Our last days in Quito

Things are wrapping up here. I actually completed the whole first book in my Spanish lessons! OK, so I don’t remember everything I learned, but for the most part, I do. (Peter actually started on the second book. He’s been way more diligent about remembering what he’s learned.) The thing I’ll never forget about my teacher is whenever I mispronounce something, which is A LOT, (those damn G and J sounds) he says, “No, no, no, no, no {tsk tsk tsk tsk} Mira, ahora…” The same bunch of sounds each and every time. I must hear that like 50 times in a two-hour lesson. I could make him stop by just slowing down and pronouncing things correctly, but I don’t do that because, well, I’m a stubborn and I insist on barreling through it. You should’ve heard me argue with him over a particular use of the verbs ser and estar. Both are forms of the verb “to be”, but one (ser) is for permanent stuff like, “I am a teacher” and the other (estar) is for more transient stuff like “I am tired.” I think it was “The tickets are here” and he was telling me to use the estar form. I was like “But they’re printed! They’re real things!” He explained that you don’t keep the tickets, you give them up when you enter whatever, that they’re transient. But I was like “Noooo, they’re printed.” “No, no, no, no, no {tsk tsk tsk tsk} Mira, ahora…” Peter had a similar argument with his teacher only way more intellectual. It was about “He is dead.” While you might think death is permanent, to them, it’s about not knowing what happens after you die, death is a state of being. It could very well be transient so they use the estar form. Seriously, why does any language need two versions of the verb “to be”? One seems like plenty to me.

And they have a funny verbal quirk. When they say in English that something happens all the time, or it’s not unusual, or lots of people do it, they just say “It’s normal.” It may not seem funny, but you’ll hear “It’s normal” so much about so many different things, it becomes hilarious. Señor Freddy is the worst offender. He must’ve said it like 30 times when he was sucking us into paying for classes and his apartment. Now, whenever we talk about something that happens, it’s just “It’s normal.” And then we laugh. Poor Brandon, we’re going to have so many stupid inside jokes from this trip, he’s going to get really annoyed with us. Well, more annoyed than he normally is.

Yesterday, my teacher was regaling me with stories of restaurant food here in Ecuador. (I’ll spare you the story he told me about the sheep’s head soup. Hint: at some point during the meal, they use a rock to get at the inside.) One of the things they eat here is called cuy, which is guinea pig. He says it’s pretty good, but some time last year, the Minister of Health decided to check out a bunch of restaurants that served it and turns out, a lot of them were just chopping off the tales of rats and serving the rats as cuy. Ewwwwwy. He also told me the Chinese restaurant we’ve eaten at like four times was just recently cited for all sorts of health violations. Things like cooking up rats and serving it as meat and raw meat hanging around on counter tops where cats, cockroaches and dogs were roaming around. He himself said he’d gotten fried rice from them and found a cockroach in it. We’ll not be going back there, I can assure you. We assumed it would be OK because it was right next to the ritzy Plaza del Teatro. Obviously, we were mistaken. His other story was about a small town not far from Quito where the horses started to mysteriously disappear. Some journalists did an investigation and found that a few of the restaurants were slaughtering them in their back patios and just harvesting the meat in a very dirty way, then serving it up as cow meat, leaving the rotting carcasses behind. Yikes.

You gotta’ be careful what you eat down here.

Of course, I just wrote all that while eating breakfast. I’m such a weirdo.

For Peter, things just sort of got lazy on Thursday and the Señor Freddy decided to make guacamole sandwiches. They were pretty good. Afterwards, they broke out the ping-pong table and Peter, Peter’s teacher, Señor Freddy and his student from France played a few games. Peter said he was surprised it got competitive. I was surprised he was surprised. It’s like he’s never noticed what happens when that much testosterone is standing around a gaming table. And it doesn’t even matter how dorky or lame that testosterone is. Of course it got competitive. How could it not?

