Aug 31, 2009

Berry Haiku



temptress, blackberry

too far to reach without pain

i will eat your friends


Photo by: Me

Adventures in House Sitting Part 5: Of Kitties and Monsters

After many (3) comments on my fierce attack of David, I feel the need to clarify. I was/am not mad. More amused in a loud sighing kind of way. No, if he ever reads this he won't think I'm a horrible person. Right? Friend?

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I'm in a full-on lounge position in the tv room - lying down, half twisted, legs tangled, watching Spaced. Other Cat jumps up, immediately flops onto his back and nestles up against my chest. Over the course of the next hour (yes, I watched a full season of Spaced in one sitting. DON'T JUDGE ME!) he keeps wriggling up closer and closer to my head, until his ears are pushed up under my chin and his front paws are wrapped around my neck. I'm lying there, wondering how it could ever get any cuter, and then Pickle jumps up, curls up on my shoulder, places her cheek gently against mine, drapes her paws across my face, and starts licking Other Cat's nose. I nearly die of Cute Overload.

It is the perfect pet moment. Until it goes horribly wrong. Other Cat wakes up and bats at Pickle, who bats back in return. This is all fun and games for cats, but is a scary and dangerous situation for the human with soft gelatinous eye balls and a veiny exposed neck. Pickle picks this time to turn on the drool machine and I'm suddenly in a very moist and sharp environment that make me feel rather vulnerable. Which reminds me that I've been meaning to mention monsters.

See, this house is lovely. Lots of big windows, lots of rooms, hardwood floors. Lovely. During the day. At night all of these selling points turn against it, transforming the home into a creaky fortress of doom. It happens as dusk turns to dark, at the precise moment when you look out the window and can't see a bloody thing. When you look out the window and your brain immediately reminds you of all the horror movie scenes when an unwelcome face is looking back at you. The Scream mask comes to mind. And look what I just did. Did you see that? I checked behind me. I can't not look. I think of the killer in Scream with his stupid Halloween mask popping up in a darkened window and I have to look behind me to make sure he's not there.

That darkness turns my hearing on max, because all of a sudden things I've never noticed before are ringing out like bells. Evil, scary bells. Creeks, thumps, whispery sighs. A doorknob twisting. They come from all over. Upstairs. Downstairs. In the kitchen. In the bathroom. Where ever I'm not. And I find myself cowering in the tv room, determinedly not going to bed because that would mean passing by the unlocked door to the basement and walking towards the front door with glass panels on either side where potential killers are lurking, then the staircase with the light switch I can't find, to the upstairs landing with four rooms that need checking before I can go to bed - see, there, I just had to look behind me again.

I haven't felt this way since I used to babysit, and back then I thought it was normal seeing as how I was a) in a strange house, b) addicted to horror films, and c) a kid. But this house isn't strange anymore, I don't often torture myself with questionable cinematic choices, and, most importantly, I'm a bloody adult! I'M 30 YEARS OLD AND I'M AFRAID OF MONSTERS.

This has certainly been a fun self discovery. Thanks David!

I've been thinking about why being alone in this house is scarier than, say, any apartment I've had since I was 19, or my mom's house, or sister's apartment. And I have a theory. My last apartment was a typical one bedroom. On the occasional evening when I would freak myself out I could easily check the place for monsters. I would first check that there were none on the fire escape accessed through the kitchen, then lock that door. Backtrack to the living room and confirm that the front door was also secure. From here I checked behind the couch, then the bathroom (including the shower), a quick sweep of the kitchen, then my bedroom (both closets). And voila! I confirmed a no-monster zone.

See, you need to be able to do a full sweep of the dwelling in question with the amount of people on hand. Alone in this house the monsters could easily evade me. They could sneak by while I inspected one room and hide somewhere I've already cleared. There's no securing this house on my own. If I had someone else I think we could do it. One person would stand guard by the front door, being able to keep the hall to the back of the house and the stairs to the upper level secure, while the other patrolled the basement, then the main level, then the top floor. Two would work nicely.

Unless you have reason to suspect that your partner is in on the monsters. Then you're screwed.

