Category: whoopjamboreehoo

Don’t Smile.

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Remember when you were a kid and down in the dumps about something and one of your parents would get you to cheer up by looking at you and saying, “don’t smile. Dooooooon’t smile. Don’t smile!” and you couldn’t help but smile. That was good parenting right there. It still works on adults, too, which you may not know. Try it on the next sulky person you meet. It even works if you say it to yourself.

The last two posts here have been a bit too Serious-shirt Poesy, with my ranting on Hemingway and yammering about Indo-European root words which probably no one cares about anyway. So to counter act that, I dare you to look at this picture of a Bhutanese woman grinning ear to ear and not smile. Seriously. Don’t smile. Don’t you dare.

Haaaaa you can’t even do it can you. You’re smiling your ass off right now I can see it. That’s OK I guess, I am too. I mean, is this picture not the pure image of happiness?

By the way, this comes from an article in National Geographic Traveler, which is mostly a vehicle for cheesy ads trying to get you to visit random destinations (Dear Nevada: It doesn’t matter how pretty your full-page spread is, I’m not planning a vacation to your state. Silly Nevada.), but does have a nugget of travel advice or intrigue occasionally. The article by Boyd Matson is about Bhutan’s commitment to increasing the country’s “Gross National Happiness.” The article also features this awesome quote, about the tiny nation’s position wedged between two huge superpowers: “If India sneezes or China farts, we get blown away.” Enough said, I think!

My 50 Favorite Albums of the Decade

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Everyone else is doing it. Surely the best reason to do anything, right? Over the past few weeks all the big style/culture mags and blogs have been looking back on the decade and declaring their favorite music, books, movies, etc. And while I could probably name ten movies worth seeing from the 2000s, and maybe a couple books (I’m still working on books from the 1900s – would you like a list from that decade?), one thing I can definitively discuss and rank is music. Looking at the lists from Pitchfork (too hipstery (also, “brought to you by Haagen Dazs”?! lol)), Paste (too…Paste-y), NME (too Britishy), Rolling Stone (I’m sorry but any list with System of a Down is automatically disqualified), NPR (John Adams and Britney Spears on the same list? Double lol), et al., and not entirely liking what I was seeing, I realized the only true judge of the best music of an era is one’s own self – because music is so utterly subjective, and debating the merits of one list or another tends to get both violent and boring after oh, five minutes. As one friend said: “how could you include ___ but not ___ or ___?” Just fill in your own blanks and you basically have the substance of every disagreements. So a guy’s gotta come up with his own list – not a “best albums” list, but a “favorite albums” list. I basically abandoned objectivity and just went with my gut on this one. Anyway, hope you do enjoy it, and maybe pick up some of the music listed here!

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A few words on David James Duncan

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Today I finished the third book in the trilogy of David James Duncan’s major works: River Teeth. The other two books are The River Why and The Brothers K, both of which I cannot possibly recommend highly enough. I recommend the third book just as highly, however I would read the two novels first before wading (har har) into River Teeth, which is a book of short stories and autobiographical pieces about transformation; sort of a book of Ovid for the 90s. While the book is certainly the equal of the other two it pays to have DJD’s sense of timing and narrative already firmly planted in your mind before reading; plus the book features a last glance at Evertt Chance, one of the brothers in The Brothers K, and is truly a joy to read after learning about his trials and tribulations in K.

Duncan, in these three books is focused on – obsessed with, haunted by, devoted to – water and transformation, and the play between the two. His characters are, in essence, baptized – reborn, transformed – by the lakes, rivers, creeks, oceans, and irrigation ditches of the Pacific Northwest. His characters seek out answers constantly, in books and from friends – Why is littered with choice quotes from The Compleat Angler to the Koran – and from that ultimate source, nature. The final truth of these books is that people can and will change, if they open their minds up wide enough. Thus Duncan’s protagonists drop the tops of the convertibles of their minds and let the wind blow Truth through their hair, although sometimes not without a bit of forcefulness. Gus, our hero of The River Why, takes painfully long to figure things out. Even being chased down by a beautiful girl, haunted by quotes tossed at him by his hippie bodhisattva friend, and facing the utter torment and sadness of his lonely life, he refuses to change, a refusal that is all the more painful for the reader because he or she surely recognizes this stubbornness in him/herself, and is no doubt embarrassed and hurt by it. I don’t want to spoil the ending but in the end what saves him is a fish, not a pretty girl or a fancy quote. In a flash of epiphany and ecstasy his world is switched on and he, and we, are allowed to move forward. Our joy as readers is tempered only by our lingering jealousy that he gets to change and we do not.