Afterwards, we met up with his colleague from UNO. He’s a quiet fella who has done a lot of traveling. I guess a lot of his research has to do with third-world tourism so he’s been everywhere you can possibly think of. His angle is more or less how tourism affects local economies and that first-world tourism in third-world countries is destroying cultures. What I have a hard time wrapping my head around is he’s a fairly serious vegetarian. While I totally respect it, I don’t know how you travel the world, usually not speaking the language of the country you’re in, and not eat whatever you can. I doubt very much he’d dive into a plate of worms like I did. Then again, he’ll never end up eating rat instead of cuy. When we met for dinner, he hadn’t eaten much more than a humita since the night before. Every vegetarian restaurant listed in his travel guide, and there weren’t many because there aren’t many, was closed when he got to it. Though, I have to say, he has a positive effect on Peter. Now, Peter is actually considering not eating meat every day! Thank heavens. I was getting so tired of preparing and eating meat. Before I met Peter, I had gone mostly vegetarian for sort of anti-capitalism reasons; I don’t like the industrialization of meat. Then, Peter the Cuban came into my life and not eating meat was no longer an option. I tried to purchase the most sustainably produced meat I could find, but it was so expensive that Peter and Brandon got the meat and I just ate whatever I made on the side. Now, he’s coming around and he’s even noticed that he feels better not eating meat every day. Again, thank heavens! (Brandon WILL NOT like this particular turn of events one bit.)

After dinner, Peter went to Gringolandia (a.k.a. The Mariscal) on his own since my ankle was not up to stomping around a bunch of bars, which was the excuse I used anyway. I stayed here, watched “Galaxy Quest” for the umpteenth time (I still laugh out loud at it. “We have to get out of here before those things kill Guy!”) and sewed up a few shirts and things that have torn because we’ve worn them too often. What we have must last us approximately four more weeks. By the time we get back to the states, we’ll look like a couple of ragamuffins. I’m probably going to just toss half of what I brought. No reason to bring it back and I can use the room in my bag for fun stuff.

Peter of course got home WAY late from the Mariscal. I could’ve choked him. I was, “Please God, please get him home safely SO I CAN CHOKE HIM.” But, as it turns out, somebody almost choked him for me. Twice, in one night, he was jumped by a few 20-something Ecuadorians. Both times, he was leaving a bar. I’ve seen what they do because one night, we were walking home, it wasn’t late but it was after dark, and three or four young guys approached Peter and they tried to jump him. He always told me that if anything ever happened that I should just get out of the way. So I did and I just watched. It was really no big deal. As they did when he left the bars, they grabbed for his coat, he slithered out of it, they let go of the coat and he started charging at them like he was going to kill them. Then they all ran in opposite directions and it was over. They disappear like a mist. Really, just poof! and they’re gone. What’s not so bad about them is they’re not angry like the ones who come after you in the States. In the States, you really have to worry for your life. Those guys want to kill you as much as take your stuff. Here, I get the feeling it’s more of a game. It’s a violent game, but a game nonetheless. They just want to see if they can get your stuff. If they can’t, oh well. The travel book makes a fairly big deal about how the streets are really unsafe here at night and it’s true, they are. Peter was shocked by just how true it was. He’s always hyper aware when he leaves bars, but still, twice in one night is extreme, even for a boy from Gentilly. Though, I don’t really worry about him being hurt or mugged when he’s out since he grew up in New Orleans, spent more than enough time fighting there, spent a lot of time in some of the worst parts of Brooklyn, and I’ve seen him move; he’s quick and decisive. Mostly, these muggers just want somebody to fold. Anybody who presents a challenge is too difficult and they throw in the towel really fast. As far as Peter goes, woe is the mugger who doesn’t get away fast enough. I would NOT want to be that guy.

Of course, when he got home, he was totally stoked on adrenaline. I had been up so long worrying about him, I just wanted to try to get some sleep. Not a good dynamic. I know the parental units are reading this and rest assured, I gave him an earful about staying out late like that.

Oh, Peter’s dad (and maybe his sister) will be joining us our last week in Peru, after his friend Patrick leaves. It looks like Peter is going to have to go to Machu Pichu twice. Poor thing. We’ll all be leaving Lima on the same day, though not at the same time, to return to the States.

