Monday, October 31, 2011

Tales Of Our City

Courtesy of Meg at Poem Sweet Poem

Four years ago this week I moved to San Francisco. I remember the excitement, zest and newness I felt.  Arriving 4 days before Halloween, I remember  thinking...'Wow, people in this city are really into Halloween! They're already in costume.' Which was fine by me because, let's be honest, my love of costumes is undeniable. It was two weeks after Halloween that I realized that people weren't in costume at all. They were just lovin' life, livin' in San Francisco. Being who they wanted to be.

I would not trade this adventure in South America for the world, but damn, the City by the Bay is pulling at my heartstrings from 3829 miles away.  How have we been so lucky to live there these past few years? When we walked into The English Bookstore here in Quito I, like a moth to a flame, found Armistead Maupin's Tales Of The City. It took me all of three days to read it cover to cover. Tales was the perfect fix. It is a fun, flirty, daring love letter to our City.

Ah, the never ending possibilities of San Francisco.  My dear friend Meg writes the beautiful blog Poem, Sweet Poem and I've been savoring her adventures around town like this and this. As we play cards in Quito we have continuously (and unconsciously) selected the likes of Otis Redding and the Grateful Dead to listen to. Trav and I have both had our small connections to SF this week. Tomorrow starts the Rip Curl Pro, a huge international surf contest right at our beach. We sure hope the world's best surfers enjoy our 10-15 foot waves in 50-something degree water. I can't imagine a prettier back drop. 

A lot of people have asked us if we're going back to SF when our trip is over... truth is, we don't know. But what I do know is that I hella love San Francisco, and it's a epic home to daydream about. 

Today we celebrated Halloween by buying some baked treats and getting good and sugared up.  

Trick or treat

Sunday, October 30, 2011

For Once, We're Tall

Outside our hostal door looking at Volcan Pichincha

We made our first day trip outside of Quito on Saturday to the small town of Otavalo. Our journey started with a 2 hour bus ride from Quito, heading north. This was also our first bus ride of any distance. Luckily for us, the bus driver played all of the hits from the 70s, 80s, and 90s (in Spanish of course) on the radio. We were jamming the whole way. As we left the city, the landscape changed quickly. Houses stacked on top of houses quickly gave way to rolling green hills and very small villages with roaming pigs, cows, chickens, and dogs. It is so amazing to be in a place where you are never out of sight of at least one volcano. On this trip to Otavalo we saw Volcan Imbabura, Volcan Cayambe, and Volcan Cotacachi. They have such a looming presence over the small green villages. It is an incredible sight.

Volcan Cayambe (looming in the clouds) 

Volcan Imbabura

Once in Otavalo, we made our way from the crazy bus station to the even crazier Saturday market where local,  indigenous Otavalos (very short folks) sell beautiful hand woven goods. The main plaza in Otavalo, Plaza de Ponchos, is filled with brightly colored scarves, belts, hammocks, sweaters, and tapestries. There are so many things to look at it is dizzying. After an hour or so of aimless wandering, we decided to sit for lunch and let our minds settle. We went back for round two after lunch and settled on a belt for Mags and hooded sweater for myself. The sweater is awesome, but the elderly Otavalo who made it felt like a kindred spirit. He had the biggest, happiest smile I'd seen in quite a while. I did my best to chat with him in Spanish, but he only spoke Chechua (the language spoken by most indigenous populations in the Andes). We settled for a handshake (he shook Mag's hand too) and a big, shared smile.

Plaza de Ponchos, Otavalo

We ran into two of our friends from Spanish school at the market and decided to meet up with them at a nearby waterfall, Peguche. A five minute taxi ride dropped us in a green space that felt miles from the hectic market at the Plaza. A short hike down a cobblestone path led us into a lush forest surrounding the falls (complete with a suspension bridge). We hung at the falls with our friends Inga and Nikki, from Holland and Belgium, and soaked in as much fresh air as we could. It felt so great to be in nature, even if for a short time.

Peguche Falls 

Suspense before suspension

We made our way back to the city, both exhausted from the long days travel and excited about the adventures ahead.

All smiles in Otavalo

GIN-A-THON: Ecuador
Current Standings: Travis 1090. Maggie 1445. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Study Buddies

First day of school

Yesterday we started Spanish classes at Yanapuma Spanish School.  It is an intensive, 2 on 1 lesson that is 4 hours everyday.  Even after two classes, we are certain that we are going to greatly benefit from school.  Paulo, our teacher, is a really nice guy but made it clear the first day that he's not really going to slow down for us.  People in Ecuador speak fast, so we better get on board, basically.  We met a  handful of other nice students (from Germany, Holland, and the Netherlands) and tonight we're taking a salsa class.