In The Brothers K, each brother takes his own path out of darkness, and all are not equally successful. Although each has his point of ecstasy and epiphany, for some of them the magic is fleeting – they climb just to the top of the canyon wall, only to stumble and fall back in just as they peek their heads over the horizon and see what could be. Although some of the clan does get to the top, the book is ultimately a tragedy, with joy again holding hands with sorrow.

River Teeth is a series of vignettes, some fiction, some more memoir-like snippets from Duncan’s own life. Again each is a tale of transformation, a peek into the clockwork machinery of the world and the return from that. As I finished this book today, over and over in my head I heard the word “ecstasy,” just the word flipping and sloshing around in my brain like a trout in one of Duncan’s Oregon rivers. The word, as far as I can tell, is never used in this book, however each story includes an ecstatic moment. In my mind (word geek that I am) I’m thinking of an older definition of the word “ecstasy;” today we use the word as a synonym of joy or happiness, but the word’s more archaic meaning is “an emotional or religious frenzy or trancelike state, originally one involving an experience of mystic self-transcendence.” The word comes from Greek, ekstasis, “standing outside oneself.” To me this is the precise word to describe Duncan’s work, filled with characters succumbing to experiences of mystic self-transcendence. Gus’ transcendence comes not from a girl or a book or a shaman; it comes at night, alone with a fishing pole. Peter Chance, one of the brothers, chases transcendence through the words of every hold man he can possibly find, finally making a pilgrimage to India where he is transformed not by a yogi or a priest or an volume of Vedic literature, but by a robbery gone wrong, after which he is left alone and naked – literally. Everett Chance too takes the route of the lonely to find his way to transcendence, bathed for an entire winter in the slogging rains of Vancouver Island.

Beautifully written and wholly inspirational, I found each book infinitely rewarding, and I feel that subsequent readings will reveal even more. Sometimes a book – or in this case a trio of books – come along right when you need them, and when you read them you feel as if the writer is talking just to you and you alone, as if he is there to help you and guide you along. Sometimes a book gives you exactly what you need, nothing more or less, and you feel elevated, enlightened. The irony of these books and that feeling of enlightenment is that in Duncan’s books, as we’ve seen, words are useless. They can lead you down the path but it’s up to you and you alone to find the rest of the way. Transformation and ecstasy is left solely up to you. I hope for myself that I can someday finish what these books have helped me start.

Poetry in Baseball

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Kubel hit for the cycle on Friday night, a feat in and of itself. But the real magic was that his homerun to complete the cycle was actually a grand slam, after the Angels foolishly walked Morneau to load the bases and bring up Kubes. Silly Angels. Watch the score – the Twins were down 4-9 in the 8th, only to rally back and win the game 11-9, thanks to some nice hitting, a “patented Redmond double,” some RBI, and of course Kubel’s slam. This is why I love baseball.

The Ecuadorian Adventure, part 3: The Southern Highlands

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I’m writing you now from a quiet and (relatively speaking) boring location, my own bedroom! I say “boring,” but I must admit it’s welcomingly so, after the near-perpetual excitement of sound and color that was/is Ecuador. Yesterday was a truly ugly flying day as well, stretching from 4:30 am Tuesday to 1:30 am Wednesday, from literally one side of the world to another. So it’s nice to be here at home, rested and feeling good. Apparently I’m supposed to “get a job” and “get on with my life” now, but, I’ve never been much for getting on with anything, so we’ll see what happens. Enough about that. Let’s backtrack and see what Our Intrepid Explorers did for the remainder of their trip in Ecuador!

