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!
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.
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.
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.