Monthly Archives: June 2010

Soccer and Mud

When there’s so much to write about, there’s less time to write. So where do I begin?

Since I last wrote, I killed my amoeba, the US won against Algeria, the US lost to Ghana, and I trudged through mud for six hours in the paramo (alpine tundra that only exists in the Andes) of Papallacta. I’ve made a few new friends, I’ve had lunch with an Ecuadorian family, and I spent a Saturday afternoon eating popcorn surrounded by chanting, drumming Quitenos at a Liga Ecuador soccer game. I’m going to go ahead and say that it’s been all good in Quito since I last wrote.

Paramo hills. Papallacta, Ecuador.

Even though the moment has come and gone, I need to write about it; the possibility of making World Cup history has floated above us (the US) only to pop in all our faces and drop like a limp balloon one game later, but I need to acknowledge the moment Landon Donovan scored, giving the USA a little something our country seems to thrive off of: hope.

How did it feel? It felt like the very reason we WATCH the World Cup. The game certainly had me going. I was sitting in a metal chair, in an outdoor plaza that is full of cafes, a wine bar, and overpriced restaurants. My coworkers and I bartered to get the first two hours of the day off (game started at 9am here) so we could watch the US play. One by one, my coworkers appeared. The cafe had three or four flatscreen TVs, which were divided between the England game and the USA game. During the first five minutes, only the England game had a signal. We Americans started to get a little flustered, and took turns looking around for surrounding bars or restaurants that were open and playing the US game, not the England game. There may have been some slight panic. Americans (strangers) were tying to work together… “Hey, did you guys check the bar around the corner?” “I heard there’s no signal anywhere…” “I think this Irish bar has it on a few blocks away…” Finally, we had a signal. We settled into the brisk mountain morning with the Pichincha volcano to our left, and let our little hearts fill with hope as British fans oohed and ahhed next to us. The two games were going on simultaneously, to countries hoping for a win, side-by-side, Ecuadorians passed through the morning on their way to work. They’d pause to watch us get excited and then let-down every time the US approached the goal, only to toss away our dreams one wide-shot after another. We knew the score of the England game simply by the screams that came and went nearby.

The minutes passed quickly. We sipped cappuccinos and fresh squeezed juice in the cold. By the 70th minute, the sun was beginning to come out. I was tense, but I never felt like we were losing. We had so many chances, so many failed shots on goal, one of them HAD to eventually go in! It’s math! But shot after shot, our optimism began to deflate.

Then it happened. In the 92nd minute, Landon Donovan — with one kick — saved the US’s soccer dreams. When that ball hit the net, the whole cafe full of Americans jumped out of our chairs and SCREAMED. I instantly imagined this happening all over the world; I imagined my friends in America, in Africa, in Argentina, all jumping out of random chairs around scattered across the globe screaming with excitement at that very same moment. For a second, I knew everyone was connected. We high-fived, we screamed, we smiled, we hugged…. The English glanced over at our screen to see what had happened in our game… and we DID IT. We WON. We won. We won. HOLY f-ing SHIT. I’ve gotta say… I know this seems like a long time ago — an oil spill, a recession, a slew of disapproval ago — but it reminded me of the moment Obama was projected to be the next President of the United States. That same hope, that same belief in the impossible, in the American Dream, burst out of us, and we had done it again.

I knew that no matter what happened for the US after that goal, we had gotten our World Cup moment, and we were going to have to savor it for all it was worth, because it was doubtful to come again.

Sure enough, it didn’t. I met up with my coworkers to watch the Ghana game at a bar Saturday afternoon. I wanted them (us) to win so badly, but there was a part of me that knew how important and special it was for Ghana to win, too. The US doesn’t have soccer, but we have many other victories. Ghana – Africa – deserved and needed this one, on their own turf. The world didn’t want to see the US win, I know that. But we had to cheer, we had to hope, we had to believe we could.

Hike through Papallacta. Ecuador.

As the game dragged on, I knew it lacked the magic of the last one. I could feel it in the crowd. Yet still, when that whistle was blown and the possibility of a win was killed like my amoeba, I had to sit for a second and let it sink in. Americans are spoiled: sometimes, we expect the impossible too often. We expect the happy ending. But we lost. The game, and our World Cup, ended for me in an Irish pub, surrounded by disgruntled Americans on a beautiful sunny Saturday in Ecuador. The few Ghanaian fans were all smiles. We knew how that felt. But this time, it was for them, not us.

Luckily, I still have Argentina. I am not going to write too much about that until after this next game. If you remember, Germany took us out in penalty kicks last World Cup. Nah-ah, NOT this time Alemania! Now I am going to stop talking about the game before I get too nervous about it.

This past Sunday, I did something I’ve been hoping and planning to do since I got here: I WENT HIKING! That’s right. I haven’t gone hiking since college, and it was more than time to get out there. Of course, I had some concerns: we were going to be hiking at over 13,000 feet, it was a 5-hour hike through steep and muddy ups and downs, and I had a bad knee to worry about (ugh, so over this injury. Two years and counting). My Birtish boss, Paula, was going to lead the hike, and my coworkers Libby (from Ohio), Desiree (form Oregon), Clemence (from Paris), and Chris (from Ohio) were all going too.

