galway was last weekend.  We discovered that there actually are not a lot of sights to see in Galway, it is more known for it’s night life.  There are pubs with live music everywhere, and there are clubs that are mostly for dancing, and then of course they have plubs (pub+club) that are a bit of both.  We got there around 2 on Saturday and it was pouring rain outside and really windy, luckily we found our hostel pretty easily.  It was a lot nicer that we expected and actually cheaper than we expected which is always a nice surprise.  Then we ventured out again to find this restaurant that our friend Sarah had read about in a book she has.  We had the hardest time finding the place but eventually we did and we had some delicious sandwiches, which seems to be becoming a theme here in Ireland.  We decided to make pasta for dinner, you know to save some dough, and it is a good thing we did because if we had gone out we never would have met Giona (pronounced Jonah).  He is from Switzerland and speaks French, Italian and English, he hates German, “it’s so ugly!”.  Also he hated the way we say “hockey”, so if you ever encounter an Itialian/French speaking Swiss person beware of that word.  Anyways the friend he was with wasn’t feeling well so he came out with us, he was definitely entertaining if nothing else.

And guess what was in Galway? A McDonalds! So guess where we went after the plub? They are literally following me around the globe.

On Sunday we went walking around town a little to see the few sights that were in Galway but our main goal was to find this cupcake shop that we had seen the day before.  We found it:

They all looked so good! They had champagne flavored, Bailey’s, lemon, strawberry, vanilla, chocolate…so many options!  But you know me had to stick with what I know, black forest.  Yep they had a black forest muffin.  I got it and it was so good!  I knew coldstone icrecream would never lead me astray.

Adventures in Public Transportation

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

As a resident of suburbia, I’m used to getting around by car. However for the past three summer that I have been volunteering/interning at WPFW I have to love the Metro. One of the things I miss the most about London is the Underground. And while I have a driver’s license I have never owned a car. All this means is that while the majority of my fellow upperclassmen have control over how they get around Fredericksburg I am at the mercy of the FRED bus system for better and worse.
Generally speaking I have a love/hate relationship with public transport systems. I love them when they work and when they’re on time and get me where I need to go in a timely fashion. I hate them one when they fail to do any one of the above. This is why my love for the Underground is so odd. Most of the time I was in London it worked like a charm but on the other hand most weekends I was stranded in the semi-suburb where I was staying (though it’s more complicated than that.) I also understand that my admiration of the metro is odd because most residents of DC are more likely to moan about it than embrace it. But for me, with only a few exceptions, the Metro has worked.
On the other hand FRED and I seem to have a mutual disdain for each other. We’re like ex’s who broke up amicably – we put with each other but only to a point. While I have seen parts of Fredericksburg that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise I do wish sometimes that I could have just driven from Central Park back to my apartment without having to wait an hour for a bus. While all of the public transport systems I have ridden on have been dysfunctional* in one way or another, Fredericksburg’s system is perhaps the most dysfunctional of all of them. But who knows, maybe Boston** will prove even more dysfunctional.

*Really this all breaks down to my love of things what are dysfunctional. I don’t know love them all the time, but I do identify with inanimate but dysfunctional systems. It’s why I love WMWC so much – it’s incredibly dysfunctional but it does the job well enough that no one knows just how dysfunctional it is. The same can be said for all of the above examples. I just have a thing for dysfunction. **Boston aka the place I’ll probably end up going to law school, unless Loyola LA surprises me and actually says yes instead of no or waitlist. But we shall see.

Question Answered

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

I’ve spent the past couple of months wondering if I would ever get into law school. Well my friends I have the answer: Yes. I have been accepted at New England Law School in Boston, so I do have it within me to get into law school. And as my mom said, even if I don’t get in anywhere else, I’ll have gotten into one school and that’s all that’s needed to go to law school. So to reiterate what my Facebook status says: I got into law school!!!! Wheeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!

Peru!: Chachapoyas…and back to Ecuador

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

So, the 11 hour bus ride from hell?….not so bad.