Once you think someone's in league with the monsters, there are two ways the situation will play out. In the first, they are either in with the monsters OR a monster in disguise, and you are clearly over powered and will be tortured and killed shortly. In the second (and more likely) scenario, they aren't a monster. You know how you can tell? Because MONSTERS DON'T EXIST. So the whole thing about monsters to begin with, and your friend or partner or whoever being a monster, is rubbish. But now you've got the idea in your head and it won't leave. So you're scared but you can't admit it because then they'll know how psycho you really are, won't they? But by suppressing it you're keeping alive this faint possibility that they ARE a monster. And if you mention it, just for a laugh, to get it out there so you can realize how crazy it is and get on with your life - if you do this and it turns out that they ARE a monster, well, they're going to have to kill you right there and then for figuring it out.

Like the time I knew, I KNEW, my mom was a werewolf.

How am I single?

Aug 30, 2009

Adventures in House Sitting Part 4: Chastising David

Hypothetically speaking, if you have a lovely friend house sitting for you, and you say to them:

"Hey, lovely lady who is house sitting for us. We're going camping until Sunday. We may stay later, but if so we'll let you know."

Would you follow this up with a:

A) Call every day with a status update on your ever-changing arrival date.
B) Call on Saturday saying "We're staying another few days. Here is your appropriate amount of forewarning."
C) Call on Sunday night, after I've already vacated the premises, and leave a message saying "We're staying another three nights, so deal with it, sucker." (I'm paraphrasing)

If you picked A: you're heart is in the right place, but this is a little overkill.

If you picked B: you are a good, considerate friend, and I will house sit for you any time.

If you picked C: you are David, and you owe me big time. Because I got your call AFTER I'd packed up all my stuff, cleaned your kitchen, washed the sheets, vacuumed the floors, power-washed the driveway, detailed your minivan, and moved my baking supplies back into storage. I got it after I re-settled into my mom's spare room, and after I consumed a lot of wine at a family barbeque and cannot safely journey back to to the cats. Not that I mind or anything, but some advanced warning would have been nice. Be aware, David, that you're only getting away with this because your cats and wife and children are so darn cute.

Pickle and Other Cat will resume their normal feeding schedule tomorrow in the AM, but tonight they may go hungry.

Adventures in House Sitting Part 3: The Cats

My goals this week have been passive ones. Don't burn the house down and don't kill the cats. I've had those two scares about the former, but fortunately no close calls (yet) about the latter. They are interesting beasts, these cats. Pickle is stripes of orange, and Kate told me I wouldn't see much of her*. The loner cat that doesn't like cuddles. It was the other cat (henceforth referred to as "Other Cat" as my brain rebooted before the name was properly saved) that loved good lap time.

I beg to disagree. Pickle hearts me big time. She's in awe of me. She's in my lap right now, staring at my face in absolute adoration. "You are the Food Bringer," her gentle touches on my cheek with clawed paws say. "I worship you." Perhaps she thinks I have over powered the previous Food Bringer and she must show her submission to my reign. "To prove my love I will stay in your lap no matter what position you are in. I will attempt to curl up on your ankle and stay there while you stand up!"

I could do with a drier style of worship. Once Pickle gets good and cozy, she drools like a mo'fo'.

I have a primal gag reflex to drool. Not normal baby slobber, but thick, gelatinous gobby drool that some animals (and certain disgusting customers at both a coffee and pizza shop I worked at) can produce. This is uncontrollable and got me in trouble several times as a kid when my dad thought I was being gross by pretending to vomit when my uncle's dog would be secreting buckets of this viscous liquid.

So my Pickle cuddles are often cut short by me noticing a thick stream dangling from her face and pushing her away, quickly but gently, so as not to dislodge the slime. This doesn't discourage her. Once she decides we're going to cuddle, then cuddle we're going to, whether I like it or not. Purrengine on max she follows me around, using all manners of physics-defying manoeuvres to launch herself on any exposed bit of thigh. I'll be sitting at the computer and she'll plot a route: chair->window sill->behind the fan->on top of computer monitor->thigh. The fact that the piece of lap she lands on isn't big enough to support her mass doesn't stop her from balancing precariously, digging her claws into my flesh and trying to rub her sticky wet chin all over my face before she slips and falls to the ground.

Other Cat doesn't show himself much, but when he does he immediately flops onto his back, leaving all four paws to sag about on top of him as if they lack bones. If he's really diggin' the quality time with me he'll wedge his head between the couch cushions and thrust his ass up into the air. Nothing says I love you like exposing your rear to the world at large.

