Saturday, September 26, 2009

Week 3 - nuevos amigos y viejos amigos

So picking right up where I left off... Sunday afternoon Kate and I walked down the beach to the next village of Las Tunas, the ocean was really high and a storm the night before had eroded the bank back so far that half of the old bamboo beach hut had collapsed (tan triste!!). There is internet now in Las Tunas, just out of someone’s home, so Kate checked her e-mail and we headed back along the road. Liz made us a delicious dinner as always and we made smores for dessert (yummers, and to note: if you have neither campfire nor microwave, a toaster oven works even better!) Attemped to watch a movie but it was too long and we just crashed. Monday morning Liz made us these vegan oatmeal pancakes, delish! Later that morning I had to cancel class because I was briefly quite ill but I can’t pin that on the pancakes, it’s just part of life here and if that was it then I am one happy camper. Monday afternoon I laid on the beach for a bit since it was sunny and tried to plan our SA trip…
Monday we really started up evening lessons, I now have 6 students plus 2 more starting next week so we’re going to divide the class into basic and intermediate, one hour of each. My students range from a tour agency owner in his 60’s to the coolest 12-year kid that works here sometimes. A challenge with all the different levels but it’s been great so far, really casual, we can just chat and I get to learn a lot Spanish through the discussions. Plus I’ve recruited Kate to help out while she’s here and two other American guys have shown up to sit in too, it helps to have other English speakers to bounce my theories off!! Explaining English grammar is ridiculous, I really didn’t invent this language! But for the most part it’s a conversation/communication class and we agree that grammar is not important especially when native speakers don’t use proper grammar!
Tuesday, um, I tutored in the morning since I was sick Monday. Got another nice meal. Taught evening class again… Normal day.
Wednesday was fun! I got up early and headed out to Puerto Rico to help Kate teach her English class in the schools but then there was a volunteer group from Guayaquil so they only had classes in the afternoon. So…. We went for another really long walk along the beach, past Las Tunas, all the way to Ayampe and back. A good 2 and half hours…. Nice to get some exercise! Liz made us yummy lunch again and I lazed around there until heading back into town to plan my evening class. That one went really well and after Kate, myself and Alex (a cool cat from the States who’s staying a few days since he met Kate in Quito, where he will be living for 2 months but had this weekend free so decided to chill down here) made dinner. Meanwhile, the town had been setting up for a fiesta right in our street. This was actually the first one I’d seen so far (last year it seemed there was one every weekend!). For those who have never experienced an Ecuadorian village fiesta I’ll sum it up: Step one – convert the street in a discotheque with streamers of flags, a huge stage and dwarf tables and stools down the side. The locals set up food/drink stalls just outside and that’s all set. Step two – Get a guy with a huge microphone to shout random stuff all night and a DJ to blast the salsa music until 4 am plus the odd go-go dancer for more ambiance. Step three – pick your favourite Catholic saint and parade her down the street with the whole village following. (This one was for the Virgin actually) And add in a mini-beauty pageant with some uninterested teens for fun. And…. Voilà! You have yourself a true fiesta where everyone (literally, little kids and old grandpas) drink Pilsener and dance until the wee hours. Still tough for me to get over the idea that’s it’s totally cool here to party with your students. So we introduced Kate and Alex to this phenomenon seeing as it was in our street and with the music blasting I couldn’t have slept if I’d wanted to. But I did tuck it in at about 2am, I can only handle so much of that!
Thursday, lazy morning for me. Made pineapple-upside pancakes for brunch with Alex that almost succeeded, the next time they will! Still delish. Then Alex, Katharina (the girl from Germany from week 1, she had all her stuff stolen in Quito and has come back here for 2 weeks until her next flight goes since she didn’t get her replacement passport in time to catch her original flight, how awful!!), went to tour a private garden. Turns out I know the people, an eccentric British couple who have lived here for 10 years. He is an archaeologist working with the 2 guys who live here and she is a botanist/biologist I guess. They had 2 little kids whose first language is Spanish and go to public school, I can’t imagine how bad they must stick out with their red hair!! Anyway, really cool what she’s done the yard, she could tell us all about the plants and their uses, plus the insects and lizards. She also gets the schools involved, encouraging the kids to value nature and living an extremely ecological lifestyle, amazing. There is so much that we could do, it’s just having the time and right now the access to things and the knowledge. She washes all their clothes with these seeds that soaked overnight really do work just as well as detergent. After my class, Alex and Katharina made the most amazing fresh paella for me. I wish I could hire him. Then we chatted with friends along the beach.
