Indigenous People’s Day

59671823_650238402069733_5577196260001054720_oIn case you didn’t know October 8th, is Indigenous People’s Day–Hooray!  This is a fairly new holiday that has gained notoriety in the past few years, but still has a ways to go before it is a mainstream day of recognition.  In case you have never heard of it, or are confused as to what exactly it is, I did a (very) little research for you all. Here’s what I dug up.

Indigenous People’s Day started in 1989 as a counter celebration to Columbus Day, both recognized the second Monday of October.  Columbus Day is a federal holiday in the United States that celebrates Christopher Columbus’ historic landing in the Americas. Since socially sensitive folks have come to see Columbus’ arrival in America as an invasion as opposed to a discovery, the idea started 30ish years ago to instead celebrate the history and culture of America’s indigenous people instead of the explorer who marked the beginning of centuries of oppression and annihilation of these peoples.

Indigenous People’s Day has been adopted by various local governments in the United States since 1990, however the federal government and most citizens still know the day as Columbus Day.  To confuse matters more, in 1994, the United Nations declared August 9th as International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. I have never heard of this before today, so clearly I either live under a rock, or the UN’s day never caught on in the mainstream.  The UN’s August 9th day is specifically for all indigenous people of the world, while the October day is geared more towards the recognition of Native Americans as it’s correlation with Columbus Day.

GATA’s Indigenous Community Partners

GATA works with quite a few communities in Ecuador and Colombia.  We value our personal relationships with the people of these communities, and are passionate about giving our travelers the opportunities to create their own relationships across cultures.  This is a vital part of our mission, but also a delicate one. We are very conscious of our impact within communities and the effect of globalization on the indigenous people we visit. While we encourage cultural exchange, we by no means want to “whitewash” the communities we visit, and we certainly don’t ever want to exploit them.  We have designed our business to maximize the value of our trips for the local communities, and to encourage learning and respect for their cultures, languages, and traditions. We promote authentic interaction with communities, not just photo opportunities.

All that being said, here’s a very quick look at just 3 of the indigenous communities that we work with.  

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Sinchi Warmi:  Sinchi Warmi is a woman-lead community of Amazonian Kichwa people.  “Sinchi Warmi” means “Strong Women” in the Kichwa language, and in this amazing, close-knit community, women are not just respected, they are the bosses.  The men also play an important role in the community and are valued as well, but it is the women who lead the community. They are dedicated to sustainable development and sharing their traditional way of life with travelers who come to stay with them.  They have a cocoa farm where visitors can help make their own chocolate. Sinchi Warmi is a fascinating balance of managing volunteer tourism with their ancestral way of life in the Amazon Basin.

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Tsachila: The Tsachila of Santo Domingo, also known as “los Colorados”, are a vibrant and distinct indigenous group in Ecuador.  Santo Domingo is nestled in the tropics between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Coast, and is their ancestral homeland.  The men are easily recognizable, as they have a uniform hair style that is shaved on the sides and back and then slicked forward on top and painted bright red with achiote seeds.  The men wear black, blue, and white woven skirts and no shirts, while the women wear brightly colored striped skirts. They also paint their bodies with black horizontal lines. They speak Tsafiki, their native tongue, and their shamans are renowned for their healing power and knowledge of medicinal herbs and remedies.  

Today, there are only about 2,000 Tsachilas who maintain their traditional way of life, the sum total of 8 communities.  GATA has a close relationship with one of these communities and work closely with them on their sustainable development projects.  Visiting the Tsachila is a truly unique and special experience, as this vibrant and endangered culture is so special and has an incredible history.  

 

Andean Kichwa:  There are many varieties of Kichwa culture and languages in Ecuador and across the broader region of northwest South America.  Kichwa is a Quechuan language that connects its many speakers under one umbrella, but the millions of Kichwa speakers actually form many distinct cultures and across geographic regions.  The language itself has more than a dozen different dialects, depending on region. The indigenous people I am referring to now are those that live in the Andean highlands of Ecuador. Even in this specific region, there are distinct communities and dialects, but also many commonalities.  

