Interlude

Even though I haven’t left Ecuador yet, it feels like I have…that is because I am in Cuenca…the third largest Ecuadorian city with many rich retired english speaking gringos calling it home. The Ecuadorians here automatically speak english to me..but mostly to say “hey baby what’s your name how are you where are you from.” like a statement they say again and again to the point where these aren’t even questions they want to know. The first person I met in Cuenca was bold enough to ask if he could marry me so I could “help him out” to get a US visa (i admire the upfrontness, because usually the dudes are a little more sly and the conversation goes like this: dude: where u from? me: usa. dude: o. wanna get a drink l8r?) …to which I said no…to which he asked why…to which i found myself profoundly confused because could this person be serious??? Then once this portion of our conversation was dropped (twas a conversation because he was my bus driver…and since there were no empty seats on this bus i sat next to the driver) he asked me where I was staying when I arrived in Cuenca…to which I said “I don’t know yet”…to which he said he could help me find a place near the bus terminal…to which I said “sure, thanks”…to which he said something along the lines of “can i stay the night with you”…to which i said  … “no”…to which he said “why, we are friends”…to which i just said “…haha”. Oh and the events of my arrival to Cuenca should have been obvious foreshadowing to the strangeness of my final, precious stretch of time in this beautiful country. Long story short, I had to exchange my cheap ass sunglasses to change my bus ticket…then I got on the bus to take another bus, and long story short, this bus (with my friggin backpack!) ditched me at a gas station at 10pm…which is how i ended up on a different bus with the bus driver who wanted american citizenship..and when I got to the bus station and found the bus driver who ditched me and asked him for my backpack..HE WAS MAD AT ME FOR BEING DITCHED BY HIM!!!!!! WHAT A DICK!

And let me just say that I am very exhausted right now because, as a person, I need sleep. Currently, the hostel I am staying in in Cuenca is a flippin joke because the people who work here are STILL UP TALKING and i’m too much of a bitch to tell them to stfu. but honestly they should be respectful anyways, and i shouldn’t have to worry about telling them to stuff it. And the Israeli dude who owns this hostel (which hasn’t even been open 2 months) says he “can’t take it anymore” and is running away to Peru with his “American Girlfriend” and that he’s “never going to work another day in his life” and is leaving the hostel to this young dude with dreads, which he feels good about because he has a “good vibe”. This poor overworked man proceeded to guess (creepily correctly) things about me like my age and what I studied in college…either he’s good at seeing thru people or I am a big fat stereotype (a 24 y/o who studied something along the lines of biology/ecology)..then he looked at my tattoos…read the one that says “so much beauty in dirt” then made the statement “there isn’t much beauty in the world anymore” and in my mind i was like “bruh you’re like what…in your 30s? what is ‘anymore’ to you?” but out loud i just said “yeah dude your ugliness is sucking up all the beauty i’ve seen in ecuador” to which he bitch slapped me so hard his diamond ring drew blood from my cheek…and in that moment i knew he was lying about his “girlfriend” in peru because this guy was flamboyant af. Ok so that last part where I made that sick burn and was subsequently slapped was made up.

So I am not an expert in anything at all, especially a country that is not my own – one which I have no affiliation or true sense of belonging – but Cuenca is not Ecuador. First impressions matter, and every impression I’ve had of Cuenca over the past 24 hours looks like a dirty old street dog that just had her 7th litter of puppies. It’s catered to gringos in such an extreme way that I was surprised to even see murals of indigenous people. Everyone I’ve spoken to speaks english to me, even when I speak to them in spanish. Another white dude on the street handed me a flyer to have a free drink at a hostel to meet other backpackers. An old white man was walking the most manicured poodle I had ever seen. Sure Cuenca has gorgeous architecture and a river that flows through town. It’s a lovely spot, but you wouldn’t know where in the world you were.

I am here for 2 more days. I will leave the confines of the town and find some of that good ol ecuadorian beauty. And I will write a proper entry on ecuador because I liked this country a lot more than I imagined and it deserves praise. Except Cuenca.

The hostel is quiet now! I can go to bed!