Friday it was up early and off to tutor then straight back down and onto the bus with Kate to Portoviejo since she needed to pick up her replacement credit card that was being sent DHL and the nearest office is over 2 hours away. (She had her bag stolen too if I hadn’t mentioned that, overnight bus from Quito. Moral: Quito is dangerous and that is why I am not living there. And you can never be too careful, constant vigilance!!) Met up with Tita briefly in the mall, stocked up on black tea and mozzarella and success with the credit card!! Got our dose of heat and sun too, yuck. Then right back on the bumpy dusty bus back home. Oh but the best part: Bus food!!! We got taffy, empanadas de queso, corviche, pan de yuca and finally, the banana loaf from Jipijapa!!! It’s back! Almost worth going there just for that loaf. Price had gone up but the quality, hot out of the oven, had not. We just may have eaten the entire loaf yesterday…. Finally, last night we hung out along the malecon again and briefly checked out a new karaoke place that had just opened.
Today is going to be cooking day. With Alex around I have a feeling this can’t fail to be delicious. Then tomorrow we’re planning on burning it all off and biking to Agua Blanca.
So I guess I have settled in now. Still having to remind myself to break bills whenever possible, no flopping on the bed there’s a mosquito net, toilet paper (despite it’s name) is not meant to be put in the toilet, if you feel like wearing short sleeves you need a second skin of sunscreen and repellent, dish water can’t go down the sink (wash in basin and give to plants), recycling sadly doesn’t exist, monitor your drinking water supply at least a day ahead of time, shop in the morning if possible, the chocolate is cheaper at this store but the milk is at that one…
PS- check out Kate's blog to see Jojo (our dog) getting his nightly massage from Perlita (our cat)!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Week Two - more settling in...

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were really do nothing days, I guess everyone needs the occasional few! Well I spent half of the day on the bus Monday then visited a bit in the evening. Otherwise, got some reading on the beach done, fully set up my room and kitchen, did some brainstorming for my job (but that’s somewhat difficult since I still don’t know how many students or what level to expect but at least I have a good idea of what topics will be the best to cover), watched a movie…. Ok fine I really did nothing! Thursday I made 2 lasagnas in the morning, always a challenge! Later I took the one as promised last year out to the family in Puerto Rico. Got in a really nice visit with all of them. Las chicas (me, Mary, Liz and Noemy) sat around getting manicures (Mary’s talent!!) while the lasagna was cooking and sharing pictures. Later, a volunteer who’s living with them got back from work (Kate – a real nice girl from the states who is their first volunteer in 5 months and who ran into Chad in Quito, who had told me she was coming but she had her phone stolen and so couldn’t contact me, quelle coincidence!) So anyway, I now have a friend for the next 2 weeks… The lasagna was not bad considering, mmmmm, cheese! And then Liz made us REAL hot chocolate!!! From pure cocoa paste that her aunt in Esmeraldas had harvested or something. Grated into boiling water with cinnamon and thrown in a blender with milk, que rico!!! I was in heaven and she gave me a bottle of the chocolate/cinnamon mix so I can make my own for breakfast…. It’s crazy that while so much raw cocoa comes from here it’s so hard to find chocolate and never good chocolate, plus it’s expensive. Because they just ship the raw stuff straight from the source to factories in China and then over to the company in the States or Europe to package and a tiny bit ends up back down here full of preservatives…
Thursday evening we kind of started classes here at the hostel, mostly just meeting the first 4 students and deciding what they want to learn and how, what they already know… It’s going to be a challenge teaching people of all ages and levels. However, I now have at least 6 students and a whiteboard!
Friday I started tutoring another guy too, who works with Palo Santo (rare indigenous wood that smells amazing! They only work with wood that is already dead, naturally (is there a word for that??) and make candles, incense, soap and such with the oil that extracted with this intense machine. It’s owned by an Italian man that moved here 10 years ago and has a really nice house on the hill, so I got a delicious pasta lunch. Friday evening class was cancelled as 2 of my students were preparing their Chilean party, it was Chile’s national day so I was invited and Kate got come along. It was really nice, we sat around and chatted, there was delicious Chilean food done over an open BBQ and several people I already knew, all the elite of Puerto Lopez I`d say, I`m pretty sure there wasn't anyone there originally from here…
Saturday was a day of relaxing, I walked all the way to the other end of the beach and that took me nearly all morning and my feet were rubbed raw, ouch! Also got a bit of sunburn through the clouds… oops. Saturday evening Gladys (Galo's mom the hostel owner) invited Kate and I to dinner and to watch the football game (the 2 teams from Quito), I really need to learn a thing or two about soccer since the rest of the world is crazy about it. Later Kate and I walked along and the Malécon and chatted to some friends but there wasn`t much happening. So we came back here and had a sleepover with a movie.