I went to the bus station at 5:15, and it turned out they hired a driver to take us to a town 3-4 hours a way where the bus was actually leaving from. This ride?…sucked. It wasn´t the driver´s fault, or the road condition…the road just constantly weaved around mountains so often that it made ME car sick. That takes effort. By the time we finally got to the bus station I was ready to puke. Luckily, we got there with 30 minutes before the bus left.

There were only seven people on the bus. It was EMPTY. But that´s much better than a full and stinky bus, so I wasn´t arguing. Now, the bus ride was nine hours. Nine hours with no real food, water, or bathrooms (one break). Worst of all, they didn´t play a SINGLE movie. Now, I had my IPOD, but nine hours in a bus without anyone to talk to is EXTREMELY boring. Luckily, I had the view. Now, this road was more like what I was expecting when it comes to south american roads- not the worst I´ve been on (nothing so far has toped Costa Rica or Honduras), but still. The road quality itself wasn´t so bad, it was the rest of it. The road, which went both ways, was actually only the width of the bus. I´m not joking, there was maybe an inch or two on each side between the sides of the road. And this was in the Andean mountain, so of course where was mountains on one side, and a sheer drop on the other. Of course, with no guard rail, and with the bus constantly riding the edge of the cliff. This made the constant sharp mountain turns…nerve-wracking, to say the least. There were a few times I thought we were going down. Especially, when there was a truck or car coming from the opposite direction and we would have to stop, back up, and try to let it pass while staying on the road. There were times when I was like…DON´T BACK UP AROUND THE CORNER, PLEASE!!!!!!. But I lived, it was amusing…andit wasn´t NEARLY as bad as the guide-book made it out to be. But getting to Chachapoyas was a relief. Chachapoyas is a very significant area archaeologically,  dotted with ruins everywhere (and they continue to be found). Unfortunately, they´re all out of the way. There´s not a lot of tourist infrastructure, so most of the sites can only be reached by treking three days into the jungle or mountains with a guide. It´s also several hours from ANYTHING else. It´s a really nice, isolated city in the highlands.

I ended up staying in a rather nice, colonial hostal with a tour agency underneath it. So, I got a tour to Kuenap the next day.

Kuenap is a pre-Incan fortress built by the Chachapoyan indians over the course of 1,200 years. Other than Machu Pichu, it is considered to be the most significant archaeological site in Peru. It was great. It was a four-hour drive from Chachapoyas each way, which is a lot…but worth it. Unfortunately, the road is awful. They´re working on it, so we constantly had to stop and wait for workers. Also, these workers work in these 3-5 feet deep gaps in the road. So, to pass over the gaps, they put down two 2-by-6 boards, and help guide the vehicle over. I got it on video, it´s nerve-wracking. Especially when the alternative is to fall off the mountain. The cool thing about the ride, is that you get to see old settlements in the mountains that remain undisturbed because they´re so hard to get to. They´re just kind of…sprinkled around.

When you get to Kuelap, you´re looking up at this incredibly huge fortress. Some of which has been reconstructed, some not. Then, you have to walk up a path 35 minutes to get to it. The walls of the fortress are enormous. When taking a picture of the full wall and there´s a person on top, they come out as this little dot. It´s hilarious. The entrance into the fortress contains all sorts of petroglyphs of various people and gods (one of which is upside-down because the archaeologist put it back wrong…ha!). Inside, there are all these ruins of temples and homes. Even though it takes imagination, it´s still cool. You can walk through almost the entire fortress, but only 15% has actually been excavated. So, for the most part, the jungle is growing within it. The curious thing is that within the fortress are the only jungleesque plants in the area. But it was fun to watch parrots fight. In addition to birds and plants, there are Llamas…and lots of them. They mostly just roam around, but one had kicked a German tourist the week before, and the locals had tied him up.

So, the fortress was awesome. The Chachapoyans there had buried their mummies within their homes, so you could only see the excavated holes. But it was interesting to think that there were still mummies in the un-excavated homes, all around us. Even cooler. One of the main defensive walls of the fortress was also a mausoleum. The center of the wall was filled with the bones of captives and warriors. You could look into the wall and SEE the bones: skulls, femurs, etc….so. freakin. awesome…and a little creepy.

