Quito: The Breakup

I don’t want to write this post. I want to skip over the last year and just move on to now. But I know it’s not fair to pretend like everything is sunshine and roses, when anyone who has ever lived in Ecuador knows that is a far cry from the truth.

I tried to like it in Quito. I tried really hard, and I stayed for a year. I have written before about how I believe every city has its personality, and I generally can get a feeling straight away whether or not we will get along. I arrived in Quito last January, and did everything I could to squash the ever-persistent feeling that Quito and I could never really be friends.

Ecuador is still an impoverished country, struggling to develop after the currency switched from the sucre to the U.S. dollar in 2000. Whatever your political affiliations may be, I do believe that president Rafael Correa is doing a lot to make big changes in the country, however the results are yet to be seen. In day to day life, Quito; the capital city; is dysfunctional, polluted, and dangerous.

Traffic in Old Town

Traffic in Old Town

Despite my best efforts to take precautions, I was robbed in different circumstances four times, and had one–how shall I say–“inappropriate” encounter. I only know a few people who have not been robbed or attacked in Quito. The rest of my friends and coworkers can recount multiple muggings, kidnappings, attacks and robberies. Three of my best friends were victims of the infamous “sequestro express,” or taxi kidnappings. Right before I left the country a coworker was in a taxi on her way home when thieves stopped her cab, stole her credit cards, beat the shit out of her (yes, females receive the physical violence too) and her boyfriend, then drained their bank accounts. She was beaten so badly that she couldn’t see out of her left eye and had to go to a hospital in Miami.

The week before that, another coworker was on his way to campus when he was tapped by a stranger, who had just drugged him. He was luckily only a few minutes away from campus so he started running before the full effects of the drug hit and he passed out in front of the building, where an Administrator found him and took him to the hospital.

I lived with a family for a while, and finally found out that the missing father had been killed when thieves stole his car. One of my TEFL teachers was tied up in her own home by a gang who held her and her boyfriend with guns and machetes as they stole everything in their house, keeping them tied up until they emptied their bank accounts as well.

These are just a few stories. I could go on and on. The police did nothing in any of these cases. This is the daily danger that I lived with, that we all lived with. No matter how many times I tried to dye my hair, I could never blend in there. I was always a target. I hated the way people looked at me. Men stripped something from me every time I walked down the streets with their disgusting sounds and their constant comments. I felt dirty just for existing. We all did our best to put it aside and try to live our lives, but the constant threat to my security was something always weighing heavily in the back of my mind. I could never fully relax. I could never fully lose myself in a moment of laughter. I resented what the city was taking from me, piece by piece, every day.

People regularly asked me why I didn’t leave. Why would I stay somewhere that was obviously so negative for me. But leaving never felt like an option. I had committed to a year at the University, but more than that I had gone there with a goal. I had intended to stay for a year and learn Spanish. If nothing else, I’m stubborn and I’d be damned if I was going to let a few assholes keep me from doing what I wanted. I felt drained and stripped by the end of the year, but leaving felt like giving up, and I refused to let them win.

My Incredible Ecua Fam

My Incredible Ecua Fam

I feel a bit guilty in writing this. I have said this before and I’ll say it again, this by no  means    represents everyone in Ecuador. I have met some amazing people, and there is some incredible natural beauty to be found in the country. I think if I had lived in a different city or in a small pueblo, my experience would have been different, and who knows, I may have even loved Ecuador. But I didn’t. And this was my experience. And this is what I can share. Do I regret it? Hell no. Everything serves its purpose in life, and I am stronger for it. (Plus, I now speak Spanish!)

Before I decided to go to Ecuador, all I read about was how beautiful it is. While I saw a few mentions of danger, it appeared as though that was a stigma of the past and with some simple precautions there was no need to worry. The reality is very different. The country is struggling for change, but still a far way away from any sort of political or economic stability. I do genuinely believe that Ecuador will be a much different country in ten years. And I do wish the best for it.

I’m sorry it didn’t work out between us Quito. It’s not you, it’s me.

No, actually, I’m fairly certain it’s you. Ya… it’s definitely you. I hope you get some help with your issues. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

A Song About The Woes of Traveling.