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Colombia

It’s been a little over two weeks since I’ve been traveling alone…but thinking back to when I first flew into Bogotá, Colombia…it feels like it’s been longer. I can’t even say how long it’s felt because it really doesn’t feel like days, weeks, or months exist. Except for my flight from Santiago, Chile to Patagonia, I have no where to be or nothing to do that requires a deadline. I sort of have an idea of where I am going next, but in reality this can change based on what I want to do. Since I am alone, I have the option to stay somewhere as long as I please. I get to choose what I want to do. I get to really feel what makes me excited and inspired, as well as what makes me feel repressed and unhappy.

I felt like I kind of had an idea of what I liked before going into this trip, but somehow those things felt intangible. If I knew then what I know 2 weeks later…I wouldn’t have booked a hostel for 4 nights in Bogotá, Colombia’s bustling capital filled with skyscrapers and crowded streets. WhhhoooEEE that was a lot to take in right off the bat. It was overwhelming. My heart physically felt like it was being crushed. Those first few days there I kept asking myself “what am I doing there, I don’t belong here” then I would always have that Radiohead song stuck in my head. For these first few days I didn’t feel good, I couldn’t eat, I was stressed…and almost anytime I had to speak to someone in spanish and it wasn’t going well (when my brain was too tired to understand words or make them) I would cry because it was soooo frustrating!!! It’s like when you’re a child and can’t communicate or understand but it’s worse because you’re an adult and you actually know how to communicate your thoughts..in your language. Not only is it frustrating, but when you have this limited ability to understand and speak, you feel really stupid. I would always have this confused and sad look on my face when someone was talking to me and I had to ask them to repeat what they said 4 times until they’d boil it down to one word I was able to understand. I felt (and still feel) really humbled to be here, in a place where I am an outsider that doesn’t know what’s going on a lot of the time. I think it’s good to understand this feeling. It gives you more patience and compassion for others around you struggling with whatever…two qualities I’ve felt like I’d been lacking for a while.

I didn’t meet people immediately for multiple reasons: my hostel was too small/no very social; the people I did meet just happened to be people I didn’t click with; I didn’t do any organized tours/activities until my last day; I wanted to explore on my own; and most importantly, I needed to become a little more grounded before I could be a less stressed, lovely and approachable human being. On my last day in Bogotá, I finally met some folks that I liked and had the chance to hang out with because I finally did an organized tour – the Bogotá graffiti tour. It taught a lot about Colombian history and culture through the legal but still kind of illegal art of graffiti (it’s legal if you get permission from the building’s owner). There were a lot of art depicting birds because artists are very inspired by Colombia’s wonderful biodiversity. Of course there was also politically charged art, like a pig in a cop’s uniform (the police here are corrupt, like most places). The guide also made a point to show us a lot of art done by women, which showed that women here have been able to overcome being over shadowed by men, as well as the fear of being out alone while creating theirart. There was even art of just fun stuff, like a wall of cats..including grumpy cat, tom, and other familiar faces:bogota_graffiti_3.jpg

So this is how you mostly meet people, you do touristy stuff like this. It was nice to speak to people in english and laugh a lot and not eat dinner alone. It was also my first experience meeting people I really liked then having to leave them forever the next day. It didn’t feel bad, it felt exciting because I knew I would get to share other awesome experiences with other awesome people.

So originally I was go north from Bogotá to the coast then travel southwest and make my way around all these popular cities, but I couldn’t bear being in a city again. I needed something more calm. I found myself really wanting to experience areas with ecological significance in Colombia. I also realized at this point that South America is a huge continent and I didn’t think I had enough time to make all these stops in Colombia…I had to keep moving south! I decided to go to a small town called Salento, a beautiful area known for its coffee farms and the gorgeous Cocora Valley:

ValleCocora_11.jpgI loved it here. It was calm and I was so close to all these beautiful areas. I met lovely people in my hostel and during the Cocora Valley trek. A group of travelers from Israel invited me to join them, and we later ran into another group and we all got to experience something new and beautiful together. It felt like a short-term family.