We met at the Rio Coca bus terminal to catch the first bus to Cumbaya, then waited for about 25 minutes to catch the second bus to Papallacta. You know you’re up high when you are ascending for over an hour outside of Quito. We got out of the bus, adjusted, and started walking.

The hike began with a very steep incline, stepping through shrubs and cactus-like plants, using your hands as much as your legs to go up. As Paula had warned us, the hike started with a bang. It’s not easy getting out of a bus and immediately trekking straight up through mud, but multiply that with the altitude (4,000 m/13,000+ ft) and we’re talking some heavy huffing and puffing.

It was foggy and cold. We could see our breath, and the ground felt like a giant sponge that slowly soaked us through. When it began to POUR, whatever patch of us that may have been dry was instantly drenched (I put away my camera at this point, so I failed to capture the muddy-wetness. Darn). The scenery was beautiful; rolling green hills and the occasional lake made it unlike any scenery I had ever seen. Paula set a very fast pace, which we followed willingly, especially in the rain. But as the hike went on (for HOURS), it got colder, wetter, more slippery, and more challenging.

For several ascents and descents, we were literally hugging walls of spiky bushes, using our hands as much as our soaked legs to get us through sections. There were some steep drops, and some portions of the trail where we were ankle deep in mud and water (by hour two, my gortex sneakers were irrelevant), but everyone was in good spirits and enjoying the exercise, as well as the challenge. But boy was it a challenge! Sometimes, the best way to get through a section was to walk straight through the prickly plants, which rolled my ankles left and right and, combined with the mud, had us all slipping and sliding while fat rain drops pounded us from every angle. My pants were so wet I was worried they wouldn’t come on or off. Peeing was NOT an option, and stopping to eat lunch was not going to happen until we were desperate.

By that time, my fingers were all cut up and numb from grabbing sharp plants for support in the freezing rain. I had to get my friend Desiree to open my water bottle, and luckily my friend Chris lent me his high school gloves. When we finally arrived at the dirt road we were promised, I was starving, shivering, and soggy as heck… But boy was it gratifying to get there (4 hours later).

Libby and I take a break after we finally find the road. 2/3rds through hike. Wet, cold, hungry! Papallacta, Ecuador. (Photo: Desiree A.)

All that was left was a long walk through the mountains to our final destination: the Papallacta hot springs. Of course, the home stretch seemed never-ending. It’s like the 1,500 meter mark of a 2,000 meter rowing sprint: you keep waiting for the coxswain to yell “POWER 10 to the finish! 1!!!!…. 2!!!!!!…. PUSH IT, this is IT!!!!…. 3!!!!…” etc. but in life, as I’ve learned, you’ve got to be your own coxswain. And even though my knee was aching, I knew we had to get to the finish line.

I can’t think of a better way to end a hike than with a dip in some natural hot springs. Of course, I gashed my thumb somewhere along the way and had blood literally dripping onto the floor for a few minutes there, but it was ok: we had made it, all of us in one piece, and even though we dreaded the moment we had to put our soggy jeans and mud-filled shoes back on, we had earned our reward, and let the hot water of the thermal pools wrap us up in relief.

It was a great day, even if – at times – it is miserable to be soaked to the bone in the middle of some mountains with more unfinished freezing rain pouring down on your tired body. But sometimes you’ve got to trek through mud to get to the hot springs.

I think I’m finally getting there, here, in Quito.



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I Should Be In Africa

First, I just want to say THANK YOU (…SO much) to everyone who reached out to check on me over the past couple of weeks. Thank you for all the comments, the emails, the little messages, the love. I think we killed the amoeba together, and I’m slowly trying to get back to normal. I might even go on a 5 hr hike at over 4,000 meters this weekend! (Hmm.) Can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know that people are tuning into TwT, even though I’m far, far away from most of you.

Now let’s talk WORLD CUP.

Well, first, I have to post this song, because you literally hear it every five minutes here. I’m not sure how much play time it gets in the US but, whoa…

Oh, oh! And this one… They LOVE it here. It’s also got a lil’ Latin flair…

Love ’em or hate ’em, these two songs are the soundtrack to the World Cup in Ecuador, which is in full-swing and getting more and more controversial and exciting. Today is the final Round 1 Argentina game!! I am PUMPED. However, tomorrow is probably the biggest game of the World Cup so far. OK, maybe just for Americans, but I think a lot of people will be watching because this game is about fairness; it’s about right and wrong, the history of US soccer and, in a sense, the future of US soccer. For America, this is really OUR World Cup. If we win this game, we advance. We beat the skeptics. We prove ourselves. We win.

This is it. During the last game against Slovenia, the US pulled out one of the biggest moves yet; they came from behind and rallied to score three goals when they were down 2-0! But, a very unfair and questionable call by the Malian referee left many of the American players and fans “gutted.” Some wins are earned and some are taken; this was a win the US earned, with all their hearts. They played their asses off, they surprised everyone for the second time in a row, and they WON. But, their victory was stolen from them. Just like the US vs England game: even though it was a tie, the US won and England lost. Everyone knows that. It’s going to be very interesting to see if USA comes out onto the field against Algeria tomorrow with guns blazing or their tails between their legs. But, if I know my country and if I know Americans, they are going to BRING it. (I love you Bocanegra. Mmm, mmm, mmm!) It should be a lot of fun.