Speaking of returning to the States, in my last missive, I believe I mentioned my possibly irrational fear of bringing home bugs in our clothing. I had yet another dream last night about bedbugs. So, Uncle Jody and Aunt Judy, I’ll need a favor. Can we please have two big garbage bags to put our luggage into before we put them in our car trunk? They’ll have to sit in there for several hours and I don’t want any unwanted hitchhikers making their way into our car. You all have to know that if we ever got infested, you can be dead sure I’d turn into one of those crazy people who burns all their stuff and runs around in sweatpants and a t-shirt, obsessing about every little itch and the newest fumigation techniques. It would not be pretty.

Oh! So the other day, we were walking around and Peter accused me of looking like a freakin’ tourist! I was wearing a grey sweater, a pink t-shirt, jeans and my Mexican sandals. I had the purple purse I purchased at Otavalo and I had my hair pulled back. He never really looks like a tourist when we travel, mostly because his wardrobe is so neutral, but he still looks kind of shiny compared to most folks here. Obviously though, he looks less like a tourist here than I do because HE’S CUBAN!! {sigh} Really, nobody who’s from here looks like me. I could wear the exact same clothes they wear, not that I would because there’s way too much polyester in most of it, and I would still look different because I’m an AMERICAN MUTT. I had to point out to him that at least people didn’t immediately assume that I was an American until I opened my mouth. If they’re just looking at me, I suspect (or I hope) they think I’m Italian or Argentinean. That’s the best I can do.

I really don’t want to be mistaken for an American tourist. The American tourists here stand out like sore thumbs. They’re usually wearing lighter colors than most folks, they’re usually wearing something that’s khaki, they’re usually in white tennis shoes or ugly sandals, they’re usually fatter and/or taller, they’re usually exposing more skin than most folks around them, and the older ones are usually wearing goofy hats. They’re all also usually pretty loud. Their voices are so different. Their tone is sharper. English is sharper. And the cameras are always out, maybe even worn around their neck. NOTHING says “tourist” like a camera worn around the neck. Hell, if I were a mugger, targets would be easy to pick.

This may be my last update until we get to Peru. (Ha! Peru! I’ve always wanted to go there! That’s were the most UFOs are!) We were going to leave on Wednesday, but now we’re leaving on Tuesday. This morning, I woke up with the word “sucio” in my head, which means dirty. I don’t think Peter can even stand this mattress for another night. He’s starting to grouse a bit. We’ll head straight for Baños where we’ll indulge ourselves in a good hotel and partake of the local hot baths (which are naturally heated by an active volcano) and full-body massages. Peter has never had a full-body massage in his entire life! How is that even possible!? He’s tells me that, for a whole two days, this will be the vacation he’s been promising me for five years. (Traveling with Peter is never a vacation. It’s always TRAVEL, which is, you know, like work.) We have to be in Cusco for the 11th or 12th because Patrick arrives early on the morning of the 13th. We want to have everything lined up for him because that guy is going to be tired tired tired when he arrives and he doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish outside of gracias and por favor, and I’m not entirely sure of the por favor and I’m not sure he’ll bother with the gracias.

It seems Lagniappe is having a good time without us back in St. Louis. She’s hogging the bed, she’s been taken several times to the crazy huge Forest Park where she chases ducks and playfully freaks out in tall grass, she’s been to a Shakespeare festival and apparently, she’s going to be spending a week with a couple of other dogs while her sitter, “Uncle Mike,” is out of town. All in all, I think she’s being spoiled even worse than we spoil her. I just hope she wants to come home with us after such a fun summer with “Uncle Mike.” She’s going to look at teeny-weeny Shaw Park near our house and demand we take her to the REAL park.

And here’s the saddest statement I can make: I have now heard the new Ricky Martin song so many times on this horrible radio station that I now like it. It’s about being out* in New York. Oh brother.

*Not the gay out, but the out out… it’s Ricky Martin so I feel the need to clarify.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *