Monthly Archives: May 2010

Hawt Springs

Yesterday morning started off as it usually does; I set my alarm for 6 am, woke up at 541 am, wandered into my bright living room, stared in awe at the new way the clouds cover the mountains every morning, then — after a few minutes –I flip-flopped my way into the kitchen towards the coffee pot to make myself a quick brew while my laptop (and I) turned on. I really do need to get a pair of slippers for while I’m here. When you’ve got a pair of slippers, it means you have a place to call home.

I met my friends Nan and Libby at the Rio Coca bus terminal to begin our little travel adventure to some natural hot springs in a tiny (practically non-existant) town called Papallacta (altitude: 10,824 ft), about 2 hours outside of the city. I quickly discovered that we had a way of getting to Papallacta, but no sure way of getting back to Quito. Well, we decided, it’s all part of the adventure! (Right?) We agreed that we’d figure it out somehow, and couldn’t let that stop us. Half of traveling is the unplanned crap that happens when your plans fall through anyway, right? Half of life…

I arrived at Rio Coca first (shocker — being early is a problem I have), so I waited with my backpack full of sunscreen — SPF 30 (I’m the only gringa who doesn’t carry around SPF 100 in this place, apparently)– as well as a towel, change of clothes, and water/snacks. Ecuadorians curiously watched me as I stood with my “I know I’m white but don’t fuck with me” face on, my thumbs tucked under the straps of my backpack, my stance strong (distributed evenly between both feet, standing tall).

When my friends arrived, we saw our bus pulling out of the station. We ran to flag it down and they barely stopped the bus and pulled us each in, one at a time. Our journey began with a 30 minute ride to¬†a town called Cumbaya (“someone’s SINGING my lord….Cumbaya!” Anyone? ANYONE? Hehe) that cost us $0.25. I sat in the back of the bus, the Ecuadorian sun beaming powerfully in through the window, two little Ecuadorian women with baskets of food, skirts, jet-black braids and little hats sat in front of me. Salsa blasted from the front of the bus. I got my first glimpse of the snowcapped Cotopaxi volcano (19,347 ft high — to think I was halfway there, altitude-wise), which I will visit before I leave this place…

Me and Nan, bus to Papallacta. (Photo Credit: Libby Z)

Once we arrived in the town of Cumbaya, we had to literally jump out of the bus and find a big supermarket in front of which we had to catch the next bus, a bus to Tena. Of course, we weren’t going to Tena, so we were going to need to convince the bus driver to pop open that door somewhere 1:45 minutes into the mountains and drop us off, probably literally (again).

The journey was stunning. To get from Cumbaya to Papallacta, we had to pass through the mountains and ascend a peak over 13,000 ft high, then descend back down to about 11,000. I also got my first taste of Ecuadorian bus travel. In my book, nothing could be worse than the freaky cliff hugging rides I took in Costa Rica, but I’d put Ecuador bus rides at a close second or third for now. When we hopped on that bus, it was completely packed — standing room only. All the curtains were shut, it was sweltering hot, and a guy was selling stinky empanadas in the aisle. The ride would cost us $2 each, but with no bathroom and no open windows, along with a big ascent, I will admit: I would have paid a few bucks more for someone to crack a window.

Ecuador Montana/Volcano (Cotopaxi?). Courtesy of Shannon K.

Luckily, we walked all the way to the back, where families of four were smushed into two seats, and two gringos – Dan and Tom from Colorado (PhDs in mountaineering)- quickly scooched over and made room for two of us. They were great company for the ride, and even though my seat was in the permanent reclining position, we were starved for air , and we were stuck in the middle of the very back row of an overcrowded bus… I actually think I enjoyed the ride.

Finally, we arrived in Papallacta. We were dropped off on the side of the road in the middle of NOWHERE, where cows stuck out from the sides of extremely steep, green hills and we could have walked for an hour down the highway before seeing our first car. When we asked the bus driver how we could catch the bus home, he told us to stand on the road and hail it, like a taxi. Oh, and forget schedules. (HA. Like this was going to work…) But it was all we had, so we let the bus drive away.

When we got to the bottom of a very long, steep, rocky road, we realized we had 2 km straight up to walk before arriving at the hot springs (11,000 feet, I remind you). Luckily, a guy with a truck offered to take us up for $1, and we accepted. (Questionable hitchhike experience #1 of…? in Ecuador.) Once we got to the top, we quickly found a restaurant for some carb- and fluid-loading for the altitude and the dehydrating hot baths in which we’d be spending the day. I enjoyed a very thick and delicious guanabana batido (like a smoothie — purely guanabana fruit and milk) before heading to the thermal baths. Yum yum yum, all around.

We spent the day hopping from one pool to another, from boiling to warm, and back to boiling again. We lounged in puddle-sized hot tubs with random Ecuadorians in Speedos (the suit of choice for men here), and went from pool to pool, happily savoring the stunning green mountains around us and the blanket of warm water that enveloped us. The natural warmth of the hot springs combined with the cool, misty mountain air made for a beautiful combination. We met so many Ecuadorian families, who genuinely just wanted to know where we were from, tell us about Ecuador, and talk to us in Spanish. It was wonderful. They were all so sweet and so open, and so curious as to what the heck we were doing there! Hehe. I’m starting to notice a theme…

Of course, because I seem to have a knack for this (not a bad thing in my book!), Nan and Libby decided to hop into the ICE pool very quickly. Now, I’m no fool. I don’t mind the thrill of cold water but in that cool mountain air, this particular pool was NO JOKE. It was ICE cold. ICE! I decided to stay in the hot pool while they ran out and did their thing, and agreed to guard the flip flops and the key to our little locker.

Sure enough, a very ripped and toned Ecuadorian man floated over to me (I had noticed him before and though, hmm – triathlete or swimmer?). He was very nice, and just asked where I was from, what I was doing in Ecuador, etc. We barely got to talk before my friends came back and I left him alone in his tight Speedo in the hot pool.

