Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Horrors and Thrills

I'm taking advantage of the free wifi in Quito's international airport, and what better way to pass the time than to recount a couple of stories to all of you, my adoring public.

I'm headed back to Medellin now, and am pretty excited to settle back into my routine of Spanish classes in the morning, work in the afternoon. These last two days in Quito have been...ummm...interesting.

First, the thrill. Yesterday I hired a Landrover to take me 4626 meters up Cotopaxi, the worlds tallest active volcano. From there we began our mountain bike decent down the winding jeep trail. One hell of a rush to say the least. First I was so cold I could barely keep my fingers warm enough to squeeze the brakes as the wind blew bits of snow and ice of the mountain stinging my face every second of the way. Eventually I reached a smoother dirt road, shedded a few layers, and finished the last 15 km of the ride in about 20 min (including two grueling uphills, that were more like mild climbs but at 3500 meters...).

Now, the horror. I am just not cut out for life in a dorm room anymore. I made it through the last two weeks ok, but Monday night was beyond a doubt the worst night I have ever spent in a dorm. At around 1 a.m. the guy in the bunk above me came into the room making a lot of noise, he managed to haul his fat ass on the creaking bed above, where for the next 5 hours he tossed and turned so frequently that the bed really never stopped shaking or creaking. OK that's not that bad but wait I'm going somewhere with this. About 15 min after he had climbed into bed I heard, how shall I put this, a rythmic thumping noise coming from the bed above me. The noise of course was also accompanied by a rythmic shaking of the bed that lasted about 2 or 3 minutes.

I think it best not to mention anymore, though I do have to include this little tidbit. At around 5 a.m. I leaned over my bed to look at my watch which was lying next to me on the floor. Unable to feel the watch I turned on my light and realized that dude had dropped his dirty underwear on the floor next to the bed, and they were covering my watch. GROSS!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Some Random Thoughts

Fidel is being a bitch. Just when the U.S. and Cuba start to make some headway Fidel feels the need to try to fuck everything up. I guess he feels that he can´t have his socialist state without having an enemy. Hey Fidel! Either shut up or die already.

Being in a Latin American country during the elections is pretty cool. It is far better when you can speak the language and get to listen to all the cool slogans that people chant at the rallies. Yo, tu, el, todo de nosotros contigo!

This outbreak of the swine flu, gripe porcina, is freaking me out. Is this how it all begins???

Saturday, April 25, 2009

It´s Gotta Go

Is it possible to sever all ties with one particular part of your ancestry? If so I think I would like to go ahead and do that. Starting today I no longer claim any Irish ancestry at all. Sorry Grandma, I know you are probably reading this right now and wondering why nice August Flanagan would want to severe all his ties with his Irish ancestry. It actually has nothing to do with the Ireland, or many of the Irish people I have met on my travels. What it boils down to is that I want in NO way to be associated with the large proportion of Irish assholes traveling the world. Like I said, I´ve met some pretty great Irish guys during my travels, but unfortunately I meet the stereotype all too often, and I just don´t want my name to be associated with them anymore.

Do you know the type I am talking about? They are the ones who piss all over the toilet seats, leave beer bottles strewn about the common room while the last few drops dribble all over the floor. The ones who make so much fucking noise in the middle of the night that no one can sleep, and then at 6 a.m. because they are so coked out of their minds they decide to start trying to organize their luggage to leave the hostel. Have you ever had to watch a trio of drunken, coked out, Irish guys try to organize luggage? I imagine it is similar to watching a trio of monkeys try to write a novel. Eventually they get it done, but mainly they just create an even larger mess while throwing feces at each other.

So there you have it. I´m done with it. Dan, when I get home our last name goes back to Esposito. I am washing my hands of this mess.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

F This

Updated 6 hours later.

Ecuador has sucked my soul these last two days. Aside from the minor irritations I encountered in Quito, I was having a pretty decent time exploring and getting to know the city. Then I left. Then it started raining. Then I got stuck indoors in a hostel full of other travelers, which might not be such a terrible thing under normal circumstances, but I am just not used to the gringo trail right now. If I have to listen to anyone else go on and on about how dangerous South America is, overhear anymore debates about why the people in "these countries" are so terrible and don't value life like us westerners do I am going to fucking scream.

So, this is the situation I find myself in right now so if any of you out there reading this feel the slightest compulsion to help me out please, please, please pray to the weather gods to make it stop raining so I can do the one thing I wanted to do here, go mountain biking.

The updated part:

The rain didn't stop, until just now. So thanks for the prayers to the weather gods people, but they were to late (or I just wasn't patient enough). I followed my own advice and said "F this' I'm going for a ride." I cocooned myself in all my rain gear rented a bike and set off on what was the most beautiful if not coldest and wettest 30 km ride of my life. The conditions were less than ideal for downhill riding, the result of which being that I am relatively certain I now have a minor concussion. I just can't stop thinking about the number purple and the letter 7...