The next day, I went to the Sarcophagi of Karajía and some caves. To get to the sarcophagi, you drive two hours, then hike down another hour. They are these really unique-looking sarcophagi with mummies inside. They are the only sarcophagi crafted in that particular way anywhere in the world, it´s bizarre. Although they belong to the Chachapoyas people, who were all over the region, there are no other sarcophagi like it. They are perched high in a cliff (there used to be more, but they were destroyed by grave-robbers. You can still find the bones from broken sarcophagi in the valley). The ones that are left are the ones which are hardest to get to…which makes one wonder how people got up there in the first place. The climb back up though…reminded me how terrified I am of heights.

The caves though, were even better. Sacred caves used for both fertility rituals and human sacrifices, the hall after the first room was lined with bones. Don´t know why they´re still there, but still really cool and eery to see. The cave system was MASSIVE. Each room was a goot 20-25 meters high and wide, filled with all sorts of incredible natural formations. Of course, it was filled with water and mud, so it was slippery (which comes into play later), so I had a lot of trouble walking. Also, we only came in with six flashlights, and over time two ran out of batteries. So, it was dark and hard to see where you stepped.One of the men on the tour was indigenous, and at the back to the cave before leaving, he insisted on doing a purification offering to the spirits of the cave to prevent any bad spirits coming with us, and to honor the good spirits. This was great thing to witness and take part of, because I hadn´t seen any indigenous rituals before. He piled some different types of herbs and grasses, put us in a circle, then lit them (eventually, it took a while) on fire. Then, he slowly prayed to the spirits of each element (earth, wind, water, etc), each prayer with it´s own movement. Then, he asked people to say their own prayer. At one point, I think he asked me, but I had no idea what was going on, so we kind of all stood there awkwardly until someone else started talking, and then I realized that it was supposed to be me…oops. Then, he asked us to cleanse ourselves with rose oil. After this, the fumes from the fire really got at me. It was basically incense, which I´m kind of allergic to…so I started coughing. I felt really bad about disrupting and not being able to participate as fully, but I couldn´t breath. I hope I didn´t insult him too bad.

Afterwards, we headed out of the cave. This is where the problem started for me, from the mud. Coming down, I slipped and fell. I just laughed, and got back up because it wasn´t bad, and kept going. Unfortunately, two of the lanterns had gone out, and I really could see. Eventually, I slipped again…worse. I made a wrong step, causing my feet to go out from under me, I slammed to the ground and ended up sliding a good 20-25 feet, only stopping because I ended up feet-first in a mud puddle. With all the boulders everywhere, I felt incredibly lucky that I hadn´t hit my head or seriously injured myself (remember, it was 30 mins left to leave the cave, and hour hike back uphill, and 2-3 hour drive to the city. If I´d been hurt, I would´ve been screwed). So, I took the bruises. However, I did need help getting back up, and ended up with one the men helping me out of the cave the rest of the way (I just would´ve kept falling, and he was being nice and chivalrous). Then, we all got a good laugh about just how muddy I was. At least the day was great fun. Then, back to Chachapoyas.

Unfortunately, I didn´t have time to change for my bus, so I ended up muddy for the 10 hour horrendous night bus-ride to Chiclayo, and the 3 hour bus ride to Piura (no break in between). And, I gotta tell you, after sweaty and muddy and in a stinky bus for 13 hours…even the cold shower in Piura felt good. Incredibly sore from the cave, I spent almost the entire day in bed in the hotel because I didn´t want to walk around.

The next day, I caught a bus back to Ecuador. This time, I went through Macará, which is a much more relaxed border crossing. Also, the border stations are right across the bridge from one another, rather than two kilometers from the border like it Tumbes, so it´s a much better border crossing. The only scary moment was when the bus almost left without me. That freaked me out a bit.

Then, off to Loja. Where…I got a cold, and ended up with no energy to do much more than walk around a little. I saw a park and the center, but again I watched a lot of TV. I think my body rebelled against so much constant travelling. Bored of Loja, I took off to Cuenca. Which, I was there for two minutes and remembered why I loved it so much. I´ve already seen all the tourist stuff, so I´m just busy enjoying the city for a few days before heading back to Quito to finish things up before returning to the states Feb. 1. I got to  have lunch with Jim from TESOL, which was nice to catch up.

