Lauren's adventure in Ecuador

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Por Fin!

I know it´s been all too long since I´ve updated you all, so I apologize, but life has been a bit busy on the equator. I finished my scholarship some time ago, and now I´m gearing up for new adventures. It´s crazy that six months have passed already. The time has seriously flown by, and I can´t believe that I´ll be leaving Quito. I also think I haven´t written as much as usual on the blog because things haven´t surprised me and shocked me. I’m kind of getting used to life down here, so I haven´t been so flabberghasted (wink). I think this a good thing.

This photo has nothing to do with anything, it's just a little taste (literally) of the culinary delights. Yummmm.

Regardless, even if I´m not commenting on the good and bad of Quito, rest assured that life here has a way of sending me little surprises almost every day. I don´t know if any of you have been keeping up with the political situation here, but there is still no resolution. The congress was dissolved, and they protested saying it was unconstitutional and dictatorial. There is supposed to be a vote for the Asamblea Constituyente April 15th to officially create a checks and balances system (somewhat), so the sneaky, ousted congress members have found a few judges to rule in their favor and block the vote. I don´t understand how this happens. How is it that a random, local judge in the coast or the jungle can make such an important decision that affects the entire country in this especially heated time? Why isn´t the supreme court here deciding these matters?

I also want to touch on crime a little more. I find it fascinating that people here are very hesitant to help when they witness crime. Firstly, people don´t want to involve themselves because they don´t want to put themselves in harm´s way. I can fully understand this. What I don´t understand is the police. I´ve heard of cases when good Samaritans have helped someone seriously hurt by taking them in their car to a hospital. How nice, right? Wrong, the police make them their first suspect. One of my favorite professors, Monica, told me that one of her good friends was recently murdered on the street. He was an elegant man, always dressing in nice suits and with jewelry. Three men attacked him and killed him in broad daylight only to take his wallet. Even if these criminals are caught on camera, etc. it doesn´t matter. The afflicted person has to file a report and go to the police before anything can be done. So what happens in the case of murder then, you ask? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. A dead person can´t exactly get themselves to a police station to press charges. Sometimes, just for appearances, the police apprehend the criminals, but then they´re set free four days later because nobody has come to incriminate them.

So now that I´ve painted this lawless picture in your mind, I want you to consider just how many wealthy people live in Quito. It´s amazing. With all of the chaos and lack of order or rule, there still exists a very wealthy class of people that risk driving their Mercedes and wearing white pants. This dichotomy still fascinates me and depresses me at the same time because it´s made me see how very “dog-eat-dog” a society can be. I also see how it´s really every man for himself. Mind you, I´m saying this after also witnessing the amazing acts of Rotary here, so I’m trying to put it in perspective I think.

On to a more amusing topic…names for romantic relationships. I think it´s really funny when people ask me if I have an “enamorado” (meaning someone you’re wildly lovey about), and I say yes, I have a “novio” (boyfriend). I didn´t realize that the chain of seriousness went as follows: pasatiempo, pelado, enamorado, novio. In English it would translate as: someone to pass the time, someone to flirt with, someone to lust after, and someone who actually has your heart. But it gets better because just yesterday I heard someone say that her friend was her “amigovio”. This really made me laugh because it´s a combo of amigo and novio. Anyway, none of this really matters and it’s juvenile, but it amuses me.

I also had the opportunity to go to the Universidad Central, the main public university here, and I sat in on a class to see what a Spanish literature class is like. It was a really great experience because the professor was a riot. His method of teaching was really similar to what I had experienced at the University of Florida, but he was far more frank and open with his students, which called my attention. I also though it was hilarious that after an hour of class he just decided to stop for a second to go smoke. He literally just put the book down and walked out. The kids were totally used to this. But then he must have had a great, fleeting thought, because he came running back and stood at the door, one arm in, one arm out, so that he could technically smoke without being in the room. Hehe.

So, Lauren, if you´ve finished your scholarship, what are you up to these days? Ah, good question, thanks for asking…

After my scholarship ended, my sister came to town, and we can a grand, albeit short, exploration of Ecuador and the Galapagos islands. As many of you know, she´s quite the go-getter, so resting was not an option. We went to the jungle and to another nature town, and then we embarked for one of the most stressful and unfortunate experiences of our lives: the Galapagos. Yes, you read that right. One of the world´s most precious treasures really through us for a loop. We got on the plane happy as can be in Quito, and when we arrived in Baltra and found out that OUR BOAT WAS BROKEN; we were not happy campers. The other people on the boat had apparently already found out, and we were the only people who came without knowing. Four people on the boat found out in good time and opted to not even go. Erica and I were furious. A representative from the boast didn´t even have the courtesy to come to the airport to receive us. We only had Miguel, the most horrible guide ever, to tell us what was happening. Usually when something like this happens, the boat company is supposed to put its passengers on another boat of equal or better quality, but our company did not do this. They gave us a revised itinerary that included day trips to islands that we didn´t even want to go see. So basically we were going to have to stay in a hotel on the main island, wake up at 4 a.m., and take day trips. I really wanted to cry. The company said that there were no spaces on the other boats, but I didn´t believe any part of it.