After returning from the Galapagos and a quick stopover in Quito, Drew and I headed up to the small mountain town of Otavalo, about two hours by bus north of Quito. Otavalo’s claim to fame is its Saturday Market, where the indigenous population from the city and the surrounding villages comes into the town square and sets up shop, selling everything from blankets to pants to alpaca sweaters to corn to spices. Otavalo is a beautiful little city; the people here are fairly well-off (by Ecuadorian standards), bolstered by the money coming in from the market and gringos like us. The streets are all cobbled and clean, the buildings small and white, and like everywhere else in the country, the people are excessively friendly and outgoing. Roberto, who ran our hotel, was practically falling over himself to let it be known he was at our service. Anything you need, he said, just stick your head out the door and yell “Roberto!” To top it off, Otavalo is nestled in an incredible mountain valley, surrounded on all sides by major (but dormant (maybe)) volcanoes. Friday afternoon Drew and I walked around town, had a little siesta, and went back out again in the evening in search of food and fun. We found both. As we headed into town, it dawned on us that something big and weird was going on; when we hit one of the squares “downtown,” we found out it was a giant mass of people out in the streets, mostly kids with a few adults, clustered together and walking and spinning feverishly in a circle. This wasn’t quite the sleepy little town we saw earlier. Some girls wore indigenous garb, blue skirts and frilly blouses, some of the boys wore Halloween masks and the rest were just there, spinning and dancing and singing. There were a few older kids playing guitar, flute, and trumpet, leading the whole group around Pied Piper-like and setting the rhythm for the evening. The mass circled the square, stopping for a minute or so at each intersection, or until the cars trying to go through got fed up, then they moved on to the next intersection. The two of us were the only extranjeros (foreigners) there, and it felt very much like something we shouldn’t be seeing, like something just for the locals. Still, we stayed and watched for awhile and no one seemed to mind. After that we got some tasty empanadas (a snack like a Hot Pocket, except delicious instead of disgusting) and a couple bottles of Fanta to make perhaps one of our best meals. We washed that down with a couple slices of pie. As we walked home we got one more clue that there was more to Otavalo than met the eye; spraypaint on a wall across from the church proclaimed that “El Hip Hop Es Vida;” “Hip Hop Is Life.”

Saturday morning we got up early and got out market on. First we headed out to the animal market, where folks bought, sold, and auctioned animals (cow, pig, chicken, sheep, guinea pig), meat, and cheese. After that we made our way back to the textile market which was lively even at 8 am. There we walked through stall after stall of scarves, blankets, sweaters, pants, ponchos, and hats, every color and every pattern and every size, each item as unique and interesting as the last. We got all sorts of goodies there…the pictures (coming soon) show our ware better than I can explain them. It’s a great experience, especially if you like having “a la orden!” (“at your service!”) shouted at you from every direction, constantly. I even managed to use my Spanish skillz to get a couple 2-for-1 deals. After lunch (meat from a whole-roasted pig, yummmm) we walked to Laguna San Pablo, a nice little lake that has a nearby mountain with a heart-shaped scar in the side. Siesta, more empanandas, sleep.

Sunday we rested in Quito and waited for our 10 pm bus to Cuenca, in the southern part of the country. The bus took all night driving over the Panamericana, the Pan-American Highway. When I say “Pan American Highway” you might picture a major thoroughfare, carrying goods and people all up and down the spine of the Andes. You’re partly right. It does carry quite a bit of traffic, but for a large portion of its run through Ecuador the highway is unpredicatable at best. From Quito to Riobamba, about the halfway point, it’s smooth sailing; but as you enter the Southern Highlands, the Austro, it gets pretty ugly pretty quick. Pavement turns to dirt and back to pavement and back to dirt, and it seemed that some of the most treacherous sections were the least maintained. Some sections were down to one lane; the other lane covered by a rockslide or washed away by erosion (which begs the questions: When will the other side erode away? What if it happens as we’re driving over it?). But we made it to Cuenca about 7 am, found our hotel, and promptly slept until noon. Even though it was an overnight bus we found it nearly impossible to sleep any more than a few minutes at a time.