So, I am enjoying my last jaunt before I have to reintegrate back into the real world.

See everyone soon!

Question Answered

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

I’ve spent the past couple of months wondering if I would ever get into law school. Well my friends I have the answer: Yes. I have been accepted at New England Law School in Boston, so I do have it within me to get into law school. And as my mom said, even if I don’t get in anywhere else, I’ll have gotten into one school and that’s all that’s needed to go to law school. So to reiterate what my Facebook status says: I got into law school!!!! Wheeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!

A Year Ago (One Last Reminiscence)

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

It’s been a year. Actually it’s been a year and two days, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to actually write about this before right now. So it’s been a year and two days since I landed in London. A year and two days since I spent five hours freezing my ass off in Paddington station wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into. A year and two days since my life began to change quite dramatically.
A year ago and two days I didn’t know just how dramatically my life would be changing. I thought London would reaffirm everything I already believed not change it. I thought I would come back from London craving to go back immediately and never leave again. I thought it would make becoming a DJ so much easier. I never thought it would change my career goals or my understanding of how much my family means to me. London changed everything, but not in the way I thought it would. Which is probably for the best.
I do miss London. I miss being able to go to the theatre easily, I miss the Comedy Store, I miss the Tube, and I miss living in a city. No, I don’t miss the people I was forced to live with, but as the immediacy of those memories recede, the good things, the things I loved about London remain. But because of London I know myself better than I did a year ago, so I know that while I love London. Living there would be unbearably hard. I couldn’t go it alone like I did last year, I would absolutely need to have someone with me.
So it’s been a year and two days. It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but time doesn’t lie (mostly.) I do know this – it’s been a hell of a year.

Holidays in Ecuador

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

Hi all!

Hope everyone had a happy holidays, Christmas, and New Years…I did :)

Christmas Eve, met dad at the airport. There´s a restaurant looking area over customs, so I actually got to wave at him as he came in. It was great, except that he didn´t see me at first, so this old lady was laughing at me waving stupidly. But, it was all good. It was great seeing him, because I hadn´t seen any of my family in six months.  So, then we went to the hotel (getting in my opinion, completely screwed over by the taxi in the process, but w/e).

Next day, I took dad on a whirlwind tour of the Colonial Center…and, whooped both our asses. It was Christmas Eve, but LOTS of people were out still shopping (some things don´t change). It was great seeing dad´s reaction to the Colonial Center – that overwhelming look of wonder on one´s face. I´m so used to it by now, I no longer have it. I took dad to the top of the Cultural Center, which has GORGEOUS views of the city from the roof, so we got to take all sorts of pictures. Then, when to the Museo Mariscal Sucre, which is the house museum of the independence leader. It was fun, I got to show off my history knowledge a bit and show dad what the inside of a colonial-style house looks like. He loved it, which is good – cuz I love that style of house. Best Part!! Got new shoes!. No more hole-filled worn out monstosities for me any more. Soooo comfy!. But yeah, dad really enjoyed the center.

Next – whirlwind tour of the Ejido and the Banco Central Museum. As I´ve said earlier, the Museo Banco Central is the best museum in Ecuador, and going there is throughouly impressive. I was so excited to take my dad to see all the pre-colombian ceramics and gold (I was significantly less excited to show him the colonial religious art…but that´s me :) ). From there, we toured the main artisenal market very quickly since we both decided that we were hungry and needed a rest, we´d get back there to shop later.

Then, we visited my apartment and grabbed some lunch. It was so much fun showing him the pirated video stores and watching his face as an airplane dropped in over head (it´s a little shocking the first few times how low they are).

Next day – presents first. Then, I further showed dad several of the 89 churches in the small colonial church center till we both got thoroughly churched out. Dad was surprised that so many people were out on Christmas, even though I was like -” this is the tourist center, of course there are people here. In the city, there won´t be as many”. So, after he declared that he couldn´t possibly see any more churches that day, I took him to the Parque Carolina – which was sooo much better because there were less beggars, more families, and more GREEN. It was also dad´s first Trolley ride – heh. Everyone who´s been here knows what that´s like. So, we walked all around the massive park and went to the botanical garden. It was lovely. So much more fun with dad, because we could run around and take pictures together.

