Sunday, November 17, 2013

First Impressions

Whirlwind, amazing, emotional, stressful, tiring and rewarding to choose a few; the reality is I am at a loss for better or more accurate words to describe journey.

Besides the internet being a big challenge, another challenge is using my iPad.  I chose my iPad over the laptop for the weight factor — big mistake, yet at the same time it was the best choice.  I swear when I get home I will sell my iPad and purchase a MacBook Air!

Upon arriving at Vancouver airport on October 29, I was scooped up by my friend Cecilia and her husband.  I accompanied them while they blew around Vancouver running errands.  By the time we arrived at their friends house, where we were staying the night, I was tired.  We went to bed at midnight only to arise at 2:00 A.M. to be at Vancouver Airport by 3:00 A.M. This is where I met the majority of the TWECS Ecuador team.  We were to meet the others, Amy, Annu and Carl in Quito.

We did the last minute organizing and labeling of boxes as well as ensured our own
personal luggage met baggage requirements.  I was sweating bullets as both my carry-on backpacks (one for camera gear and one for personal items), I was convinced, were over-weight.  Whew (wiping sweat from brow), they were not.  

In the process of handling my luggage, I had set my camera on the luggage cart.  It happened!  My camera fell to the ground landing perfectly on the lens cover.  I had not yet attached the lens hood :(  .  When I looked at it and took a couple of test photos, all appeared to be good.  Not so!  It was when we were sitting in Houston airport that someone noticed that I had a crack in my clear lens cover.  Not good!  

At the discovery of my neglect to take care of my equipment better I withdrew and fell silent.  I had not even reached Ecuador and what will I do without my most versatile lens.  I pondered many options but made no decisions.

The big challenge between leaving Vancouver and arriving in Ecuador was clearing customs with the equipment and eye glasses (see A Note From Marina on the TWECS blog).  Needless to say, we made it.  We arrived in Quito near midnight, boarded an awaiting bus, and drove to the Hosteria Santa Fe.  Marina, at this point, announced we were leaving at 6:00 A.M. By the time I got to bed it was 2:00 A.M. and the alarm was set for 5:00 A.M - a whole three hours of resting or sleeping. 

Brenda, from Prince George was my roomie.  She arose first to shower, I lazed in bed as there was just one bathroom.  I could hear her having a nice, long, and well-deserved shower.  I noted to myself that there was exceptional water pressure.  When Brenda emerged, she was astounded at the water on the floor.  I stepped out of bed into water.  Our room was totally flooded!  We discovered two things: do not turn the water pressure up and the drains in the floor were not taking the water away fast enough to avoid the flooding.  We did what we could with intermittent laughter and chuckles.  After my shower I rolled up the floor mats and placed them in the shower in a position so they could drip and drain the water.  We mopped up as best we could with what towels we had.  Brenda had to stand on the toilet to blow dry here hair.  It was 5:30 A.M. and we were wide awake.

Our destination is Santo Domingo. We boarded the bus with no breakfast in our bellies but
assured that we would be stopping in a few hours.  When we  arrived in Quito it was dark.  Now it was light and we got our first look at the Ecuadorian landscape.  It took me awhile to realize I was in South America and not Mexico.

The drivers are loco!  They tailgate! Our driver is Angel and he will be with us throughout the project.  I was sitting in the front seat judging his driving for the first couple of hours.  He is not so loco.  I considered him to be an attentive driver and felt safe.  I may think they are loco but it is what they are used to.  There is no regard for double-solid yellow lines, there is no regard for passing near a corner.  Sometimes cars cannot duck into their lane safely so we end up being three vehicles abreast on a two lane highway!  I have noticed that drivers honk a lot.  It is a distinctively polite honk to say here I am, be careful.  

Dogs, dogs, dogs everywhere.  They seem to have road sense and drivers appear to be used to them.  It is difficult to tell the stray dogs from the dogs that have owners. They also appear to be scavenging for food.  I have not seen one dong in a leash.  Cows and horses are tethered, to something unseeable on the side of the road. The funny thing is that the tether is long enough for the animals to be on the road.   

The main roads are well paved but not so wide.  To find a straight stretch more than half a kilometer is near impossible; I have been on more switch-backs and hairpin turns in one morning than I have in my life thus far.  We climbed up and up and up.

It was not uncommon to pass food vendors cooking food on make-shift grills at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.  I have learned that many people, especially truckers, stop here for a rest or lunch.  I am not sure I would eat at any of these stops.  We stopped at a large (in comparison to most) eatery recommended by our driver.  It is their business to take us gringos to safe and healthy eating establishments.  

I cannot tell a lie — everything looks grubby.  Having said that, streets are dirty, yards are dirt, walking paths are dirt, parking lots are dirt and so on and so on.  I see people sweeping and cleaning but it does little for the overall cleanliness of the area.

Many houses were meant to be two stories.  Rebar extends to the second or third story, just in case the owner can some day afford to build the next level. Often the rebar becomes an anchor to tie line which becomes the clothes line for drying the washing.  

I was told that the numerous abandoned houses were due to the economic downturn in the 90's and the people have never come back to finish them.  Very few have 'for sale' signs.  

We pass through towns and hamlets, each causing me to wonder how the people survive and have the will to carry on in such conditions.  My next thought is that most know no other way of life.  This is normal for them and depressing for me. When I walk on the streets I see people smile and hear much laughter.  I remember one of the reason I am here — to change a life, one community at a time. 

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