Sunday I helped Kate out, we were supposed to talk to tourists at a hostel and tell them about the tours and such but there weren`t any tourists so we just played pool and read. Went for lunch with the tour operator at a nice restaurant, picked up stuff for smores and headed out to Puerto Rico. And... I think I`ll leave the rest of yesterday to the next post since this is getting a bit long.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Visiting my hermanita =) and a bus rant

So last weekend I hopped on the bus and re-traced my journey of last Tuesday back up to Portoviejo to visit my Lucia my hermanita ecuatoriana and her familia! She was living with my parents as an exchange student 3 years ago and I went to visit her last year too. So great to see her again!! She lives in a nice walled house with a puppy, a cat and a sweet pet monkey =)
Saturday we relaxed and then went to mall (a real one) to pick up some stuff for sushi and a bunch of other supplies for me (everything from brown rice to normal black tea to contact solution) that I can’t buy here. So I think I’m set for at least another month…
That evening I taught them how to make sushi, apparently this is my talent now! I wander about the world and make sushi in the strangest places! It turned out decently and everyone got to try something new, some even liked it! That evening we went out and met up with a few of her friends for a bit.
Sunday was a sleeping in day… we made a nice breakfast and then set out on a mission to find some ESL books I need for my job, found a few but actually the bunch of old ones I borrowed from her might prove to be more useful. After we all piled in the car and headed out of the city for lunch (it seem every time I go it’s ‘what’s shall we do? I know, let’s leave this city!’) We had a gorgeous meal at really nice little Italian restaurant in Montecristi with a beautiful view! That afternoon we went to the cinema with her friends (The Ugly Truth, normally I don’t like such humour but it was actually pretty good….) and then after dinner we watched another movie before heading to bed since we both needed to be up early.
I spent most of the weekend speaking English… bad me. But I expect it will be the last opportunity except for while teaching for at least a month so…
Yesterday I took the bus back early with all my supplies. Perhaps now is a good time to describe rural bus journeys to those who have never had the ‘privilege’ of the experience. Bus terminals in the main centres are crazy places teeming with life, noise and no apparent organisation whatsoever. Closer observation shows that there are fading signs indicating where the buses in that area are most likely going if you’re heading to another main centre. Men (the drivers and bus attendants are inevitably always male) walk around shouting where their bus is going to anyone who looks the least bit lost and most of the time that’s how I find out which bus to take. Seeing as I’m a foreigner most of the time they’ll even go out of their way to ask me where I’m going and point in the right direction, or just assume I’m going to Guayaquil (the biggest city) or around here it’s always Montañita (gringo surfer party town), that gets annoying. Very rarely you have to buy a ticket from the company’s stall or table before getting on but most of the time people just pile on the bus and it takes off a couple minutes behind schedule (if it actually has one) or more likely just whenever the driver thinks it’s full enough and worth the trip. About 10-15 mins into the trip the ‘bus attendant’ walks down the aisle collecting the fee (generally about a dollar an hour but they often try to charge naïve foreigners more and since there’s often no set price sometimes the price fluctuates so it’s best if you know how much it’s supposed to be before you pay and just have the right change ready showing you know how much it is. (Though that didn’t work for me last time, he charged my an extra 50c and I wasn’t in the mood to cause a scene over 50c but it still left me pissed off…) The buses have zero leg room and if you’re unlucky enough to have a seat mate, it’s a pretty uncomfortable journey seeing as their idea of personal space nowhere near North American standards. Can be pretty hot too w/o air conditioning but opening a window is generally good enough. Unless you are going through construction or an unpaved road (ugh dust)… the road from Portoviejo to Jipijapa is terrible right now, I was just so amazed that the old bus that looks like it would fall apart just sitting there could possibly survive!
But there are advantages too, it’s cheap for one. Strangely efficient both environmentally and time-wise as you never have to check schedules, they generally go frequently enough and you can get on and off anywhere you like along the route, just yell ‘aquí por favor’ or wave down the bus and it’ll slow down and on or off you hop. I also like how the vendors come on and off the bus selling everything, mostly food and mostly fresh baked from stalls along the road or around the bus stations. Really good, hot, cheap cheese empanadas!! (But I miss that incredible banana loaf I could get last year in Jipijapa, haven’t seen it this time…) Most of the time the vendors just hop and cry out briefly what they have walk up and back and that’s it, though they are a few that are annoying. Finally, I’m still fascinated by the scenery. There’s these huge leafless green-trunked trees around Portoviejo I love. The roots are a bit out of the ground and so the trunks remind of Alaina doing her weird neck thing. I’m sure she’s happy to know I’m thinking of her for that… Anyway, this time they had big white flowers, though Lucia explained that my ‘flowers’ where actually big balls of cotton, and they are cotton trees but not the kind of cotton we use. I just think they are so cool and strangely beautiful without any leaves when everything here (no winter) is perpetually green.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Week One - settling in

Everything happens at its own pace here but by the time I left Saturday to visit my hermanita in Portoviejo I had secured lodging, a job and had meet up with the few people I still knew here. That’s success enough for me!