Cuenca is a beautiful city, very old and well-preserved from its colonial days. “The Athens of Ecuador,” named so for it’s charm and its wealth of universities. The heart of town is all cobbled streets and old buildings, with a church nearly on every corner. The smell of food and fresh-baked bread is ubiquitous. Our hotel/hostel was perched right at the top of La Escalinata, the stairs that lead from downtown down to the Tomebamba River, where people still fish and wash and dry their clothes during the day. We spent a good deal of time just wandering around town, checking out museums, walking past this church or that church, sitting in the park or on the Stairs people-watching, getting ice cream (for whatever reason our sweet-tooths (sweet-teeth?) went into overdrive and we found ourselves eating a lot of ice cream). I found it very easy to lose myself in this city, and without any schedules getting in the way were guided only by our desires to eat, or sleep, or get exercise. One night we did try “cuy,” or guinea pig. It was a bit strange, eating something that’s considered a pet here, but there it’s food, and quite a delicacy at that. It was pretty good; gamey, and very salty, and a little creepy, since it was served whole, but all in all a tasty meal.

One day we went up to Ingapirca, a ruin site nearby that has both Inca and Canari (a local tribe) ruins. Ingapirca is interesting because the Inca and Canari lived side-by-side here, instead of the Inca dominating and subordinating the locals. One of the coolest things here was the Canari calendar, a huge rock with 13 holes (one for each lunar month), and a series of smaller rocks to mark off days, weeks, seasons, and years. The holes were filled with water to catch the moon’s reflection on specific days. Unfortunately the calendar doesn’t work anymore, since early archaeologists moved the stones and no one has figured out yet where they really belong. It’s funny. They figured out this whole thing so precisely, calculating it out, and in one fell swoop some explorer throws the whole thing off.

The next day we went to El Cajas National Park, just a short drive out from Cuenca. This is the Andes at its most gnarly and its most beautiful. I thought the park would be similar to mountains I’ve visited before, like the Rockies, but it wasn’t at all. Since most of the park is above 4000 meters (13,000 feet), most of it is grassland, here called “paramo.” But it’s not like American alpine grass. Here the grass shoots up in big, bushy, thick clumps. The scenery is dominated by this grass, and by lakes, thousands of lakes rising our of nowhere and feeding each other in an intricate web of streams. The mountains and big and burly and rocky, volcanic upthrusts and eroded peaks, so the park is a weird combination of rocky, craggy mountains, fuzzy paramo grass, and pristine lakes. And then there are the polylepis forests. The polylepis is one of the highest-altitude growing trees in the world, and here their forests, which look dry and dusty from the outside, actually hide an incredible landscape. The earth underneath these trees is wet and peaty, and the rocks and trees are covered in moss and ferns and lichen. The air is humid and whenever you put your hand down to steady yourself it comes away dripping wet. A complete 180 from the dry, arid world outside the forest.