I left Salento to Cali, which is a large city known for its warm temperature and salsa dancing. I didn’t like it. I found myself missing Oregon – place I felt like I belonged. In South America, I felt very much like an outsider looking in. I did meet some cool people here and we got to experience Cali’s Festival of Lights, where I saw the most colorful lights ever…it was gorgeous. I wanted to go watch birds in a pretty place but this wasn’t easy in Cali. I woke up my second day being there and decided then to take off, even though I had another night reserved. This is what freedom feels like! I didn’t like it so I left. Easy. I hopped on a bus to Pasto, a small town popular for travelers to sleep before they cross the boarder to Ecuador. The ride was 11 hours from Cali and the person I sat next to needed to spread his legs and arms all up in my space…he used my foot rest as his foot rest! He bought me juice at one point, which confused me because I wasn’t being very friendly with him. Also why would he buy me juice anyways? I didn’t want it but I took it because it would have been rude not to. Turns out it was the most delicious juice I ever tried…Hit Mango, yo! Still, it was an uncomfortable ride. I arrived to Pasto feeling run-down and overly exhausted. I took a couple days here to relax, to be alone a prepare for the madness of a boarder crossing. I went wandering to find a church. Being inside these old and beautiful buildings calms me and gives me a profound sense of history and cultural importance. A german lady approached me and asked if I was crossing the boarder the next day, which I was, and she said she wanted someone to do it with. I happily agreed because I was nervous as well.

The boarder crossing went well, even though it took way too long. I left my german friend at the bus station past Ecuador’s boarder and made a new eccentric english friend with many stories to tell. I’ve been in Quito, Ecuador for almost a week (more on the beautiful Ecuador later). After two weeks I feel a lot more confident traveling alone…and now I’m genuinely enjoying it. It’s a great sense of relief!! My mind and body feel more clear.

Before I left on this trip, people kept asking why I wasn’t more excited…and even though I did feel excitement, I mostly felt very scared the closer I got to leaving. I hadn’t done something this big alone before. I’m actually surprised more people didn’t understand why I was scared. I suppose it’s because the idea seems intangible and foreign to most people…that’s how it felt to me when I made the decision to go. I wasn’t scared when I booked my plane ticket to Colombia because I didn’t really understand what I was doing. But of course the closer it got the more i went over scenarios in my head, and the idea became more real. But now it’s really real, and I’m in it. This experience is big, but it’s like overcoming any other challenge in life. Sometimes the world isn’t as scary as you think it is, and more often than not, you’re stronger than you think you are.

Guadalajara, México

I’ve had so many thoughts and so many things I’ve wanted to say since being in Guadalajara. I couldn’t possibly write down all of them, and some that I thought were noteworthy then don’t feel so noteworthy now. So I’ve constructed and deconstructed this blog post multiple times because I kept adding things i thought were important, then taking them away. In the end I erased the whole thing because it seemed disingenuous and contrived like a homework assignment. I wrote what naturally came to my mind in this instance rather than adding or subtracting from previous thoughts.

So here is a list of things I found noteworthy about my experience in Gudalajara:

  • the food is freakin amazing. everything has so much flavor (salsa drenches everything, even the sandwiches – and yes it’s way better that way) and somehow i’ve had the best bread and cup of coffee here. I am disappointed that I haven’t eaten a mango because apparently they aren’t a thing here in this part of the country?
  • Guadalajara is like the LA of Mexico…it’s a huge city (very different from cities like Queretaro or Puebla, which have a more colonial feel); there are many large shopping centers and skyscrapers; it’s the cultural hub of mexico where movies, arts, books, music, etc are being created or coming together; and most everyone dresses fancy and looks like a model. I feel out of place in such a large city… especially one where I don’t speak the language or see any white people (so it’s like feeling like a minority except I still can’t begin to say I know how that feels)
  • apparently, even though this is the tequila hub of the world, tequila is becoming overrated and people are getting more into mezcal, which I haven’t developed a taste for yet. It’s like drinking rubbing alcohol – or so I would guess because I’ve never actually drunk rubbing alcohol. It’s gross. long live tequila.
  • their commercial beer (bohemia, modelo, corona) is still better than their attempts at craft beer, but I’m stoked there are so many cervezarias (breweries) is this city and that I got to try a Mexican barleywine (6/10)
  • techno is a really big thing here and it gets the people partying at clubs until the sun rises (although there is going to be a law passed in Guadalajara which will make clubs shut down at 3am – LAAAAMMME! now they will know how us oregonians feel). you can smoke in these clubs, which is super convenient but it also hurts my eyes and lungs! at least for me – everyone here is tough as shit.
  • a lot of people here speak english well, so the opportunities to practice my spanish are few – and even when i try to continue in spanish people will lose patience and just talk in english..which is totally understandable.
  • Just like anywhere else I’ve been in Mexico, some places smell of sewage and I find it oddly comforting. there were times in the US when i would catch a sewagey whiff and experience intense nostalgia for when I studied in Queretaro Mexico four years ago
  • Christmas in Mexico: it feels like xmas in july because the weather is so warm. but there are xmas trees, poinsettia, and nativity scenes everywhere. I noticed that none of the nativity scenes had baby jesus and later found out they wait until xmas eve to bring him in.
  • and probably more things but after sitting here for 10 minutes thinking, nothing else has come to mind. The pictures I post on facebook will also tell of things i have not mentioned.

