"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Monday, February 09, 2004
Exotic in Thin Air (Part One, Speechless)
ad-ven-ture Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English aventure, from Old French, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin adventura, from Latin adventus, past participle of advenire to arrive, from ad- + venire to come -- more at COME
1 a : an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks b : the encountering of risks
2 : an exciting or remarkable experience
3 : Ecuador
Our plane climbed the Andes mountains like an eagle struggling to lift its prey to its high nest.
We climbed and climbed and yet the ground never really pulled away; it was climbing at the same rate that we were. The flight was crowded, and after so many hours the passengers were far from fresh. The lines to the restrooms were long and slow. Somehow the tropical heat and humidity from Quayaquil had seeped into the plane during the last stop, and it was still uncomfortably humid.
I watched the cloudbanks as we lifted through them. Our ears popped every few minutes. We continually shifted in our seats; after that many hours they were uncomfortable, cramped, and we were ready to get to where we were going.
The bathroom line snaked forward a few inches next to our seats, and we settled in for another 30 minutes of steady climbing.
My fiance and I were headed for a week long stay in Quito, Ecuador. I had won free tickets on Eastern Airlines (may she rest in peace) and had picked out the most exotic place they flew to. Hey, I figured, why not. Boy, did I make a good choice on this one!
Suddenly the clouds parted and there, on what looked like a very small mountaintop, perched the Quito International Airport. From where I was sitting, it looked like just a patch of concrete, impossible to land on.
It turned out there was just enough room, we made it down without any problem. Its amazing what brakes those planes can have when they need them! We strained to a stop right outside of the terminal.
We disembarked to a beautiful day. The late afternoon sun was bright in the sky, and the temperature was about 70 degrees.
The temperature in Quito is ALWAYS about 70 degrees. All year.
We cleared customs, and were told that our luggage had not made the same trip we did. Oh joy. Maybe tomorrow it would be here, check back. OK, we would. Fortunately, we had a change of clothes in our carry ons. We grabbed a cab into the city.
Quito is at about 3,000 meters above sea level, so the air is really thin, at least for someone like me who was used to living at about six meters above sea level. Everything I had read said to take it easy the first day or so so we would not get altitude sickness, for which the only cure was a decrease in altitude, something I did not want to do. So, that is what we had planned for the evening. Check in, have dinner, go to sleep.
We checked into the Hotel Alameda Real. This was the second nicest hotel in Quito, and we had booked the suite. At the current exchange rates, it cost us about $60 US per night, a steal in anyone's book.
We headed to the hotel restaurant for dinner, since they would accept US dollars. It was small and intimate, only a few tables, and dimly lit. We ordered filet mignon and a nice Chilean wine; it was our first night and we felt like celebrating.
The fact that the side vegetable that was served was popcorn was our first real inkling about the oddness that pervades Ecuadorian culture from an American point of view.
When the bill came, we were in for a shock.
The grand total, filets, wine, and all, was just over $10.
"This must be wrong," I said to my wife. We figured out the exchange several times. It wasn't. We left a five dollar tip just because we felt guilty.
We slept like stones.
The next morning, we awakened early and were eager to see the city we had only glimpsed in the dark. When we walked outside, the streets were almost deserted except for a few drowsy cab drivers. We walked the neighborhood, and the only other person outside was an old lady selling bread door to door. We never saw her, but we could hear her song that she sang as she went from street to street, echoing through the morning stillness. I had a cassette recorder with me, and I taped her calling. I'll never forget that moment, it was full of magic and strangeness, a welcome into a world I never really knew existed.
Eventually, stores on the main thoroughfare began to open. Here, a video store. There, a carry out restaurant with at least a hundred chickens on a giant rotisserie. Traffic picked up, people began walking the sidewalks. Bit by bit, the town stirred and came to life.
I think it was right about this point that I realized we had lost our English-Spanish phrase book. It began to dawn on us that we were in a Spanish speaking country, and had no idea how to speak to anyone at all. Between us we knew "gracias", "ole" and "Feliz Navidad."
This was not good. Not at all.
So, we went into a book store, looking for a phrase book. Guess what, if you are already in the other country, you can't get a phrase book! What you can get is one of their phrase books.
So, armed with a brand new Spanish-English phrase book, we set off again.
Reading a phrase book from another country is an entertaining experience. For example, these are some of the phrases it was teaching our Spanish friends might be useful in English speaking countries:
"I berg your pardon" (sic)
"Does the room have a televisor?" (sic again)
"Where is the reception office?"
In the restaurant section, here is the selection of meats it offered for a Spanish speaking person to order in an English speaking country:
and my favorite, "Roast Cow with Mashed Potatoes."
The seafood section started with the ever popular "muscles" and progressed through "gilthead" to "barnicles." Yum.
Later in the medical section, you would be taught to say things such as "I've often headache" or to politely ask your nurse for the "splitt cloth", the cotton, and the "chiffon."
Yeah, it was gonna be a fun week. (more later)
When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.
Clifton Fadiman (1904 - )