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.