"Every planet has its own weird customs. About a year before we met, I spent six weeks on a moon where the principal form of recreation was juggling geese. My hand to God. Baby geese - goslings! They were juggled."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Are the tables turning?

Maybe...things are getting better. Or this is temporary. Either way, I'm actually having a great week - it's the best I've felt so far in site. I'll detail today, Thursday:

My host spent the night in Riobamba and asked me to do a bunch of chores for her which I don't mind doing so long as she doesn't complain about me not doing them right. I got up at 6:20 a.m., a little earlier than usual, and got garlic naan started. While the dough rose, I gave grass ("yerba") to the cuyes (guinea pigs) and rabbits and took some up for Moo who bangs against the cage door until I do so.

I don't know what's happened to me, but suddenly I like soup. If you don't recall, I eat soup about two times a day, every day. It's a very old custom in the Sierra...they've been boiling food since pre-Hispanic times. Because we're in Austral winter and it's so icy cold here every day, I'm beginning to look forward to the hot, liquidy meal. So this morning, I prepped lunch like my host does. I minced carrots, chopped up "white carrots" (parsnips), and added "white onions" (green onions in the States). Put in some oil, salt, and a ton of my spices from home including ginger, curry, tumeric, garam masala, and garlic. It smelled incredible!

After enjoying my garlic naan with a cup of white chocolate chai from New Mexico (thanks Becca!!), I got started on laundry. Sure, it was drizzling rain and icy cold outside, but I really had to wash a load. And it took me about two hours doing everything by hand. In the end, my railing was completely filled with sopping wet clothes that may never get dry, but at least they're clean.

Knit for a little while and ate my fantastic lunch!

Yesterday in Riobamba, my host handed me a box of lettuce seedlings when I got on the bus home. She'd stay behind, but she asked me to plant them in the finca if the weather was good enough. But the rain continued all day, drizzling off and on until around 3, right when I had decided to make naan yet again and drink more tea. I gobbled the meal down and rushed to get ready to take advantage of the weather window. But right when I was about to go, clouds rolled in and it started raining again. I figured I might as well go - got to get myself out more anyway.

There's a steep mud path around the corner of my house that leads up to what I call the "high road," another road that parallels the main road through town. Because it had been raining all night and all morning, apparently pretty significantly, the mud path was extra muddy. It was actually ridiculously muddy. Mud came up to my ankles but luckily I had the foresight to buy and bring Xtra Tufs...dozens of people have told me they want my boots. It's the insulation that makes them special here. Icy, wet mud does nothing to me except make one giant slip 'n slide down a mountain. Step by cautious step I made my way up. I imagined falling and sliding all they way back down to my house, and imagined that might actually be possible. A few folks stopped to chat with me, including a neighbor who loves to constantly tell me I need an Ecuadorian boyfriend.

Without falling, I made it to the top and continued on down the flat high road, stopping to talk now and then with people passing by. Generally though, the high road is sparsely populated and makes for a beautiful, thoughtful walk. The view is incredible of both the surrounding mountains and the town below with people working on their farmlands in between. Further down the high road, there are no more houses (there weren't many before), just forest and grazing land. It's so steep, even the livestock has an issue existing on the slopes. A couple weeks ago, a horse lost its balance and tumbled all the way down to the high road where its skeleton now lies.

Halfway there, eucalyptus trees begin lining the path. The mountainside of the road is an irrigation ditch babbling with clear water. From up there, you can hear the Rio Alao rushing below, a constant whoosing, roaring sound that fills the valley.

It takes about a half hour to reach my host's plot of land. There's a tiny wood bridge over the irrigation channel that leads up a short, steep path to the locked gate. Beyond is a narrow, long strip of extremely steep land that begins with a grassy field. As you ascend, you come across old fields that once hosted choclo (a type of corn). Keep going up, and you pass some potatoes about ready for harvesting. Keep going up, and footing gets increasingly difficult. Pass a cleared field ready to be tilled, and finally, you'll reach the bit of land we had just readied for planting. It's so steep, the dirt is literally falling off of it. A couple days ago, we planted cabbage, cauliflower, and lettuce seedlings along with carrot seeds. There was a bit of space left, so my host wanted to fill it with the lettuce seedlings. So I got to work, poking holes and sticking the 50 seedlings in them.