I think I'm doing pretty well with the whole "not killing the cats" thing. They may accidentally smother me with their uncontrolled squirming during a particularly good cuddle, or I may accidentally choke on the drool, but they'll get out of the incident all right.

* Gender of both cats has been assigned randomly.

Aug 27, 2009

Adventures in House Sitting Part 2: Day Time Oddities

Spending time alone in other people's houses is weird. I used to do it quite a bit as a teenager for Ingrid. Not only did I babysit for her, I would clean her house a few times a week and look after the cats when she went away. I remember the first time she got me to dust and vacuum her bedroom and scrub her bathroom. I felt guilty being in there, so near her personal stuff. I learned then that I'm not a snoop (no, I'm not just saying this in case Kate and David read it). It's awkward being near cupboards and drawers that in my opinion should be private and safe from prying eyes. I'd have an anxiety attack before I got to the good stuff.

Now, like then, I'm sticking mostly to the kitchen and deck, two of my favourite areas in any house. I do love cooking and sitting in the sun, and it's unlikely that I'm going to stumble across something personal or embarrassing doing either activity.

In this house, both the kitchen and the patio are a little odd.

Take, for example, the black cat that I see every time I go out on the patio. It's not a cat at all, it's the hand railing going down the stairs. I know this. But whenever I step outside I see for a moment a black cat sitting up, staring at me.

Then there's the instance of the oven fire. I was heating up some vegetables in the oven. I left the kitchen for maybe five minutes. When I came back the oven was filled with dancing orange flames. I assumed I'd done something stupid like put in a plastic bag alongside the potatoes, or spilt oil all over the bottom burner. But once I had extinguished the flames I could clearly see that my meal was wrapped safely in it's tin foil with no plastic or other fuel sources in sight. The oven still smokes excessively, but no more flames have been spotted.

Yesterday I was on the balcony reading (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, if you must know), and I heard this hissing noise. I was right beside the barbeque, which I'd used the night before to attempt cooking veggie skewers and hamburgers for my mom. Oh crap! I'd left on the gas and the burner, and gas had been seeping into the house and I was going to not only burn the house down, but actually obliterate it in a huge explosion! And what was worse, I'd lied to my mother! She'd asked like a million times (twice) if I'd turned off the gas, and I'd said yes. I'm going to hell in a barbeque fireball of doom!

But no, the barbeque was okay. The burners were off, the gas turned off. Was the tank punctured? How do you even check that, other than sniffing around for gas and hoping you don't get high and pass out? I decided to apply my normal method of dealing with problems - ignore it and see if it either goes away or if I'm able to tune it out. A few hours later I was in the garden and heard it again. Upon further investigation I found a hose leading out of the house directly under the barbeque. It had a small hole in it. Water was spraying out in a fine mist, causing a gas-leak-like sound audible from my chair above it. I turned the hose off (see, I knew I was good for something!) which stopped the noise, but may have also turned off the automatic watering system for the garden as well. It's time those beets and rhubarb learned to fend for themselves!

Back in the kitchen, the radio is set to the BBC. This is fun as I'm listening to shows that are eight hours ahead of me. So in the afternoon I get the graveyard shift with the strange midnight callers and totally random music. Late at night I get the peppy morning shows and reports on how horrible traffic is on the M5. What's weird about the radio is that it really doesn't like the microwave. Any time the microwave is on, the radio shuts off. It turns itself on again about 30 seconds after the micro stops heating my coffee. I feel bad for the micro. It's only doing what I ask it to do, and while it's busy working it also has to put up with the cold shoulder from British DJs.

I sort of feel like I'm in a very subdued haunted house. I got the spirit that couldn't cut it in the fast pace world of hard core haunting. I can hear my ghost now (he sort of sounds like Woody Allen).

"I can be a bad ass. I'll start a fire. That'll show the other ghosts how tough I am. Although, it could be dangerous. Especially in an old house like that, it'll burn to the ground in seconds. And all those toys, the kids will be so disapointed. Maybe I'll just make a little one. In the oven - that's safe, contained and all. Ha! I've ruined your meal! Take that, human! Or did I make it better, flame-broiling your potatos? Damn it!"

This is the day shift ghost. The night shift plays by different rules. But more on that later.

Adventures in House Sitting Part 1: The Worry Sets In

Kate and David are off camping in this massive truck/camper thing with their children, and I'm in their house while they're gone.