I asked at a couple of places about renting for a month and heard as low as 80$ w/private bath (later I heard oh 50$ is a good deal!) but opted to stay where I was since for me it’s cheap and has everything I need. I’m staying a hostel called Villa Colombia, it has a really nice garden w/ hamacas in the centre and then rooms w/ outside access all around. It’s only 2 blocks from the “downtown” but on the right side, not the beach side, so it’s relatively (as is everything) quiet and private for here. I have a kitchen to use and decent speed wireless internet, some things do change here after all!! So I’d say I’m pretty spoiled… We have a sweet old dog (European golden lab) and tiny crazy cat they rescued as a kitten (one of the many strays the roads are full of here…) as well as some turtles in the back garden that just had babies! The owners (a man and his mom) are super nice and so friendly! As well there is a guy who works here and 2 other guys from Guayaquil staying long-term working on archiving a local museum. And of course random groups of tourists that come and go but there will be soon be less since the whales will only be here a couple more weeks at most.
The weather is well, blah. For those of you who haven’t been here, sorry to burst the tropical beach life bubble! It’s definitely not idealistic here in any way but I like that better. It’s always cloudy, though rarely rains and I’ve been told it stays just like this at until December, so much for seasons! However, the temperature is perfect. Since it’s not sunny it’s never too hot, I’d say 20-25 in the day and just under 20 at night. It’s surprisingly humid though for all that we’re in the dry tropical forest and no there is not a lot of lovely vegetation, have to hike a bit inland to the cloud forest for that!
And as always the country is in a perpetual state of disrepair, I’m so used to it, anything new and shiny is a curiosity! However, they have paved more roads, put in plumbing in Puerto Rico and built a town square over the last block of the main road to the ‘malecon’ beach-front road which is actually quite nice and diverts the traffic around, wouldn’t want the tourists run over by a taxi-moto now would we?
As for volunteering… Well there are tons of opportunities here it’s just a matter of being patient and insistant and meeting the right people. Actually, I won’t be teaching in the schools this time and get to experience teaching adults which should be an interesting experience! I mean the fact that I will be the youngest in the class just kind of adds a new twist… however motivation and discipline should be a breeze! I am working with a foundation for the protection of whales and other wildlife. One of their projects was to teach English to the guides but then the teacher that was supposed to come backed out at last minute so the head lady was super happy when she found out I was an ESL teacher! I will be teaching M/W/F all afternoon, 3 classes (basic, intermediate, advanced). The basic is really just the tour guides with the foundation, the intermediate will be for the more advanced and just whoever else wants to join in (we’ve already recruited about 6 extra students, everyone really wants to learn English but there are so few opportunities here) and the last class with just be 3 people, the head lady, another girl and the hostel owner who works at the foundation. And…. They insisted on paying me (shhhh) just enough to cover my food and accommodation but still appreciated. They said it would be better if people had to pay a bit so they would be more encouraged to come so they didn’t waste their money and I would be a bit more motivated but really doesn’t make a difference to me. We are also planning on helping out a school at least one day a week that is a good half hour outside of a village (Agua Blanca) that is pretty isolated itself! They just set up this school and lots of the kids have never been to school since before they had to walk to Agua Blanca. So I’m looking forward to that!
Que más? Oh yes, I went out to Puerto Rico and visited everyone, they are just the same, everyone is doing well and they all say hi! Liz is no longer hosting volunteers so the house (which now has several nice showers outside and all) is pretty empty since Samuel and Mary have moved out down the road to a house they built. Friday I also ran into some people I knew from here last time and we sat around and chatted to the limit of Spanish ability anyway… nothing has changed with them. Earlier on Friday I went out for dinner with the hostel owner and a German girl who was volunteering here for a few weeks but left this weekend. Finally got my ceviche fix, yum!!
Otherwise…. I guess I have just been relaxing. Reading, learning to cook and buy food here, unpacking, etc. It’s going to be SO nice not be living out of a suitcase!!!! I have a shelf-thing for my clothes!!! Love it.