In honor of the big US game tomorrow, I want to introduce guest blogger Geordie M. who managed to attend every US game of the last World Cup without having tickets in advance. If anyone understands my excitement for this tournament, it’s him. Enjoy.

I should be in South Africa right now. I’m breaking a promise I made to myself right after spending the 2006 World Cup in Germany, one of the craziest, oddest and most memorable couple weeks of my life. Among many other things, I got a place to stay and guided tours of the town of Essen from some guy I met on the internet, scored a 75 Euro (holy f! that was cheap) ticket to the US-Italy game, played soccer in a park with German middle-schoolers, watched Japanese and Croatian fans get rowdy together, and I got tickets to all three US games. It was incredible. I left convinced that I’d be back in 2010. It had been too amazing, too huge, too incredible not to do again.

Well, I ain’t got the money. Simple as that.

I tried to save, but life intervened. Bummer. I have some friends there and, ughhh, it pains me. So jealous. Because, well, the World Cup isn’t something you can quite understand until you’ve been there. It’s not the Olympics. It’s not the World Series. It’s not big time college football. It’s a month long international party, with a clear beginning middle and end. The rivaliries and passions are real, to be sure. But that doesn’t stop people from having post-match parties, drinking beer, dancing. It’s like all the joys of summer vacation, studying abroad, a night out at the bar and Super Bowl Sunday combined into one. There is literally nothing like it. I would give anything, ANYTHING, to be there right now (excuse me while I sigh grind my teeth, and bang my head against the back of my chair).

A few highlights and lowlights from my experience in Germany.

Geordie (center) with fellow World Cup fans. Germany 2006.

I’m rolling down the highway with my friend Andreas to go see the US v.s. Italy Game. Clear, sunny day, rolling green fields, American flag flying from the back of the car. People honking at us as we drive by. Went to the stadium hoping to score tickets, willing to pay 300+ Euros, and found some ladies who unloaded TWO tickets for 150 Euros. (Are you kidding me?) Hundreds of people trying to score tickets and I not only get them but get  them for so cheap that I genuinely feel bad.

Score tickets to first US game (USA v.s. Czech Republic) literally minutes before kick-off. Went from “fuck it, let’s go back to town” mode to “holy shit we are inside the fucking stadium and fucking watching the match. A-holy fucking shit.” And then they lose. Badly… 3-0. English fans taunt us as we leave the stadium. Two hours ago, total elation. Now 200 Euros poorer and feeling like shit.

USA v.s. Italy. I get my incredibly cheap tickets. Gorgeous day. Just fucking so pumped that I got to TWO games through shear luck. Watching Italy warm up. So close to the field. I am THERE! Singing national anthem with huge US contingent. Italy scores then US equalizes (on an own goal, but whatever). End of game, Italy down a man, US down two men, field looks about twice its normal size. US goalie makes improbable save after improbable save. US scores but WHAT? OFFSIDE?! REF, YOU’VE GOTTA BE KIDDING ME! Last twenty minutes. Panicky. Naseous. We somehow hold on for the tie. Players come over to our section and we clap. Later that night, we go back to Andreas’ apartment. I put on a flag as a cape and dance around the apartment singing patriotic songs. Giddy. Euphoric.

Geordie dancing with US flag. Germany 2006.

Third US. Game. They need a win to advance. Ghana. Things are going OK, but gradually fall apart. We lose. Really sad. Stay in stadium until almost completely empty. Can’t believe it’s over. Time to head back to France (home at the time). Book train as quickly as I can and get the f- out.

Geordie with fellow US fans. Germany 2006.

And there is more, and more and more and more. An incredible experience., and goddamn it, I can’t believe I’m not there right now. Arggghhhhhh! (Not that I’m not pumped. USA! USA! USA!)

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Living the Dream (In the Fetal Position)

Today, I am not at work because I woke up feeling really run down and cruddy. Again. I’d guess I have a small fever, but have no thermometer to verify it. I haven’t felt like myself, physically, for two weeks now (ugh), and all the thoughts I don’t want to have are creeping in… Like how easy life is in NYC, how liberating it is to eat without worrying about microscopic amoebas infecting you, how much I LOVE and MISS summer — real summer — and weekends upstate by the pool, bike rides in Riverside Park, rows on the Harlem River with my teammates, tropical drinks on humid nights, flash thunderstorms from humidity-overload, sweaty walks around the Upper West Side mid-day, and wearing little shorts and pretty sandals day and night without feeling even slightly unsafe.

