"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, January 28, 2012

Chimborazo climb

Sooo... it was very cold and windy and I didn´t get much video. But this is what I got! Up to 20,500 feet, the Veintimilla summit of Chimborazo:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Visiting Chimborazo, and when your site gets cutoff by debris flows

Last Thursday morning I got up leisurely and hopped a bus to Riobamba with a full pack of things for sleeping in a cold refuge on Chimborazo. It was my one night to acclimatize... not much at all, but it's something...at least to get myself in the mindset of being slighly uncomfortable.

I went online, did a little food shopping, and had a juice at La Merced to wait. About a quarter to 1, I wandered to the office of the group I'll be climbing with later. They said to be there around 1, so I thought I was early. No... I missed them. I waited nearly an hour and gave up, got a taxi to the terminal for a bus to the park entrance. Turns out the terminal is being completely gutted for renovation, the terminal is now operating out of the parking lot and is a mess, and none of the buses stop at the park entrance. Even the Flota Bolivar that goes to Guaranda and passes right by the entrance refuses to make a stop here. So note to those wanting to go on their own to the park... it's a taxi for you unless you can fanagle a ride from a climbing company.

So I asked the first taxi I saw how much it would be to go to the refuge on Chimborazo.

Taxi: "Hmm...the refuge... $40."
Me: "No way, that's way too much."
Taxi: "$35. It's really far away."
Me: "The last taxi I was in offered me the ride for $20 and I won't pay a dollar more." (this is the genuine truth...that's the price he gave me)
Taxi: "No lower than $25. It's very far, there's no chance you'll get a better deal than this."
Me: "I only have $30 and I need to get home somehow. I can't use more than $20."
Taxi: "Just $25. You won't find a cheaper ride."
Me: "Well, we'll see..." (walked to the road to hail another taxi)
Taxi: "Fine. Fine, $20."

Feeling frustrated at being left by the free ride, I was nonetheless pleased at my haggling skills.

We raced out of Riobamba towards Guaranda, and the scenery began to look much like my site's. The rain began and trees disappeared as we drove higher, and soon we were cruising through a rocky, sandy land with just very short shrubs and vicunas grazing here and there. I began feeling just a little bad about how low I made the taxista go for a price...it really is a far trip. The park entrance was under construction so we continued on up without stopping. I imagined if the Guaranda bus let me off at the entrance, how much walking up to the refuge I would have had to do (a LOT).

Eventually we made it just as we hit snow fall, and I spent little time putting on more warmer clothes and walking up to the second refuge. Got my GPS out and started searching for the four geocaches sprinkled around this small area. At around 16,000 feet, I felt knackered already. The going was slow but with geocaches and vicuna photo opportunities, I took my time. The second refuge really isn't far at all...around the first corner, when the mist and snow cleared, it was perched on a hill.

I was shocked when I reached the refuge and hardly anyone was there. I thought the group I was supposed to go with would be there, but I actually beat them to it. Instead another guide of the group I'm going with greeted me and made me tea. We talked a little, then he wandered off to bring me back a big bowl of salty, buttered popcorn. Put my stuff upstairs and claimed a bed, then went uphill a little in gorgeous snowfall to find the last geocache at 5110 meters (16,700 feet). By that time the snow picked up a little and obscured the cliffs around me, but it was gorgeous and I enjoyed the walk immensely. Found the geocache and turned around to see the snow and clouds completely cleared to give an unobstructed view of the mountain. Of course, the bulk of the mountain hid the summit.

When I wandered back down, a huge number of people had arrived at the refuge. Most of the tables in the lodge were filled with climbers already devouring their dinners, and I said a "Buenas tardes" to them all and got little encouraging response, so I just took a table and flipped through photos in my camera not knowing what else to do. When a bunch of them cleared out, one (they're all obviously American) asked where I'm from. Turned out they were all very friendly and talkative, and they immediately offered me a slice of cake and a handfull of gummy worms (someone's birthday). They played Spades awhile and I watched til they headed for bed around 7. I tried to read but frustratingly I couldn't concentrate at all, and decided to beat the cold and boredom and go to bed myself.