More later!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Y yo me fui a la costa

So Tuesday I stepped out of one ecuadorian world and into another. Leaving the mountains, the sunny but cool weather, ‘civilisation’ and more well-to-do people of the sierra behind for the ocean, cloudy but warmer weather, ‘rustic-ness’ and the simpler people of the coast. The bus ride was not nearly as bad as remember from last year… though I think it’s more that I have changed rather than here. The bus drivers are actually really good. I mean they are crazy but they have to be both good and crazy to drive on these roads! There was tons of construction as always but luckily it didn’t delay us too much, and I can actually see that it is improving something! The road from Puerto Cayo to Machililla and the one from P.L. at least to Puerto Rico have both been re-paved! No more swerving from one side to the other of the road to avoid potholes, amazing!
I guess I also had a much more realistic idea of how far P.L. is, last time they told me 5-6 hours and at least 12 hours later…. And that was good timing I later found out!
The scenery was as fabulous if not even more stunning than I remembered… it’s still summer in the mountains and everything was just so lush. Huge mountains coated with green: grass to plants to bushes to trees and then more plants on the trees and a healthy blanket of vines draped over everything! I still can’t get over how much life there is here, I mean there are these plants that grow on telephone wires, what intense desire for life a plant must have to make an abode for itself on a wire?!?
The nice lady beside me let me have her window seat so I could sleep a bit since we left disgustingly early, there were no more tickets for the bus to P.L. so I got a ticket to Portoviejo in the hopes that I could then take another bus to P.L. or at worst stay at my friend’s place in Portoviejo. But I left real early in the hopes of option A. I thought the last bus left Jipijapa at about 5pm meaning I would have to leave Portoviejo at 3:30 but on the way the hostel owner here called me and said no the last bus leaves at 7pm. So when we arrived at 4pm in Portoviejo I decided to trust him and try to continue on. But then I’d forgotten that Reina del Camino (the ‘best’ bus company aka safest and most comfortable..) thinks they are above everyone else and can’t use the main bus terminal but their own little one the other side of town, so I had to take a taxi that over-charged me to the main one and then local bus to Jipijapa (that almost took off accidentally with my other suitcase, ugh) and then finally the wonderful familiar turquoise Manglaralto bus hasta Puerto Lopez.
I was pretty proud of myself though, it all went smoothly, I had a short conversation with the old Colombian lady sitting beside me, ate at the lunch stop and bought myself an empanada de queso for dinner from a vendor on the bus in Jipijapa. I got into P.L. even before the direct bus did and spent the evening trying to stay in a debate with the owner and a German girl who was staying here.
I am now in Puerto Lopez where I have WiFi,(Crazy!) Otherwise, nothing has changed… I have a place to stay but still not sure exactly what I’ll be doing, there are loads of opportunities but everything just takes it’s time here. Estoy extrañando a todos que estaban aquí el año pasado!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Nous sommes qui, qui, qui, qui? Quito!

Representing the Fac in Quito!
Friday I really didn’t do much... After arriving so late I tried to sleep in but jet lag woke me up at 7:00, I really did leave my internal clock somewhere over the Atlantic, the first few days I would crash completely at about 6pm. I was staying just outside of Quito with my sister’s second host family from her exchange 4 years ago that I had stayed with last year, such generous people! We did go for lunch at the Grandma’s, the food here is just as good if not better than I remember, it just has so much more flavour! It’s not necessarily my favourite food, but it is just the freshest and most intense.
Saturday I got a ride into Quito and met up with Chad. We did a lot of walking. Still trying to get myself oriented with the place, the customs and the language. We figured out the bus and eventually found our way to the artisan market after a detour through the New Town (gringo central). I was a bit disappointed with the market, there’s really nothing like Otavalo and think I will buy a few things for people here on the coast or later in my trip. Then we headed to the mall which is still weird for me, such a contrast, it’s too ‘normal’. Things have price tags on them! We got cell phones, that really was exciting. My number is 80751524 with 0 before in Ecuador or 593 for international. Afterwards we headed back to Chad’s hostel (Secret Garden). I had heard loads of good things about it and from the bit I got to see, seems pretty good. Good deal, clean, restaurant, tons of people and an amazing view from the terraza. We climbed up a ton of steps behind the hostel to a park place on the top of a hill that had a wonderful view of the city but compared to the parks in Europe, it was pretty deserted.
