Chronicles of the Wayward Moot

WELCOME TO THE MOOT, oh world-wanderers and word-whisperers. After two years of Peace Corps. After 2,200 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. What. Comes. Next?


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

7:18 AM  Hot Zaruman coffee in my cup and last night's vino tinto on my breath…


I have been lax as far as the text thing goes.  I know it.   You know it.  Everybody knows it.  For this I feel ashamed, in reality I turned my back on my old love of writing, having taken a younger, newer, more exotic lover – photography, into my bed. Sure it's fun.   Sure I'm getting recognized for what I've been doing with photography (oh and rest quite assured, I'm doing a LOT with photography), but every now and then when I'm composing shots in my head or waiting for the perfect hue of a sunset to crown the condor-haunted peaks of the Andes, I get that little tickling in the back of my mind that asks me to ask myself "What would it feel like to get a pen between your fingers again?   Wouldn't it be fun to compose a poem about that steaming mound of cow manure?  Is that rodent gristle still in your teeth?"   Usually the answer to the third question is yes, and increasingly the answers to the first two are "awesome" and "yes, of course writing about excrement is one of life's great joys."   SO.  Today I have decided to write more than the normal ration of terse and typo-riddled photo captions that I dole out like some stingy bitch of a stood-up-for-a-date-by-the-janitor lunch lady.   I hope that the Frank's Red Hot and Tabasco Chipotle sauce I recently acquired make the slop taste a little better.


The here and now:

Sitting at my desk/table in my living/exercising room, third floor of the Castillo here in Zaruma.   Jack Black is telling Kyle that he just BARELY passed the friendship test on my stereo … no wait, now the Talking Heads are taking me to the river.  Dropping me in the water.   Washing me down…  On the table I see a multicolored weaving with indigenous patterns that I bought in Otavalo, the best-known indigenous crafts market in all of South America, in April.  There is a blue plastic cup half-filled with coffee grown on the slopes surrounding Zaruma.  It's sitting on a Heineken coaster that I swiped from a restaurant in Machala. "Café de altura" they call it.  Coffee of altitude basically, meaning that it's all grown at around 4,000 feet, giving it a distinctly different character than coffee grown on the lowland coast.   Many different factors work to make it lo mejor del mundo (best in the world).  Sunlight here is slightly less filtered than on the coast.   The temperature during the day and night varies greatly.  The composition of the soil here on the Andean foothills varies from that of the coast.   Plus I just like to tell everyone that the best coffee comes from here, since that's what the package boldly states.  (Don Marcelo, the de facto coffee guru in Zaruma, says that he's taken his coffee to conventions and expos all over the world and won first prize several times, so that's why the package boasts so forcefully the superiority of its contents.)   Also in this cup of nearly drained coffee are two spoonfuls of azucar morena, the delicious unrefined brown sugar that is ubiquitous around here.  Took me months to realize that I was being a damned fool for putting white sugar in this coffee, but I've smartened up and bought a bag of the brown stuff.  When I finish this bag, I'll try to head out of the city and talk with someone who owns a molino for crushing sugar cane, since I heard from another volunteer that such campesinos usually have more brown sugar lying around than they know what to do with.   Sweet.  Literally.


Scattered about are four compactflash cards in plastic cases, all full of photographs that I transferred to the tourism office computer yesterday.   There is a new memory card reader that I picked up in Cuenca after Halloween since my old one broke.  Behind the laptop is a brown rock I grabbed from the beach in Montanita after a visit to Isla de la Plata with the Chuffmate.   It's characterized by maybe fifty holes bored by sand and sea, and I use these holes to store pens and markers.  Behind the rock is a bone, a bovine vertebra that I swiped from the walk back from Cerro de Arcos the first time I went there.   I bleached it, painted it white, and gave it a place on the desk to hold markers that don't fit in the sea stone.  Moving on, I encounter a blue plastic jug atop a blue dispenser.   The jug is a 20 liter water bottle, like those in water coolers back in the states.  It sits upside down on a little dispenser which I put on the edge of the table so the spigot lets water go over the edge facing away from me (towards the window and the street two stories below).   I have not yet managed to drop or spill the jug in the course of replacing empty bottles with new ones, though I have bumped the table and caused the jug to yawn perilously out over the gap between the table and the wall.   In that case it came to rest leaning against the burglar bars in the window and didn't spill anything.  All the water cooler practice I gained working at National Geographic seems to have paid off…


(Now writing at 5:45 PM the same day.)