On Saturday we left Cuenca for Alausi, a small town with one claim to fame (as far as tourists are concerned), El Nariz del Diablo, the Devil’s Nose, a bizarre little feat of railroad engineering. Every Sunday a train leaves Alausi and heads down, down, down to the abandoned outpost of Sibambe, first through a narrow valley and then through a series of switchbacks, coming to rest at the valley floor and an old station with no town connected to it. The whole trip, which only goes a few miles, takes almost two hours there and back. Usually the train comes all the way down from Riobamba, the nearest big city, but mudslides prevented that from happening. Because of the mudslide we got another interesting glimpse into Ecuadorian life, as we watched a group of workers and engineers orchestrate the moving of a train car (basically a bus on rails) from the back of a flatbed truck down on to the rails in Alausi. Again this was a locals-only show, but they were just as captivated as we were; I think pretty much everyone in the audience expected a disaster, but in fact the whole thing went smoothly, with only a little bit of shouting. Everyone cheered and the workers took a bow when the train car was safely on the tracks. Later that night Alausi was in the midst of its Fiesta de San Pedro, with basically the whole town gathered in the square to dance, sing, drink shots of zhumir (a kind of aguardiente, made from sugarcane but with a different taste from rum) mixed with hot cinnamon tea (20 cents a shot!), and listen to long, rambling speeches from the mayor and other officials. We went to bed while the party was still going; I woke up about 3:30 and the fiesta was still going strong. The next morning, Sunday, we went down to the station (the street lined with passed-out revelers) and took the train through the Devil’s Nose. Now the city was stuffed with tourists which we took as our cue to leave. We headed to Riobamba on the Pana (through the section with dirt and erosion mentioned earlier) and spent a fairly dull night there. We had Ecuadorian Chinese food (they love it more than we do here). They put ketchup on their fried rice. And you thought eating guinea pig was gross!

Monday we were back in Quito. We celebrated our last night at a steakhouse, gorging outselves on incredible cuts of meat, and went to sleep early in anticipation of our early start time on Tuesday. After a series of delays and setbacks and a too-long stopover in Houston, we were home, finally, tired and a little disoriented, but happy to be back.

So there you have it. Ecuador. Even though we had three weeks in the third-smallest country in South America, we hardly saw it all. We didn’t make it to the jungle (anybody wanna buy some malaria pills?) or to the coast, but we were always doing something and we were never bored. This isn’t like traveling in Europe where you can just hit the sights, this is a different kind of traveling that asks you to be a bit more aware and open to opportunities, and open to being less of a tourist, more out of your element. I can understand why all the people we met were there not for a couple weeks but rather a couple months, or half a year, because it just takes longer to see everything, to feel everything, to understand the places, and to get into the groove of this different kind of traveling.

I guess that just means I have plenty to see when I go back.

The Ecuadorian Adventure, part 2: Galapagos!

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When we last left our intrepid explorers, they were on their way to Las Islas Encantadas, the Enchanted Isles, otherwise known as The Galapagos. A continuamos…

Thursday morning (that would be June 5) Drew and I flew out to the Galapagos, landing in a dingy little airport on the small island of Baltra. There we met Rodrigo, our guide for the first half of the trip (we would switch guides on Sunday). We were bussed down to the port where we got our first glimpse of Galapagos life: sea lions resting on the dock and little white yachts out in the bay. At first we thought there`s no way these sealions are just laying right here so perfectly to welcome us. But we would soon find out that in the Galapagos, they run the show, not us humans. We boarded a dingy – called a panga out here – and motored out to our yacht, the Amigo. This is not a yacht like the one you probably have in your mind. It`s not some sleek sailing vessel for yuppies, but more like an extremely tiny cruise ship. Three floors and all white on the sides, we soon figured out, as we docked in other ports, that the Amigo was far from the nicest yacht in the fleet – it was much closer to the bottom, but lovable all the same. The first floor, practically underwater, had cabins. Basically two SMALL bunk beds, a very narrow space for walking, a few shelves, and a seriously tiny bathroom. Most people slept in these rooms, thouth there were a couple nicer ones up top. Second floor was the lounge, featuring an out-of-tune guitar, a TV for watching bootlegged movies, and some couches. Also on this floor was the kitchen, the dining room, and the crew cabins. On the top floor was the open-air sitting area at the back (er, “aft”) of the boat, the bridge up front, and walkways around the whole perimiter. Also a little bar for snacks and drinks.

The crew was a ramshackle bunch. The captain walked around very proudly, and the cook, always in a Kansas City Royals hat, was always giggling and messing around. Julio was the second captain, and Ricardo piloted the panga when we went ashore. Another Ricardo, called “Colombia” to avoid confusion, was from Medellin, Colombia (naturally) and bore a striking resemblance to Robert Downey Jr. In private Drew and I always referred to him as “RDJ.” He was a deckhand and our server. He was also a serious ladies man, and didn`t hesitate to hit on some of the female passengers. Also whenever he told us stories about his home, every other sentence seemed to include something about the beautiful women of Colombia. There were a couple other deckhands that we didn´t see very often, and that was the crew.