I don't know if you've spent much time alone in other people's houses. They always tell you the most important things they think you'll need to know. The variety both in the depth of details and breadth of knowledge some choose to share is quite interesting. Kate showed me where the cat food and olive oil was, and David pointed out the bathroom (thanks, buddy), his mother's phone number, and where to turn off the main water supply. As a teenager I babysat for a woman who would always go over a long list of emergency numbers, how to lock and unlock every door, where the fire extinguisher, flashlights, candles were, but failed to mention how to unlock the dog kennel (hilarity and scary neighbours ensued). I stayed with a friend once who only pointed out two cupboards - one I was allowed in (liquor) and one I wasn't (vibrators).

But back to the current house.

"I'm glad someone will be around," Kate said.
"Just don't actively pursue an agenda to kill the cats," David said. "If they die of their own stupidity or through natural selection, don't worry about it."

It sounded easy enough. A mutually beneficial deal. I got a place to myself for a week. They got some feeling of security knowing I was around. Though now that I'm thinking about it, I'm not sure what I can possibly do if anything goes wrong. Maybe become an unfortunate victim along with the cats.

I mean, honestly, what kinds of things are likely to happen to a house? Robbery springs to mind. The chances of someone randomly targeting this house during the one week the owners are away is slim. And if anyone had been scoping the place out and were planning to hit it on the assumption it would be empty, well, I doubt they'll be all apologies and low bows when they stumble upon me. More likely they will lash out in their surprise and I'll end up with something impaled somewhere and be all the worse for wear.

Fire seems to be one of those big, irrational worries of home owners. Most house fires are caused by human stupidity. If it was going to burn because of Kate and David's stupidity (candles left burning in the closet, exposed wires near pooling water) it would have by now. So in all likely hood, if it does burn it'll be because of my stupidity, and the house would have been safer without my presence. Unless it's arson, in which case please see argument against theft. I'm still screwed.

What I'm saying is that if there are any targeted attempts of mischief on the house, I'm woefully under skilled to handle it. And Kate and David, if thieves and arsonists and other unsavoury characters are targeting you, I'm not sure you're the type of people I should be associating with anyway. Especially as you left me here unwarned and unarmed, with only the location of the bathroom and some olive oil to defend myself.

Any other house-destroying events would have a natural disaster flavour. Lightning, earthquake, freak tornado, etc. What do you expect me to do about that? If nature has it out for you, you're done for. Haven't you seen The Happening? The earth wanted to teach humans a lesson, and they turned the air evil. Is that what you want? Evil air?

Really, the only thing I'm good for is possibly noticing if the water heater breaks. I'll be able to turn off the water main and then call David's mom in hopes that she'll know what to do. Maybe we could use fire to dry out the water damage. If the whole house goes up in flames with the cats inside*, would that count as actively trying to kill them? Because that's not allowed.

* No cats were harmed in the writing of this post.

Aug 26, 2009

The woes of improper packing

I've relocated several times in my life. Many things have varied from move to move: the impetus for leaving a dwelling, travel method and duration, and desired final location for these upheavals. Two things have not. One - my current home was always way dustier than I had previously believed. Two - as mentioned above, I always had a final destination. Sure, sometimes it took me a while to get there. I often planned a trip between abodes. But there was always an intention to end up somewhere for some extended length of time. Knowing this made packing a little easier.

Take, for instance, when I went to Whitehorse for the summer. I fully intended on spending three or four months there, then picking somewhere in Canada to move for the winter. With this information I was able to pack what was needed for up North (mainly clothes and books and my laptop), and leave the rest of my belongings in my dad's garage, to be transfered to my new location on a future date.

I think most people move like this, and approach packing in the same way. We categorize our belongings by room, with sub-categories for item types. Our boxes read Living Room - Books, Kitchen - Pots & Pans, Bedroom - Pictures. Then, towards the end, it falls apart a bit as we end up with random items that were forgotten or can't be easily categorized. So we have several boxes that either try to explain the content (Hammer, Chili Lights, Mittens & Waffle Iron) or just say Misc.

This system works really well when your intent is to move into a new home. But if you don't have any plans to do so, if you're trying to avoid settling and are spending your time couch surfing and house sitting and flitting around like a lazy prat with your tidily packed belongings sitting in storage, then this system really sucks.