To top it all off, I was the only one who spoke Spanish, so I had to be the translator for our group, and that was a task and a half. A woman from the boat finally had the respect to come meet our group, and she told us that we all had to come to a unanimous decision about what we wanted to do. And I had to mediate it all. It was such a tense environment because everyone had thousands of dollars invested in the trip, and we all had different interests. We finally came to an agreement four hours later that the company should refund half our money. We made the lady write up a contract, and she signed it. After all that stress, we finally an agreement- or so we thought.

We got up and ready by 5 a.m. the next day, and the got us on a plush day boat. Great. At least we were on water. Then came the lady, except this time she had a written contract. She passed it out to the group, and the first thing we all thought was, how interesting. This is WRITTEN IN SPANISH! The contract basically would forbid us to ask for any more money back etc. The dates were wrong, my name was misspelled, and it was a disaster. She told us that if we didn’t sign it there would be no trip. We got off the boat. How horrible. I finally got in touch with my travel agency (where I booked the trip), and they got a first-class boat for Erica and me, and we were elated. It wasn´t what we wanted, and it would mean one more day in the same island, but we took it. We had no other option. So a five day tour turned into two solid days in the islands, but what can you do?

The photo to the right is my "Whahoo! We got a boat dance!"

Erica and I tried to make some serious lemonade out of our lemons. Well, we’ll actually call them pina coladas, if you will. We got on a different boat and we saw the northern islands. I had wanted to see the southern islands, but what I was really after was the famous blue-footed booby, so I didn’t care where we went at that point. I just wanted to see the coveted booby. Yes, the name is fun. I know. We saw a sampling of the astounding beauty that the Galapagos has to offer: boobies, frigate birds, penguins, a shark, turtles, tons of fish, families of sting rays (awe-inspiring), loads of sea lions (Erica’s favorites), and some other treasures that I’m forgetting. The islands themselves are amazingly beautiful. We hiked up to a simply gorgeous lookout point one evening, and we could see the sunset and its reflection on both sides of the sound. It was pure tranquility, but then I remembered that I was surrounded by tourists speaking every language known to man. It’s fascinating how many people come from all corners of the globe to see these islands. We met all kinds of Europeans and others from Israel, etc. Erica and I met quite a few people on awesome, long-term, South American or worldwide adventures, and it really inspired us to travel the world for a year. We’ll see if it comes to be, but I’d like to dream about it for the time being:) The Galapagos really gave us a good run for our money, but at least we got to take part in a little of its magestic beauty. It really made me more appreciative of all the times that things go right it life. We tend not to notice because things are going as they should, but when something like this happens you realize that you should be more grateful for all the times when it was smooth sailing (haha. Get it?).

My birthday passed as well, as I was happy to spend it in Quito. The Rotarians actually sang to me (in English), and that was cute. People here sing in English first and then they sing feliz cumpleanos in Spanish. I find it entertaining. I did a lot of things that made me feel good like running at the gym, getting my hair cut, and eating! I also went out dancing (salsa of course), and danced until I couldn’t move my poor feet anymore. You know it’s a quality place when they serve chicken soup at 2 a.m. to give “fuerza” (strength/endurance) to the dancers! Feliz cumpleanos a mi!

I’ve been gearing up to leave Quito, and today is the day (wish me luck). I’m headed off on the 8 a.m. bus to the jungle. That has a funny ring to it. Seriously though, I’m going to a lodge to work for a month as a translator. I went to this lodge (Shangrila,, with my language academy, and I absolutely loved it, so now I’m going back in a different capacity. They need English/Spanish translators for their guests who come and don’t speak any Spanish. That’s where I come in. Meanwhile, I’ll be helping lead tours through the Amazon (neat, right?), canyons, rivers (in tubes), and the like. I’m really looking forward to it, but it has its dangers, like bed bugs (not joking), boas, tarantulas, and generally disconcerting people who give me a strange look. Anyway, I will really feel worlds away, so email me! Send me love! I’ll send you a monkey.


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