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Kichwa people are the most populous of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, with over one million people still using their traditional language and dress.  Women wear long, wrapped woolen skirts–either navy blue or black, with white blouses, colorful woven belts, red or gold necklaces, and white closed toe sandals.  Men also where the closed toed sandals and grow their hair long and keep it in a single braid. The Andean Kichwa people traditionally live off of subsistence farming, planting corn and “chochos” on steep mountainsides.  GATA partners with several of these traditional farming communities to bring travelers to live and work alongside Kichwa. There is much to learn from their ancient culture, as well as how they have adapted to survive in the modern world.  Today, many Kichwa live in big cities and are very visible in daily modern Ecuadorian life. They have retained their traditional way of dress, culture, and language while adapting and living in a modern globalized world.

21 Items to pack on every trip

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I subscribe to various travel industry newsletters, which means that I get an average of 27 emails from Travel & Leisure (T&L) every day. Mostly I just skim the headlines, but occasionally something will snag my interest and I’ll give it a read. This happened a couple weeks ago, with a headline that read: “21 Items to Pack on Every Single Trip”. I was curious as to what the T&L found to be the 21 most important and versatile travel items–and, well, I wish you all could have seen my face when I read what made their list. I’m sorry, I’m not trying to troll T&L, but their list is ridiculous. It did, however, get me thinking…what would make my list?

Thus, “GATA’s 21 Items to Pack on Every Trip” was born. While a few of T&L’s items did make our list, I think it’s safe to say that GATA and T&L are not catering to the same market. Here’s our list, followed by a link to T&L’s list–see how we compare, and let us know what your most essential packing items are!

Rain coat
A good rain coat is like travel armor and an absolute necessity for any and all trips. I personally do not take a step outside my house without my raincoat packed. It is worth investing in a good one, preferably gor-tex; and I recommend ordering a size up, regardless of the brand, to allow for ample layering underneath. I also put a premium on pockets when it comes to raincoats. My number #1 pick for a raincoat is the Arcteryx Beta AR, but if you’re on a tighter budget, REI brand usually has some decent and affordable options.

Floss
Yes, dental hygiene is important; no, that’s not why floss makes the list. Floss is incredibly versatile and very small and packable. Read this to learn just a few of the many non-dental uses for floss! https://urbansurvivalsite.com/27-prepper-uses-for-floss/

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Water filter
Regardless of where you are traveling, drinking water from unknown or untrusted sources is never a great idea. It is also logistically challenging as well as environmentally and financially irresponsible to only drink bottled water. Simple solution: take your own water filter everywhere you go. I recommend Sawyer water filters–I always have one that can screw onto any basic water bottle or faucet. It’s lightweight, about the size of bratwurst, and filters 99.9999999999% of the bad stuff. Whether you’re camping in the wilderness or exploring a foreign metropolis, you’re covered.

Headlamp
No, your cell phone flashlight is not sufficient. Headlamps provide hands free illumination for whatever you are doing–whether it’s spelunking, trying to start a fire in the rain (so frustrating), reading in a dark crowded dorm room, or trying to change a flat tire on your rental car in the middle of the night. Take a headlamp. Always. My personal favorite headlamps are made by Petzl, followed by black diamond.

Bandana
Bandana or buff or similar light cloth scrap like accessory. You can use it for sun, wind, or cold protection for you head, ears, and/or neck. It can serve as a towel in a pinch, a rag for cleanup, a hankie, an eye mask, a dust/pollution mask, keep your hair out of your face, tourniquette; the uses are limitless. I once used a bandana as a fishing net to catch fish in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Tie it on the outside of your bag–takes up no space.

Essential pills
I always travel with a small plastic container about the size of a ping pong ball with a few of the following meds:
Tums
Benedryl
Ibuprofein
Dramomine
Immodium
That should take care of 95% of your traveling ailments.

Hiking boots
Footwear is vital, and if your raincoat is your body’s armor, hiking boots are armor for your feet. I put my hiking boots on and I am invincible–my feet are comfortable, protected, and can take on any terrain any place any time. The key is to get quality boots that fit you well. Not all hiking boots are created equal, so choose carefully. Again, I always recommend gor-tex for waterproofing. I am currently loving these Ahnu boots, because they are durable, have good ankle support, comfortable, waterproof but also lightweight. I love my old school Vasques too, but they are much heavier and more rigid, so I reserve them for my more rugged mountain climbing excursions, whereas my Ahnu’s are my go everywhere boot.

Extra socks
Wet socks are the worst–don’t ever wear wet socks. Your feet will stink, you’ll ruin your boots, and you’ll get blisters and fungus and all sorts of gross stuff. It’s worth it to always pack 2 pairs of socks more than what you think you will need. Just do it.