All in all a great ride, and I am glad that I just sucked it up and did it, but now I am left wondering what to do with the rest of my week. I had been planning on staying here for a while, chilling out, reading books, hiking and biking, but due to the weather and the fact that the only bookshop/cafe decided to close its doors last night for a two week annual vacation means that I have no idea what I should be doing with myself. Anyone?!?!? Suggestions for what to do in Ecuador for 6 days without busting my ass traveling around?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Quito Bonito

Arriving in Quito yesterday I noticed two things right away. The cold downpour and the altitude induced headache. I made my way to a hostel, checked in and hunkered down. Too cold and wet to explore, and not knowing what to do with myself I spent the evening bundled in my jacket watching movies and feeling a feeling I had not felt for quite some time, loneliness.

Around 10:30 last night the hostel, which had only one other occupant when I arrived, began filling up with people and I quickly realized why I haven't stayed in a dorm room for more than two years now, the noise. I put my headphones on and tried semi-successfully to sleep, though I awoke frequently, the headache still there.

This morning didn't start out all that great either, I ordered breakfast from a cafe only to be served instant coffee and stale toast. UGH....

Then things turned around. Really turned around. Turns out Quito is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, ok, it might not be the city on the island (a little code there), but it is damn beautiful, and the vistas are incredible. I wandered aimlessly, had a couple of short Spanish conversations with friendly passer-byers. Walking around aimlessly, wheezing slightly with every hill I climbed and every flight of stairs I mounted I felt truly relaxed for the first time since I landed.

Then it happened. Making my way back to my hostel after lunch I was walking along still enjoying every sight and sound when I felt something cold and sticky hit my hat and run down my back. I reached up to my neck and wiped some of the slime away. Green paint. Green fucking paint. Someone from a rooftop above had just poured green paint on me.

There were a few people standing around looking at me, and looking at the roof, and then looking back at me. First it came out in English "WHAT THE FUCK!!!" I screamed, quickly realizing that I needed to switch my rage to Spanish I rolled out the following, some of which I am not even sure translates to Spanish but I was to pissed off to care, and felt like I needed to get my point across. "Hijo de puta, vayase pa' la mierda. Voy a joder tu madre pinche guebon." I screamed while the crowd of slightly shocked locals looked on.

I turned and began walking away when one of the guys from the crowd came up to me with a handful of tissues and began trying to help me wipe the paint of my neck, back, camera, and backpack. After a few minutes I gave up, thanked him for his help, and began booking it back to my hostel. After a shower and a change of clothes I calmed down and let it go. I still love this city!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Saddle Up Partner

I have that feeling again. That sort of tickley anticipation that creeps up inside you, starting in the stomach and expanding until it fills your chest before working its way down your arms and legs. It's the feeling that an adventure is about to begin. That not all that you knew is going to remain the same, and that you are just going to be along for the ride.

In this case the adventure is Ecuador. Solo. I haven't traveled solo in a while now, and in fact I wouldn't even characterize what I've been doing lately as traveling. I'm settled. I love Medellin, I have a nice apartment, my Spanish classes are fantastic, and I am meeting new friends. I feel cocooned by the normalcy that is my life here. I wake up have coffee and go to class. I have lunch almost everyday at the same delicious restaurant. I work a few hours in the afternoons. I spend my free time hanging out with friends or studying Spanish and watching movies. It is absolutely fantastic. Never better.

But it's time to break out of this routine (at least for 12 days). I need to climb a mountain, and then zip down it at break-neck speed on a full suspension bike. I need to hop on a chicken bus and not know where it's going to take me. I need to find that perfect little place that's all mine, that memory that's just for me. And when it's all over I'm glad I'll be coming back to Medellin. It really is starting to feel like home.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The world is not tan horrible!

Mira. I have traveled quite a bit in my day. I've even circumnavigated the globe so to speak. I have traveled to poor countries and rich countries. I have spent time in big cities and little villages. I have seen poverty and wealth on equally unimaginable scales. So while I have witnessed the wickedness that man is capable of I have also witnessed and experienced the overwhelming kindness that he is capable of.

In fact, I have experienced it so often that there really is no where I am afraid to go, especially in Latin America. No, I don't speak Spanish perfectly, but I do speak it. I can ask my own questions, understand the answers, and generally get along quite well on my own. I don't stay in four star hotels, or eat in classy restaurants. So quit treating me like a potential victim. No one is going to hurt me. Have I been ripped off occasionally? Yes. Was it ever for more than like three or four dollars? No.

I pay what things cost, people answer my questions honestly, and in general I am treated with kindness by nearly everyone I encounter, whether it be waiting for the bus or buying a beer in the market.