We've had homework both days and cram to try to keep up in class. We bought this little guaguas de pana loaf of bread shaped and decorated to look like a baby, to help us study. They start selling these bread babies a few weeks before Finados. Finados is a holiday celebrated November 2 when family members take their guaguas de pan and other treats to the graveyard to celebrate their deceased loved ones.

Study buddy

It's really fun to be a studnet again, even if for two weeks.  It's even more fun to be classmates with Trav, though we don't have time to goof off or pass love notes.

Coffee break at school, on the patio

And since you're dying to know:

GIN-A-THON: Ecuador
Current Standings: Travis 418.  Maggie 670

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Out Of The New, Into The Old (Town)

We had a pretty wonderful day walking around Quito.  We walked (about 3 miles) to 'Old Town' which is very different from where we are in 'New Town'. The cobblestone streets are narrow and busy.  There are beautiful, historic churches and plazas (think 1530's) every few blocks. We had lunch at Plaza San Francisco (go figure). But there were no hipsters or hippies here.  The square was mostly tourists, kids offering to shine our running shoes and older Ecuadorian ladies in Fedoras and knee socks.

Plaza San Francisco

Locro de Papas: Potato soup with roasted corn, avocado and cheese. 

We then hopped into a taxi to head up the Panecillo (a hill of volcanic origin at the South end of the city) that is the home of the Virgen de Quito. The statue of the Virgin is stunning. It's giant and the Madonna herself is standing on the globe with wings, a crown of stars and a leash holding a snake/dragon. Way awesome. Get it girl.

When we hopped into a taxi to go back down, the driver tried to charge us $4 (the way up was $1.29). So I did my best and said "Muy caro!' which seemed to work as he rolled his eyes and asked for $3. Momma didn't raise no fool!

After walking back to our hostel, we ventured to Sports Planet to drink una cervesa and watch a few innings of the World Series. It's pretty surreal/hilarious to sit in a sports bar, in Ecuador, and watch the epitome of American sporting events.  We were the only people who cared, besides one mildly interested dude from New Mexico. 

Watching a few innings of the World Series was fun and all, but the match you should all be watching, joining fantasy leagues and betting on is the Gin-A-Thon: Ecuador! I really wish I had a flashy graphic. So, Travis and I have started a Gin tournament that will extend the length of our stay in this country.  We will then, presumably, start a Peru tournament.  

Current Standings: Travis 365. Maggie 524

Friday, October 21, 2011

¿Tengo la sopa en mi barba?

Moving into our new home (room) at Otavalo Huasi II in Quito, Ecuador

Estamos aqui! We're here in Quito, Ecuador!!! We arrived late last night (Thursday) and quickly made our way through customs and into la Mariscal (Quito's "gringolandia"). We were greeted by our new friend, Ruben, one of the family members who runs Otavalo Huasi I and Otavalo Hausi II.  Without realizing, we were dropped at the wrong location and checked into Otavalo Huasi I though our reservation was at Huasi II. It was a long, sleepless night at Huasi I (right smack in the middle of "discotecalandia"). We worked it out after breakfast and are now happily settled into Huasi II, which is in a much quieter part of the city. The family who runs these two hostels could not be more friendly or beautiful people. Our 8' x 11' room feels cozy already. We are so lucky. 

Today was mostly spent orienting ourselves within Quito and fumbling over our Spanish words and phrases, but hey, we're out there doing it with smiles on our faces, right? Maggie is certainly more adept in the Spanish language, so she's carrying the majority of our conversations with others (what else is new?).  Seriously though, her Spanish skills got us through the day rather smoothly. 

We haven't taken many photos yet (it was raining most of the day), but hopefully we'll post some in the coming days. We're off to explore old town Quito tomorrow and couldn't be more excited. It is supposed to be amazing. Buenos noches, amigos. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

3, 2, 1...Blastoff

This is it folks. Today is the day.

After all of our planning, organizing, shuffling and stress, it's here. The trip that we've been talking about since we first started dating. The adventure that for a long time felt like only an idea. It's freaking here. The feelings you feel on a day like today are impossible to explain.  We're leaving for the airport in an hour with our two backpacks and two carry-ons.  For four months. Just us two.

