Monday, October 11, 2010

Halfway There

Wow - nine weeks have come and gone, making this the exact halfway point in an 18-week semester. In some ways, it's not surprising - walking down the street to go meet friends at the mall or on the way to school, I'm taken aback sometimes by how normal the whole routine has become. Buying bread at the panadería on the corner, greeting the same wizened old guard out front at a neighboring apartment building, and paying the 25 cent fare for the daily hectic bus ride to campus... that doesn't feel like being abroad, that just feels like, well, life.

But then there are those moments that jar you back to the insane reality that you are spending a semester living a completely different life. Looking out the window of the bus on the way to school usually does that for me - from the vantage point of the highway running along the ridge, all of Quito is spread below in the bowl of the valley, with breathtakingly beautiful mountains (here, they're just hills really) beyond. It's as if someone poured houses and buildings out of a jug at the top of the valley, and they all settled on the gentle slope of the valley floor, only a few venturing higher up the slopes.

Another moment came today while waiting for my Suelos (soils) class to start. We were going to be taking a soil profile at a site nearby but since myself and the other American didn't know where to go, we were told to wait in front of the building for the coordinador (the teacher's assistant, also just a student in the class) to come fetch us. 2:00PM, 2:05PM, 2:10PM... and then, out of nowhere, the TA - who it had just then occurred to me really was one of the most attractive boys in the class - comes roaring up ON A FOURWHEELER.

And motions for us to hop on. So, perched on the back and hanging on for dear life, we roar back through the parking lot, out the front gates, and onto the main streets of Cumbayá. And then careen around the giant, busy, terrifying traffic circle. And down a crowded side street for maybe half a mile, most definitely keeping up with traffic. We end up, thankfully in one piece, at a nearby construction site where digging for the foundation of a building had conveniently left a perfectly exposed soil profile. (A nice change from the digging in Belize!) Call me crazy, but somehow I have a hard time picturing that going down at Georgetown - although I can think of some classes that would be greatly improved by copious usage of recreational vehicles. It was pretty darn awesome.

Short catch-up on this past weekend: Saturday morning we managed to get ourselves to Mindo early in the afternoon. Apparently there is some beautiful waterfall hikes, but the chilly temperature and coming weekend trip to Baños, supposedly even more awesome, had us limiting our activities to visiting a butterfly/orchid/hummingbird house, watching a local fútbol match, and ZIPLINING.

Oh my goodness. To paraphrase a good family friend, that's about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on. $10 got you a sturdy harness, helmet, gloves with wooden grooves glued to the palms (for steadying yourself by holding on to the wire), and a pair of guides to ensure you don't die. There were ten lines total, which according to the signs totaled over three thousand meters. It was a long freaking way. I started the first line honestly not that scared. I trusted the guides and I trusted the lines and harness. After the first jump, I started screaming mostly out of exhilaration and partly to scare Amanda, who was still behind me. (Hi Amanda!) Then, maybe a third of the way out, I looked down, heard my voice jump up at least an octave, and started screaming, in earnest, for the rest of that line. We were WAYYY up there.

Starting the second line, I had gone into autopilot where my instincts say "NOOOO!" but social constraints say, "Dude, you gotta do this" (incidentally, also how I broke my tailbone). Then, ten whimpering seconds into the second line, I had the thought - "Hey. I paid ten dollars for this. I better freaking enjoy it." So I quit whining, opened my eyes, and was just awed by the beauty of what was around us. Each line stretched from ridge to ridge, with different parts of the valley in between. Hundreds of meters out there, the lines disappears against the backdrop of the selva (rainforest) and it's as if you're floating among the clouds that slowly pour over the ridge, with only the "zhing!" of the wire to remind you that you're not dreaming. The tenth line came much too quickly.

We took the $2 bus back to Quito in time for Saturday night festivities. Mariel (some of you know her as Molly) had somehow talked me into going on a double date with two guys from her host sister's job. They were, reputably and in person, very nice guys. (And at 25 years old, with a steady job and a car, quite a catch compared to most of the guys we were used to meeting!) And though I'm calling this a "double date", a date here in Ecuador has a very different connotation than in the US, especially amid a college hookup culture. It was a really fun evening that felt more like friends hanging out than any kind of intense, tension-filled date (and after a few experiences with some not as respectful or observant individuals, that was a relief for me).

They took us to La Ronda, a beautiful and lively street in Old Town, full of bars and small restaurants, chocolate shops and boutiques. With its narrow cobblestone street, canelaza vendors (a hot cinnamon drink, with or without alcohol) and the backdrop of beautiful colonial architecture it felt like we'd walked into a holiday celebration. We spent the night going bar to bar having a drink or two at each one (the coffee is delicious!), enjoying the incredible live music, and laughing at the people around us. Around 1AM the street starts to empty out, and I was dropped off with a polite kiss on the cheek. Americans have something to learn!

OH! And though this could easily deserve its own blog post... LESS THAN A MONTH until I turn 21. And you know what that means...

[Concerned family members and future employers, to clarify exactly what that means - I will be free to drink alcohol for the first time, as that has been previously eschewed by choice.]

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this. I may very well miss being sober. But it will also be a relief to not have to turn every offer of a drink into a life story detailing the circumstances of how that choice came about. Really, it seems like the end of an era. Sobriety, for whatever reason, has for a while defined a part of who I am and I don't really know how I feel about that ending.

I'll add some pics to this post when I get a chance. Until then, ciao!

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