Being here just reminds me how much I love life in NYC so much. Life is so easy when I’m home. I wait all year for summer; I count down the days, the hours, the seconds until it arrives. But this year, I have to skip it. After a winter that was as UP as it was down, I needed my summer. I still need it. Last summer I felt cheated; it rained, it was cold, it began with me having it all and ended with me losing it all. But fall was perfection — truly wonderful. And here I am in Quito, in some vague confusing season that is freezing at times and hot like summer at other times. The clouds mean nothing here. One second it’s raining or on the verge of rain, the next second it is clear as can be. There is no order to it — no way of predicting the day. You just go out there into the streets of Quito, prepared for all the elements, and see what hits you by nightfall. Maybe that sums up my entire experience here.

I guess a rough patch is to be expected when you leave everything you know to take on an adventure in a foreign country, and end up hooked up to IVs in a hospital within weeks of arriving on a one-way ticket. Now, here’s the story…

Life from a hammock in Tumbaco. Ecuador.

Last week, I felt sick to my stomach… very sick, and often. But not from something I ate (or so I thought). It was really just uncomfortable, like something was definitely wrong but I couldn’t figure out what or why. I just assumed it was me getting used to the food/life here. I’ve traveled a lot, and sometimes the stomach has to make some adjustments.

The first three weeks I felt absolutely FINE. I ate anything and everything, and felt golden. But two Fridays ago, I went to a chifa (Ecuadorian/Peruvian Chinese food restaurant, if that makes sense). Then I went out that night, had a decent amount of beer, and woke up Saturday feeling really… yucky. I knew it wasn’t a hangover, because I didn’t drink THAT much, but I just assumed it would go away over the course of the morning/afternoon. I’ve gotten used to blaming everything on the altitude.

It didn’t go away. In fact, I felt much worse on Sunday. I still thought the nausea would eventually pass, but I began to get horrible stomach cramps that just got worse and worse. They’d come in waves — miserable waves. I’d be fine for an hour, and then I’d feel – for several minutes – like there was a small animal with sharp teeth crawling through my stomach and making a mess of things. (Oh the joys of travel…)

I’ll spare you details, but I will add that nothing wild and crazy was going on (yep, you lucked out this post!). All I can say is that I just felt sick in a way I never felt sick before, and the stomach cramps were getting worse. I even attempted the gym twice, thinking that maybe my body was out of wack because I hadn’t worked out regularly and I needed to eliminate the severe bloating I was experiencing. I felt like a sour-stomach blob, and I wanted to try everything and anything I could on my own before sucking it up and heading to an Ecuadorian doctor. I usually avoid medicine every chance I get.

The weekend arrived, and my roommate, Kari, and I were planning to go to Tumbaco, a town slightly outside of Quito where our two Austrian friends had so kindly invited us for a weekend escape. We were planning to watch the USA vs England World Cup game, eat some delicious food, and one of the women – Sonja – and I were going to go mountain biking while Kari and Dorit relaxed in the hammocks.

Tumbaco, Ecuador.

On the bus ride out to Tumbaco, I started realizing I was in really bad shape. I had woken up with my whole body aching. I definitely had a fever, and this “bug” so to speak was beginning to take over. Things were definitely getting worse, not better. I felt like I was carrying around triple my weight, and the stomach cramps were more severe, like someone was taking a hot poker and stabbing me with it. I knew I was sick, but without a doctor and knowing I was already on a bus out of the city, I had no choice but to tough it out.

Tumbaco was beautiful, but needless to say, I did not go mountain biking. I’d momentarily forget my stomach pain during the thrilling US vs England game, but then it would come back in painful jolts, and I’d smile and cheer while I silently thought about how I might need to either throw up or curl up in a fetal position and close my eyes. I kept getting cold sweats, and getting lightheaded. It was probably time to think about taking medicine, but I had nothin’.

I spent most of the weekend curled up in a hammock with golden retrievers coming up to me, giving me kisses. I hated making people worry, but everyone could pretty much tell that I probably had a parasite since it’s so “normal” here, kind of like an initiation into living in a developing country.

I dreaded night time, because I had been waking up every night in horrible pain from whatever was going on, sweating, and losing sleep. I couldn’t stop shivering, and I knew I had a fever. My body shook so much I was worried I’d chip a tooth! My blood seemed to be replaced by molasses, and every joint in my body hurt, like an extreme flu. They gave me a super warm sleeping bag and a hot water pouch to hug while I slept, but I just curled up as small as I could and still felt like I was in a bathtub full of ice. My body was stiff, my stomach was wildly cramping, and I was exhausted — from lack of sleep and from hurting. I had played it off like I was ok long enough, gone to work every day, tried to walk it off… but now I knew I wasn’t ok.

Tree flower. Tumbaco, Ecuador.

The next morning, we went to a beautiful and delicious brunch. I tried to enjoy it but I was definitely suffering. When it was time to leave Tumbaco, Kari and I had to take a rickey bus back to the city. This is when things got really bad. I felt nauseous, my stomach was in poor shape, and I was stuck on a crowded bus 10,000 feet up with a bag full of stuff, maneuvering sharp turns, rocky roads, and overall unplesant-ness given my state.

We finally got home, and I had four flights of stairs to get up before I could curl into a ball. I could barely walk. When I got up to the apartment, I began researching doctors in my Lonely Planet and on the Viva Guides website, but every doctor I called was closed at 5pm on a Sunday. I called again, asked friends if they had a doctor, asked Ecuadorians what they suggested, called their doctors… nothing.

