Thursday, October 30, 2008

cab ride

strangest cab ride ever (or at least to date).
I got in a cab to go into the Northern part of town the other day - the part of town where I spent my more formative years, and where we don't tend to spend any time at all in the current chapter of our lives.
This was actually my second attempt to cab over to a mall and get a pair of headphones in the same day. Earlier, I had tried to take a cab across town in the middle of the lunch rush, with one of the main arteries through town (6 de Diciembre) shut down for protests (yes, protests and demonstrations are a big art of life here in the capital. It's usually missed, since we either work from home or walk everywhere). That cab attempt lasted about five minutes, when we progressed from on end of the block to the other, and I decided to table th trip until a better time.
so, I tried again a few hours later, when most of the city was back in their offices, or homes, or wherever they go during the workday. I hailed a cab, got in and we were off on our ride. As those that have visited here before know, it's a good idea to check and make sure that the cab has and is using a meter. It ameliorates the haggling, hastle and hurt feelings at the end of the trip. Instead of a meter, though, this cabbie had a little plasma tv, about the size of those handheld DVD players out there, taped to the lower dash board - down by the gear shift. There were wires taped all over the ceiling and running down to the little tv set, pulling the telenovela (latin soups) out of the ether. And the sound was turned all the way up.
Now, I know that there are souped up cabs in various cities across the US, providing commercials or other televised programs for riders in the back. And I know that there are now tvs in the back of all sorts of SUVs and luxury cars. But this wasn't tv for the passenger - this was tv for the driver. At ever light (and there were a lot) he'd stop, pull the emergency break (not sure what that was about, except that he wanted to rest his right foot), and watch the tv. When traffic around would get going again, he'd look up briefly and start driving, looking down periodically, for what I thought was a disconcertingly long time, before glancing up again.
To fully grasp the ludicrousness of this scenario, you have to understand what traffic is like in a developing country. First of all, we're in a tiny vehicle. Think mid-80's Sentra, and this thing is smaller. Second, there are few automatic cars, and this cab wasn't one of them, so the cab driver is shifting through the gears while not paying attention to where he's going. Third, and probably most important, traffic in this city, as in most latin countries, is crazy. There are cars goig through stop lights and red lights. Cars double or triple parked, in the middle of a thoroughfare - cars weaving between lanes, coming out of hiddent driveways, backing up from off of the sidewalk, and generally doing things that require the full attention of a driver and quick defensive tactics. And that's not even considering the hordes of people standing in the road between lanes, playing the part of matador against the car's bull impression.
Anyway, we made it to our final destination, eventually, and it turns out that there was a meter, and it was running, under the TV. Go figure.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mamma Mia

We watched the movie Mamma Mia (I think there's an exclamation point in there) over two weeks ago, and I still have ABBA songs running through my head.

Speaking of running, I think the above's a mental shout out to the High Heel Races, taking place tonight (right now) in DC. I hope they aren't having the rain that we're having, or that's been a steady attendee to the event over the last couple of years.

V portal has blown up

It's official. I stopped by the electronics store this morning and they can't get a new processor for the V portal. This sucks even more than usual because I'm in the middle of looking for new work, and it would help to have access to a phone.
I figured out that I can upgrade my account to get a desktop based system that links to my vonage number. This I've done - now I just have to find one of those microphone headset thingamabobs so I can test out the system and see how phone calls sound through the computer.
Keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Laguna Mojanda & Papallacta

Some shots of Laguna Mojanda and Papallacata Hikes.


Here are some pics of Yanacocha - the trip on the cloud forest trail to nowhere with 5 or 6 Hobbit like tunnels and lots of humming birds.

Snippets from the day

And what a day it's been so far. Not bad. Not good. Just full of strange things happening.

In no particular order:

There was a huge storm this afternoon, as we have discovered is usually the case. Today, however, the storm was full of lightning and thunder. I was sure that we would lose power, which we didn't. Instead, my vonage box got fried at some point during the storm. Nothing happened to our computers, the printer, the modem, the router, or any of the phones (most of which are daisy chained into the same plugs - bad form, I know, but still). Just the Vonage box. Which kind of sucks, since they can't be purchased here (or so I hear). I took it down to an electronics store and they were able to confirm that a processor was fried. They'll look for a replacement tomorrow. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
*Yes, this means we have no phone for now.