Because I want things. Random things that I didn't need in Ecuador, so into a box they went. But now I'm back and unemployed with lots of time on my hands, and I want my stuff. The good stuff. But of course, it's spread out over a million boxes in my cramped storage unit.

I suppose the good thing in this situation is that, being unemployed, I can't say I don't have time to root through the damn thing to retrieve my beloved crap. This is exactly what I did the other day. It took a few hours and more stubbed toes (note to self, do not wear sandals when hauling boxes and furniture about) but I managed to find most of my missed belongings. And since I love lists (no Andrea, not more than you love them), I will now tell you in list form what I missed so desperately.
  • 2 favourite cook books
  • My spices
  • Spice grinder
  • Eli (very cute stuffed monkey)
  • Chef's knife
  • Flipflops
  • Phone charger
  • Camera software
  • Camping gear
  • Sundry bathroom items
  • Multi vitamins
  • Running shoes
  • Sewing machines and supplies
  • Umbrella
  • Tequila
  • 3 or 4 books I'd bought but hadn't read yet (not found)
My hard learned lesson can hopefully become good advice for you, gentle reader. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, where you need to pack and will be living near your boxed stuff for an unknown quantity of time, consider re-categorizing before you pack. Don't group items based on whether they physically look similar or usually live in the same room. Sort based on frequency of use and value.
  1. Things that you rarely use and have little value can be chucked (Surprisingly, this was about half of my belongings).
  2. Things that you rarely use but have high value (either monetarily or sentimentally) can be packed tight and shoved in the back, hard to reach corners of your storage unit. For me, this includes my read books (unread books belong in category 4, see below), pictures, blue kitchen table, and all stuffies except Eli.
  3. Things that are used a lot but have a low value come next. Keep them relatively easy to reach and well labelled. I should have included my kitchen equipment here. Instead it was carefully stowed at the bottom, in the back, with horrible labels like Kitchen - Misc. This made me hate myself, just a little.
  4. And last, your junk that is of high use and high value go right at the front (see above list). No point in even closing these boxes; you'll be in and out of them more times than a North American tourist in a South American bathroom.

Aug 18, 2009

Now what?

Life Checklist:
  • Quit job - check
  • Quit apartment - check
  • Leave continent - check
  • Come home - check
  • Decide the rest of future - pending...
When I was playing in the corporate world, no one ever asked me what my plans were. Ever. Perhaps it was assumed that I didn't need any? My plans were to maintain the status quo? I had already achieved my plans and now got to live plan-free?

As soon as I quit my job interest was suddenly peaked in my planning capabilities. Every conversation started with, "What are you going to do?" Of course, I had an answer to that one. An answer that seemed to impress most people.

"I'm going to Ecuador!"
"Ooohhh!"
"Aaahhh!"
"Take lots of pictures!"
"Send postcards!"
"Look us up when you get back!"

Now I'm back. And I'm looking people up. And they're all saying the same thing. "Now what?" And if I hesitate for even a moment, they answer for me.

"You should go camping!"
"You should go North!"
"You should go South!"
"Go on a road trip!"
"I just saw Bottle Shock. You should go pick grapes in California!"
"Use the time wisely! Go back to school!"
"Use the time frivolously! Travel the world!"
"Go to Antarctica! It'll disappear soon."
"Go to Mongolia!"
"Go to the moon!" (Okay, I made this last one up. But the rest are real.)

It's great to have friends and family that are so enthusiastic in their support for my new, lackadaisical approach to life. But I'm starting to feel that my resolution to leave corporate living is creating some expectations that will be difficult to live up to. It's like I've escaped from a maximum security prison and all the other inmates are screaming "Forget about us! Run! Head for the hills! Do it for us!" It's hard to tell them that while I'm glad to be out of my cell and on the other side of the electric fence, for now I'm pretty happy frolicking in the surrounding meadows with the bunnies and flowers. I don't feel the need to be scheming and planning and packing for a grand adventure. For now I'm just enjoying life day by day, without having to worry about rent or visa payments or screwing up so majorly at work that it causes other people to lose their jobs (not that I did that, but I could have).

Yes, I realize this is not a strategy that can be sustained long term. It's all fine and dandy to frolic in a meadow in the summer, but come winter when the flowers are dead and the bunnies have been eaten by my dad, I'll be needing a shelter of my own, and possibly some nuts to nibble on and - oh, screw it, this metaphor is getting silly.