Sunday we eventually (key word in Ecuador) made our way into the city and met up with a cousin (Bethania) that I knew from last year, her friend from Brazil and Chad. We strolled around the Old Town and went to a museum about the history of Quito but it was a bit boring since I didn’t understand too much of it as the guide just talked a lot and my Spanish is well, under construction. Then we went to see a church (Iglesia de la Compañía) that is almost completely decorated with gold, crazy! After we went for lunch at a Colombian chain restaurant ‘Crêpes and Waffles” (I went last time too, and is it bizarre that a Colombian restaurant is French?) but it is delicious! Finally Chad and I went up the teleférico another 1000m to 4100m. The mountains here really are gorgeous. And what a view! Stunnning, you can see pretty much the whole city and it's very spread out, sprawling everywhere up the mountains. Last time I went it was night and foggy so we couldn’t see a thing, this time it was even worth paying twice the price since we’re foreigners. Unfortunately we got up there too late to hike very far and certainly not right to the volcán Pichincha but I think I could’ve, taking it slow, the altitude didn’t really affect me this time, just a bit short of breath.
Monday was a lazy day as well. I went to the mega-market to get things for sushi, you can buy anything there, except garlic and ripe avocados. (The easiest things to find on the street.) But expensive, about the same as at home, some of the sushi stuff a bit more expensive even. Then, we got back to the house and…. No fish!! It disappeared. We went straight back to the store but they said we must’ve dropped it, but it was the only thing missing. We think, since it was almost the last thing on the receipt that the person behind us ended up with it. Poor fish. Poor me, I had to buy a new one. Oh well! After figuring out the buses for the next day (kind of) and packing up my stuff, I made sushi (with help from the maid) for everyone (Kim’s two host families). It actually turned out! Perhaps not the best I have ever made but certainly not the worst either. For the adults it was the first time they had tried sushi so I think I left them with a good impression, though my sushi is not exactly traditional…. I even made that crazy Swedish dip (like creamy mango-garlic), so now I have a trademark. Japan meets Sweden and falls in love, it was a hit, screw wasabi and ginger!
Early on Tuesday morning I took the bus to the coast but will leave that adventure to a new post.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Travel rant and continent-hopping...

8pm London
3pm Atlanta
2pm Quito
So what better place to write my travel rant than waiting for my second inter-continental flight of my 30-hour day in the Atlanta airport?
Well I promised I would tell you guys about missing my flight way back a couple of weeks ago… Sadly I really don’t have a good story, I just missed my flight. We got caught in traffic and then it said you have to be through security 30 mins before departure, but I missed the really, really small print that said the bag check and international passport verification desk closes 40 mins before. Well, I got a bit lost in the airport and got there 39mins before my flight. Ugh, so I would’ve been fine but I’m not an EU citizen and insist on bringing more than one change of clothes with me for 4 weeks…
So then I found myself stuck in Manchester with no Ryanair flights until the next day at 20:00…. Panic! Actually I more just felt like crawling into a corner and crying but that was sadly not an option. I frantically called my friend but she was driving and didn’t pick up so I paid a ridiculous amount to use the internet and did some lightning-fast research of all air and ground transportation to southern Germany, everything was way out of my budget until at last, out of desperation I tried Brussels and there was a ‘cheap’ (everything is relative) flight with some obscure airline called Flybe. After a bit more research to make there was an affordable train from Brussels-Köln that wouldn’t leave me stranded in a random train station overnight, I ran off to the other terminal and bought my ticket. From there it was just another disgusting day of travel, crazy 5-hour train ride with 4 connections but I made it in before midnight! The End. Moral: Never, ever trust traffic. Read ALL the fine print. An hour’s sleep is not worth being late. (I still have trouble with that last one, but did get up at 4:15 this morning to take the earlier train and don’t regret it).
Second travel disaster: Ended up on the train from Belgium to Germany without a ticket. Well, without a paper one anyway. I booked so far ahead of time to get an über cheap ticket then just wrote down the code in my planner, which is supposed to mean I just have to put the number in the machine at the station to retrieve my ticket… Well I was going to check but didn’t really have internet in Belgium so left it. Then I get to the station and find it won’t work in the Belgian machines because theirs are letters only, so I ask the ticket man and he says well, the number is good but I can’t print it because the printer wasn’t working so gives a paper explaining and says there’ll be no problems. Yeah right… The train lady was like no this just says you can buy a ticket on the train without the surcharge and you have a Belgian number so can only print that in Belgium, too late we’re across the border, buy another and see if you can get it reimbursed. So 90 euro later we’re trying to explain the lady in the station I need it sent to Belgium to get reimbursed and she goes no, this is actually a German reservation number but you have to have printed it yourself, tant pis pour vous. She tried to get my original one reimbursed but I just got a letter saying I don’t even get the cheap ticket back. Lesson: Always, always double check. Booking in advance is not always an advantage!