After we had had enough of the hot springs and were beginning to get a little woozy, we decided it was time to get out, find another snack, and attempt to get home. We dried off and headed to one of the little restaurants outside the hot springs, where I ordered my first choclo con habas, which is basically corn with these giant lima bean-esque things that taste like earth in a delicious way. The corn on the cob came out with chaotic kernels, not all lined up in a row like American corn, and they must have been quadruple the size of what I even considered big corn kernels in the states (I wrote “here” but I guess the states are more like “there” right now. Oops). It was a delicious protein-filled Ecuadorian snack to at least get me through the next few hours of possibly waiting on the side of the road to hail a giant bus in the mountains.

Choclo con Habas (Photo cred: Libby Z)

As we were leaving the restaurant, I realized my very athletic looking Ecuadorian friend was just paying his bill with his girlfriend or friend, whatever she was (she looked very sweet). I smiled and he asked us if we were going back to Quito. We said yes. He asked how? We said bus… we hoped… He said, let me drive you. My two friends looked uncertain. I know I know, not necessarily safe… He’s a stranger. He was flirting (or something) earlier. What were we thinking? Nan and Libby both sort of turned to me to decide, because I had a better sense of how trustworthy he was from our brief encounter earlier. He just said “look, I have a car with plenty of space, I’m driving to Quito with her [he pointed to the mysterious but adorable Ecuadorian woman], and it’s totally up to you! But I’m going now, my car is right there…” After some quick glances at each other, some quick measuring the risks and advantages, and a realization that we still had 2 km downhill to walk before we even found the highway where the bus may or may not even show up… we agreed to go with him. I will say that I got a good vibe from him, and I felt much more comfortable knowing this shy Ecuadorian woman was coming too.

So, we got into his little red car. His name was Santiago and his girlfriend (or whatever she was) was Sonia. Thrown in the backseat were a bunch of triathlon magazines and bike catalogs. I felt strangely in my element, asked immediately if he was an Ironman (from my experience, they tend to have these things lying around…) and he said “Yes, and a triathlete.” And, we were off…

The ride was BEAUTIFUL. Even more beautiful than the ride to the hot springs because this time, I could see everything. Santiago and I talked about sports the whole time, while we shared our cookie snacks with him and Sonia and let him tell us all about the places we MUST go while in Ecuador. Nan and Libby had no idea what we were talking about (huh?waking up early to exercise? Tavel wants to race something in Ecuador? Training at altitude, what?!) He offered to teach me to swim, I said “ha, I don’t have money to pay anyone for that… I’m just going to figure it out in the water…” and he was just like “no, please, as a friend! It would be my pleasure!” He told me about lightweight racing bikes I could buy from his female triathlete friends, and showed me a pool (when we got into the city) in my neighborhood where I could go swimming… It was all just great! He was totally HARMLESS, safe, and wonderful and sincerely gave us that ride from the kindness in his heart! Who wouldda thought?!

I know it’s important to be safe, to be careful, blah blah blah (as I’ve mentioned, TRUST me — reminders are constant and feeling 100% safe is something I now treasure), but there are also GOOD people out there. People who sincerely just want to help, to talk, to share, to be useful. Distinguishing one from the other is not always easy, but in this case, Santiago was beyond kind, and he probably saved us hours of waiting in the rain by the side of the road in the middle of the mountains, where who knows what else could have happened?

Sometimes, when you travel (when you LIVE) you just have to trust that these random people — call them guardian angels, call them knights in shining armor, call them friends, or whatever you like — will be there. You can’t plan for them and you can’t depend on them, but you can always hope that there is the slightest chance they might appear…

And when they do, no matter what obstacles or uncertainties you encountered before them, they can help you get where you’re trying to go. You just have to be open to the possibility that sometimes good things and good people happen.



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Settling In, Getting Out

This weekend, I got exactly what I needed out of Quito: reassurance. Reassurance that this whole Ecuador thing could be pretty awesome, even if it’s not exactly clear what that might be yet.

It’s not that I didn’t like Quito the first week. I arrived with a very open mind and I knew very well that my first impression would most likely dissolve into something else within days, weeks, or months. But the first few days… I don’t know. I didn’t love it. I couldn’t figure out where I was. I didn’t fully understand where the beauty of this city was hiding. The streets weren’t buzzing with life, the buildings weren’t old and colorful like I had seen in the photos. Quito felt nothing like the stunning city I had been told about, I had Googled, I had secretly hoped for even though I knew it would be an unidealized reality instead. I didn’t feel totally comfortable, I didn’t feel especially safe, and I couldn’t help but wonder: am I going to fall in love with this place or what?

Well, it’s amazing what a few days with new friends, American AND Ecuadorian, can do.

Sitting w/ Bunuel in a park in La Floresta. Quito, Ecuador.

Let’s back up…

I’ve only been here six days. I’ve got groceries to buy and real life stuff to deal with, like getting tissues and figuring out how to take out the garbage. You know, just stuff. Moving somewhere new is an adrenalized uphill battle at first; you’ve got the excitement and hope for everything the experience can become, but you’ve still got to figure out what the heck your building blocks are going to be. It’s like making friends; it’s easy to meet people and have new “friends,” but real friendships grow from life experiences, conversations, and time. Nothing comes instantly. Not even in a week.

Ending the week by finding out a friend of a friend was robbed outside my apartment, followed by my realization that I wasn’t going to the amazing beach everyone was talking about because bus tickets were sold out, made me wonder how the weekend would turn out. Honestly, it showed me the side of Quito I needed and wanted to see so badly. Now I get it… Now I’m starting to realize how much there is to see and do here. And what a bonus — I like everyone I have met so far!