Currently, my plan looks something like this:
  1. Find key to my bike lock, or possibly purchase a new one
  2. Find someone to help fix car window (it keeps falling into the door)
  3. Find annatto seeds and attempt Robert Rodriguez's puerco pibil recipe
Future updates as events warrant.

Aug 12, 2009

What a difference a continent makes

My body doesn't trust technology. My brain is okay with it, is able to function amidst computers and traffic lights and ATMs. But on some primal level my body is confident that technology is luring it into a false sense of security so that it can lead me into a trap for the ultimate betrayal. This mistrust is never more evident than when I have to rise earlier than around 6am for something important - say, a flight.

Nothing my brain can do will make my body feel better. I can set an alarm. I can set two. I can arrange for the nice hostel night watchman to wake me up if I'm not stumbling around by 4:30am. I can go to bed really early with no alcohol in my system. Nice try, my body will say. But I'm no idiot. Then it promptly refuses to fall asleep.

So once again I was faced with a sleepless night before my ridiculously early flight home. And there's nothing like beginning a long day of flights and layovers as an over-tired and cranky slob.

If you ever have the opportunity to fly with Continental Airlines, I highly recommend that you avoid it. Not only do they charge a ridiculous amount to move your flight by a few weeks, their employees are rude, they charge you to watch movies, and they serve the weirdest meals. Stale pancakes with crunchy pineapple chunks and half a hotdog. A turkey dog crammed in a croissant with cheese and mustard, and a small twix on the side. Apple and onions in a mystery white sauce. Meals that inspire the age-old response, WTF?

I think the highlight of the trip was when I tried to board my third flight. When I handed the stewardess my boarding pass (which clearly said "Boarding Pass", and was not preceded by "This is not a") she screeched at me.

"YOU NEED A BOARDING PASS!"
"Um, isn't this a boarding pass?"
"YOU STAND IN THAT LINE (pointing to my left) RIGHT NOW!"
Trying not to cry (see over-tired explanation above), "But-"
"NOW!"

This kind of interaction may have happened all the time in Ecuador, but at least I didn't understand it.

When traveling abroad I'm caught up in all differences between there and home. When first encountered I note them with either delight or dismay, then quickly get used to them and go on with my life. It's when I come home, when I first enter the realm of the familiar, that the differences really stand out for me. So, here is my top ten list of the biggest differences I've noticed between Ecuador and Canada.

1) I can't tell you what a joy it's been to be able to flush toilet paper again. In Ecuador it goes in a little garbage can next to the toilet, usually without a lid and not emptied all to often. Toilet paper (and other, um...feminine products) belong in pipes being swept away to the sea.

2) It really is a luxury to be able to trust the water coming out of your taps, to trust that your juice and ice were made with clean water, that rinsing your veggies made them cleaner, not more likely to induce diarrhea.

3) I'm sure you're familiar with the term "muffin top" as applied to ladies wearing jeans a tad snug? In Ecuador this is the predominant fashion. Like bucks in the forest, the women display their muffin tops with pride and a tinge of competitiveness. The bigger the muffin the shorter the shirt, to show off their sexy flesh belt, I imagine. Even women that are quite slim managed to produce a little muffin, and the larger the lady, the tighter the jeans. It's like they hate their internal organs and want to punish them.

4) Eggs. Everywhere. Every breakfast. Salty wet scrambled eggs. Snotty fried eggs. Eggs on top of your dinner. It's like someone watched a movie where the main characters were chicken farmers and said "Wow, those gringos sure like their eggs!" and decided to be nice to us by providing them. All the time. "Hey, we're gringo-friendly! Here, eat an egg!"

5) Ecuador is bordered by Columbia. But I guess they're really busy smuggling all that cocaine in the country that they can't be bothered to send a few coffee beans over the boarder. All you can get is a cup of warm water or milk with a scuzzy film on top, and either a jar of instant coffee, or a container of concentrated coffee syrup. Oh, americano, how I missed thee!

6) On my way home I took a city bus from the Victoria ferries to my aunt and uncle's house. It was me and another lady on an otherwise empty bus, and the driver still pulled away and drove us to our destinations! For the last 5 weeks I've been sitting on buses that refuse to pull out of the terminal until they have at least double their official capacity. I never thought that the Victoria bus system would feel like first class travel.