Confused yet? So am I, it’s a permanent condition for the traveller.
Since I left on July 24th, I have slept in 18 ‘beds’ (‘beds’ because plane, train and ferry seats are included). Yuck. With travelling a lot of things end up in “ “. My scarf has also been a ‘blanket’, ‘blindfold’, ‘jacket’, ‘towel’, ‘door’, ‘seat’, ‘beach wrap’, ‘fashion accessory’ and ‘rope’. Or take food for example: early on the plane I was trying to convince myself that the “tomato sauce” on my plane pizza à la “italiana” was one serving of “fruits and veggies” for the day… yep. Between that and my total exercise today being walking from concourse E to A (about 1.5km), travelling doesn’t exactly facilitate a healthy lifestyle. Lack of sleep, clean clothes and showers leave me in a perpetual state of GROSS. I also picked up a cold in Sweden… it started in the left side of my throat and has now progressed up, over and back into the rear of my right nasal cavity leaving me all stuffed up and with a headache. And sure that some of these grumpy security people are going trying to get me quarantined for swine flu. Like I try to be as friendly as possible but these people are cold-blooded machines. I’m obviously a sneaky criminal, what happened to innocent until proven guilty? I’m also obviously an American even when they are holding my passport. Britain is the worst, twice now it’s been: What state are you from? And the other one: Is Atlanta your permanent residence? Ugh.
I think I have seen every single possible way to flush a toilet. From automatic, to hand flush on the side, on the wall, to buttons on the top, on the wall, a ceiling chain, foot pedals, close the lid… ok maybe not a voice command one yet…
Wales had these crazy “sinks” and hole in the wall where you stick your hands and then press ‘soap’, ‘water’ and ‘air’ and each substance squirts down.
I can figure out any new shower within one minute. On/off, hot/cold, pressure, nozzle adjustment. Even ones where you set everything and then just press ‘On’. I think I’ve mastered the washrooms of at least 2 continents, still working on South America but the next few months should leave me an expert there too. I already have the golden rule down: never go anywhere without a roll of toilet paper.
Communication is another headache. Even with 3 languages. I hate being anywhere I don’t speak the language at all (even if 99% of the population does speak English, I still think it’s rude to assume). You can’t order food, get directions, if someone asks for the time you can only look at them like duh? Sorry, English? You feel terribly stupid. Of course miscommunication can be amusing too…
I also hate having to say goodbye every 2-4 days… It’s awful, I just never know what to say to thank people that have been too generous and who you have no clue when you may see again but who are really among the best friends you have. Of course that is more than compensated by getting to say hello every 2-4 days and just seeing everyone again! That was so wonderful. Really, ignore this whole rant, that whole trip was more than worth it (though I’d say a once-in-a-lifetime) and I just can’t get over how generous, hospitable, and welcoming everyone was. I meet the most amazing people, the world is a fantastic place. I really really hope that someday people will come visit me so I can spoil them and get an excuse to be a tourist chez moi.
If any of you are reading this: Thank-you so much, merci beaucoup, muchas muchas gracias.
Yesterday I spent one last day in London organising and packing my stuff (ugh, so much stuff, I realised I really don’t need more than what fits in my backpack and had forgotten what I had left in my suitcase, now I feel rich! (and over-burdened with stuff)) I also met up with my ex-roomies (Alaina and Hayley) who are going to be teaching in London for the next two years and we went out for dinner. Delicious Indian food at probably the creepiest restarant ever. We were the only ones there the whole time. So awkward!
Well, my Europe trip is over, one continent down. It is only just hitting me now what wonderful sights I got to see, things I got to experience, ideas to discover, beauty to admire. Carefully pack those treasures away before I start another chapter I hope will be just as incredible. Trading in the best in fresh dairy for the best in fresh fruit!

(Now safe and happy in Quito! Thinking about staying until Tuesday then going to the coast since I ran into a friend (Chad) on my flight down here (I love chance, it keeps life so interesting!) so I have someone to do things with and would like to see more of Quito. Jet lag definitely hasn't hit yet, I'm just so amazed that I'm actually back here and can still communicate in Spanish!!)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Jag pratar inte Svenska. Fika, fika, fika!!

Part two of my Swedish adventures. Although I really haven’t picked up on any Swedish, ‘fika’ is all I really need. So I arrived chez Astrid on Tuesday night, over three years later and she is still my ray of sunshine! She lives in a nice student residence with an awesome view all the way Malmö and the bridge to Copenhagen. That night we just watched part of a movie and went to bed.