State of mind right now:  Awesome.  I'm sipping a "batido" (milkshake) I just blended up using mandarin orange juice, a papaya, two bananas, some milk, ice, and vanilla extract.   All the fruits are fresh as Will Smith in the early 90s.  It's good to have a fridge, better to have one with a freezer.   Flipping sweet.  I left this work in progress earlier to meet up with my counterparts at one of the local schools up by the market.  Several people from the Ministerio de Turismo were here administering a curso (class or workshop) to about 100 students that was all about tourism in Ecuador.  These kids were probably about 10 years old and were all given a spiffy little activity booklet titled "El Pequeno Turista."  Seemed to be about a punky little Ecua kid and his girlfriend traveling around the various zones of Ecuador as a tourist.  He goes surfing, rides a tortoise in the Galapagos, climbs Chimborazo (!!!), and maybe visits some indigenous peoples in the Amazon.   It's been a while since I was in elementary school myself, so maybe my memory has faded, but I have a few observations to make about the education system here.  First, there is very little order in the classroom.   Kids screaming the whole time.  Second, they don't seem very interested in answering questions of any sort unless they are rewarded for their boldness with a treat, like a sucker or something.   I watched for a few hours as hundreds of suckers were handed out to kids whose dental hygiene is already questionable.  Thirdly, repetition is the RULE here.   I'd noticed this before, when walking past the schools and colegios … an entire roomful of children chanting mindlessly some phrase fed to them by their teacher, not taking any time to think about what they were saying.   I think everyone in the U.S. does this as children when they recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  In Ecuador this morning I heard 100 kids screaming that tourism represents a source of jobs and an opportunity for intercultural exchange.   How many of them understand what that really means?  Hrmmm.  I did think it was interesting and encouraging that they were also given lessons on the geography of Ecuador, the various regions, etc.  They were also made to memorize the various provinces of the costa, of which El Oro is a part.  Interesting experience for them and me.


On my way back here from the parque central, on the edge of which lies the municipal building where "my" office sits, I swung way below El Castillo to visit Bertha, the woman who washes my clothes.   I'd dropped some clothes off yesterday but they won't be ready until tomorrow, and that's only if her neighborhood gets water again (there is some re-engineering of the drainage system around here so some people lose water for a bit... I lost it for 8 days a few weeks ago).   I wasn't down there for the clothes though, I was picking up some tamales.  Normally I buy tamales (cornmeal, peas, carrots, and BEEF!) from a woman named Maria who lives around the corner and runs a restaurant out of her living room.   Hers cost .35 each, and they rock.  However, I recently learned that Bertha makes them as well, and although hers cost .40 each, I figgered I'd give em a go, plus she makes them with beef or chicken, and I'm keen to try the chicken variety.   In any case, I have 9 tamales in my fridge right now and two of them will be in my stomach later, after getting a good dose of that Chipotle sauce I mentioned.   They'll go well with the salad I made…tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, lettuce, onions, boiled eggs, and mini frenchfries they sell here.  The frenchfries MAKE the salad though, as they give that delicious little salt and oil boost that your tongue craves when eating raw veggies.   I liken the sensation to that of hitting raisins in a bowl of raisin bran.  Seriously, salad is a mini frenchfry delivery mechanism just like raisin bran is a raisin delivery mechanism.   Food, for the uninitiated, is one of the three F's of standard Peace Corps conversation.  The other two are F*cking and Feces.   We keep it real here, even if we don't keep it kosher.