Next day we picked up the car for the more exciting parts of the week. We got a nice car, but we would very quickly regret that it didn´t have four-wheel-drive, since we needed it for the parks.

So, we drove up to Cayambe, trying to get to the Cayambe-Coca reserve and the Hacienda we were going to stay at. Cayambe-Coca effort: disaster. Ended up down this LONG cobblestone road with no road signs to tell as where to go. Then, a fork in the road – cobblestone in both directions. It was killing the car and dad´s patience, so we turned back. But, it wasn´t a whole loss because we ended up watching this Ecuadorian town party/folkloric dance in this little town. Also, I got to watch dad be mesmerized by the Andes. It´s so great travelling with someone who appreciates mountains as much as I do.

Then, we packed it up and went to the Hacienda Guachala, the oldest functioning hacienda in Ecuador, dating from the 1580s. I completely and entirely recommend it. It´s not that expensive, only around $45 a night. I got there and turned into a giddy little history geek. I stole dad´s camera and ran around the place for an hour taking pictures of EVERYTHING – the architecture, the animals, the plants, the room. The place is gorgeous. Each room is set up traditionally, including with its own wood-burning fireplace which we delighted in lighting each night. Also, it has horses, two (non functioning) churches, a restaurant, a game room, a semi-indoor pool room with hammocks, and gardens. The buildings are still original except for some restorations, and it´s a little run down. Around the entire Hacienda are signs talking about the history of the place. In other words – I loved it. It was perfect. Dad and I hiked around it, played pool, and relaxed in hammocks. In a centuries old hacienda. Perfect.

Next day, we tried to get to Cayambe-Coca again from a different route. Long story short: it ended with us stuck by the side of the road, in a ditch, in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Yeah…that worked well. Luckily, some very helpful Ecuadorian farmers had run out of gas in the exact same area. They agreed to get our car wheel out of the ditch and onto the road, if we agreed to let them siphon off gas from our tank. Which…of course we did. It became this big production with their entire male section working to lift our car out of the hole. Then, taking turns sticking a plastic tube into the gas tank and sucking out gas. Even dad got some gas out. It was disgusting, and getting the gas out didn´t work at all. We got maybe a few tablespoons. So, we gave them some money as thanks and went on our way. We were very disappointed about not making it all the way to Cayambe-Coca. Instead, we went to Otavalo and saw CONDORS at the Condor reserve (we failed again at getting to the lagunas…it was very disappointing). But still – CONDORS. The park was actually closed, but the owner let us in anyway. Equally as cool as the condors was that we got to see a fully grown Bald Eagle REALLY close. It made up for our failures in my view.

Leaving the hacienda, we made our way to Papallacta. Papallacta is the best and most famous hot springs in Ecuador. Getting there, however, is on a road taking you over the highest pass in Ecuador and around stunning mountain scenery. We were constantly stopping to take pictures, because the Andes are truly magnificent and impressive. Dad was enthralled, it was great.

Once in Papallacta, we realized that there was ANOTHER entrance to Cayambe-Coca. And apparently not having learned from our mistakes, we decided to go up the incredibly steep dirt road to try once again to visit the national park. Third time was the charm (barely)…but partly because there was absolutely no way to turn around once going up.Again, the scenery was stunning. So, we got up there and decided to take a hike through the tops of the mountains to visit various lakes (at over 3,000 meters high). I was incredibly impressed with dad´s acclimatization. He didn´t have all that many problems that high up, even though he´d only been in Ecuador a few days. So, we went on an incredible hike through the tops of the Andes and saw all sorts of lakes, vegetation, and a few waterfalls. We had also stupidly forgotten to put on sun block and got incredibly burned. Then, we gratefully headed down to soak in the hotsprings. With 25 pools at varying temperatures, it was the perfect way to complete the day…if only we´d left it there.