This Friday, I was introduced to “Beer Fridays” at work. Basically, we work from 9am-6pm (give or take). On Fridays, at 5pm, someone makes the rounds to Carlos who owns the convenience store downstairs (yep, already met him, we’re already friends). Every Friday afternoon, Carlos sticks a few bottles of Pilsner (the lackluster Ecuadorian beer that comes only in LARGE bottles) in the freezer. At 5pm, a V!VA staffer collects money ($1/beer… not kidding) and fills a crate with the chilled bottles. Using the handle of my desk or the nearby closet doorknob as a bottle opener, we pop open our beers and call it a week. I like beer Fridays already.

Jena, one of my coworkers, asked me if I wanted to grab dinner in the Mariscal after work. La Mariscal is basically the extremely crazy “party neighborhood” of Quito, where you can find all the hostels, a bunch of restaurants, clubs blasting Jay-Z and reggaeton beginning at 5pm, and the occasional crackhead. For many, it’s a glowing hangover waiting to happen. But I was there to eat. She took me to a delicious Indian restaurant, we had a great little talk, and then I headed home to pack for a POSSIBLE last-minute bus ticket to Canoa (no dice).

Saturday, with my roommate Kari away for the long weekend, I figured it was a good time to tackle the SuperMaxi. No, I’m not talking about female products here… I’m talking about the MASSIVE supermarket down the hill that has everything I could ever need when it comes to groceries and toiletries! YES. Little did I know that it opens at 10am on Saturday, and that is the day and time that Ecuadorians stock up on food for the next five years of their lives. Holy crap, I waited like 45 minutes with my 15 items. I’ll spare you the prices… but they are VERY nice ūüôā For once, this New Yorker gets to say that!

Sun Setting in La Floresta. Quito, Ecuador.

I met up with my friend Libby for lunch in the Mariscal. It was much more attractive during the daytime, and I realized that I had a lot to see and try — exactly what I had hoped to feel. The first few days in Ecuador, I wondered where all the LIFE was. Now, I found it. At least some of it. One flavor of life (there are plenty more).

We wandered the streets and ended up at the artisan market, where I splurged ($12) on a beautiful alpaca blanket to brighten my new room. (Yep, guess what my family is getting for the holidays… LOTS of alpaca stuff! Hehe) We then met up with Nan, one of Libby’s new friends, who’s been living in Quito for over a year. She LOVES it. That love was good to see and feel. Maybe it was contagious.

After an incredible fruit salad (ugh, how do I share what it’s like to bite into perfectly ripe slices of papaya, watermelon, strawberry and banana when you’ve spent the day cooking in the Ecuatorial sun?), we met up with two of Nan’s Ecuadorian friends — Bunuel and… ah crap, you caught me, I have no idea what the other guy’s name was… The four of us headed on foot to a new neighborhood, La Floresta, which I quickly fell for. We trekked up a little hill, past all sorts of beautiful flower bushes and trees, and into a peaceful, hip neighborhood that felt — for the first time — like home to me in Quito. Sometimes a neighborhood picks you. This one did that. If/when I move, I think it will be here. We headed to an independent film theater called Ocho y Medio, where we bought tickets for two documentaries that were part of the independent film festival going on. Bunuel is in film school, so both he and Nan knew a lot of people there, including one guy who I whispered to Libby (he looks so Argentinean) and low and behold, we met him and… he is. Just as much as me, except his dad is from Ecuador. Glad I can tell who my people are when I see them.

Man, Motorbike, View. La Floresta, Quito.

Finally, I saw a whole new breed of Ecuadorians. I just needed to know that this town had both the modern Quitenos and the traditional ones. The theater was filled with people, young and old, hip and interesting. People drank beers in the patios outside the theater, or sipped herbal teas outside the entrance to the movie, they discussed films they had seen, and hugged and laughed. I instantly loved it there. Something clicked in my Quito experience. Good click.

We had an hour to kill, so we wondered over to a nearby park which kinda knocked my Gringa socks off. Not because it was so beautiful (it wasn’t), but because there we were, on a cliff overlooking a lush green valley, with mountains so large I thought they were clouds in the distance, and I was speaking Spanish with a new Ecuadorian friend. I was there. I finally started to get this place, to see it, to understand that it’s got something special under the grime I first noticed… Quito had shed its first layer of skin.

Creating Graffiti in La Floresta. Quito, Ecuador.

The films were interesting but not life changing by any means. One was about a Columbian woman who’s children go off to live in France. She misses them, loves them, envies them in a way, but has to let them go. Of course, this hit a chord in all of us, who instantly thought of our mommies and how it must feel to watch your own kids go live out their dreams and their adventures while you send emails from the home they left… But I have to say — I know my mom is still living out her adventures too. And I’m proud of her. That’s the way it should be.

And then, there is the Old Town. Wow. Today, I met up with an Ecuadorian girl named Dyana who is unbelievably sweet (she dated a friend of mine who lived in Ecuador for a year and he had put me in touch with her). Not only had she offered to pick me up at the airport (which I kindly declined, as that was, like, TOO nice and I knew I would be a zombie), but she quickly emailed me to welcome me to Quito and invite me out. When I found out I couldn’t get to the beach, I let her know I’d be around for the weekend, and she unknowingly planned my perfect Sunday.

Biking in Old Town. Quito, Ecuador.

I met up with Dyana, her 10 yr old son Joel (um, ADORABLE), and her boyfriend Dominic (awesome guy) at 10am this morning in Parque El Ejido. I brought my friend Libby. We all rented some ratty mountain bikes for 2 hrs ($4 each). My breaks didn’t work, Libby’s gears constantly clicked, and Dyana who is a beautiful and tiny Ecuadorian lady, had to keep switching with her 10 year old son to figure out which bike was a better fit. Before the bike ride, they decided to take us to a juice bar and let us sample something “truly Ecuadorian.” Ahhh, the fruit… the FRUIT! It’s delicious, and EVERYWHERE. I LOVE. After a carrot orange juice and a couple mango juices, we got back on our bikes and started pedaling away… I was worried I wouldn’t be able to breathe, but the uphills mixed nicely with the downhills, and I did better than I had expected.