Then, it happened. I broke down. I didn’t want my roommate to see me, but it was inevitable. After an hour of frustration, feeling like death, I just closed my eyes, curled up in a chair, and let the first tear of defeat roll down my cheek. Kari walked by to get something from the kitchen, saw me, took one look, and said, “OK, that’s it. Get up, we’re going to the hospital.” I knew she was right. I couldn’t be tough anymore. I needed help. She said “Get your ID, your credit card, bring some cash, and take something to drink… We’re going right now.” And so we went.

It took about ten minutes to find a cab. We took it to Hospital Metropolitano — the best hospital in the area. We walked straight into the emergency room, went up to the front desk, they looked at my face, and took me to a doctor right away. Even in the ER, when Kari would say, like a protective mom, “My friend is VERY sick and we need help now” I was tempted to say “well, I’m not that sick…” but, uh, I was. I just have a really high tolerance for pain, apparently, and apparently I’m not very good at gauging how badly I am doing. For example, when I dislocated my knee a couple years ago and went to the hospital, they asked me how much it hurt on a scale of 1 to 10. I knew I was in a LOT of pain, but figured it could hurt a lot more (hello, childbirth?!) So, I said “Umm, I think a seven… or maybe an eight? Oh, but I walked here and almost blacked out twice from on my way….” The doctor looked up from her clipboard and said “That’s a ten. If you almost black out from pain, that is a TEN.” I said ohhh, ok… “Then, a ten.” Got it.

In the ER, which was nicer than any ER I have ever been in (thank goodness), they brought me to a little curtained room. Kari stuck by me the whole time. I told her she could go if she wanted, but she said, “Honey, I’m not going anywhere. Nobody should be in a hospital in a foreign country alone.” And she stayed with me. She stayed with me while I changed into my white smock, and made me drink the apple-flavored Pedialyte  she made me buy on my way to the hospital.

Then, just what I feared: they told me they were going to need to do some blood work and hook me up to an IV for a few hours. When the stoic male nurse told me this, I broke down… Again. Yep. I’m tough. But, just understand, I hadn’t shed a tear in weeks and I had just let the waterworks go before we got there, so once I let them go, it’s hard to shut that shit off! Plus, this is my irrational fear: NEEDLES! I hate them! I have avoided an IV my entire life, and there I was, in a foreign hospital in a developing country, in a white smock, in a lot of pain, about to get hooked up for four hours to a bag of fluid. I felt defeated, and I was scared. But Kari, once again, was there for me: “You can do this Rachel, and it’s going to make you feel SO much better. I’m here for you if you want to cry like a fucking baby. I’m not going anywhere.”

I had no choice but to suck it up, give them my left arm, and face my silly fear of needles. After they took blood and put in the IV, with me covering my eyes and trying not to be a wimp, they left to do more testing. There I was, in a curtained room, with a bag of fluid dripping into my body, in Ecuador. Kari could see how freaked out I was by the IV, so she went over and covered it with my fleece so I wouldn’t have to see it. And that is where and how I was for four hours. Much to my surprise, I even had fun. Kari and I talked about all sorts of things to distract me. We laughed (a lot, actually), we tried to eavesdrop on other patients, we joked around, she messed with my bed and made it suddenly drop a few inches by accident (I was NOT happy about that!) and… I guess… it wasn’t so bad.

Then the doctor rushed in with my blood results. She said, “OK, there is something you need to know. One of the tests we did was to measure the PCR, which is basically a way of measuring the inflammation in your body. A normal, healthy amount is between 0.1 and 5. When someone is really sick, they usually measure at around 50. We got your results, and, well, you are at 135.1… You are really, really sick. That is off the charts.” I was shocked. I said “135.1? And normal is 0.1 to 5???” She said, “Yes… Your body is VERY inflamed. We’re going to need to keep you on the IV and do some more tests, but you probably have a bacterial infection, and you might also have a parasite…” (Mind you, this was all in Spanish…) Then she gave me a cup. OH yes, the cup. I think you know where this is going, so I will leave it at that.

I have to say, there was something satisfying about now having a number that could explain how I felt. 135.1 — off the charts. I wasn’t crazy. I was hurting. This pain was real: I was sick, and I tolerated way more than I should have. But finally, I was getting help.

Four and a half hours after entering the hospital, several blood tests, a bag full of IV fluid, a few tears, and a lot of laughs with Kari later, I was released. I had to go back for a follow-up the next day (at which point I found out that, not only had I gotten a bad bacterial infection from something I ate, but I was also the lucky host of an amoeba/parasite, which is probably the cutest of parasites but disheartening to know, nonetheless). I was told to get started on some medications, and fight this bug until its death. It’s on, Amoeba!