7) In the Houston airport I had three hours left to kill. So I went to Ruby's, an old fashion diner, and sat at the bar. One hamburger and two beers later my bill came to $23. Not bad for airport food, but that's more than I would spend in Ecuador in a whole day, including accommodations. You can get a single room for around $10, and meals for about $2 each. Before I left for Ecuador a friend asked how long he could likely live there with $60,000. I can now answer him. If we splurge a little and call it an even $20 a day, Adam, you could live for 8.3 years.

8) Canada has 87% less cars and 172% more seat belts.

9) In Victoria I can walk up a slight incline without getting winded (stupid Ecuadorian altitude).

10) Canada has a disheartening lack of blue footed boobies.

Aug 8, 2009

The final days in Quito

It feels like it was only five and a half weeks ago that I boarded the clipper and began my Ecuadorian journey. And yet here I am, five and a half weeks later, preparing to say goodbye to the fairer America continent and head on home. Where did the time go?

I have to admit that my last three days were a little anti-climactic, though I have no one to blame for that but myself. Day one I took a free walking tour of the old town, which took me to most of the places I'd visited on my own. It was a fun tour never the less. It's free because it's run by a student of tourism, a young Spanish girl that can technically speak English but is too shy to do so. She was accompanied by a German women who was to translate for her. But the German woman wanted the Spanish guide to practice her English, so every time we arrived at a new location the touristy information was preceded by a little spat between the two of them. High fun.

They also pointed out several traditional colonial floors, something that I had never looked down to notice. The mortar between the bricks or stone are filled with animal bones, mostly vertebrae. It was to help good spirits enter the house, or keep bad ones out, or something like that. I wonder if something like that would fly in Victoria. Say at the entrance of a vegan restaurant?

On day 2 I sat around for most of the day on the hostel couch reading an excellent book. The Yiddish Policeman's Union, by Michael Chabon. Excellent, but physically massive and not something I wanted to pack. In the evening I met a fellow hostalian, a dashing and incredibly charming Londoner who not only is flying with the same airline as me, but has a stupidly long layover in Houston as well (granted on a different day, heading to a different country, but still...it's kind of like fate. Right?). Aurell, if you're reading this, I'm not sure I got your email address right as you left a character up to artistic interpretation...

Today I rose at the unsightly hour of 6:30am to join a tour of Otavalo and surrounding area. There were four of us from the hostel, and we had an absolutely lovely guide named Andres. He packed us into a truck and drove us around for 11 hours, showing us lakes and volcanoes and a nice place for a buttery, salty biscuit. Then he took us to Otavalo, known for it's market of crafts from all over Ecuador. After some mad shopping there we headed to another small town (whose name escapes) me for their leather market. I proudly bartered my way into several questionable purchases at both markets.

Back at the hostal there was some kicking, swearing, and a few tears, but I finally managed to fit all the above purchased crap into my backpack. Now all that's left is to figure out a way to be reliably waken for 4:30am tomorrow so I don't miss my flight.

So here, Quito, a final picture to remember me by. Or for me to remember you by. Or for others to remember the moon by. Or...whatever.

Aug 5, 2009

More coastal goodness

Not being much into the surfing or whale scene, a day in Puerto Lopez was plenty. So we hopped another bus and headed northward, to Bahia. It's another smallish coastal community, with the downtown on a cute little peninsula. It's a little cleaner than Puerto Lopez, more white. We stayed at Hotel Bahia, a hole in the wall across the road from the beach. Our room had three double beds crowded in a small room painted lime green. It also had the ingenious design of windows all along the top of two of the walls that were permanently open. Not big enough for a bad guy to get through, but plenty big for the mosquitoes. Did I mention this is a malaria zone? And malaria mosquitoes only come out at night? Hotel Bahia is doing it's bit at keeping the tourist population down.

We found a big meat grill on the water. Sitting on a patio drinking beer, facing the harbour with boats passing by, listening to the boys listen to sport on the tv, it was almost like being home. Except for my plate of thin steaks with fried eggs and pink sauce on the side. Have I mentioned how sick I am of eggs yet?

The next day we headed for Canoa, a small town about thirty minutes up the coast. At the bus stop a big truck rolled by that was filled with people, and a young man tried to convince us that this was the bus and we needed to climb on the roof of the truck. We had none of that. The real bus rolled up shortly afterwards - no roof riding for us.