This year in Ecuador has been one of the most challenging times of my life, but maybe it was the push I needed to decide that after 4 years I am finally ready to move back to the U.S. and establish myself somewhere. Saying goodbye is hard, and having to say goodbye to the people you love every other month is exhausting. I tend to write mainly about the crazy adventures and funny mishaps of life on the road, but here is a song about some of the woes of traveling, shot from my roof in Quito. Baby I’m coming home :^)

Camping in Cotopaxi: “This Sure Seems Like A Lot of Effort to Sleep Outside”

I love to camp. But let me tell you, camping Ecua style is a whole different ball game. What started as a couple of friends throwing around the idea of getting out of the city turned into a fourteen person debauchery. Under the impression that we had two cars, twelve of us gathered at Lisa’s apartment, each laiden with excessive gear to camp in the cold for the weekend at the foot of Volcan Cotopaxi.

View of Cotopaxi from the Lagoon

Trying to coordinate fourteen people coming from all over the city on a Saturday morning was difficult enough (what with everyone remembering last minute errands they needed to run, forgetting things, needing to weave their own sweaters, etc), but when we all finally arrived, we discovered unspecified “drama” had gone down and we were left with only one car.

Now normally taking a bus wouldn’t have been a big deal, but you can only take a bus to the park entrance, and from there you need a car or you will be walking for hours in the dark. On top of that, you can’t get cell reception, so if anyone were to take the bus we wouldn’t know how to coordinate meeting up, as there is no actual camping area.

Right, so, camping attempt fail? Ha. What sort of sissys do you think we are? Fourteen people can fit in one car, come on!

Image

Six Guys in the Truck Bed with the Gear

Seven Girls and One Lucky Guy in the Front

As we set off and settled in to the numbness in our limbs, we were feeling pretty impressed with our efforts, until we realized we were missing something. Someone is more accurate, and make that two someones. Hilde and Xavier! They would be waiting for us on the side of the road some 20 minutes outside of Quito! We should have realized it was almost too easy to fit all of us in the car, we were only twelve! Having decided it was futile to warn them what was coming, we watched the shock on their faces as we slowed on the highway, pulled them by their limbs into the last available pockets of space, and continued driving.

And then came the rain. Hard. Having heard the park closes at 4 pm to new visitors, we couldn’t waste more time stopping to cover the gear (and the boys in the back), so with mystery hands moving about like the writhing polyps of Ursula’s garden in The Little Mermaid, we managed to pull a tarp from the gear on the roof and cover our goods while continuing to speed along the highway. Despite feeling a little bit guilty for our more comfortable position inside the car, the girls finally decided to shut out the boys and close the back window, as water from the tarp was draining down our necks. Thankful for the remnants of old school chivalry that led to our lofty position, we started chatting and enjoying the comparative tranquility of our ride, until about 30 minutes later when we realized: hang on, it’s a bit too quiet back there. What’s going on? Are they alive? Are they miserable? Can they breathe under that thing?

We hurried to open the window and lift the tarp only to find six guys grinning from ear to ear. What were they up to??

Puntas is what. A strong “that sh*t will eff you up” kind of Ecuadorian alcohol that Wilson had brought along. They were drunk. But they were happy. Which got us thinking, and thinking, as it often does, got us drinking as well.

As we stopped for a bathroom break, the evening chill began to settle in and we realized we were fourteen wet and cold people lacking nature’s natural warmers: firewood and alcohol. We stopped on a random road and everyone took off in different directions, all on missions. Although we were in what seemed to be a bit of a ghost town, everyone returned from behind abandoned buildings and random corners with empty bladders, firewood, and alcohol. Missions accomplished.

We reached the park just before dark, where we soon encountered our next obstacle. The guards didn’t want to let us in. Partially because it was late, partially because half of us were gringos and they wanted us to pay them, aaaand partially because one of the boys fell over in front of them. Edison, whose car we were in, got back in the driver’s seat and announced that we weren’t allowed to be there as he simultaneously sped us off further into the park. Next thing I know everyone is out of the car, trying to move a giant tree that had fallen over so we could drive into the woods, replace the tree and cover our tracks, effectively hiding ourselves from the guards.

Sara, “Guys, I don’t know if you know this, but I workout.”

We parked the truck, and raced against the setting sun to get all of our tents set up and a fire started before it got too dark. Despite the wet firewood and Lukes hindering (though well intentioned) attempts to “help”, Dan finally got a fire going and we all tucked in around the warmth for a night of fireside jams, an Ecua attempt at s’mores, hot dogs inadvertently left in their plastic wrap, and (the most important factor of all) good company.

(NOTE: Due to cold and alcohol, some flesh and gear were charred as a result of this campfire. Campfires created as a result of this post are to be assumed at your own risk.)