Group. Old Town, Quito.

Group, Old Town. Quito.

On Sundays, many of the streets are shut down and they become full of cyclists, free of cars. It’s a brilliant idea to shut down streets one day of the week for bikes, and was even better since we didn’t actually have helmets… We literally biked for two hours up into the steep cobblestone streets of the Old Town, where plazas, churches, steep winding staircases and Ecuadorians abound. It was absolutely breathtaking (and yeah, that could have been partially from the altitude — man was I huffing up a couple of those hills while Joel zoomed by!). And what a view…

We paused every now and then to catch our breath. I’d chat/mess with Joel who was my buddy during the ride, Dominic and Dyana taught us about Ecuador, and that sun just beamed down on us. It felt so good — SO good — to finally realize that there is a lot of Quito to love, and there’s going to be a lot of Quito and this experience to share.

Old Town, Quito.

We sampled some authentic Ecuadorian food (ok, I admit, I was so hungry that I had to pass on the cow intestine stew, but I did try the plantain and cheese ball, and the chicken with rice, avocado, lime and onion thing — delish!). Libby and I headed home completely exhausted, but both SO happy. It was an absolutely wonderful day, and it’s been a wonderful weekend. Our understanding of Quito has grown in necessary ways.

Tomorrow, I’m getting up at 6am to meet up with Libby, Nan, and Nan’s Ecuadorian boyfriend to go to some hot springs in a place called Papallacta, about 2 hrs outside the city. This will be my first excursion out of Quito since arriving almost a week ago now.

Dyana, Joel, Me. Old Town, Quito.

This first week has been very full, and each day has made a difference. There is so much more to talk about, to write about, to comment on, but I’ve got to get into my bed, under my new alpaca blanket.

I’m glad I’m here, wherever that really is.

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Five Keys

It’s Friday, which means I’ve been in Quito just about 3.5 days so far, and the city still feels very much like a giant nut I have yet to crack. But time does the crackin’, not me.

I’m a little shaken up by the fact that, last night, two guys were robbed directly outside my apartment… at gunpoint… by three Ecuadorians. They were getting out of their car and the three guys literally came up to them, pointed a gun at their head, and said give me your keys. They handed them over. This happened probably five minutes (couldn’t have been more than seven minutes) after my roommate Kari and I left our apartment (which directly faces the apartment in front of which these guys parked) to walk one block north, where a bunch of Kari’s fellow teacher friends were having a dinner party (mmm, pulled pork).

Scene of the crime. My street, Quito.

I know it’s not safe here. Reminders are constant, and my guard has been constantly up. But I figure all you can do is be street smart. It’s hard for me to grasp the very firm rule both guidebooks and people on the ground seem to swear by: do NOT walk ANYWHERE – not even one block – at night. Meaning, if the sun is even partially down, take a taxi, even if you’re going around the corner.

Rules like this make me angry and frustrated. I’m an independent lady and I hate that my bubble of safety will be penetrated daily by darkness. I don’t want to live like that! But, for a year or two, I can and I will. Safety is the most important thing in the world when you’re living abroad. Whether it’s health safety or safety from violence, I will do what I can to protect myself. I knew this before coming to Quito, but things become a lot more real when you know someone had a gun pointed at them outside your brand new home. Unfortunately, I will have to worry about thieves and petty crime daily, but I’m going to do my best not to let it shake me, and not to let it stop me from enjoying this city (which I’m waiting to like more… it’s a bit dingy still, although I have yet to visit the old beautiful part). Everyone puts their money in their shoe, just to walk home from work. Nobody carries credit cards or debit cards. Even bags of any shape and size are discouraged (no, I will not call it… a… purse… BLECH! Horrible word!)

But let’s move onto some happier stuff, like my new job!

I’m excited about it. For example, the first day, we celebrated two birthdays at lunch. Not only was there cake, but there was BEER. Niiiiice.

Also, my coworkers are great. Like, really great. I’m excited about every one of them. Half the office is Ecuadorian, and half the office is British/American/Canadian. It became clear very quickly that the office works hard together… AND plays hard together. That’s my kind of office.

For example, my second day at work, I went to dinner with my coworkers followed by Pub Quiz Night, which is run by… my boss. Hehe. Basically, you get in teams of five, and after a discussion that morning about our least favorite words, we came up with the team name “Moist and Crusty.” Yes, I’ve been laughing a lot already. I left halfway through the quiz (was still exhausted, but finally slept past 530am today — whoohoo!) but… we won. Good start.

It’s about a 35 minute walk for me to get to work, and as long as I feel safe enough, I plan to walk it every morning. The walk begins by going down my four flights of stairs, then down a very big hill to an avenue called 6 de Diciembre, along which the ecovia (or tram) runs, for $0.25 a pop. The walk isn’t pretty if I’m looking down — dirtied cement buildings, car exhaust, and unattractive little tiendas line the avenue. I’ve had loads of crap blown into my eyes each morning (would it be inappropriate to walk to work wearing goggles?). But then, if I look up to my right, there they are: the mountains which, this morning, are made invisible by clouds.

View from my bedroom this morning. Quito, Ecuador.

All in all, things are off to a really good start, but not without a couple hiccups. I’m loving my coworkers, looking forward to my job (which will keep me very busy, I have the feeling) and hoping to give Quito a good crackin’ this weekend, since my exciting plan to head to a beach called Canoa with my coworkers foiled when Libby (the other new girl) and I tried to buy bus tickets and found that they were all sold out. Siiiigh. Asi es la vida.