The passengers were equally interesting, except for one girl from Chicago, Sarah (the primary focus of RDJ`s affections), we were the only Americans on board. We changed passegners on Sunday, but all told we had four Israelis (traveling after their three mandatory years in the army), a whole gaggle of Dutch, a couple Germans, three Swiss, an old Peruvian couple, two Australians, a Canadian and his French girlfriend who had been traveling in South America for 10 months, and another Algerian-French girl. Whew! The first half of the trip the boat had tenn passengers, all young-ish, and the second half had a full 16, all older than us, mostly.

Now to the islands. Mostly they are low and scrubby, filled with bushes, cacti, and small trees, although some of the larger islands, Isabella, Santa Cruz, and San Cristobal, had highland areas that recieved more rain and thus more plant life. There are a couple dozen islands worth noting and a whole bunch more too small to mention. The whole archipelago is formed by volcanic activity (in fact a volcano on Isabella, Cerro Azul, was erupting while we were there, but unfortunately we never went close enough to see it) over millions of years. Some of the larger islands are still centered around massive, dormant craters, some smaller islands are simply chunks of the Earth`s crust jutting up out of the water. The islands are located right on a fault line. They are rocky and sandy with beaches on every island, and volcanic rock and sediment covering pretty much the whole landscape.

The water is as cool and beautiful as you can imagine, and there`s a pretty constant breeze. The islands are also on a major intersection of water and air currents, tempering the hot, humid air with cool nights and lovely swimming temperatures. Sun and coulds were about half and half, with mostly sunny mornings and cloudier evenings.

The animal life is the major draw, of course, being the place where Darwin finally started putting together his theory of evolution based on the species he saw here. We saw pretty much everything there is to see. Sea turtles and massive, 500-pound land turtles. Marine iguanas and land iguanas. Blue-footed, red, and Nazca boobies. Lava lizards squaring off against one another, doing pushups in the sand to show dominance. All sorts of gulls. Albatross. Numerous species of Darwin finches. And sea lions, sea lions, and more sea lions, on every beach and every island. You can hardly walk without nearly stepping on something living. The funny thing about the sea lions is that they don´t really do anything. When we see them they`re all laying on the beach, sleeping away the day, waiting to hunt at night. They are not easily disturbed either, we walked in and out and all around them and they didn`t seem to care too much. Every once in awhile one or a few of them would let out a massive burp or a bark or a whine, only to have the same sound answered halfway down the beach. After that bit of communication was done, they`d simply go back to sleep again. But they are very beautiful in their own way, and when they do stir they`re usually quite playful.

Our days on the boat went like this. Woke up around 6.30, breakfast at 7. Massive amounts of toast and jam and fruit and juice. Man oh man, the Ecuadorians love their juice. Then our first island visit for the day, usually a one or two-hour hike, learing about life on each particular island. First Rodrigo and then Adrian led these hikes. Then back to the boat and maybe another hike or a snorkel before lunch. Lunch was always soup (I`m so sick of soup) and a weird plate of rice, fruit, palm hearts, popcorn, and maybe tuna. After lunch we`d set sail for another island, and the early afternoon was spent reading or chatting or catching up on siesta time. Afternoon was sometimes another hike, sometimes snorkel. Snorkeling was great. Sometimes we`d be lucky enough to have a few sea lions as company swimming with the group, or maybe a penguin, or maybe some white-tipped sharks. Dinner was soup again (dammit!) and an entree. Seriously, I don`t think I`ve ever eaten so much in my life. After dinner we were pretty much pooped, so everyone was in bed by 9, usually. At night the boat would make its long-distance cruises. Mostly these were fine, not too choppy, however one night was completely awful, us pitching and rolling all over and more than a couple people sending their tuna dinner back to the ocean. Yes, myself included.