That’s Wilson upfront, the man responsible for the     Puntas.

The next day we wandered around the park, enjoying the fresh air and open space, sans complications, before heading back to the concrete jungle of Quito to resume our city lives. Until the next time that is.

The Crew

I might be a masochist

I think I must have some masochistic tendencies, as I seem to enjoy making my life a lot more difficult than it probably needs to be. Ya, I just moved to a new country where I didn’t know anyone before I arrived, and ya I am still not fluent in the language, and ya I’m just getting started at a new job that is different than anything I have ever done before, and yes I have to go to the bathroom but I haven’t had time yet today, but you know what? Yes. Yes I would love to sign up to run a half marathon in the Andes, 3000m/ 10,000ft above sea level! And while I’m at it, sure I’ll write a children’s novel!

Why do I feel so dizzy? Hmmm, I feel like I’m forgetting something? What is it? Things are going blurry, come on, remember Shannon, what is it??!

Something simple….what is it?? OH YA!

Breathe.

Taken on a party Chiva in Banos, Sort of Sums up How My Life Feels Lately

Point is, this girl? She’s busy. You couldn’t see but I was pointing to myself. Actually I wasn’t, I was typing and picturing myself pointing to myself. I’m sorry I lied. Let’s not keep secrets from each other.

So, where did I leave off last time? Oh yes, stalkers and man friends….Moving right along (that’s not me keeping secrets, that’s just me, well, not telling you stuff).

Some people thrive off the excitement and energy of cities, but I am not one of them. While I do appreciate certain aspects of city life, I also find them to be chaotic and stressful, and I resent them for the energy they drain from me. I need to live in Quito for work, and I have made some pretty stellar friends here who help make this city livable, but it is also important for me to get away sometimes. Conveniently, Ecuador is a small and incredibly diverse country, and I am just getting started with my exploration.

Before I started my job, I went to a place a few hours away from Quito called Baños.

Baños Town Square

Unfortunately, I had been super sick since I got back from Same and so I didn’t actually experience any “baños” while I was there (the place is famous for its thermal baths). In retrospect, I’m not really sure where my head was at in my decision making process, because I somehow thought I was too sick to go to a thermal bath, yet it would be a great idea to zipline into a waterfall.

They asked if we wanted to go together, next thing we knew this was happening...

The Final Destination

We were on a Chiva ride to check out some of the waterfalls around Banos, but as it was pissing down with rain the whole time, and considering this (below) is what a Chiva looks like,

What it lacks in protection from the elements it makes up for in style.

we were already soaking wet. A casual dive into a waterfall just didn’t seem like that big of deal. Turns out all I needed was a little bit of adrenaline to get me pumped about travel again, so Joe and I decided not to return to Quito as planned, but rather to carry on for a few more days and check out nearby (relatively) Guaranda and Salinas.

We read that “half the fun of Guaranda is getting there,” but as we travelled at night and therefore missed the scenery, we had to hope we still had half our fun to look forward to on the return journey. We soon realized that Joe’s Rough Guide is actually a pretty f*cking rough guide as we found ourselves in a hostel with blood on the floor and no running water. Although we had half our fun still ahead, half of not very much fun is even less fun, so we decided to head off in the morning, and spent the night analyzing the children’s paintings on our table at a cafe  (you see, the worm, the snake, and the turtle were all going to a fancy dress party. Well, the star went too, but he was dressed as a turtle. I don’t know why they invited him anyways, everyone knows stars always have the worst costumes…)

The next morning we found a random white pickup truck (they function like taxis in between small towns) to take us to Salinas, where apparently nothing happens other than some cheese making. Cheese and nothing, count me in!

Sleepy Salinas

Joe and I decided to bypass the cheese factory tour (it looked suspiciously like an evil lair) and venture off on some aimless wandering instead. Aimless wandering is generally when the best stuff happens, and this was no exception.

We looked out at the countryside, and at each juncture, just kept thinking how we probably couldnt climb such and such rock, but we should try anyways.

Pretty, yes. But what does it look like on top?

Well, seek and ye shall find my friends. On top of this random rock, unmarked and seemingly untravelled, we found what appeared to be some sort of symbolic landscaping amongst the fog.

um, maybe, this bird is going to the fancy dress party too??

Mildly spooked and feeling like we just accidentally intruded on something sacred, we were walking in search of an alternative route back down when the fog finally cleared to give us our reward. The right place, right time, only on this kind of day when the sun is just right kind of view that you often only see in NatGeo pictures.