The next day she had to go register for classes so I got caught up with some e-mails. University was just starting for people so I got to experience a bit of the ‘orientation’. Swedes are absolutely crazy, in the best way possible of course. The first couple of weeks are fairly light so they have tons of activities and things going on, especially for the ‘nollning’ (the zeroes – the new students that haven’t yet written an exam). Often each program has a different colour of overalls that they wear and run around the city singing their section’s song or competing to paint the phone booth on a tiny island in the middle of a little lake their colour among other things. There are tons of oddly themed parties and dinners hosted by each ‘nation’ (student association groups, hard to explain), program mentor group, residence or just privately. It’s a very welcoming atmosphere and everyone is just so friendly. I meet so many people and I wasn’t even going to be studying there! Plus they all speak English and were so considerate to speak English around me so I wasn’t completely lost all the time.
Wednesday I went for sushi for lunch with Astrid then after she got back from class we got food for a BBQ : grilled veggies and haloumi cheese (delicious!!) with cheesecake for dessert, so an almost cheese party except the movies we watched after weren’t really cheesy…
Thursday I relaxed in the morning while Astrid had class again but then for lunch and all afternoon (except for a long walk downtown to get food) we laid around reading, chatting and eating in the botanical garden park. It was so lovely out, fabulous!! That evening we went out dancing for a bit but it was hard to get me in anyway since I don’t belong to a nation so we spent more time waiting in line and it was so hot.
Friday Astrid and I biked around the city, it is such a nice place. Basically built around the university which has buildings all over and the student life since about half the population are students. Bikes everywhere! We went to see the quiet neighbourhood where Astrid grew up: it was like walking into a children’s show. There was the school, the park and the corner store all connected by bike paths (almost no roads) and then different coloured ‘pods’ of houses facing onto an open space in the middle with benches, trees, a sandbox, forts and kid’s toys everywhere! So neat! Then back through the town stopping for ‘fika’ at a cute coffee shop. I really like how if you get tea, you choose from a variety of loose teas and make it yourself. That night her nation hosted a party so we went out dancing again. Another thing I like: In lots of restaurants and clubs they have pitchers of water and glasses on trays so you can serve yourself whenever.
Saturday everyone got up and made a huge, delicious brunch! I ate way too much. And in the middle I had to run down to the station to meet Sofia dos who came out for the weekend with us. We each grabbed an overnight bag and took the bus to Astrid’s parents place on the sea out in the countryside. Paradise! In the afternoon we went for a walk around the village (really just a tiny bakery and farmer that sells his extra veggies) and a long ways down the gorgeous fine white sand beach. Astrid and her mom made us amazing ‘moules-frites’ for dinner so I got what I missed out on while I was in France. That night we set up a sheet for a screen and watched a movie on the projector!
Sunday was possibly the best day of my trip so far: Her neighbour offered to let us borrow his nice convertible to cruise around so we took it up to an ancient fortress where we snuck in behind the Erasmus students we ran into. It was all original with arrow slits and holes for pouring burning oil on invaders! Muahaha… From there we continued to a quaint coffee shop in the middle of nowhere for another ‘fika’ on the veranda. Then off to wander a cute town with a nice shopping street but it was Sunday and everything was closed and quiet. Finally on to a seafood shop for the last of our sushi supplies and to hike up to a Swedish Stonehenge – the Sunship. Ancient stones arranged in the shape of an eye, or a ship, that accurately predicted where the sun would rise and set each day, very cool. Plus some really windy sea cliffs! That evening we made amazing sushi, I just keep getting better and now I have a secret sauce =). On our way back to catch the bus her dad let us up an old lighthouse with a stunning view of the sunset…. Ahhh…
Yesterday morning it was bright ‘n early to catch the train to Göteborg with Sofia. After dropping off my burden of stuff and grabbing a bite to eat we set out on foot to explore the city, the second biggest in Sweden. We did lan amazing race thing where you had to find certain buildings and get numbers, we’ll see if we win anything but I don’t think we got all the right answers… Good way to see a city though! It was so misty so we paused for another ‘fika’ before I got the real Göteborg experience walking back up in the rain and the crazy wind! Last night I organised everything for the trip back today and we watched another movie.
Today I am going for lunch with Sofia between her classes and then down to get the bus to the airport to fly to London to get and another bus to central London and yet another bus back Alicia’s. All in the day of a traveller’s life…
Tomorrow I am organising everything for Thursday’s big trip and meeting up with some friends and then it’s so long Europe!!