Chacos
Cliche? Maybe. Still, I live in my Chacos. Plus, you really can’t get away with traveling anywhere with just one pair of shoes (hiking boots), so you really need a comfortable, breathable option that is still functional enough to get you around town in. Chacos are the solution. You can wear them in the water, you can hike in them, you can wear them with a dress, or–my personal style go to–wear them with socks! Chacos + socks = Sockos–the ideal airplane/airport footwear choice. They are durable but comfortable, and when you are freezing in your tent in the middle of the night but really have to pee, you don’t want to be trying to get hiking boots or even sneakers on….no, you just stumble into your Chacos and hit the bush–quick and easy like.

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Warm layer
No matter what, even if you are going somewhere tropical and warm, be prepared for cold. This could mean a lightweight down jacket, or an insulated long sleeve layer or a fleece–but bring something cozy and warm. First of all, warm clothes are like a comfort item–it’s always good to have something snuggly when you’re far from home. Second, even if you aren’t wearing it, you can use it as a pillow. Third, even if you’re not expecting cold weather, you never know AND sometimes we get chilled even when it’s warm out. Example: sunburn–the night after you get roasted to a crisp in the sun, you will get chilled. Also, sometimes we don’t get warm showers — nice to have something to warm you up after a frigid shower or dip in a glacial lake. Don’t argue, pack at least one warm item of clothing no matter where you’re going.

Baby powder
Baby powder is another versatile and underrated product. Shoes stink? Blisters? Chafing? Ran out of deodorant? Greasy hair? Sweaty nooks and crannies? Baby powder has you covered. It is the catch all solution for when you are stinky, dirty, greasy, and/or sweaty but don’t have the resources at hand to actually clean yourself. I once hiked the entire Annapurna Circuit in Nepal using only baby powder as deodorant. Truth.

Moleskin
Blisters are debilitating. No matter how tough you are, blisters will disable you. Best to avoid them by using proper footwear and good socks, but sometimes that’s just not enough and blisters happen. Moleskin is the solution. It is a lifesaver–do not leave home without it.

Fishing hook
Is fishing fun?–most of the time. Is that why a fishing hook is on this list?–no. In an emergency survival situation, a fishing hook can be combined with that floss you will always bring with you to actually catch fish. That’s cool and could potentially save your life in the wilderness….assuming you are near a body of water. But a fishing hook can also be combined with that floss to use as a needle and thread to mend clothes and gear. Here’s how.
It’s another small, multi use tool that could come in handy or even save your life–pack it!

Collapsible water bottle
Obviously for a water filter (mentioned above) to work, you need a water bottle. While there are all sorts of trendy stainless steel water bottles out there, I highly HIGHLY recommend a collapsible water bottle. I swear by Platypus. Why collapsable? Because when it’s empty it doesn’t take up any space…duh. Or, if you only need a little water, you can fit it into a daypack or purse with small dimensions. Rigid water bottles make no sense. I like the platypus bottles because they fit with my Sawyer water filter (and most other filters), they are durable, you can get a bite hose attachment (think camelback style),and they have a small opening which makes drinking easier and spillage less likely.

Sunscreen
I hope I don’t need to explain why sunscreen is important. I personally like to travel with sunscreen sticks–solid form, like giant tubes of chapstick. I go with the solid so that a)I don’t have to worry about exceeding 3oz of liquid in my carry-on and b)I don’t have to worry about sunscreen explosions in my bag. I will say that you should take care not to leave a solid sunscreen stick in direct sunlight, as it will melt.

Dr. Bronners
A travel sized bottle (or bar) of Dr. Bronner’s Soap will go a long, long way. It is environmentally friendly, all natural, no synthetics, no detergents, no foaming agents, organic, fair trade, etc etc etc; and you can use it for everything. Wash your body, your hair, your dishes, your clothes, your gear, your floor, your dog, your boat, your car, your whatever…Dr. Bronner’s does it all, and a little bit goes a long way! Check it out here.

Duct tape
As we should all know by now, duct tape is magical. Fix things, create things, stick things together–you should never be without duct tape. I recommend wrapping a little bit around a pen or marker so that you don’t have to haul around an entire roll of duct tape…just enough in case of emergencies.