I didn’t make it to work Monday or Tuesday, but forced myself to go Wednseday. I also went Thursday, and felt like I was going to puke most of the day, but was revved up from the Argentina win, for which I got up (silly me) at 6am to go watch with my friends Mark (from Canada), Desiree (from Portland, OR), and Clemence (from Paris) in a plaza with pancakes and a cappuccino before work. Last night, Kari and I met up again with Dorit, Sonja, as well as their Chilean, Austrian, Puerto Rican, and Colombian friends at a very cool restaurant/bar/live music spot called Pobre Diable (where Anthony Bourdain met up with a musician on his No Reservations show in Ecuador). Deprived of real food for weeks, I got the best steak I’ve had yet, and then realized I had probably pushed myself too hard… again… and left early to get some rest.

I woke up this morning, sickish. Still. I just took my last dose of cipro, and I know that I have no choice but to REST today (and this weekend). I’m tired of feeling sick, of not being myself, of not getting to enjoy all that I came here for. It’s time to get better, and to get on with this adventure — for realz.

So that is what happened, in all its glory. I’m not particularly proud of breaking down in tears, or having to go to the hospital, or how long I waited to go to the hospital, but I had been strong long enough. Sometimes, you have to allow yourself to be weak and sick so that you can finally get better. Sometimes, you’ve just got to listen to your body when it talks over your ego.

Being sick in another country, far away from all the comforts of home, is not easy. I can’t get the comforts of home out of my head. Part of me would do anything to be back in NYC, where it feels safe and secure, where I can take care of myself the way I need to and want to. But I can’t tell you how grateful I am for new friends who are looking out for me, especially Kari, who was there for me the whole hospital visit and somehow even got me laughing as I lay there for four hours with not much covering me but a white sheet, and a needle going through my vein.

Monday was the one-month mark for my time here in Quito. While the last two weeks have been really tough, I’m hoping this just improves my street cred’ as a travel writer.

It’s funny (or not)… I came to Quito to live the dream, to pursue my passion, to have an adventure, to welcome any and all experiences that might come along with it. And within one month, I’ve ended up in the hospital. I don’t know what the universe is trying to tell me here, but I’ve got something to say back to it:

I might be missing home right now, and I might want nothing more than to go to chai with my best friends, to spend the weekends in the hot tub of my parent’s beautiful old farmhouse upstate eating the most amazing food and delicious salads (the number one thing I miss eating is SALAD – siiigh)…. But I’m here in Quito to experience all of this — the good and the bad. In my first month here, I’ve had to face my fear of needles, I’ve had to go number two in a cup (yeah, you heard me. What? It’s science!), and I’ve had to spend hours shivering in the fetal position, wondering what the heck is wrong with my body, hoping I can just get better and finally feel like I’m taking advantage of this opportunity the way I always dreamed I would…

But that was the first month. The second month begins… now.


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The Whistle is Blown

It’s almost time. Every four years, the excitement descends upon us like a storm with a rainbow of mysterious colors lost somewhere in its clouds. A whistle is blown, and it all begins: the passionate dance around a black and white ball that evokes every emotion and every form of patriotism as players claw for the most prized title in sports around the world: the World Cup.

I wish I could say Ecuador was in the World Cup. Or that games would start conveniently after work, with stacks of extra large Pilsners awaiting us at the bar around the corner. But, as it turns out, games begin at 630am here in Quito. This means World Cup viewing will be… different from how I expected, different from the fantasy (alas, most things are). It will revolve around breakfast, coffee, checking emails and showering for work. On occasion, I will meet friends with my Lionel Messi jersey at sunrise. Game viewing will most likely (ya never know…) be sober, with tropical fruit juice and frosted mini wheats instead of pub food and pints.

Where I was last World Cup and where I am now, in so many different ways, is also different. But the excitement, the anticipation, the fun of it all remains the same. My setting has changed. The people with whom I will be watching the games has changed. The outcome will surely be different (you will be missed, Zidane). But every four years, I know I can count on the World Cup to bring people together, to make Argentines cry (whether they be tears of joy or tears of heartbreak, the world awaits…), and to celebrate one of the greatest sports ever.

I cannot help but cheer for the US in the only world championship that makes us feel small. But my heart is with Argentina, a team that reminds me of my ex boyfriends: on the one hand, they have all the potential in the world to make you blissfully happy, but they usually end up just breaking your heart, again. [Oops. Feelings.] That said, I confess: I’m a hopeless romantic. No matter how many times Argentina (or I?) gets knocked out or knocked down, I know they will get back up. I believe in this team. I believe anything is possible in this World Cup.  You never know, before something this big, if it’s going to be your heart that gets broken or the other guy’s, but the most important thing is that you show up on game day with every intention of making the dream come true, and when that whistle is blown… you play your heart out.

Game on, world. Game on.

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A Perfect Papaya

This past weekend was a beautiful, fruit-filled, sunny relief. The previous week had been pretty cold and rainy, but the clouds cleared on Saturday and I saw Quito in a way I hadn’t gotten to see it yet. It was like seeing the same city I have been living in for three weeks (today is the three week mark! Woop woop!) in 3-D, with enhanced colors. It was stunning.