We'll be arriving in Quito tonight and will be there for a few weeks in language school.  We don't know what to expect in terms of internet and connectivity, but check back when you can, leave us messages, and look forward to stories. And lots of 'em. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Life At The Moment

We've been in Houston since Thursday running errands, making phone calls, hanging with family and friends, and running more errands.  We've closed bank accounts, canceled a cell phone number, and reorganized our stuff (again) for storage.  It's been very logistically heavy and it's going by pretty dang quick. It's kinda hilarious to explain to the sweet woman at Verizon that we don't really have an address, that we don't need two cell phones and that we want to suspend the one we do keep.  We've made piles of gear and clothing, evaluated them, split them in half, reevaluated and split them again. Here's just some of the madness:

South America piles, pre splitting

Other bits and pieces, back in to boxes

PCT gear awaiting its Spring adventure

We fly to Quito Thursday evening. We're nervous and really excited. I wouldn't say we're unprepared, but I also wouldn't say we're 100% ready.  If we're at all behind in our preparations, I blame this face:

This is Abbey. She is my parent's bulldog.  She's quite possibly the most hilarious animal on the planet and a pretty fun distraction. 

Anywho, it's the final countdown folks. Got any advice for these two travelers? Any gear/clothing you can't travel without? 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Group Grolle

ELATION, noun: feeling or state of great joy or pride; exultant gladness; high spirits.

If I had to define Matt and Jamie's October 1 wedding in one word, that would be it. Elation. Pure, uninhibited, Party Rocking elation.

I am so honored that I got to be a part of this day. It is such a thrill to watch one of your best friends in the world marry her perfect partner.  These two are quite a pair. They are hilarious and fun, smart, kind and thoughtful. They love their friends, families, kitties and each other with huge hearts.  Their wedding weekend was steeped in, that's right, elation. High spirits. Joy. Gladness. From the mashed potato bar to the Robot Head.  From touching speeches to interpretative dances, beautiful details and genius people. It was a grand slam.


Vest Friends


And such attractive friends!

LOVE.  This photo made me cry while posting. Twice.

Very happy bridesmaid and usher. We love y'all!

As you can see, no one had any fun. 

Matt and Jamie Grolle, we are so happy for you. Over the moon even.  Can you marry each other again sometime so we can have that much fun again? XO

All photos by the incredibly talented Ken Kienow.

Heart Worn Highway

There is something so exhilarating about a road trip. Sure, your butt goes to sleep after 4 hours and your hair always looks greasy (why is that?). Regardless, a road trip is just so freeing. So classic. So idyllic.  And our road trip from LA to Houston was no exception. The scenery was stunning.  Vast and wild.  The company was pretty stellar as well.  This 1820 mile journey took us through Vegas, Santa Fe and Denton.

Just three days after returning from their Cabo honeymoon, the Grolle's opened their doors as our first stop.  When we pulled up, we could smell Jamie's pesto spinach lasagna from the street.  We drank wine, chatted, laughed, looked at pictures and gushed about their epic wedding.  When Matt got home at 6:30am we had waffles, coffee, and more laughs.  Everyone should be lucky enough to have a pair of friends like Jamie and Matt. Needless to say, we were sad to leave Warm Walnut street.

Wonderful hosts, Olive and Biscuit 

Warm Walns!

The trip from Vegas to Santa Fe was long and pulling into Laurie and Jot's driveway we knew we were in for a peaceful and cozy visit.  Which was just what we needed.  Laurie is Rachel's mom (yes, this Rachel) and has extended warmth and care to me since I was 14. Trav, Laurie, Jot and I sat for a while and chatted about travels of all kinds. Their generosity was amazing.  We had an incredible night sleep at the Eldorado Hotel.

Spending time with Camille and John is always a adventure.  An adventure in art, music and yes, potato cannons. I have idolized my cousin Cami since I was about 4. She's pretty much the coolest. And she's found a perfect partner in John.  These two are always inspired, creative and livin' life. It was only fitting that after a tacos, baseball and some beers, John fired up the potato cannon.  The sky was cool and cloudy and the spuds soared through the air.  The next day we toured around Denton, a funky little town with good people, food, art and music.  We are definitely looking forward to the next time we get to hang with the Greens. And to shooting the cannon again.


Spuds away!

Loading the cannon

Cute family portrait (don't mind that giant Yucca)

In this long post, some key thoughts:
It has not escaped us just how incredibly lucky we are to have the people in our lives that we do.  We are so full of gratitude. For the last 6 weeks, we have slept in 14 different homes.  Our friends and family have taken us in, shown us kindness and support. They've fed us, entertained us, lent us cars and baked us treats. Now that we are in Houston for a spell and have the time to reflect on this fact, we are overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with love and good vibes. With generosity, humor and closeness. Thanks y'all. We promise we will pay it forward. When we have a house, you're all welcome to stay anytime.