External battery
While we’d like to pretend like electronics and technology aren’t vital….they are, for most trips at least. Don’t get caught with a dead phone or ebook or camera–bring a power bank. They are small and affordable, and can save you in a pinch.

Daypack
A daypack is essential on all trips. Whether you go for a small, lightweight backpack, a comfortable and functional purse, or a minimalist fanny pack; your essential items need a home–water, sunscreen, phone, camera, snack, raincoat, etc. I personally like to pack bags within bags–so I have my backpacking pack with all my stuff in it…inside that I have a lightweight backpack with my daily items inside, including a small fanny pack with my most essentials–passport, phone, sunscreen, cash.

Kindle
As the former director of a library (long story), I love books….real books, the kind with paper. That said, ereaders have their place in this world–and that place is in my bag when I’m traveling. It is not reasonable to haul a half dozen books around with me whenever I travel…one little Kindle with hundreds of books on it?–That makes sense. I use the Kindle Paperwhite.

Waterproof stuff sack
It always pays off to have a waterproof stuff sack of some sort and size on hand. Even if you just have a small one, at least when it starts pouring rain you can through your phone, camera, passport, etc. in there and don’t have to worry about it getting wet. If you have a larger one, you can keep you clothes, shoes, and/or sleeping gear dry. I know packing cubes are all the rage these days, but I would take a waterproof sack every time if given the option. I pack all of my gear in waterproof sacks, so when it rains, I don’t have anything to worry about.

So that’s our list–see how we compare to Travel and Leisure here.

Chocó, the never ending Pacific Coast

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Travel and Leisure has named the Pacific Coast, department Chocó as one of the 50 best places to travel in 2018, and I would have to agree!  We arrived on a airplane that probably was state of the art in the late 50s, to a dirt runway that was lined with palm trees and had an old airplane that had crashed probably 25 years ago at the end.  

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A lovely Afro-colombian woman directed us to a fishing boat that took us up the bay and into one of the most ecologically diverse places on the planet.  I have never seen so much coast that was not interrupted by highways or buildings. It was just pure natural beauty that kept everyone in the boat in silence.  The most magical night of my life was when I swam in the bay with bioluminescent plankton that glows when it moves. Check out what Travel and Leisure has to say about Choco:

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Gear Spotlight: Arcteryx Beta AR Jacket

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The Arcteryx Beta AR jacket (women’s) is quite possibly the best garment of any kind that I have ever owned.  It is also the most expensive garment I have ever owned. So here’s the question: can a raincoat really be worth $600+ dollars?  

Short answer: yes.  

Here’s what makes the Beta AR jacket so awesome:

  • It is seriously, absolutely, completely waterproof.  While wearing this jacket, you will not get wet….at least not the part of you that is covered by the jacket.  I am currently weathering the rainy season in Ecuador and it pours rain every single day. When I say pours, I mean that I literally have to ford the rivers that were once streets on a daily basis.  I put on my Arcteryx Beta AR and it’s like I’m wearing bulletproof armor; no umbrella needed. This is not a raincoat that keeps you dry for the first 10 minutes of a downpour and then the water starts to seep through to your skin.  No, this jacket will keep you dry. Period.
  • Hood design.  Most people probably have never put much thought into the design of hoods, but, let me tell you, you will have a new appreciation for it after donning this jacket.  The hood is large enough to fit over a helmet (think: biking, rock climbing, etc.), but is fully adjustable to fit snugly on whatever melon–helmeted or not. One adjustment and my hood is secured with zero slippage.  The brim is firm enough to actually keep water off your face, and BEST OF ALL there is no vision impairment. NONE! I have a full range of view with my hood in place….no more turning your head to just to talk to someone hiking next to you…nope, you get to have your hood and peripheral vision too!
  • Length.  The jacket is long enough to cover my butt AND is fully functional while wearing a harness or backpack with hip strap.  
  • Pockets.  Large functional pockets that are accessible even when my backpacking pack is strapped on with watertight taping.  Plus an inside pocket for important stuff. I also love that I don’t have to worry about whatever is in my pockets getting wet (see bullet point #1)
  • Size.  This is a functional jacket made for active outdoorswomen–none of that slimcut nonsense that makes it so you can’t lift your arms up.  Granted, I ordered a size up so that I would be able to layer considerably, as this is my primary jacket. So mine is a little baggier than usual due to personal preference, but it is a comfortable functional, but still good looking and flattering jacket.  
  • Windproof.  Nothing is getting through this jacket.  Nothing.
  • Breathable.  The material itself (some special magical form of gortex) is breathable, and it has armpit zippers!  I discovered recently on a rainy run in the park that I can actually slip my arms out of the armpit vents and tie the sleeves behind the hood to turn the jacket into a vest.  Definitely not an intended use, but it served me well!