The weekend started out at 5pm on Friday in the office, with Beer Friday. Again, my coworkers and I sat in a circle drinking our extra tall Pilsners after a hard day’s (week’s) work. We played some games, which included punishment of either Truth or Dare if you lost, or dancing in the middle of the room to this song (which is big here, and according to the Ecuadorian map-maker who sits next to me in the office, Jesua, it gets the girls going on the dance floor… hehe). Your choice.

We went our separate ways, then Nick (the smarty pants from NJ), Mark (the Canadian with curly black locks), and Desiree (the sweet girl from Portland, OR who keeps surprising me) met up at a shawarma/hookah place called Aladdin’s (yes, there were actual images from the Disney movie throughout the place…) for some cheap Brazilian beer. The night continued with lots of foosball, and eventually some chill World Cup-related convo at an Irish pub called Finn’s.

Saturday, I was determined to go to the gym for the second time. Thankfully, round two on the bike was a lot less painful than round one. I already feel like breathing is a tad easier… So let’s see if third time’s the charm tomorrow. While I’m spinning away on the bike, I can stare out the window where, just beyond the small side street are some enormous green hills  that spring from the background like a pop-up book. I just pedal, huff and puff, and stare. Really, I’m HERE? Can’t wait to bike those hills…

Pichincha Volcano from my rooftop. Quito.

After my very necessary sweat-fest, I made my way to Plaza Foch to meet Libby for brunch. For $5, I got scrambled eggs with bacon, beans, a basket of bread, a capuccino, and a guanabana batido — oh yes. We sat in the sun, enjoying our breakfast as the sun pounded down on us. The ever-present mountains dropped like a stage set in the background, and it was Saturday morning perfection.

Sunday, I spent most of the day in one of the biggest parks in the city called Parque Carolina. I had heard that this was one of people’s favorite ways to spend a Saturday or Sunday, so I was curious. My friend Desiree and I entered the park on another stunning sunny day, and wow. Everywhere we looked, there were people playing soccer, volleyball nets, bike riders of varying levels, skateboarders, sunbathers, little carts with tiny Ecuadorian women cutting up bananas, papayas, watermelon, and mandarins to sell to thirsty sun-beat park-goers. There were “choclo ceviche” stands, where you could buy a bowl of corn and bean ceviche. There were people hacking off the tops of coconuts so you could sip the delicious, potassium-rich fruit water in the sunshine. There were paddle boats in a little man-made river, and old men playing some sort of paddle game that I think must come from the ancient Aztec game that inspired baseball… There were the TINIEST puppies running around at every turn, and children playing everywhere, churros filled with dulce de leche for sale, and more! In the background, the incredible snowcapped Cotopaxi volcano gleamed like a mirage. The park became a colorful oasis bursting with life in the center of the city, the Pichincha Volcano to one side, Parque Metropolitano to the other. It was so beautiful, so sunny, so… everything I had been hoping for on that particular Sunday.

I bought my first papaya the other day, not sure how to approach it since I’ve never actually bought a papaya. It was a rugby ball-sized thing, and I wasn’t sure how to cut it. I began with one smooth cut down the middle and almost started drooling at the sight; black seeds  burst from the bright orange meat, which I emptied and then began to slice. I could smell it as I went, and knew this was going to be good… But when I put that first slice of papaya in my mouth, I almost laughed outloud. It was seriously PERFECT. I mean, this papaya was unreal… I’ve had many papayas in my life, but I had never tasted one as PERFECT as this one. Guess what I’m going to be eating nonstop for the next year or so?

Grateful for the sunshine, the new friends, and the papaya. Beautiful weekend, now time for a new week. Just wanted to give you a taste…


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A Polar Bear in Quito

This morning, I woke up to a bunch of Facebook status updates about my Bowdoin 5-year reunion, which is going on this weekend. Of course, I’m very happy to be here in Quito, but I know some things — like this — will pop up and make me feel very far away from people and things I wish were closer. Alas, it comes with the territory, and I’m totally ok with it. Prepared, if I can be.

But, I’ve gotta say… Isn’t it funny how life goes? I mean, I never would have predicted that I’d miss my 5-yr reunion for a travel writing job in Quito, Ecuador. And here I am! Yeah, I’m pretty much done with predicting my life. Every time I think I can settle into something, someone, somewhere, it turns out… I’m wrong. Sometimes things change, sometimes people leave…This time, it was me. It was time for it to be me.

Yes, I’m missing my Bowdoin 5-year and I would have done anything to be there with some of the wildest, craziest, most intelligent and most hilarious people I’ve ever met… But I am here in Ecuador, meeting new people instead.

Let’s take tonight, for example. After a busy day of work and finally wrapping up some of the freelance writing I did about Buenos Aires (ok, I admit, I can’t stop thinking about Buenos Aires right now…), I met up with my roommate and two Austrian women in Plaza Foch, the main plaza in the heavily populated restaurant/bar hub of the city called La Mariscal. Now, here’s a funny little thing about the world… (By now you probably picked up on how much I love funny things about the world.)

Plaza San Francisco. Old Town, Quito.