In Canoa we walked the beaches lined with tiny tents you can rent and pretend to be protected from the wind. We were trying to find some caves that were up the beach, but the tide was up and the waves were a-pounding the rocky shore we needed to scale, and I could hear my mother's sage words echoing in my ears. It's one thing to be dead. It's another thing entirely to be crippled for life! So we skipped the caves and went to eat ceviche and drink beer instead.

I managed to get two big blisters on the sides of two of my toes. They developed, popped, and rubbed raw before I really knew what was going on. All of a sudden it stung like a mofo to put any pressure on the toes of my right foot. I'll add this to my list of foot ailments that I've had on this trip (another being a surprising rash on my left ankle that sprung up, itched intensely for two days, then left a red ring just above my sock line for a week).

The next day we were at the bus terminal at 6am to catch our 7 hour bus to Quito. 10 hours later we rolled into town, hungry, tired and stiff. We checked into Hotel Chicago, the incredibly echoy place we stayed at a few weeks back. Fortunately this time if anyone had bowel issues I wasn't kept up all night by it. The only thing of note is the two German guys in my dorm who were bragging that they spent a night in a Colombian prison the night before.

Yesterday I followed Angie and Nathan around as they did some chores, then we said goodbye. They're heading North to Mindo for 5 days of heavy birding. They hope to see a few hundred new species of feathered friends. I opted out of this adventure, and now am faced with three, yes three, whole days all to myself in Quito, before I fly home on the 9th. Whatever shall I do?

Goodbye Galapagos. Hello Puerto Lopez.

Previously on Raggedy Threads: Angie, Nathan and I were all supposed to fly out of San Cristobal on the 31st at noon. Due to my sudden and violent distain for boats, I moved my ticket, and my ticket alone, to fly out of Baltra at 10:30am.

The 31st was to be a long travel day. I had to catch a taxi at 6:15am to make a bus that in theory left at 6:30 (in practice this was closer to 7:10). This 45 minute ride to the north of Santa Cruz brought me to a ferry to Baltra island. Then another bus to the airport, where I was two hours early for my flight.

I didn't have a ticket; I'd been told to show my passport at check-in. I did this. The man clicked away at his keyboard. Then frowned. Then scratched his head. Then checked my passport again.

"Anhela?"
"No, Sarah."
"Anhela?"
"Sarah."
"Donde esta Anhela?"
"San Cristobal."
Pointing at his computer. "No Sarrah."
"Si. Mi Sarah."
"Anhela."
"..."

More head scratching. He finally hands me a ticket with my name on it. I go and sit for two hours until my plane leaves. After the hour and a half flight (meal: peas and potato cubes, slices of ham and cheese) I have another hour and a half to wait at the Guayaquil airport until Angie and Nathan show up. They come into the arrival arrive looking a little worried.

"We weren't sure you'd be here," Angie says, hugging me. "They only had a Nathan and a Sarah in the system. No Angela." Sigh. I get a flash back of the rude travel agent that continued a conversation on her cell phone as she helped me, and it all makes sense.

We were going to keep going straight to the coast, but it was already 4pm and another 5 hours on a bus didn't appeal to anyone. So we stayed the night in Guayaquil and saw Harry Potter 6 instead.

The next day we braved the buses and ended up in Puerto Lopez. It's a small, poor fishing village made popular by whale watching and surfers. The bay is filled with fishing boats, and the beach is scattered with small blue speed boats that look long abandoned. We walked along the beach and laughed at Nathan trying to catch ghost crabs. They're tiny little things the colour of sand and they move lighting quick, popping into little holes they have scattered all over the beach. You don't really see them so much as sense their movement. After several attempts that ended up with Nathan on his ass, he finally got one.

At night the main street comes alive with tourist shops and small wooden huts that act as beach bars. They have fires in little cans filled with fuel on top of sand mounds that smell like burning rubber. Each hut was blaring music to drown out their competitors. We sat on the beach and I ordered a margarita that was made with rubbing alcohol and a cup of salt. Over all, Puerto Lopez bars left much to be desired.

We found a nice place to eat called Whale Cafe, with massive tasty sandwiches and a huge book exchange. They let Angie and Nathan change their tattered paperbacks, but wouldn't take my copy of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game.

"No one reads science fiction," she explained, turning me away.
"This isn't just science fiction. It's excellent."
"No."

Jerks.

Traveling in the country of long and late bus rides with no book is no fun.