 

Now, for me, this jacket is absolutely worth the price, but I am an outdoor professional who is often exposed to the elements from mountain tops to the Amazon Rainforest.  This is also my primary jacket. I use it everyday and I have a legitimate need for some serious rain protection. So, whether or not you are willing to shell out $600ish dollars for a jacket depends on a)your personal finances and b) your lifestyle and need for such a heavy duty garment.  I will say that in this case you are buying more than just brand-bragging rights, this product delivers. I also intend for it to last me many years, and, seeing as I use it every day, I do feel like I am getting my money’s worth out of it….it also makes me feel invincible, like a superhero outfit.  

Mojanda Expedition

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If someone ever tries to tell you that a 40km trek, 20km up a volcano and 20km down, is “suave”; don’t believe them.  A 20km ascent is never a gentle affair. No matter how slow you go, it’s not easy. Not ever.

Rewind.  This past weekend I was invited by my cousin-in-law, Rai, to accompany a geology expedition to Mojanda.  Mojanda is a small region in the Andes of Ecuador that includes several volcano peaks and crater lakes. I’ve always wanted to check it out, so what better way than to go with a bunch of geology students from Ecuador’s Universidad Central?  I was a little worried about the altitude, as I recently arrived back to Ecuador after 6 weeks at sea level in the USA; but Rai assured me that the hike was “suave”…suave, as in easy.

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So I packed my essential camping and camera gear and set out early Saturday morning with a group of college kids.  In typical Ecuadorian fashion, our planned 7am departure turned out to really be a 10:30am departure–during which time I almost bailed because I just can’t work when it comes to poor planning and tardiness.  I stuck with the expedition mainly because I was excited to play with my new wide angle camera lense to get some mountaintop night sky photos.

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Anyway, we finally made it to our destination–Otavalo, where we began our ascent.  And what an ascent it was. Holy smokes! We are talking 8 hours of grueling, quad-burning work.  Keep in mind, I was carrying a tent, sleeping bag, food and water for 2 days, emergency kit, and some significantly heavy camera gear.  Also, it was raining. So, all in all, not a walk in the park. It was tough–and I’m not a wimpy wimp. Nothing at all technical, just a lot of up up up and no down.  

 

By the time we made it to camp it was already getting dark and freezing cold.  We camped alongside the largest of the Mojanda lagoons, and it was a breathtakingly dramatic landscape.  Jagged peaks in every direction, and our little campsite nestled in the crater next to the lake. Granted, when we arrived it was very overcast, nearly dark, and we were completely exhausted, so it wasn’t really until the next morning that we could fully appreciate the landscape.  

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While camping with a bunch of college kids 12 years your junior is not the most peaceful experience, I was so excited about testing out my night photography skills that I didn’t really even mind the noise.  I got some pretty awesome (in my humble opinion) shots of the night sky, although I still have so much to learn and needs lots more practice. We tried to do some long-exposure light writing photos…and failed, but had fun nonetheless.  

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Morning brought sunshine and spectacular views…and a long hike around the lake and then down. Down. down.  I personally strongly prefer going down to going up, but it still isn’t easy on the joints. It was a beautiful day with beautiful views.  A long hard hike, but in the end totally worth it. I would say Mojanda has some of the best Paramo landscapes in Ecuador–different from the highest, glacier capped peaks, but rugged and beautiful nonetheless.  

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Freedom of Speech

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I just got home from a friend’s place here in Quito, and wanted to get this thought I had on my taxi ride home down on paper before I go to bed.  Here’s what just happened:

I was out with a fellow US expat this evening, and we parted ways on the street where I caught a taxi to take me home and he was going to walk the other direction to get to his apartment.  I got in the taxi, said “buenas noches” to the driver, and then it occured to me to offer my friend a ride back to his place, even though I was going a different direction. So I rolled down the window (we were at a stoplight), and called out to my friend in English to ask if he wanted a lift.  We had a quick exchange in English, he declined my offer, and I drove off in my cab. Upon rolling up the window, I quickly and without a second thought gave directions to my destination in Spanish to the driver and we engaged in polite small talk.