One more thing about my apartment, that I’m trying to get used to…

I have five keys. That’s how I get in. First, I must get up the big hill to my red door. The red door is metal and that’s the most important one because that’s the door that separates me from feeling vulnerable between the taxi and a locked door behind me. Then, I go up some steps, and there is a second door — a glass door. Then I go up three more flights of stairs, and I have a metal gate in front of my door. I open that. Then there is a dead bolt lock and a door handle lock. They all turn in different directions, some require the key to be jagged side up, some jagged side down. It’s a bit confusing, and I can only imagine how annoying it will be when I’m slightly tipsy.

I had to put all the keys in order on my keychain because I can’t tell the difference between them, and I still haven’t memorized which ones turn which direction, etc. So, basically, every time I get home, it’s like this brain puzzle just to get back into my apartment, and it still takes me a few minutes.

I guess it’s just another one of those things that I know will take time. Then some day, when I least expect it, I’ll realize I have it figured out, and it will be second nature, and I’ll have no trouble opening the doors to my new little life in Quito while letting old ones shut behind me.

I’ve got the keys. Now I’ve just got to figure out how to use them.

This song is a perfect fit to my mood right now: The Re-Arranger, Mates of State (ignore the poor quality video, listen to the song).


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And So It Begins…

I am here, in my new apartment (at least for now), over 9,000 feet above where most of you are, in Quito, Ecuador.

My fingers are tingling (a strange side effect from the altitude medicine I was instructed to take) and simply moving from one room to another gets my heart racing, but I’m doin’ ok. I feel like I’m in a constant yoga class, focusing on my breathing, taking in the scenery (hello MOUNTAINS!), trying to stay hydrated and relaxed… Succeeding, for the most part. I admit, I feel a little like a fish out of water here. I’m not really sure I am here yet, actually. The city looks from the sky exactly how I envisioned it, but on the ground… it’s different. Who cares? What’s on the ground is all that matters now!

View from my living room. Quito, Ecuador.

I want to tell you all about Ecuador and life here, but barely anything has happened yet. Instead, let me tell you a little story about LIFE.

The past week, in between a month in Argentina and moving to Ecuador, was absolutely exhausting. I felt sort of like time had committed a hit and run on me, and I was left to deal with way too much to do in too little time.

I decided to take the first few days off after my 11-hr overnight flight from Buenos Aires — I knew I’d never make it if I didn’t at least try to rest for five minutes. But then, around Wednesday evening, it was like a tornado hit; my body was sucked up into this whirlwind of change, tossed around and thrown in different directions. I had to say goodbyes, prepare for hellos, had to move out, had to move in, had to mentally arrive in NYC and mentally prepare to leave, had to BE in NYC but try to be just enough in Ecuador so that I could pack. I felt the sickest I’ve felt in a while — got hit by some nasty virus in Argentina or on one of the six 7 to 11 hr plane rides I’ve been on in the past month and a half (ugh — can I not do another one of those for a while? K, thanks) — and of course, had an out-of-control to-do list to tackle. All I wanted to do was nap, go to coffee with friends, go to spinning classes or for bike rides along the Hudson in Riverside Park, stand still… But I had to go, go, go, go, GO!

Packing was ROUGH! It’s horrifying how much stuff you can accumulate in five years. And, while I’m going to be here for a year or two, I could only take two suitcases. The rest of the stuff has to just be… somewhere… else. Packing up an entire apartment and then not having anywhere to put¬†it is a bit of a nightmare. Throw simultaneous packing up for moving to another country into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a very busy three days.

Here’s a little snapshot of how the past few days went for me:

Saturday, my mom and brothers attempted to load my full size mattress and box spring into our minivan. We had (vague) measurements and knew it would fit (ok, more like really HOPED it would fit), but when it came time to getting the darn bed into our van, things weren’t as nicely thought out as we hoped. Basically, we spent about 15-minutes ramming our bodies into a large mattress on 103rd Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. My brothers were sure it wouldn’t fit. My mom started telling me all the things I should¬†have done days before this moment. I was exhausted, I felt like crap, but I KNEW that thing could fit… I could make it fit. I was determined. Everyone else had given up, but I kept thrusting my body¬†into it, trying different angles, pushing down corners with all my might… totally exhausting myself. Finally,¬†a nice handsome gentleman (who happened to be watching the whole time — awesome. I am cool) said “Mind if I give it a try?” I said, “Be my guest!” And less than ten shoves later, with the car bouncing around like it was on hydraulics, we had a van full of mattress. There was clapping, laughing, and smiles from strangers on the street, and it was done.

Part two of this process was less sexy. It basically consisted of me and my mom driving the 1:45 minutes upstate knowing that we would have to remove the mattress and box spring ourselves. Well, more like I knew I would have to. My mom is 4’11” and no matter how much leopard print she wears, she’s no match for a full size mattress jam-packed into a tiny car… but what a trooper she was for helping me out.

My kitchen, with view. Quito, Ecuador.

We arrived, and wasted no time. I got in that van and I started pushing with all my strength. Then, I got out the van and started pulling with all my strength. My mom shoved, I pulled, I pressed corners down, tried to fold the mattress in unlikely ways, and AHHHH, it budged! About 2 minutes of pushing and pulling later, and we had ourselves a mattress. The box spring had a smoother exit, thankfully.

After a couple hours of wrapping the mattress and box spring, then dragging them down the stairs to our basement, we were DONE. And TIRED. I had a to-do list I couldn’t even keep track of, an apartment full of furniture still, one more day before I had to be on a plane to Ecuador, and two hours before I could even start doing anything else. Oy with a capital OY.

Even though I was tired as heck, I knew I had to keep packing when I got home. After the drive back to the city, I stayed up until around 9pm packing (I really had no choice), ordered in Chinese, and had a few moments when I almost just stopped everything to just cry. I was completely overwhelmed, for the first time, with everything. That lasted about thirty minutes until I decided it was time to get to my parents’ place where there was a bed for me to rest before another day of packing.