Then, we took the road down to Cotopaxi. Started well: gorgeous scenery, insane drivers, etc. Then, it started to downpour as soon as it got dark, blinding us. Worse was the Ecuadorian driver – who is, on average, a maniac. Constantly, drivers were flashing high beams or trying to run us off the road. Dad and I nearly went out of our minds. We ended up in a rather nice hostal (after much frustration, danger, and food frenzy on my part) and spent the night.

The next day, it was too cloudy to see Cotopaxi, so we decided to go to the Laguna Quilatoa which is a lake inside the crater of an inactive volcano. You actually walk down into the volcano to get to the lake, it´s amazing. So, we started on the drive, not knowing just how long it would take us. Around two and a half hours later, down the fabulously scenic highway, about the time we decided we´d passed it, we finally saw a sign for Quilatoa. We got up there and looked down from the crater rim to the lake, and it was absolutely stunning. It takes your breath away for a second. We also looked at the dirt trail down into the crater, and decided that it didn´t look so bad/long (ha!!) and started down it. The trail is basically compact sand. At the top, there are lots of incredible rock formations and stuff to hold on to, but it changes as it goes down. Near the top, I asked dad about taking horses or mules back up to the top, as is tradition. His answer: “horses kind of make me nervous, I´m not sure I want to. We can make it back up”. As we got farther and farther down and realized what a monumental task coming back up the steep and deceptively long trail was going to be, we passed a group of people coming up on horseback. Their guide, a little boy, asked us if we wanted horses. Dad´s immediate answer: “Yes.” Ha!!!! The best part of the trail was this segment that was all sand. Instead of walking down, we surfed down. It was great fun. And a little scary because of how steep it was. Eventually, we got to the bottom – but it started to rain. So, we got ourselves a set of mules and came back up. I was so happy we did that, it was so much fun – even if the poor mules were dead tired. Then, we returned and got a much better hotel.

Next day – Cotopaxi. We tried driving into the park ourselves. We were met with an Ecuadorian New Years tradition – that is, children dressing up as various tricksters and demons, and holding up cars on the road. You must pay, or you shall not pass. Unless you´re dad and I, at which point we drive through the attempts to block the road and continue on our merry way. It´s very cute though, they try to guard with toy guns, have masks, and hoot at you. Unfortunately, we came to an un-wade-able river and had to turn back.

But, that worked out for the best because we hired a wonderful one-armed guide with a four-wheel drive truck to take us up. So, we got to climb to the first refuge anyway. Unfortunately, it was so cloudy that dad was never able to see the entirety of Cotopaxi – which, at 5897  meters is the highest active volcano in the world. Anyway, we needed that four-wheel drive. The road in is long and bumpy. As you get higher up, it gets colder. We realized that we were dramatically under-dressed in our sweat shirts and tennis shoes (we ended up not being too cold because of the walking). Completely cool and wild moment – on the drive we got to see a wild condor flying. It´s incredibly rare. Our guide says he sees them maybe once or twice a year, and he goes into the park three to four times a week.