I feel immense gratitude for my old college pal Ricardo, who let me stay at his house these past two weeks, and who showed me around the city, introducing me its food, culture, history, and people. I’ve realized how lucky i’ve been in my life to have people who are so hospitable and welcoming to me, especially in this time of my life where i don’t have my own home and want to explore the world. It’s made me question the good I’ve done for other people and if I’ve done enough to deserve the good done for me. It’s hard to say I deserve it since I’ve felt like I’ve been so selfish in my adult life. I’ve lost touch with my compassionate nature and desire to put others before myself. Of course one should always take care of themselves and not always put yourself second – but my head has been so engulfed by worries concerning myself. I’ve been told this is normal in your twenties, but I just think that’s just an excuse and that if I were a better person, I could overcome it.

This trip through south america is inherently selfish (isn’t everything? not worth diving into now) but I needed it. I am craving a different perspective on life because I’ve been trapped in this westernized (specifically pacific northwestern) mentality – constantly bombarded by people complaining about microaggressions and GMOs. Western culture is so spoiled to be fighting about these things. I want to be removed from my comfort zone, I want my beliefs brought to light and questioned, i want to meet other people (except those people that just talk your ear off on how cool they are because they’ve travelled to the most beautiful and remote places and you should really appreciate them because they are so weathered, cultured, wise, and knowledgable – egads get away from me!!!!!). I want a good mix of being with people and being in solitude. I want to see Lake Titicaca (the name us middleschoolers snickered at in geography class that is still lightly entertaining today) and the salt flats in Bolivia. I want to see what the end of the world looks like in the Andes in Chile, where i can see penguins and guanacos!! I want to drink colombian coffee in Colombia and hike around looking for colorful birds.

It’s happening and it’s weird. I never imagined myself doing this until this summer. I was told by someone who’s known me since I was 9 that this was out of character for me. I was a little offended (I want to be cooler than I am) but ultimately I agreed. I assume she’s known me to be timid, quiet, and fearful (which half of the time I am), but the other half of me likes to explore, socialize, challenge myself, and not succumb to my fear.

Hopefully these two weeks have been a good little primer for the solo adventuring. It’s been a good time to experience my primary homesickness in a place of a little more familiarity and comfort. I still freakin miss my southern oregon folk, but i’ll see y’all in a couple months xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoox

 

Para comenzar…

I mentioned to a coworker that I was going to travel down to South America for a portion of my winter and she asked if I was going to write a blog about my travels. I said that I love to write, but just for myself, so I will be writing in my personal journal. She laughed anxiously as she told me that it was because I was insecure about having people read my writing. I immediately knew she was right and in that moment decided that I was going to share my writing.

I’ve never written for the public before (on a personal scale) so I’m excited and quite nervous to see how this goes. My writing is very centered on emotions and thoughts that I keep secret from outside listeners for many reasons, one being: why would anyone care? Another being: why would I want to appear vulnerable to people? And another: what if someone judges my grammar or realizes that I use the same five words to describe a feeling and this steers them away from my super awesome content. Looking at these questions now, I realize they are just deep-rooted fears concerning my relationships with people. So here’s something I’m doing to alleviate that fear while simultaneously sharing something meaningful to me to the people who want to listen.

So anyways, I’m heading down to South America November 15 because I can. I’m probably going to write about it on this blog so people can read it. The content on my blog will extend beyond my travels south, it was just a good excuse to start. When I write a new entry, I’ll probably post a link to it on my facebook so no one has to eagerly keep coming back to read my ramblings!

Until next time then!