Ohhh to sleep at altitude. How miserable. I was freezing at first but soon I was blisteringly hot in my bag. I tossed and turned because the low level of activity actually made my heart beat faster. At 10,000 feet in my site at rest, my heart beats around 52 BPM...at 16,500, it was racing. Eventually though I was able to sink into sleep until around 10 or 11 when the climbers woke up and began packing. When they left, I took a couple anti-nausea chewables and an Aleve, and tried to go back to sleep. Same thing...tossed and turned, and eventually fell asleep until a climber woke me up again. He was completely outfitted still and I asked if he'd already left or was going to leave. His partner got sick at a point in the route that demanded extra care so around 2 hours into their climb, they returned. I never really got back to sleep, so around 6:30 or so I got up, packed, and went downstairs where an American was hanging out. He too had felt not so good and had to return to the refuge, but we had a really fun conversation that was pretty enlighening for me - all about the route on Chimborazo, on Cotopaxi that I'll be seeing soon, Everest base camp that I plan to visit next year, etc.

We went outside to get a visual of his climbing teams that were just returning from the summit and were visible as specks on the long glacier ramp. The sky was totally blue, completely clear. I headed down to the first refuge to wait and find the last geocache. In just a short while, the clouds rolled in and made for some dramatic photography.

Teams usually get down around 10 a.m., which is when the tourist buses begin arriving. A lot of teams arrived just then but the American team came down around 11. The tourists were a little annoying...they were cold, loud, and several of them had to continuously run to the bathroom to vomit (really, if you only ever lived at near sea level and take a bus right to 16,000 feet, do you really expect to have a fun time?). The American team came and went to Ambato, and I waited for a couple climbers who would hopefully take me back to Riobamba. Those guys came, and sure enough I was thankfully given a ride back to Riobamba...actually right to my bus station.

The bus left shortly after... though standing water and very low storm clouds in my valley made me worry...when those things happen, the quebradas usually go crazy. Sure enough, we turned a corner and everyone stood up gasping, whimpering, and complaining...the road was gone and a gushing muddy river took the place of what is usually just a thin, clear trickle of water. It flooded the road more than ankle-deep. A bus was waiting on the other side presumably - rumor had it - to take us home. I was hopeful but realistic... if this quebrada was flooded, the next one over would be too. So some of us crossed this one on foot. It wasn't so bad, except one part was wide and unstable enough that you couldn't leap across and had to wade through. It was so fast and steep that large rocks were rolling through it, and one big one hit my foot as I crossed.

It took 15 or so minutes to reach the second quebrada, and what had happened was stunning. The road was REALLY gone, totally covered with logs and boulders. Only I couldn't see where all that debris came from... the hillside above was grassy and unbroken, and the stream coming from the crevice was somewhat small and contracted. There was hardly any mud in the debris flow. Curious...

Passing one settlement, a girl yelled out from far away as I walked by: "Gringita, stop here! You can't go on! You can spend the night here!" I yelled back, "It's ok, I live in Alao, that's where I'm going." They returned, "No, please, it's too far!" Me: "I've done this before. It's ok! I want to go home." As I continued walking they kept calling to me, and then just resorted to "Ayyy, Dios mio!" ...I laughed.

But for 2 hours not a single vehicle passed me going the right direction, so I ended up walking the whole valley back to my site. It was raining the entire time, and wow was I tired. At least I had plenty of food and water! Even a headlamp if it got much later.

Right when I reached my site, a trumpet blast honked out from up high and echoed around the valley. Haha... I was welcomed by trumpet. Actually, a trumpet is the instrument that announces to people that the workers' association is meeting.

My host Maria was shocked to see me, very worried that something had happened to me on Chimborazo or with the weather...especially because two ill-meaning signs appeared to her (the rooster made a gurgly cooing noise, and her dog in Riobamba howled a lot... both apparently mean someone will die - also, if you spot a condor perched, or if a black weasel crosses your path). The weather didn't spare my site either - wind direction came oddly from the west to east, so my room was flooded. Maria kindly swept the water out before it got too far in.

So it's Saturday now, the first I might have ever spent in my site (it's my day to talk with my folks on Skype and I have quena - Andean flute - lessons the same day) and I haven't heard any buses come or go. Maria says some small trucks are making the passage and she went to catch one to town but I'm not sure if they have any regularity. I wouldn't mind so much, except on Monday I need to be in Riobamba early to meet my climbing guide and get to Cotopaxi. So either the buses need to be running tonight or tomorrow morning, Sunday, to assure me they'll be going on Monday; or I catch a camioneta (small truck) tomorrow; or I walk out on foot... extremely not ideal. I really just hope the buses run so I can go on Monday.

Saturday night:

Caught sight of the very large truck that comes here every day, so I wondered if it made the passage. However, not a single bus has made it to my site. Apparently camionetas are making the trip but again, without much regularity. I'll be getting up early tomorrow, hoping to hear some bus horns...if not, I'll be heading out on foot with all my climbing gear hoping to catch a ride from someone passing by along the way. At least it's mostly downhill!