In amongst the fog

Happy with our discovery, we headed back to town to eat as much cheese and chocolate as we could justify (turns out they make chocolate too!) before heading off in the morning to have the other half of our fun on the return journey to Quito.

I started work the next week, and almost a month in to it my life has been nothing but full speed ahead, complete with all the South American drama you could expect. But for this post? That’ll do pig, that’ll do. :^)

So I live in Ecuador now, about that…

Warning: Mom and other people prone to worrying, please take a deep breath and remember that I am alive and well before reading this post. And then maybe repeat that process when you finish.

It has been almost two months now since I moved to Ecuador, and I’m not going to lie to you, I’m feeling pretty impressed with myself for not having gotten myself killed yet. Ok, maybe “killed” is a bit extreme, but Quito is not exactly the safest place.

Quito, Ecuador

I have friends who have been kidnapped, attacked with beer bottles, mugged, strangled, tied up in their houses and robbed by men with machetes, held at gunpoint, had human feces thrown on them as a distraction while they were robbed, and the list goes on and on. These are not friends of friends or sister’s cousins ex-boyfriend’s, these are the stories of my close friends. These are the stories of blonde females in Ecuador.

The danger factor was the biggest adjustment for me in moving here. In Asia, my appearance made me stand out from the locals, but I always felt that they found me intriguing, sort of like Drew Barrymore and ET in ET (I’m ET in this metaphor, not Drew Barrymore, just to clarify). Here it’s not quite the same, my appearance makes me a target for thieves and a waste receptacle for nauseating amounts of machismo.

But you know what? It took a few weeks, but I am finding my happy place now, but it’s been quite a journey the last 2 months to get here.

Enjoying the Quito skyline from a hammock on my roof

With all the thugs and the danger, I have also been humbled by some of the kindest, most generous people. And that is what I want to focus on.

In one of my first hostels, I met my adoptive family in Ecuador; Gabi and Rudy and their daughter Chanti. All three of them are completely off their rockers and I could not love them more for it. They run a hotel on the beach about 6 hours from Quito in a place called Same, and were visiting Quito on business. I had only been in Quito for a few days when I met them, and I think they could smell my lost puppy dog vibe from a mile away. It was perfect timing in the way I met them, as they were debating something when I walked past them one night, and they stopped me to ask if I knew what the capital of Switzerland was. I mean seriously, what are the odds that two people are debating the capital of Switzerland and the person that happens to be walking by at just that moment has the last name Berner? Bern is the capital of Switzerland. So as fate would have it I found my crazy Ecuadorian family.

Mis Padres

They invited me to come stay with them for Carnival, so I went to Same on my first trip in Ecuador outside of Quito. I moved to Quito as I had scored a job here as a University professor. (I could have just said “teacher” but I really wanted to say University professor. I wear corduroy pants and cardigans with elbow patches and thick black-framed reading glasses and the best part is I’m not kidding!)  I had started an intensive course at the University about two days after arriving to prepare me to teach, and as it was kicking my ass I was looking forward to relaxing on a chilled out beach.

The beach at Same (sah-may)

I was greeted by one of the coolest things I have ever seen–a double rainbow forming a circle around the sun. There had been no rain. No clouds. Only a rainbow, appearing out of nowhere as if it just felt like saying hello. (At first I wrote “as if the sky had just fallen in love.” But then I felt nauseous and deleted it. You’re welcome.)

This picture doesn't even begin to do it justice as it was taken from a phone.

From the moment I arrived here, I had been hearing about how crazy Ecuadorian men can be, and Same introduced me to my first Ecuadorian stalkers. But I don’t blame Same. I blame the men. For being insane. (Not all men, calm down. Just…a lot of them.) But just as every girl I talk to has a story about a time they were robbed etc., they also have a story about some guy (or 20) who they thought was cool until the next day when he snapped and decided he owned her and couldn’t breath without her and everything turned crazy.  And yes I realize I am making light of a potentially dangerous situation, but I realized that if I was going to stay here, I was going to have to release some of my fears and try to find humor in the things I can’t control.

But the main reason I mentioned the stalkers is to mention  how I met my first male Ecuadorian friends (which is like trying to find a pot of gold here, as culturally guys and girls are very rarely “just friends”).

Giant margs for Edgars bday

So here is the abbreviated story of my stalker…

And by “here” I mean in my next post. I’m tired and this bad boy’s getting lengthy…