A couple minutes into the ride, a thought occurred to me.  I often see videos posted of people in the United States going on rampages when they hear people speaking languages other than English in public places.  This most commonly happens with Spanish being the language spoken. I have seen countless videos of people swearing at non-English speakers and shouting at them to go back to their country, and that they are not welcome here.  That in America, we speak English.

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What a horrible thing.  I have lived in several countries, and I have never experienced that type of language shaming.  It would make me feel awful if someone were to shout at me or treat me with hostility simply for speaking in my native tongue.  And why shouldn’t we speak in whatever language we want? What is wrong with me speaking English to a fellow English speaker, even though we are in a country where they speak Spanish?  The answer is: nothing. There is nothing wrong with that, and no one here seems to have a problem with it. Even if English were the official language of the USA, which it is NOT, why does that even matter?  What happened to the freedom of speech?

Just Another Weekend in Ecuador!

This past weekend was my last in Ecuador before I leave for the states for 6 weeks.  One might think that this would call for some quality time with my partner –we will call him A--(asin civil-unioned life partner…not my business partner….), seeing as we will be apart from each other for a month and a half.  Alas, alone time is nearly unheard of in this family centered culture…or at least in A’s family.

So, I spent all day Saturday helping A’s mom and step dad move into a new apartment.  That may not sound so bad, but that’s just because you don’t know A’s mom (and if you do happen to know her, you know exactly what I’m talking about).  Do not misunderstand me, I love this woman. She is dear to me and an incredibly supportive force in my life. She is also a spontaneous, disorganized hurricane of a woman.  Everything is last minute and haphazard and there is no planning involved.

I, on the other hand, am a planner–to the extreme.  When A and I are moving, I spend a full month organizing all of our belongings, purging those things we no longer need or use, packing categorically with boxes labelled with their contents and the room they are destined for, and even planning the order which boxes are loaded into the truck to maximize workflow efficiency.  Their are lists and schedules, an early start and a smooth process all around.

Also, you should know that this is the 4th time we have helped them move in 2 years, the 2nd in 6 months, and THEY HAVE SO MUCH STUFF.  

Okay, so now you know the background and hopefully you can imagine to some extent what moving day is like without me having to spend much time describing the painful details.  Enough to say that it was a very long, frustrating, disorganized day of hard labor. By 5 o’clock in the afternoon, I was more than ready to be done. A and I were both sort of putzing around not being useful, so I started bugging him to go home.  

Earlier in the day we got a messagefrom our two houseguests that there was no water in the apartment.  Awesome. This is pretty typical in Ecuador for a variety of reasons–sometimes they just shut the water off to certain parts of the city to conserve water–sometimes you get advance notice, sometimes you don’t.  Sometimes people just shut down the water line to your building to mess with you. It happens. So we were hauling a giant jug of water back withus just in case it didn’t resolve itself. Luckily that gave me the leverage I needed to convince A that we needed to take a taxi home instead of walking.

So we taxi home, exhausted, and as we are walking up the stairs to our apartment on the 4th floor, hauling water, we started to smell something burning.  The smell got stronger as we ascended, and we opened our apartment door to a wall of smoke. Our apartment was full of thick smoke, to the point where you could hardly see down the entrance hallway.  I heard the two Venezuelan girls who are staying with us laughing in their bedroom, and called to them that something was burning (obviously). They responded, “no, we aren’t cooking anything.” I rush to the kitchen to find everything in order–nothing on the stove.  At that point the girls came out of their room and noticed the house full of smoke for the first time, bewildered. A ran down stairs to make sure that the smoke was not coming from a different apartment, while I checked the living room and bedrooms for obvious signs of fire…nothing.

Then, I opened the bathroom door.  It was the half bath that the girls use–we call it the crap cave.  It’s a long narrow chamber with a toilet at the far end. When I entered said crap cave, I saw a sight that I had never expected I would see in my life.  My toilet was on fire. Not a small fire–a raging bonfire sort of fire. The walls where charred black with soot, and flames licked all the way up to the ceiling.  I will say it again: my toilet was on fire.

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wtf.