Horray! I get to look like a lost tourist again with a backpack.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Room: painted

I never thought I'd be so covered in paint.

But my project of improving my room is continuing nicely. On Tuesday I finished coating the dark perwinkle blue walls with white primer (2-3 layers!) and began painting over that with the final color, a light yellow. It comes out of the can a dark canary-yellow and stays that way on the wall for hours until it dries and lightens up dramatically.

I can see the difference in lighting now, especially in the morning. My room is radiantly bright compared to how it was with dark blue walls. It feels bigger - maybe even warmer.

I finished painting the entire place on Wednesday morning, let it dry all day, and began moving things back in place. It is AMAZING. Not such great photos to offer you, but here they are:



Monday, January 9, 2012

Riobamba scavenger hunts

I´ve been to Riobamba a lot this week, and I´m getting very very sick of the 2-hour one way bus ride. But I have good reasons.

It´s my mission to improve my room - and the plan is really coming together. I bought a largish bookcase, got a water tank (with a spiget!!) for boiled water upstairs - anytime I want it!, and now I´m right in the middle of painting my room. I wasn´t sure how much paint would do it, so I just started with a gallon of white primer. Turns out I need 2-3 coats of it, so I only got a little more than half the upstairs painted. And so here I am again in Riobamba to buy more white paint and the light yellow paint I hope will add a lot of cheeriness to the place. It used to be a dark perwinkle color so I figure anything is better than that. Who likes dark blue indoor walls?

So if you´ve been following past posts, you´ll remember that my host and I had a bit of a falling out in November. I threatened to move out and even found several options, but time ran out for me to move that year so I didn´t. But things got suddenly better... Maria no longer felt obligated to cook for me once I made it crystal clear that wasn´t what I wanted, that the freedom to cook for myself was the one big thing I absolutely needed. Now she does share my favorite dishes with me and the juice she still makes every morning, but she makes her own meaty soup and meals and leaves the rest to me. Finally. I hope this keeps up!

I´ll leave you with a parting video of my kitten, Misi:

Oh - and I´m still keeping up with the 365 Project. Check out my link in the upper right menu!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Back in site

I flew home to Ecuador feeling optimistic though apprehensive about a lot of things. I felt good in the car ride to Riobamba. Then... I got on a bus to my site.

Of course, the first familiar face I encountered is the bus driver... my least favorite bus driver... who is one of the most unfriendly people I've met here. His automatic unfriendliness towards me and no one else is baffling but I ignore it. Then the pan man boarded - that 30-year-old vender who bothers me at every chance to go with him on trips in Ecuador, to marry him, to answer his endless questions about the glory of America (but his mind is set that food is cheap and jobs are plentiful there). Less in the mood for this than I usually am, he probably sensed some extra hostility and went on his way.

I passed out cold on the bus in short cat naps.

And was awakened when a screaming girl got on the bus passing the road to the other side of the river. Suddenly she was ripping the hair out of the woman in front of me, beating her with fists and slapping her face. A man got on too that seemed to be on her side, but unwilling to join the fight. Everyone began screaming in Quichua, so I didn't have a single clue why this was happening. Another woman got on who appeared to be the girl's mother and began beating the woman as well. The whole time I was sitting there wide-eyed and totally confused and terrified. Everyone else on the bus seemed irritated but didn't interrupt the attackers. The bus driver demanded in Spanish that they take their fight off the bus. And I moved to get out of the way, totally unsure of what I should actually be doing if anything. The bus continued to my site as the beating continued, the victim's little boy screaming shrilly in the front for his mom. Soon the attacking woman was dragged off with the young girl, but another woman on the bus ran to the front and began beating the woman... which led to the other woman off the bus and the girl to charge back on and help. Soon the victim's face was gushing blood, and everyone was dragged back off and the door slammed shut on someone else trying to get on.

(note: I felt safe more or less because this was obviously a personal issue)

The woman called the police and I couldn't get off that bus soon enough. Welcome back to Ecuador! I dragged my bags up to my room shaking and thinking how I'd always seen the people in my site to be generally peaceful... not resorting to mob violence for revenge, and certainly not starting a fight on a bus.

Suddenly less than excited to be back, I spent the night alone organizing my new bounty, watching movies, and doing the miniature puzzle from home to see if I'm missing any pieces (the box burst and all the teeny pieces went all over the bag... I'm missing 1 piece).

I was planning to go to Riobamba the next to search for a few things - a tank for boiled water, shelving for my books, and paint for my room - but woke up the next morning feeling exhausted. I kept setting back the alarm until I finally just turned it off, and thanks to the last few days of almost zero sleep, I rested until about 1 p.m. in bed.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Absurd packing list and waiting for the plane back to Ecuador

Hello from Panama!