The weather kept clearing up as I continued, and when I finished, I was stunned at the view. Up valley, a rainbow formed. Wisps of clouds clung to the mountains which always makes them look so much bigger. Patches of blue sky appeared, and gray storm clouds could be seen many miles down valley.

Going downhill is so much trickier. If I fell, really fell, I would end up like the horse. I slipped a few times in the slick grass, but I held on tight to the blades when I did. I hated to leave that perch and the view, but I met a lot of really nice people on the way back. One of them was the president of the community, always a friendly face. I've been wanting to meet up with him for ages to talk but we hadn't been able to until that chance encounter. I asked if I could speak at the next meeting, so hopefully that will happen. On the way down the mud slip 'n slide, about halfway down, a couple working on their garden stopped me to chat.

My host still wasn't back. I fed all the animals again and heated up the soup and tea. When I finished eating, she arrived - and called me "Cristinita," always a good sign. She was delighted that I had cooked, and especially that there was dinner for her. I'm not sure I've ever seen her so happy, actually, and she gushed over the soup - said it was delicious about five times. Between the ready made meal, feeding the animals, and planting the lettuce, she was extraordinarily happy. She talked to me for over an hour, reflecting on a 20-year-old story of when she had cancer and how it was treated.

When she went to bed and I went upstairs, I noticed the night sky was actually perfectly clear. Eager to see some Perseids, I brought up my sleeping bag and flashlight to the roof where I thought I had the best chance of blocking out the town's lights. The Milky Way bridged the north and south sides of the valley wall, and uncountable numbers of stars filled the sky. I brought out my SLR and balanced it pointing up on a couple pieces of wood. Each open shutter attempt took an aching 70 seconds. The D300 doesn't have a remote shutter control like the D60, one of its major flaws, and I don't have its shutter cable, so I sat there each time holding the shutter open as still as I could. Despite the shakiness and light artifacts from the town, I took one of my best night sky photos ever:

So...that's a good day.


  1. Awesome Christina! You live in a beautiful area!!!! I'm glad you are enjoying the tea! Is it possible for me to send you more in the future??? Your night photo is amazing and the rainbow is beautiful! Maybe I'll have time to procrastinate a little later and check out your other photos! Keep enjoying yourself and stay safe on those steep, muddy slopes!

  2. Awesome night picture - that's 70 seconds hand held? I'm impressed! I didn't bring my shutter cable either, or a tripod, so I haven't done a lot of night stuff yet. My house is surrounded by trees and I haven't traveled to a lot of open areas with my camera yet. I am going to this coming month though, so hopefully I'll get something good :) I'm happy to hear you're feeling better and happier about site - the first three months are supposed to be the worst and we're out of that now, so hopefully it'll continue to get better! are you moving out of your hosts house at all? I saw on Strix's blog that she has gotten her own place. Take care and I'll try to send a real letter soon :D

  3. Becca! You bet! :) Do you have my address? It´s

    Christina Forbes
    Casilla 06-01-692
    Riobamba, Chimborazo
    South America

    Always put a max value of $1 on whatever you send! :) Nothing over 4 pounds. How are your edits going??

    Liz: Thanks! Yes, propped up on some cement and wood and held down by my hand in the freezing cold :) I´ve had practice. I´m not planning on moving out because I like enough where I live and it´s good living with someone...but I sure am jealous of some of the places people are getting. YAY! A letter from Africa!!! I´ll send algo from Ecuador :D I´m reading this super interesting book, Plan 3.0B - Mobilizing to Save Civilization. Uganda is mentioned a lot... pretty interesting part of the world you´re living in.