In hindsight, I wish that I had taken the extra minute to find my phone to snap photo evidence of this phenomenon.  Unfortunately, I instead decided it was more important to douse said flaming toilet. I question my priorities. My first reaction was actually to use the jar of baking soda next to the sink (for dental hygiene purposes…ask your dentist about it), but then I remembered how hard it is to get baking soda in this country.  It is a precious commodity, and I could not bring myself to sacrifice it to the flames. Instead I ran to the kitchen, grabbed a bowl, and used the water that was in the toilet bowl to start dousing. We also had the water that we had just hauled up the stairs with us, so with that I was able to control the situation.

Needless to say, we were all in a state of shock and awe.  We had just wanted to come home and collapse in a puddle of moving day exhaustion, and instead came home to our apartment, more specifically, our toilet, on fire.  Here’s what had happened….our sweet young Venezuelan houseguests had lit a candle in the bathroom. The candle was left on the back of the toilet, on top of a towel and next to a roll of toilet paper.  The candle was forgotten. The candle lit the toilet paper and underlying towel on fire, both of which burned easily and managed to ignite the plastic of the toilet seat and lid. Oops.

The girls spent a couple hours furiously scrubbing the soot off the walls and cleaning up what they could.  They will be compensating us with a repaired toilet. No one was hurt, and nothing outside of the bathroom was damaged.  Pula (cat) slept through it all and only came out when she realized A was home to demand her daily snuggles.

So Saturday was filled with family and flaming toilets, maybe we could relax together on Sunday, right?  Wrong. It was mother’s day. Womp womp womp. Do we go to A’s mom’s house? No, of course not. We have to go to his brother’s house…his brother who lives literally almost in Venezuela on a mountain top desert that is impossible to get to.  It is honestly easier for me to get home to the USA than it is to get to his brother’s house. Plus, it takes so long to get there, that we always end up getting back super late and crabby and with a headache etc. So, I wasn’t psyched. Luckily, G & G (A’s mom and stepdad) offered to give me a ride.  Sooooo much better than having to spend 2+ hours on busses and traversing dust storm desert wasteland to get there….or so I thought.

You would think that at this point I would have learned my lesson–G&G are disorganized and unreliable and nothingever ever ever goes as planned.  I know this. It is a fact. And yet….still….I have hope. We were planned to leave at 11am and I was promised that we would leave to come back by 4pm.  Ok, manageable. They ended up picking me up at 12:30, because they decided to get massages at the last minute and that took a long time, blah blah blah.  Ok, so they are coming to pick me up…but then they call and tell me to meet them somewhere else, I don’t know why. So I walk to meet them, in the rain, carrying two cakes and a backpack full of necessary survival gear and meet them at my pickup point.  The car is packed with people. I squeeze in. It is hot. I hate being hot. Then, we go not in the directionof the brother’s house, but across the city in a different direction entirely to take this stranger lady home. I don’t know who she is or why we are doing this.  We go to her house which is super far away. And after almost an hour we finally get rid of her. Then we finally do start in the direction of the brother’s house. Unfortunately, we only make it about halfway before G&G decide they are hungry (we are on our way to have family lunch, mind you), and they need to stop for food.  So we stop for food–I stay in the car, carsick as usual and tired and over it all. They ask me if I want passion fruit ice cream, I was feeling sick so I said no thank you , I don’t want anything. They brought me some sort of pudding topped with whipped cream concoction. Then we continue on our way…..to….a hardware store. Apparently, we urgently needed to buy some nails.  Nails are purchased, we are back on our way to the brother’s. Finally, finally finally–it’s after 2pm now–I can see our destination. I can see it! A phone rings. Someone forgot to buy cheese. It is an emergency. We turn around. I die inside. Finally, 3 ½ hours after our scheduled departure, we make it to mother’s day lunch.

Of course we don’t leave by 4pm.  We were lucky to leave by 6pm. And then we had to take a detour to drop someone off.  And then at 7pm I thought, maybe, just maybe, we can finally go home and snuggle and watch a movie together.  Nope. Off to grandma’s house we go. By grandma’s house, I mean “El Hogar de los Ancianos”–”The home of the Ancients”.  The care facility where grandma is cooped up. Visiting grandma took another 2 hours because she, unlike the rest of us, was not tired; and there was a phone call from a cousin that went on and on and on….you get it.

It was a long weekend, and the flaming toilet was sort of the highlight.  Welcome to my life in Ecuador.