Packing sucks. Really. The emotions, the dust, the disorganization, the superfluous STUFF overload… It just makes me want to curl up in a little ball and eat chocolate. I love having an adventurous life and that everything is still a mystery, but the idea of settling somewhere with someone in some home all sounds so nice when you’re alone in an apartment trying to pack up your un-sturdy life…

I got home, was SO exhausted I barely slept (anyone? anyone? I know this happens to others too…). I woke up Sunday, the day¬†before the big move, and decided I was going to be in a great mood, that I was going to get everything done (somehow), and that the final day of packing and moving would be blissfully successful and efficient.

Then, I tried to turn on my pretty, new “passion purple” Dell Insprion 1440 laptop. Instead of turning on, it made a whimpering fan sound for exactly three seconds, and went off again. Um, nope. That didn’t just happen. I tried again. Same thing. Nope… I refuse. This is a brand new laptop, it’s my only laptop, and I leave for Ecuador in less than 24 hrs, no no no. My purple passion laptop was going to turn on. It had to. I don’t have the time, I don’t have the energy, I don’t have the emotional willpower to deal with this right now… It will turn on, and it will be OK!!

It didn’t. It was time¬†to tap into the willpower reserves. Priority list: Call¬†Dell. They were¬†very friendly when they told¬†me it sounded¬†like my motherboard crashed and I needed a replacement, which they could easily take care of in 1 to 2 business days. I told them I was¬†moving¬†to Ecuador at 3am the next morning… I needed it now. They were¬†still friendly when they told¬†me that that was impossible. I already knew it was, but I hoped… I hoped! I had¬†to make some decisions, and fast. My friends Lisa and Tom were meeting me at my old apartment in an hour to help me move all¬†my stuff. I hadn’t even started actually packing¬†for Ecuador. My to-do list was laughing at me, and now I needed a new laptop.

I quickly updated my Facebook status (not sure why, but that seemed like an efficient use of my time in the moment). Now… Hold. It. Together. Shoot. Meltdown? No! YES. NO. Keep it together, Tavel!¬†Make a plan. I secretly wanted a MacBook anyway… I will make magic happen today.¬†I will go to the Mac store and buy a new laptop. One thing at a time.¬†Holy crap, I move to Ecuador tomorrow. I’m TIRED.


Apartment view. Quito, Ecuador.

Sure enough, the move went well. Unfortunately, my friends who were there to help were 45 minutes late due to the AIDS Walk (not their fault) but I ended up moving just about everything alone. My poor mom, who has been nothing but patient and generous with her time, had to stay with the van as I made trip after trip from my apartment to the car, with no help. After a recent heartbreak, I was trying to feel empowered by my independence, but really I was just exhausted from it. I wanted a hug.

When Lisa and Tom arrived, we got the big stuff done in no time. After I went home to unload with just my mom, I met back up with them for one final brunch at my favorite Cuban joint, Cafe Con Leche, where we got to sit in the shade on a GORGEOUS day, sipping coconut water out of a coconut with a little purple umbrella and eating my favorite huevos rancheros. OK, game on, I could do this — the worst was over.

After brunch, I booked it to the Mac store. A nice Mac man named Brando spent about 45 minutes with me, evaluating my options, helping me decide if I was ready for this big change (why did getting a Mac feeling more intimidating than moving to Quito?). Ironically, I thought it wasn’t wisest to switch to a Mac when I left the country because I’m not very Mac savvy… But when EVERYTHING else was changing around me, I suddenly realized it was actually the perfect time to make the change. Lola the Laptop was on her last breaths. My passion purple¬†Dell may have been pretty, but she wasn’t smart. And here I was, looking at the computer I really secretly wanted, and it all seemed to make sense: of course! This happened for a reason! It was time for me to become a Mac girl!

Luckily, I had backed up my entire computer on an external hard drive. Everything was going to be ok (right?).

My mom made me a delicious dinner, and my dad and little brother came home with three giant cupcakes. Man, I love a cupcake. My mom also picked up treats from Zabar’s, so at that point, I just decided to say FUCK everything… Screw my to-do list: I’m eating some effing cupcakes¬†and I’m hanging out with my family. That’s all that matters to me right now anyway.

It was a wonderful night with my family and my new computer. I have been surprisingly unfazed¬†by this move, but when I hugged my parents and my brothers goodnight at around 11pm (sisters weren’t there, and I finally finished packing then), I got choked up. I don’t know if it was the exhaustion, or realizing that my 15 year old brother would be inches taller and possibly a different person when I got back, but it all just hit me: I wasn’t going to seem them for a while, and I really love them.

Well, I crawled into bed. My whole body aching with exhaustion. I set that alarm (ok three alarms) for 2:45am and tried not to think. I woke up at 2am, as I expected I would (I always wake myself up super early when I’m worried about sleeping through an alarm — which, I should add, has never happened in my life). I was ready, but I had one more obstacle ahead of me…

My dad had arranged for a car service to pick me up at 3:30am, a nice perk to his job. They usually call 15 minutes before they arrive to let you know the car number. At 3:30, I began to wonder… So, at 3:35am, I called the company to check if the car was en route. I had a 6am flight from JFK — I could waste some time, but not a lot, and this wasn’t a simple trip — I had two big bags to manage.

Of course, they put me on hold for seven minutes. By the time they got back to me they said they would have to call somewhere else to find out the status of the car. I said fine (ya jerks!), and decided — at 350am — it was time for plan B: TAXI.

I walked to West End Avenue and waited… and waited… for a taxi (could have used CabSense!) Finally, I found one. I made it to the airport, made it on my plane to Costa Rica and then to Ecuador. They were two of the most turbulent rides of my life, but they seemed to go perfectly with the previous few days.

All that matters now is that SOMEHOW, thanks to the help of so many people,¬†I did it, I made it, and I’m here. I’m in QUITO!! I’m still trying to wrap my head around the mountains outside my window. I admit that I don’t feel at home here at all (yet). It’s going to take getting used to, but I’m glad I’m here. I’m ready to get used to it.