In a related note, I saw someone in the building - which I guess would be a neighbor - received a package in the mail from Amazon. A package! In the mail! The mind boggles. I had no idea that the postal system worked in this country, let alone that you could get something that was purchased online from the US. I admit, I checked the package to make sure. It's not a reuse of the Amazon box. It's not sent locally. The sender's address is Amazon, in the US. The ramifications are stupefying.

On the way to get a censo today, I saw a passenger carrier plane (the normal, commercial, get on the plane and go somewhere type of plane) closely followed by two jets. When I say close, I mean it looked like they were sitting on the wings on either side of the larger plane. Probably someone important, like the president, heading off somewhere - but a little jarring when you glance up and see that in the sky. Makes one think all sorts of jack-booted security thoughts, and the way the world is changing. Much like this latest tidbit of changing transportation policy in DC.

And I was able to get a censo today. A censo somewhere between a visa (in one's passport), and the more traditional and more citizenry cedula - which is pretty much citizenship identification, as far as I can tell. The name of the card I sat in long lines to get today would lead one to believe it has something to do with a census, or being counted, or listed, or registered -- or something. All I know is that it is not mandatory, but I need it. It turns out you can't sell expensive things, like cars, without one.

I think I saw an ex-boyfriend of my mother's while I was driving home from the Censo office. Which is a supremely strange thing to say. One, because that's just not a normal statement that comes out of someone's mouth very often - at least not someone with a mother like mine. Two, because my mother isn't really the "dating" type (I think she's dated 2 people in the last 25 years), and it's just weird to possibly have run into him in a random section of this large city. It's like running into your second cousin's college roommate while vacationing in Sidney or something. I know it happens, but it's surreal.

Not sure if this has been mentioned before, but the wifey likes the fires in the evening, and with good reason, given the weather (see above) and the general romantic appeal of speding our evenings fireside. The downside is that, despite the re-engineering advice provided by our in-house engineering expert, which has been duly applied to the fireplace, we're still getting smoke in the house. Which means that I find myself walking around the city, running errands and the like, smelling like I've just come off of a week long camping trip. Sans the BO, of course. It's just a little disconcerting.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

mellow and papallacta

This week was as much of an antithesis to the last week or so as one could expect. No guests, no going out, no late nights, no eating out -- just A and I, sans guests, hanging out at home, cooking our own meals, going to the gym, and trying to figure out the next chapter of our lives.
This monotony (or bucolic existence, depending on your point of view) was shaken up on Friday, when we went to Gogi's (my friend Dan's mother) house to watch slides of her various biking adventures -- the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, a trip around the Quebec penninsula, and a ride around Moab. I didn't think it would be all that much fun, but it was (and I really want to say neat here, but who says neat these days? or cool?) -- interesting.
Spent Saturday night out with Dan and a "girl" friend of his at a new micro brewery, discovering that the problem with Ecuadorian beer is a dirth of hops - they just don't have any, or all that much, and it's taking away from any kind of micro-brews. I guess you can make a decent, cheap pilsner without that much hops, but that's about it. All the beers were flat.
We grilled Dan on some local or relatively close by hikes that we could do on Sunday. Unfortunately, asking someone who thinks mountain or road biking over 100 km before 9 am is a good start to the day for input into easy hikes in the area is not always the best idea. I mean, there are weekend warriors, and then there are weekend warriors. We consider ourselves to be weekend tourists.
Regardless, we were able to make our way on Sunday (and miss the game, which the Redskins pulled out of the bag against a winless Lions. As I've said before, have they won by more than 7 points this year?) to papallacta - a little town almost directly east of Quito that is on the edge of the mountain range, before it decends down into the jungle. We did a couple hour hike through some spectacular landscape - high ridges, plunging views, waterfalls and high plains lagoons throughout. It was a gorgeous walk.
Pictures that do not do the environment any justice at all will be forthcoming, either from me or from A.
We spent the afternoon in the hot springs for which the town is famous. It was an alright experience - I loved soaking in various hot pools - but I think both of us are not really into crowds, or any other people for that matter. Nor are we those who like to spend hours upon hours in a hot tub, soaking (not that there's anything wrong with that). Still - it was fun, and felt great after a hike, and made everyone incredibly drowsy on the hour long ride home through winding, hilly roads through pouring rain (of course).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

superstruct - for those with some free time

Epic Fu (my weekly dose of hip happenings) turned me on to this game:
It's going to be up and running for a few more weeks. I haven't played it, but it looks interesting.