We got to the parking structure (4300 meters), left the car and started climbing to the refuge (4810 meters – which, btw is PRETTY FREEKIN HIGH). We decided to take the zig-zag trail up because it gives you more time to acculturate and it´s easier. Even I was having acculturation issues, because it was the highest I´ve ever been in my entire life. We started by stopping every 5-10 minutes to catch our breath and acculturate. We all started out good. In the Cotopaxi climb, the snow starts almost at the bottom, so you end up walked in several feet of snow for over an hour. Luckily, the snow is mostly compact from so many people walking on it, but if you take a wrong step, you end up sinking about two feet. Guess how many wrong steps I took?? – Yeah, a lot. The biggest fear is the height and slipping. We are incredibly high. You slip and slide – you slide FAR. Possibly, too far. Then, you either have to make your way blindly down over untouched ice and snow. Or, you have to walk back up the cliff. Pity if you slide and fall over a rock ledge – no joke. So, guess what I did? THat´s right – I slipped and fell. I started to slide down (as was my fear), but luckily our magnificent one-armed guide grabbed that pack I was wearing and pulled me back up. Now that´s service. I had taken the pack because poor dad was having trouble. Altitude and no exercise caught up with him, and even though we were walking slowly and carefully, the climb just about killed him. I was personally so proud of both of us, but especially myself – despite the altitude, the snow, and the incline, I was zooming up the volcano like it was no problem. It was awesome. At one point while dad was resting, I walked further ahead just in time to see the clouds part in an absolutely breathtaking, incredible display of Cotopaxi´s snow-covered cliffs, and a fantastic look-out over the other corner of the volcano. I was laughing, it was so magnificent. Unfortunately, by the time dad got there, the clouds had moved in again and he couldn´t see it. But I got pictures. From there, the refuge wasn´t far. Seeing the refuge was such a relief, because poor dad was just about gone. The scariest part of the entire climb was actually the last little bit to the refuge, because it was so steep and so icy. The refuge is basically a ski lodge, and that hot tea was well deserved. We were so greatful for our guide, without whom, we NEVER would have made it up. As it was, it took us over an hour and a half.  So, we rested a while, and then quickly surfed down the sandy down-ward trail in a hail-storm in about 20 minutes, shouting encouragement at the poor fools still climbing up. Then, we took a lovely (an exhausted) ride out of the park and headed back up to Quito for dad´s last day (New Year´s Eve).

After thouroughly getting lost driving into Quito causing dad and i nearly to kill each other (not entirely my fault!! there´s no full map of quito!), we settled into the Hilton for New Years. So comfortable, I never wanted to leave. New Years Eve was WILD. Amazonas, even early in the day, was completely insane. It just slowly built up with people and music all day. But before that, we met up with my friend Ruth to sight-see. We took dad to the gothic Basillica and the gold-lined Campañia (both, fabulous) before heading back to the artisenal market to shop. I must say, Ruth is the best haggler I´ve ever met. I want her with me, always. She got some incredibly low prices.

Best part of the market? Outside were a group of men dressed like Roman Centurions, complete with swords, spears, and shields, blocking cars (and jumping on them) for money ala the kids in Cotopaxi. the incredibly funny part was when a cop car came through with its lights on. THE MEN ATTACKED THE COP CAR. That, takes balls – especially in Ecuador. The cop was either incredibly patient or had an amazing sense of humor, because he kept on driving even when one of the men jumped up, BACK-KICKED the COP CAR while STABBING IT WITH A SPEAR. It. Was. Hilarious.

So, New Years is treated here with like a cross between Halloween and new years. All the new years festivities, plus dressing up in costumes, playing pranks, and burning things. As my friend Kevin says, it seriously seems like Riots, Revolutions, or the Zombie Apocalypse. The next day – complete and absolute disaster area outside. Anyway, dad and I went out on Amazonas to see the concerts and wave through the crowds of people. We were greeted with all sorts of people dressed up as all sorts of crazy things – demons, kiss, vampires, monkeys, soldiers, many many death masks. Also, we got to see several año viejos (human effigies of the old year) being beaten and burned. In the craziness, we got surrounded by a crowd of shouting children, who were distracting us to steal dad´s cigarrettes. Brats. At least they didn´t get any money. To get the idea of the crowd, dad and i ran into a cop brigade (in cars) trying to get down Amazonas about three to four blocks before the end of the mariscal. Walking slowly, we walked to the end of the Mariscal, turned around and came back. It took us about forty minutes when we finally caught up to the line of cop cars again, and they were only about 2/3 down the Mariscal because of all the people. We reached the Hilton before them. That´s slow. Beat, dad and I went back to the hotel to rest until midnight. From our hotel-room window, we saw at least five different fire-works displays going on at the same time. Coming outside at midnight, we got to continue to see fireworks every-where, along with watching all sorts of people burning their año viejos. The Hilton workers came out and burned their own año viejo, dressed in a hilton uniform. It was incredible. I love New Years here…I want to burn effigies. Absolute and complete insanity.

Unfortunately, the next day my dad had to go home. It was sad. I wished I could´ve stayed longer (screw work!!)

I had a great time showing dad around Ecuador, and I think he loved it too.