I know being here has so¬†much to offer. The apartment is great, my roommate is great (she made me chamomile tea with honey last night – yes!), and even though I almost got stuck in the shower this morning (don’t ask… just enjoy that visualization — can you imagine how embarrassing that would be?! HA), I’m trying to look around and say “HOME.” But it’s still just QUITO — that spot on a map that I looked at long and hard and wondered what it’d be like when I got here. It’s still not real. Still bizarre, and foreign, and confusing. But I’ve got to take it one day at a time.

I realize that I’m impatient when it comes to feeling at home. Traveling and visiting places, is one thing, but when I move somewhere new to live, I want to know where everything¬†I might need could be. I want to know where to go if I’m craving a donut (fyi, that never happens so I don’t know where that just came from), where to sign up for a spinning class once I can breath better, where to get my groceries, where I’m going to go grab drinks with the friends I eventually hope to have,¬†and where I will grab a coffee on my way to work if I’m in the mood.

No matter how much I travel, I’m a creature of comfort at heart. Even though everything is strange and unclear right now, I look forward to turning this place 9,400 feet above everything I know into my place in the clouds. I know it will take time, but now the clock has started.

The adventure has officially begun.


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Travels with Tavel, in Ecuador?

Alright people. A lot of you have been asking me what is going to happen with T w/ T when I go to Ecuador, so I will take a moment in my crazy schedule to address this.

Overused wall. San Telmo, Buenos Aires.

First of all, let me just say that I have been so strangely calm about this big move… I mean, I haven’t even touched a suitcase, nor have I made any call to hire movers. I have not figured out what I am doing with all of my furniture, nor whether or not I will keep¬† all of it. I have not decided which bags I’m going to use to pack and I have not figured out when I’m going to make all this magic happen.

What I HAVE done is: hang out with a lot of friends. Talked about the fact that I’m moving to Ecuador (craaaazy!). Danced around to fun music in my room, savoring the fact that I’m not stressed at all (yet?). I’ve gone for a bike ride or to a spinning class every day since I got back from Argentina. I’ve visited my old coworkers to say hi and goodbye, and I’ve watched a little Hulu. Ooh! And I’ve changed my address at the post office! Good for me, right? Tomorrow, I’m going to do laundry!

I’m not a high-stress person (I get especially calm in high-stress situations actually. It’s weird), and I am (usually) not a procrastinator. It’s not in my make-up. In fact, every essay I wrote in college, it was my “thing” to write the first sentence or paragraph the very day I had the essay assigned, even if it was due weeks later. I always feel much better when something has at least been started. And, I have never finished an essay with less than an hour or two before it’s due. Nor have I ever, in my life, stayed up past 1am to do homework or study. Just some random Tavel facts for you to digest.

Three shirtless men, laughing in a rose garden. El Rosedal, Parque 3 de Febrero, Buenos Aires.

This move is so big, with SO many details and strings attached each logistical decision, that I’ve just decided to go with the philosophy that it will get done. How? Eh, I am not sure. Who’s in charge? Oh right, me. (Shit.) But uh… I don’t know. It’s gotta get done somehow, right? I mean, I’m leaving on Monday and that’s that! It’s GOING to get done! (Magic, please?)

Eek. Confession: Today I woke up and realized that I might actually have to play a part in the whole it’s-gonna-get-done thing. I’m not really sure where to start. OK, perhaps I’m starting to get a littttttle nervous. Maybe I’ll schedule a massage? Haha. True story. I’m allowed one massage a year and, by golly [oh yes, that phrase just happened], I scheduled that noise for TODAY! WHOOHOO! Can I afford it? Nope — neither financially nor time-wise. But damn it, it’s happening at 4:15, and no to-do list is going to stop me. Gotta take care of yourself, right? Ommmm.

OK, so maybe I’ll figure out all the logistics of moving tomorrow… ūüôā

Two paths in the woods. Dolores, Argentina.

As for the blog…

Look: Right now, I know very little about life beyond Monday (let us not forget I’m moving to a city in a country I’ve never even visited and I don’t TECHNICALLY have any friends yet — although I am pumped to meet everyone I have been put in touch with, including my bosses and future coworkers!). But what I can ASSURE you is that, I might be going to Ecuador, but T w/ T is not going ANYWHERE. Meaning, you can count on this blog continuing — no doubt about it.

My original plan was to make this an outlet for wanderlusters and travel daydreamers around the world. I hope it will still be just that. But, I also think it might become a combination of general travel excitement, and my own adventures in Ecuador (and beyond). I can see it becoming somewhat of a live memoirs thing, where I recount the adventures and quirks of travel and living abroad as I experience them (random snapshots, bizarre anecdotes, funny interactions, the wonders of travel) and probably draw my small experience into the light of the “big picture” so that everyone can relate. But don’t think I want this to be all about me! I still want your participation, your input, your reactions to everything. There will still be Mystery Snapshots, and I will still be seeking contributors (anyone? ANYONE?!). However, I also want to chronicle this experience as I go. Life is about to get wacky. How can I not write about it?!

In a nutshell, I’m going to figure out the future of T w/ T as I go. You’re all invited to tell me what you want out of it. Should I continue with the Mystery Snapshots? Do you have any other suggestions/ideas? Would anyone like to contribute some travel story, photo, or advice/thoughts? Bring on the feedback!

I also want to pause to acknowledge something. In all honesty, this blog was started the week I got my heart ripped to shreds and stomped on (for the second time, by the same person- shame on him or shame on me?). It had nothing to do with that situation, but the heartbreak did trigger the biggest surge of inspiration and certainty in my passion that I have ever had. I got over it. Maybe, in some twisted way, I’m grateful for it. Now, it has led me here. I’m at peace with so many things in my life, and so proud of where I am at. Whatever happens in Ecuador, I’ve done nothing but follow my heart and follow my dreams this past 10 months that the blog has existed (over 7,100 hits — YAY!). I have learned SO much about LIFE, what I am looking for, where I’ve been, and who I am. And ya know what? I’m taking all this learning and these experiences with me to Ecuador. Luckily, they’re already packed.