On the same show, they talked about a choose your own adventure movie available online - how to survive a zombie outbreak. I haven't seen this, either.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

nass' pictures of the trip

Lots of pictures from various activities during his visit. Well annotated, as well.
What's missing (in no particular order):
-The flat tire in Sogichos when we couldn't find the jack. It started to rain as soon as we realized we had a flat.
-Pictures of how bad the roads were later in the Quilatoa loop, or in Mindo.
-Any pictures from wine night (thank god!)
-Pictures of the night playing darts with the cotocollao volunteers (a horde of Americans spending a year working in an extremely poor neighborhood in Quito, out to enjoy themselves in the Mariscal one night).
-Pictures of the drive back from Mindo at night - not the smartest thing that's ever been done. Dark, smog, rain, and fallen rocks strewn across a windy 2 lane blacktop through the mountains. I don't think much of anything would have come out in pictures, anyway.

Random note - I saw a handful of hummingbirds, a toucan and a green parrot during our hike to the waterfalls in Mindo - I don't think that Nasser caught sight of any of those birds. I'm thinking that I'm getting better at the bird spotting, and I'm not sure if that's a skill I want to have, or want to boast about.

Today, by the way, was a gorgeous, sunny and balmy day. It figures that the weather would be this way as soon as our guests left. There was more rain, in more copious amounts, with more hail during their stay than I have ever seen here before.

Monday, October 20, 2008

redskins scavenger hunt

So, just to set the stage for the current state of affairs around here - Nasser left this morning (Monday) to go back to a city basking in a pretty good season so far. Amanda came back from Boston and beyond on Sunday night and is taking her time dealing with the post-convention disorders that beset normal people after standing up for several days in a row and dealing with countless introspective conversations. If there's such a thing as a chocolate information binge, I think she's been on one.

But I digress - Sunday football is the subject of this post. Nass and I got up on Sunday, in Quito, ready to watch the game. With previous experiences under my belt, I was quick to do as much research as possible on game channels and times and such before the game, and to look into where the game might be played. The one thing that I'm missing at this point is an actual tv guide, or the cable equivalent for this area, to be able to actually check to see on what channel the game (might) be aired.

We opted for trying out a local Irish pub called Mulligans to see the game, and went ridiculously early to prepare for the event. We caught most of the early game that was aired on CBS - the Ravens/Dolphins game, and drank way too many of the large glasses of beer that were offered. Once the second game started (at around 3 pm here) we realized that CBS airs three different afternoon games, and the game that is aired on the local cable network is somehow related to some random area of the country (the mother land, not this country). I've noticed some scheduling weight given to Miami (which makes sense for a latin american broadcast company), with a secondary emphasis on Dallas, neither of which help us. In the case of Sunday afternoon, the CBS channel that was shown was the Indianapolis game -- quite possibly the least latin oriented team in the NFL. Go figure.

Realizing that our hopes had been dashed, we hobbled out of the bar as quickly as we could. We stopped, briefly, at the uber-US bar down the street, where we had been told Redskins fans were wont to gather to watch the game. Unfortunately, in some many more ways than one, the owner had died on Thursday, and we had previously assummed the place would be closed, and yet hope spring eternal. Turns out that the place was by then completely smothered in flower arrangements, wreaths, and other votive/commemorations of the owner who had died, and an impromptu (or completely scheduled) irish wake was in full swing at the bar. No football there (and more on this death in the future - it's an interesting story with some really pointed lessons).

On to another irish bar we traveled, where we had met a whole host of young US people volunteering at a school in cotocollao ( a very poor neighborhood in Quito) on Friday night. Unfortunately, the bar management turned out to be more Catholic than Irish, and the place was closed for the day.