Ok, well, I'm not THAT thrilled to be here. The Panama airport hasn't been too kind to me. While I wait in travelers' limbo, I decided to share a list of the massive pile of stuff I'm moving from the U.S. to Ecuador. Way, way more stuff than I planned or wanted to carry back. But I guess it all just added up. And oh is it random. These are all the things I wished I had brought with me the first time around!

Books: Geology Terms in English and Spanish; Russian; Indonesian; Minus 148; How to Crochet; The Anatomy of Fascism; Alive; Looking for Alaska; Fire Mountains of the West; Frozen Earth; Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land; GRE Premier; Mountaineers

Candles + candle wicks + oil scents
Games: Bunch of Sudoku books; pack of cards; puzzles
Cards for sending
Alaska 2012 calendar
Pile of yarn
Spices: paprika; tumeric; coriander; chipotle; New Mexican chile (noooo I forgot this!!)
Nutritional yeast
Clif bars (for giving to guides)
Vegan marshmallows
Chai tea
Cat treats and toys; rabbit treats
Preserve toothbrushes
Painting supplies (roller, refills, color swatches, tape, trim brush)
Mounting putty
External DVD/CD player
Gaiters (already had)
Tent stakes (already had)
Carabiners + ATC (already had)
Climbing boots (already had)
Flat water bottle
Ice ax leash (already had)
Gloves (already had)
Pile of photo prints
Helmet (already had)
Harness (already had)
Peanut butter
Black olives
Candy (candy corn; Smarties; misc)
Rainproof/windproof lightweight jacket
Prayer flags
Pile of DVDs
Compact digital camera + batteries + cards
Glacier glasses

And here's Day 3 of my 365 project! This about it for on-time photos.

Flying over the gulf from Chicago to Panama

So blue...so pretty

The world is just awesome.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Packing...again...for Ecuador

I spent the day trying to stuff as much stuff as possible into a couple bags, wondering how I ended up bringing so much to Ecuador...again. Most things are finite - candles, books, candy and food, painting supplies that might be difficult to find elsewhere...but wow, is it a lot more space and weight than I remotely wanted to carry back to my site. It's going to be like swear-in day all over again.

I made this video of my experience as a visitor to the U.S., made to the background song aboard a trackless mall train...

And then, keeping up with the 365 Project, here are a couple shots from today:

My giant pile of stuff to drag to Ecuador - my priorities are illustrated: climbing, knitting, reading.

Went geocaching with dad this afternoon and found this ape pencil cling. Score.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Resolutions and the 365 project

It's my first time ever making resolutions, and I tend to be a more tangible goal setter...so most of my resolutions are measurable.

1. Start a Brigada Verde with the youth in my community (and focus on self-esteem and culture - music, language, traditions)

2. Communicate regularly with counterparts whether they like it or not.

3. Begin working on the other side of the river.

4. Hike to other communities and offer help (Alao Maguasu and Llullullis especially).

5. Make a sincere effort to learn Quichua.

6. Climb hard and climb safely.

7. Attempt to climb Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, and Cayambe.

8. Try out environmental education programs in Yaruquies, Pungala, and Licto.

9. Buy a water tank and keep boiled water available upstairs at all times.

10. Practice breathing exercises daily to improve O2 saturation and lung capacity; 15-30 minutes minimum.

11. Have a plan of what I want to do after Peace Corps by the end of the year.

12. Carry a bottle of water everywhere instead of buying one.

13. Eat better.

14. Bring bags to grocery stores for shopping.

15. Make recycled crafts as soon as possible and show them to the women's group. Announce a craft day and time and stick to it.

16. Visit more volunteers' sites - maybe every other month.

17. Assume the best in people.

18. But don't be disappointed when they let you down.

19. Take multi-vitamins daily - at least B12.

20. Take a picture a day (365 project) and post them here when I can. Proba
bly 6 or 7 pics on Saturdays. So here it goes:

First picture of the year: a smattering of luxury - Breckenridge Christmas Ale, soy eggnog, billions of nice-smelling candles, and knitting a sock

Rocky didn't quite make it to midnight

My folks doing their thing as the TV celebrates 2012

Another shot of luxury: Breakfast at 'Egg Harbor' with my aunt Susie. I forgot to take a picture of my Belgian waffle... but... there it is. With Intelligentsia coffee... and hash browns. Goodbye U.S....

A teeny tiny puzzle completed today in an hour