Roses. El Rosedal, Buenos Aires.


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Goodbyes, Sky and Caballos

On Sunday, aboard a beautiful horse aptly named Belleza, with black bulls looking on and the music of large birds cawing overhead, I found myself in a rare but wonderful place: completely surrounded by sky, and the occasional pile of bull poop.

Aboard Belleza. Estancia Dos Talas, Buenos Aires.

I felt so free. Then I woke up today, a few days later, feeling suddenly nostalgic. I’ve been coasting this past month in Argentina, with Shannon at my side. Life has been completely stress-free, tranquilo, fun, light, distant (in a good way)…

But Shannon left this morning, and now I am suddenly more aware of my thoughts. After over three weeks of spending almost every moment together, I had to say goodbye to her! Withdrawal might be kicking in. Saying goodbye to friends is like having a happy breakup: it’s wonderful that you got to have them in your life, but then it kills you a little when you have to let them go. At least for me. Letting go… It’s as hard as it can be wonderful.

Fence. Estancia, Argentina.

I also had to say goodbye to a couple friends (shout out to my favorite Puerta Roja bartender!), which I hate to do. This is the downside of travel: you meet people, so many wonderful people, and then… you leave. Friendships quickly form, then change shape, then pass, and sometimes dissipate, like clouds.¬† Some last. Sometimes you get to return to the quickly-formed friendships, jokes, and memories, but not until months or years later. Sometimes you just return on your own, in your own head. Sometimes you never go back.

Caballo and Path. Estancia, Argentina.

Everything was dandy until I woke up and realized, for the first time in weeks, I am alone. After such a FUN and HILARIOUS night out yesterday (laughing/smiling so hard my face still hurts… Ahhh, yes), it hit me today:¬† I have to say goodbye. Lots of goodbyes. I HATE goodbyes. Like, HATE them. Sure, they barely mean anything these days but, holy crap… Can I move to Ecuador without saying ANY goodbyes? I’m going to try.

Hmm. Silence brings its own sort of noise. Now back to sky and horses…

Gaucho in the sunset. Dolores, Argentina.

Admittedly, I sometimes forget how powerful it can be to have so much SPACE surrounding me. Sitting there on my horse with sky all around on Sunday made me almost forget places like NYC exist.¬† Shannon and I both craved a day in the country, so we scheduled a day trip at an estancia (a cattle farm/estate) 3hrs outside the city, in Dolores, Argentina. We both needed a little nature in our lives — some stillness, some crunchy nature sounds — and I couldn’t possibly spend 3.5 weeks in Argentina without going horseback riding.

Trees. Estancia Dos Talas. Argentina.

While at the estancia, we had time to wander beneath the archways of many trees and around cattle fields, passing by horses, enjoying the feeling of gravel and dirt under our sneakers… The ground crunched and bugs hissed around us. The sounds of the country were rejuvenating. We got to enjoy the delicious flavors of an asado, and cheeky laughter-filled conversations with a friendly group of Argentines while a cow lingered nearby. It was all incredibly lovely (that’s the right word), and super refreshing after days and days of city slumming, restaurants, loud buses and cement.¬† In order to truly be able to appreciate a city, I am a big believer in getting OUT of the city as much as possible. So, as much as I love cities, let me make it clear that I also LOVE nature. Need it.

I had a moment while riding my horse, Belleza. It was so quiet. All I could hear was the horse breathing and the random not white noise, maybe green noise, of the fields. Suddenly, I realized how much space was around me. I was overwhelmed by silence and sky, and it did wonders for my city girl soul.

Horseback view. Estancia, Argentina.

We rode out into the cattle fields with black bulls and brown cows grazing nearby. Draped all around us was sky. I looked behind me, to both sides of me, up and out…¬† It was everywhere. Overwhelming amounts of uninterrupted sky pouring over us, making me feel small in a big world. All that mattered at that moment was right there, in each step through the tall grass.

Crumbling wall. Estancia. Dolores, Argentina.

I have two days left in Buenos Aires. For the most part, I’ll be alone. I have a lot of writing to do and a lot of cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, etc. to take care of before I leave the apartment ready for the next person’s Argentinean adventure. But all I can say is that this trip has been absolutely wonderful for me. It breathed new air into my soul, new energy, new excitement about life and what I’m about to take on, and it couldn’t have been a better way to transition from one phase of my life to the next.

Field. Cattle. Dolores, Argentina.

As I rode off into the field of the estancia, in my happy place (on horseback under unending sky), I realized that, while I was completely surrounded by piles of bullshit (hehe), I was also as far away as I could possibly be from most bullshit. It felt like a little piece of the world had been unzipped and let out for me to see, to breath in, and I knew I was exactly where I needed to be.

Although the constant traveling and adventuring has caught up to me (last week, I just felt exhausted and sickish), and I have plenty more ahead (uh, 7 days in NYC to unpack from Argentina, pack up my years of NYC-living, move out of my apartment, and pack for over a year in a country I’ve never even visited… yep), I can’t help but feel wonderful. I know that, right now, I’m not thinking about how I want to live my life, planning how I can maybe do the things I want to do, thinking about it all, daydreaming… I’m DOING it, right here, right now, in this slight exhaustion that I feel, in this silence, under that big sky, on that horse in the countryside, in this kitchen in Buenos Aires on a cloudy morning…

Roses in different phases. El Rosedal. Palermo, Buenos Aires.

I’m living the life I want to live, and that’s all I can try to do. No matter where I’m located, it’s one of the best feelings in the world. Feel free to meet me there… ūüôā

Listening to this right now, and it’s hitting the spot: Sade, Babyfather.

Rose in the sun. Buenos Aires, Argentina.


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