So we punted and headed home to listen to the game on espn radio. I was able to get the internet radio running when I stumbled, with the help of google, into something called This site has a whole swarm of "channels" which, as far as I can tell, are random people all across the US that are streaming US tv over the internet. We were able to find a "channel" from someone in the DC area that was broadcasting the Redskins game, while he was actually at the game. This was an awesome discovery, and one which I will have to take full advantage of in the near future.
I have to say that watching a football game, or any "what is happening right now" activity on the internet is a novel experience, with the potential of making the game more interesting than actually watching it live, or on tv. Much like listening to baseball on the radio, there are new elements of streaming that one must take into account to appreciate what's going on. The image is fuzzy -- fuzzy enough that you have to listen for the fan's reaction to a play to figure out if the receiver caught the ball, or if something interesting, like a fumble, occurred on the play. And don't even get me started on the "buffering" message - what a special addition to the experience this brings. There's nothing like watching your team on third and long and having the screen stop refreshing, and getting that "buffering" stop motion message. Another added benefit of watching the game online is being able to peruse the comments section on the side of the screen. It's like having supporters of either team on either side of you while you're at the game, and getting to be partisan to their trash talking throughout the intermission, and during every play.
Despite all the added bonuses, we were doing just fine watching the game, in a stilted and jarred fashion, right up until the last minute or two of play. Then the internet feed got disconnected. Note earlier that the "channel" was being hosted by a guy who was at the game - so no possibility of reset.
We ended up listening to the last few minutes (and, if you're familiar with this Sunday, you know how tense it was) on ESPN radio - thank god that didn't go out as well - while playing ping pong between plays and during commercial breaks.
So, there you have it - that's what it's like to try and watch a simple football game down here. Might be more effort than changing the channel on your HD flat screen dish network tivo machine, but the effort makes the experience that much sweeter.
And can anyone recall a team with a record this good with such a shaky and uneven team, a team that hasn't won by a touchdown yet this season? Talk about exciting.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

rain, rain, rain

Real quick update -
Kara and Nasser came down on Thursday of last week (yes, a week ago). Crazy amount of running around and checking things out. The rain - not just a light drizzle, but thunderous downpours replete with hail and a myriad of other omens of the coming apocalypse - followed us every where we went. We could see sun and dryness just around the corner and we'd alter our plans and proceed to our next destination in hopes of beating the weather. Without fail, the rain would find us within 15 minutes.
I don't have any pictures from the various events - maybe Nasser will post some in the future and I'll be able to link to 'em later.
Highlight of the weekend was the Ecuador/Chile qualifier that we went to on Sunday. And, yes, it rained on us the entire time. El Tri (tricolor that is - the Ecuadorian team) beat Chile 1 - 0. They've since proceeded to fall apart against Venezuela last night - I don't know what happened there.
After Kara went home on Monday, Nass and I did a marathon drive through the Quilotoa loop and ended up in Banos - checked out some waterfalls, climbed through some nasty caves, and drove around the hillsides on 4x4s.
Back in the big city now, heading off to do a wine tasting.

Monday, October 6, 2008

weekend update

I don't know where to begin on the update of our weekend activities, so I'll just take a running leap into the narrative.
Firstly, how about them redskins? I really didn't think they'd be able to pull off a win in Dallas - let alone beat the Eagles after starting the game down by two touchdowns. I learned something very important this weekend about the cable network, too. As far as I can tell, they only show one game on Sundays - and it's usually the Miami game. Even though the major networks (NBC, CBS, Fox) are on the cable network here, they have a different lineup than in the US. I find the whole thing terribly confusing, and I've come to the resignation that I won't be able to watch most of the games in the ensuing weeks, which kind of sucks.
Secondly, we took a quick, or what was meant to be quick, drive out to Yanococha on Saturday. This is a nature preserve/bird watching sanctuary just on the other side of Pichincha - the big volcano that demarcates the Western border of Quito. It's supposed to be an hour drive away, but we kept getting lost, and having fun doing so, and ended up taking closer to three hours or so to get there. It's amazing how different the environment is on the other side of the mountain. We went from mostly dry and barren to, in my mind, the theoretical ideal of a cloud forest. We were cloaked in fog, light rain, or general moisture the entire time we were at the park. Very steep inclines, overgrown with ferns, moss and a fecundity of green-ness. I'll post pictures below. We saw an amazing number of humming birds, and heard the call of other birds out in the trees. The park maintainers have humming bird feeders along the trail, which detracts from the "natural" feel of the place but does a great job of attracting swarms of birds near enough to see.
I never realized that humming birds actually make a humming sound when they're flying around. A group of them sort of sound like a light saber fight out of star wars when they're flitting around, chasing each other.
Due to some kind of translation mix up, we were led to understand that the trail was a loop, and not a "go in. take in the sights, then walk back the way you came" kind of trail. This misunderstanding, and our general stubborness and inability to retrace our steps led us to walk down a whole series of hobbit sized tunnels and continue our trek farther than we had intented. After a 2 hour hike, we ended up in some weird, post-apocalyptic water collection and re-direction type project, out in the middle of nowhere. I couldn't figure out how someone, at some time, had brought all the stuff used to create the various cisterns, channels, levers and pipes out to the middle of nowhere. It was all a bit surreal, and made for an adventure - maybe not the adventure we had originally thought we were embarking upon, but an adventure nonetheless.
We made it home on Saturday afternoon, wet, muddy, and tired - and in one (or two, to be specific) piece.
On Sunday, we got to experience one of those traditional latin lunch events, when the whole family, in this case the Politz's, family friends of A's, comes together for the afternoon and hangs out. It's like Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, at least in relation to how we do it up in the US, and they do it here every week.
The rest of the day was spent running errands. All in all, it was a good time.