Overall it was a relaxing, fun, fascinating, and beautiful trip. I highly recommend it. The various histories of the island-geologic, human, animal, scientific- are so fascinating, and seeing it all in person is just breathtaking at times.

I`ve rattled on long enough here. We spent the weekend in the small mountain town of Otavalo, but that will have to wait for another email. We`re off to Cuenca tomorrow, in the southern highlands, for then final week of our adventure.

The Ecuadorian Adventure, part 1

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Sunday 6.1.08. Long day of flying. Orlando is humid. Panama is jungle-y. Quito is cold!

Monday. Hiked from New Town Quito – where all the hotels and gringos are – to Old Town, where all the cool stuff is. Saw about 5,000 churches. A couple are incredibly beautiful – La Compania basically has a layer of gold on everything. Probably the most beautiful church I`ve ever seen, outside the Vatican or San Marco. Went up El Panecillo and got a view of the whole city. It stretched from north to south as far as the eye can see, along a narrow valley. Small, white and brightly colored buildings everywhere. And the mountains surrounding the city – they`re actually volcanoes! None are erupting, though. For lunch we have what`s called `almuerzos,` which is actually lunch in Spanish, but here it`s a set meal of fruit, juice (oh man, these Ecuadorians love their juice!), soup, and a main plate like arroz con pollo. All for around $1.50. That`s right. Walked home through the park, people were playing volleyball. It`s the second-favorite sport here. Weather is a pretty consisten 60, clouds but no rain. The city is strange. It goes from beautiful to dingy, old to modern, clean to dirty so quickly. You never know what`s around the corner. Sometimes it`s a greasy shoeshine boy who agrees to a $0.50 shine then asks for $3.00 when he finishes. We called it even at $1.00.

Tuesday. Hiked through the city up the side of the nearest mountin, Rucu Pichincha. A couple miles and 500-600 feet up later, we come to the Teleferiqo station, a gondola service (think chairlift with walls) which takes you near the top of Pichincha, about 13,000 feet up! Up there the air is cold and very thin, you pretty much have to stop and rest every few minutes. But the view…oh man. In front of you is the city, 5,000 feet down and stretching from end to end. Behind you is the massive, nasty, craggy summit of Rucu Pichincha, and around you are clouds of all kinds, grasses blowing, a donkey braying, and the wind. It`s serene, more than a little eerie, and very silent. Well, we were pretty wasted by the end of that excursion that we conked out for the afternoon, only to get up for dinner (seco de chivo – the most incredible roast lamb.)

Wednesday (today). Went up to the equator, La Mitad del Mundo, the Middle of the Earth. The monument is cheesy but a must-see. Also, it´s not even on the equator. GPS techology figured out that it`s just a wee bit to the northeast. Thanks a lot technology! further down the road is a dinky little place that marks the `real`equator. Pretty cool. Later today we`re hitting up a musem or two, then getting ready for our Galapagos trip! Which is going to be incredible.

To recap: Quito, beautiful, dingy. Food, incredible. My Spanish, passable but getting much, much better now that I`ve been thrown in the fire, so to speak. Ecuadorians, very friendly people.

Well friends and family, I`ll write again on the other side of the Galapagos. Que les vaya bien!

Twenty Oh-Eight!

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I love the tone of this hilarious little New Year’s haiku by Issa.

New Year’s Day–
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.

– – –

Issa was a 16th century writer famous in Japan for his haikus, or hokkus, as they should technically be called. The hokku is a short poem, usually a single vertical line in the original Japanese. It’s only through Western translation that we get the familiar three lines. The traditional hokku does follow the 5/7/5 format we all know (and love!), but the units being counted were not syllables but morae, which are related to, but not entirely synonymous with syllables. A traditional hokku was not a stand-alone poem, but actually the opening verse of a longer poem called a renga–although later on, when poets wanted to write hokku and nothing more, they implied a theoretical renga to follow it. It was only in the 19th century that the hokku became haiku and was stripped of its connection to the renga.