So, thank you for the concern, thank you for the recommendations on places to go where I can find other tourists, and thanks for telling me what I ought to pay for things. Thank you for worrying about my safety, but chillax aready! I'm doing pretty well on my own.

Dedicated to all the thoughtful, but needlessly overprotective friends I have met on my travels.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I recommend you try this

I was getting ready to cook one of my favorite dishes for dinner a little while ago when I ran into a few road-blocks. First, the dish, which is really just a derivative of another dish I cook (which in turn is derived from the other of the three things I know how to cook), is vegetarian fajitas. A simple dish of fried peppers, squash, onion, and tomato spooned into a hot tortilla with some refried beans and cheese. I don't know what to say other than; it's fucking goooooood!

So my first problem was that I didn't have a red bell pepper, one of the key ingredients. And then the real big problem came. I tried one of the unknown spicy peppers I was about to add to the mix. It wasn't a habanero, which I had previously thought was the hottest pepper on earth, and one I am very familiar with using (wear gloves and keep you hands away from your genitals is my advice for handling said pepper). No, this new mystery pepper was one I had never seen before, and after one small, tinsy, winsy nibble I realized what a mistake I had just made. I felt the scourching heat begin on the tip of my tounge and then explode right between my eyes. The pain was unbearable. I don't even know how to describe it, I guess the only thing I can say is that three hours later my lips are still swollen and the burning sensation has only just begun to subside.

So what was there to do? I was lacking ingredients, and the ones I had were clearly not all going to get tossed in there. So I improvised. I fried up some rice with garlic and onion and chile sauce, I fried the veggies and garlic like normal (but I only dropped in a few very small slivers of the pepper), and then a added the kicker, a mango. What ensued was an orgy of flavor that I can hardly begin to describe. The spicy pepper, the sweet mango, the creamy subtle flavor of the fresh avocado, and the perfectly fried golden brown garlic all mixing together in a psychedelic swirl of deliciousness.

I don't want to compare the meal to a meeting with God, but maybe it was like eating a meal that God had cooked. Hmmm...did I just compare myself to God? Well, I did just cook that meal, I think I am entitled to a bit of egotism right now.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

It's come a long way since Guatemala

First a joke: Me fui por Guatemala, pero llegue en Guatepeor. If you're studying Spanish I won't explain the joke, I'll let you figure it out (DISCLAIMER: I in no way hold these beliefs about Guatemala nor its citizens. I love Guatemala and would never say anything malicous about such a wonderful country, despite standing by my prior statement suggesting that you should violently shove old women in the bus stations there).

Last night was great, and it was great for many reasons, but for me one thing that stood out was that I was having conversations. No, I am not some recluse who has shut himself off from the world (which would make the fact that I had interpersonal conversations significant), but nonetheless it was significant.

Diego, our Spanish professor (and quickly becoming a close friend), and his wife Angela invited us to go to a party with them. We didn't know anyone who would be at said party, and there wasn't any real reason to go other than to meet a ton of new people in Spanish, and make new contacts in the city.

What was significant is that it was the first time I can remember when I was surrounded by tons of people speaking Spanish, tons of separate conversations, many which were lacking that oh so cherished companion, context, and yet I was still able to understand it. Maybe not all of it, but most of it. I understood jokes and funny stories, talked with doctoral students about their thesis, all the while marvelling at the fact that three months ago none of this would have been possible.

And then I thought back to that first day in Guatemala 20 months ago. When I opened my mouth to say something and nothing came out. Unaccostomed to such a peculiar phenomenon I tried again, only to make some bizzare gurgling noise and watch with detatchment as my body began to compliment those funny grunts and gurgles with bizzare hand gestures.

It feels good to have reached this point. It feels cozy. 20 months ago I was stuck talking with other backpackers on the travelers circuit. These days I feel like I could go just about anywhere, and talk with just about anyone. It's a good feeling. Though I'm sure anyday now I will find myself in one of those awkward situations in which I have a complete communication breakdown and my inflated self-confidence will burst. Until then I am going to enjoy pretending to speak Spanish

Friday, April 3, 2009

What do Jesus and Mother Teresa have to do with anything?

Probably nothing but I guess there livin' here these days so you never know...

It's raining again. It's always raining here. I really feel like I traded Seattle for Seattle, Latino Edition. It's green, there are mountains around, lots of neighborhood parks and coffee shops, a bit of a hipster scene in the nicer barrios, and a sculpture park, though this particular sculpture park is full of obscenely obese naked - anatomically correct if not oddly shaped and proportioned - men and women. Go Botero!

There are differences too. For example; we have a sweet metro down here that runs the length of the city, is impeccably clean, and easy to ride. (Hows that whole light rail thing going Seattle?)

Uhhh...this post is going know where, so I guess I'm going to hop the metro and go kick it with Jesus and M.T. for a while. Chao.

(Yes, I'm starting to crack a bit.)