Huge Beak

Here is the humming bird with a beak longer than it's body (the picture jay tried to post below)

yanococha pictures

Entering the park.

Umm, what? Is that the trail the bears take, or a trail to see the bears? Are they trained to stay on that trail, or is there a chance they went on a hike today as well?

end of the trail - we should have taken some pictures of the tunnels - those were fun! Nobody is home - we checked.

Tried to highlight the length of the beak on this hummingbird. Not sure if it worked out - lots of mist.

Friday, October 3, 2008

No electricity (for a while)

So, the main desk guy in our building called me up around noon yesterday on the building intercom and informed me that the electricity guy was here to disconnect the power to our apartment. Turns out that someone (who will remain unnamed) decided to go to the US without paying the electric bill. And then that same someone decided to stay stateside for several weeks longer than originally intended, and then that someone didn't go immediately to the bank (where all utilities and other bills are paid - weird, huh?) to pay the bill.
Hence, the power turn off, which makes two things abundantly clear - one, that this country doesn't screw around with their utility payments, and, two, that I'm clearly to blame for this fiasco.
Actually, things weren't that bad. I continued to do my work for the day at a cafe with wifi access. And we had what could be considered by some people as a self-enforced romantic evening by candle light. There's something surreal about hanging out in a be-candled house, enjoying a meal in the dark and just hanging out, and then walking out of your apartment to a lit up foyer. Kind of weird to be in the dark when the rest of the city is lit up outside the windows. But fun, for a day at least.
The one downside, if it can even be considered a downside, is that we had no phone or internet access. So, for those of you who were trying to reach us in the later part of the week - we weren't ignoring you. At least, not in the way that we usually ignore our phone calls.
This experience (the power is back on now), coupled with the financial crisis going on at the moment, and sprinkled with a little of the last (latest) die hard movie (what is that - the fifth? sixth) that I caught a snippet of at the gym this morning, has me thinking about the relative differences in reactions to the pandemonium that is upon us. I've been thinking about the "developing" nations of the third world, and the fact that most people have little or no access to capital (debt or equity), and how, up to the last couple weeks, this was seen as a major detriment to the development of these countries. There aren't that many mortgage instruments availalbe to people here, little credit cards, no home equity lines of credit, no car loans, no commercial paper, no short term loans (this has all started to change recently, but I imagine that the growth in this area is going to be drastically curtailed in the future). People in Ecuador, specifically, have gone through a period where all bank assets were frozen, across the nation - nobody could get any money. And they survived. They were able to continue going about their business as usual.
Huge swaths of this country only recently were added to the electric grid, and those that have had electricity for a longer period of time (such as in urban areas) have gotten used to losing power for days at a time. There was a time in the not too distant past where Quito would only have power every other day - and that went on for years.
So, what does this all mean? It means that the "third world" people are far more prepared to deal with adverse conditions than their developed neighbors. That the developing nations are going to be in a better position, relative to their more developed neighbors, to handle the coming difficult times, and that maybe, somehow, the gap between the developed and developing nations is going to shrink. We, or our counterparts who think and work on these issues, used to think that this gap would shrink when the third world became more like the first. Who knew it would happen when the first moved down the rungs to join the third?
I guess there's a silver lining in any cloud. Consider this - no more illegal immigrant issue. Nobody wants to sneak into a country that has no jobs to offer them.