I grew up with au pairs. I’m one of five kids, and every year we would have a different au pair from a different country come and live with us. There was Genoveva from Spain, who was way too sexy, got my mom’s bike stolen, and literally set our kitchen on fire. She was fired. Twice. Then there was Tina and Yana — Finnish twins who switched off babysitting the four of us when we were all very little, and I still bump into them on the streets of NYC because they both loved it and stayed. There was Elaine, the Jamaican woman who I vividly remember once took me out of school during nap time so she could hang out with her friend and watch tv. She gave me Nilla Wafers (hello, delicious) and told me not to tell my mom. I felt like we were doing something bad so I told my mom later that night. Elaine got in trouble. She was gone. Then there was the adorable Ivonne from the tiny town of Quidlenburg, Germany, who had a very sexy boyfriend named Karsten (who looked exactly like Gavin Rossdale), and burst out in tears the first night she arrived in NYC, absolutely terrified, having never left Germany. There was Elena, also from Spain, who ended up sneaking her friend Marisol into her room all the time and we eventually realized they were probably lesbian lovers. There was Tiia, again from Finland, who was my littlest brother’s first babysitter (she looked exactly like Baby Spice from the Spice Girls) so they had a special bond. And then there was Ursula… our very artistic and hip au pair from Austria. I must have been about ten when she first arrived in NYC to live with us. She fell in love with NYC and has been living in NYC ever since.

Through the wonder that is Facebook, after not seeing Ursula for YEARS, we reconnected. When she found out that I was moving to Quito she said “You MUST get in touch with my Austrian friend who is living there!” So I did. Her Austrian friend, Dorit, wrote me an incredibly sweet message, told me not to worry about moving without knowing anyone, and assured me that she would be waiting to meet me in Quito. She also told me that her good friend Kari was looking for a roommate. I got in touch with Kari, and within two emails, I had a roommate. Now, she is still my roommate. And she’s great. Between Dorit and Kari, I knew I was coming to Quito with two potential friends, and that was exactly  what I needed to cushion the move. It was kiiiiind of wonderful.

Tonight, I finally met Dorit. (Now you understand the long tangent, eh?)

Dorit, her Austrian friend Sonia, Kari and I went to a smaller town outside of Quito for one of the best Japanese restaurants in the area. Oh my goodness, it was delicious. The restaurant, NOE, was located in this adorable plaza surrounded by bars and restaurants in a town called Cumbaya  (yep, the same one I passed through to get to Papallacta the other day). There we were, two Austrians and two Americans at a Japanese restaurant in Ecuador, talking about Muslim men, eating crab, and laughing about the quirks of living with people. It wasn’t just the chocolate mousse at the end that made it a wonderful treat.

La Ronda. Old Town, Quito.

It was a lovely night. I woke up this morning wishing I could be at my college reunion, in Maine, with all my old friends reliving the past (we promised each other long ago we’d all be there and I was the last person I though wouldn’t fulfill the promise). But now, I’m going to go to sleep excited about new friends, a new city, and a completely unknown future, knowing those Bowdoin friends are still with me even if I’m not there with them.

Last night, I went out with some new friends for my first canelazo — a traditional drink in Quito made with naranjilla fruit juice, sugar, cinnamon, and rum that is served hot. It is sweet and citrusy, and deliciously warm in your belly on a cool mountain night. We followed the drink with some dancing at a nearby bar, where one guy was dancing so intensely with a some girl we could barely take our eyes off of his butt (hehe), which seemed to be perfectly coordinated with the beats of the blasting reggaeton music. It felt sort of like being on an episode of “The Real World” because, not only were ladies able to get into every loud pulsing bar before 10pm for free, but the drinks were free too! I mean, when drinks cost $1 to start, that is one cheap night… And that’s a cheap night I can get used to!

I’m trying to appreciate these little moments that are becoming slices of Quito living. Meanwhile, I’ve been getting into much more of a groove. Home feels much more like home now than it did day three when someone was robbed at gunpoint outside my door, and I’ve got a better sense of the city, how to get around, what is open when and where. Each day has more of a flow to it. Life’s been a bit of a babbling brook, with little bumps and rocks snagging me along the way, but I’m finding my current now. Slowly, but surely. I even found a gym (FINALLY ! And let me tell you — it’s true what they say about working out at 10,000 feet — it aint easy! Holy crap, I was breathing HARD. Like, really hard. But man, I can’t wait to get going and see what happens when I return to sea level…)

Ay ay ay, this post is getting long. I was going to give you a little snapshot of what I consider a “normal” day for me at this point, but I’m actually getting a bit tired. There will be plenty of time to figure out what “normal” is anyway. And then, of course, there will be plenty of time to have my sense of normalcy shattered once again. So for now, this is it.

For all you Bowdoin Polar Bears who are at reunion, do me a favor this weekend: look up. That’s me smiling 10,000 feet above you, remembering the most incredible, wildly hilarious, wonderfully special four years of my life so far… Thank you for ALL of it, and all the laughs to come. But I guess I’m here in Ecuador now. No, it’s not what I expected. Nothing ever is these days.

I thought I wouldn’t miss my five-year reunion for the world, but I guess that is exactly what I’m doing; I’m missing it for the world, for my new world, and ya know… I can’t think of a better excuse than that.


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