Okay, back to describing my desk.  Above me are some multicolored Christmas lights that I bought from the girl who cut my hair (head hair, not chest hair).   On the wall in front of me is a broken mirror suspended by some parachute cord and a woven tapestry made with green, brown, and white wool depicting a house, tree, condor, etc.   It says ECUADOR on the bottom.  It's very touristy.  I like it anyway.  To my left on the table is my now-rarely used mp3 player.   I brought it down from the rooftop because of the sick amount of rain we've had in the last few days.  There is a bandana with the design of the Australian flag, a few notebooks, and the fat CD wallet filled with DVDs that I received from one of you out there in cyberspace. (Thanks once again, I've been watching Clone High and Scrubs a little)   Finally, I see some crap that I got in a package from Peace Corps yesterday.  There are three copies of Newsweek (WTF, North Korea has a nuke now?), a really spiffy little book with all of the bus schedules to and from every place in the country, and the Fall 2006 issue of El Clima (Peace Corps Ecuador Newsletter) that I worked on while up in Quito before doing Cotopaxi.   I can't wait to delve into that, since there are plenty of articles and features that I didn't have time to see while working on it.  Finally, there is a single postcard.   It's blank.  I would love to send it to one of you out there, so if you want it to go to you, just let me know your latest address (Jar Jar and Aroontang, I'm talking to YOU) and I'll get on that.


In the beginning I wrote that I had the remains of a bottle of wine on my breath this morning.   A truer thing was never said.  Luis is a really amicable guy and happens to be the head financial administrator for the municipality and owner of the home where I spent five days during my site visit back in April.   My last night at his place we were drinking some wine and I told him that when I came back to work I would bring him a bottle.  Here I was about seven months into my service and I still had never made good on that promise.   I'd bought a bottle of wine two different times with the intention of bringing it over to his place to share (one time I actually did go there but he wasn't home) and ended up drinking both bottles with other volunteers when they were visiting.   The time had come however, and last night I took a bottle of Concha y Toro Reservado from Chile over to Luis' place around 7:30 in the evening.  I had not eaten dinner.  Perhaps not the best of ideas, but whatevs.  We popped the cork and dug in. Before I left at around 10, we'd drained the bottle and had tucked into some really sweet Quiteño fruit liquor that a friend had given him.   A glass was dropped and broke on the floor.  Good for us.  We discussed the problems and solutions to tourism in Zaruma, the difficulty of getting a visa to visit the United States, women, destruction of the environment, and the secretive nature of the large mining companies in the region.  When I left to rush home and take a monumental piss, Luis made sure I brought the remainder of that second bottle with me.   Now it's sitting on the floor of my bodega/gear closet waiting for a visitor to come so I can share the love and pay it forward.


Speaking of women…

I will not go into details on this subject because I don't want to embarrass anybody, but I simply have to say that love, real, passionate, heartfelt, generous and inspiring LOVE is one of the most powerful forces I have ever been fortunate enough to experience, and I hope that I never ever settle for anything even slightly less amazing than what I am experiencing of late.   I could be mooshy like that for a solid week but I'll spare you that ridiculousness and just say that wow - holy crap, my head spins just thinking about it all.   Wow.  Damn. WOW.


This is "starting" to get long, so I'll wrap it up with a summary of what I expect to be doing for the next couple of weeks.   Friday I head to Loja and from there to Parque Nacional Podocarpus for a couple of nights.  There is a hike that some of the volunteers and friends are doing from a lower part of the park to a high alpine lake or lakes (dunno for sure) and apparently Noviembre is the only month dry enough in that part of the country to do the hike, knock on wood.   I want to participate A) Because I love hiking and I have not yet visited that part of the country and B) Because here in my region I think we could benefit from establishing some hiking routes like this one, as we have alpine lakes and beautiful tropical cloud forests rich with exotic plant and animal life...  I condsider it work-related.   Anyways.  On the 19th we get back from the hike, I spend that night in Loja, then head to Cuenca to meet with the Chuffmate.  Early the next morning we head out to the southern Oriente to visit another volunteer's jungle-ish site and learn how to kill, gut, skin, and cook rabbits, ducks, and chickens.   The next day we go a bit north to another jungle site to do the same, hopefully this time including turkey and guinea pigs.  The meat we prepare will go towards the huge Thanksgiving feast/party that is being planned.   Once the dust has started to settle from that debacle, the tentative plan is to go out into the jungle with machetes and help the volunteer at that site work on cutting a tourist/trekking trail between his site and another site, with the ultimate aim of connecting the two and forming a hardcore overland route through some of the most beautiful and challenging terrain in the country.   We might be out there for four or five days, it hasn't been determined exactly what the plan is.  And that is why I think the plan is such a good one.   Open-ended.  Flexible.  Full of adventure.  Like me.   Hope you liked this meandering slice of my life.  Mountainjedi over and out.


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