06 April 2015

Umstead 50 (!!!!!!!!!!!!) Race Report

good friends on a nice run in the park

Umstead was to be my comeback race.

Comeback from injury.

Comeback from grief.

I didn't run exceptionally well - but I finished. My morton's neuroma was not really bothering me, except when I felt a few flashes of numbness towards the end, and I simply took some walk breaks. My stomach was off. (Port-a-potty queen!) I ran my slowest Umstead first-50 mile split ever, but WHO CARES? My morton's neuroma was okay!

A few days before the race, Tony and Ray began trying to egg me on to do the 100. I crazily pondered it, but did not. A few reasons:
  1. I hadn't trained for a 100 miler. How much would it suck to run and recover if I hadn't trained? Bleh.
  2. It was going down to 26 degrees F at night. Ummmmmmm, no.
  3. I wanted to spend time with my sister and her family without being out-of-my-mind exhausted. 
  4. I was afraid that I could hurt myself. I was really nervous that 50 miles might be doable, but 100 could destroy me. I knew this could be the case, so I stopped at 50.

I began the race in good spirits - I had so many friends that I was chaotically running around like a maniac while saying hi while trying to find moleskin while arranging my stuff while catching up...

Umstead is a 12.5 mile loop course - rolling hills on carriage trails. The hills seem easy the first loop or two, and then, by the end, you are cursing the park. Unfortunately, the temperatures were the coldest I have ever experienced there, and this definitely impacted the runners. The aid stations are well-stocked and the volunteers super friendly.

And then we were off! I began running with Tony and immediately knew I was out of my league. I have only been running slow and short since, ohhhhhh December. And slow like, 10-12 min mile slow. Ha.

But I stuck with him. We had fun, chatting, gossiping, catching up.

On the 3rd lap, I began to feel dizzy and just crap. I told Tony to go ahead; I needed to walk. We were pretty close for a while, but I took my time, stopping to pee, and then, my stomach began to fall apart (I really need to figure this out). I spent some quality time in the port-a-potties over the next two laps.

My sister came around mile 44, and that was nice. I ate some animal crackers and chatted with her.
just behind tony through the chute

As I got closer to the finish, I could ALMOST feel the weirdness w my neuromas...and began walking more. No pain, but that *feeling* that's hard to describe. Walking was fine. I wasn't in a rush.

I finished. 9:38:38. My slowest Umstead, but my neuromas were okay. That was all that mattered! This was huge!

I hung out with some friends, drinking amazing hot cocoa that Brandi made for Bruce and I, and then began to cough. My asthma was not happy. I hopped in my car, and began the perilous drive on the course. I luckily hit no runners, and got to cheer on the friends I had wanted to stay to see in at 50 miles.

Then I got to my sister's, played with her kids, and spent the rest of the time eating, chilling, and snuggling. It was a different Umstead, and a fun one.

Grandma Blur

The past two months have been a blur. I have been better at keeping my head above water, and the grief is no longer as painful as it was.
after running the grandma 50k. grandma is wearing her beloved cahsmere sweater with a silk blouse underneath.

When my grandma was ill, I felt sick with worry. I called and texted my mom, who was with her in the hospital. No one realized it was as serious as it was; I think the one the most stunned was my father. He last saw her a month and a half before she died; he had dropped her off at the grocery store and she walked around and did her shopping by herself. Fast forward to the day she died - Dad arrived 20 minutes before she died, straight from the airport. She looked so terrible (She fell apart a lot in the last few weeks, and from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning was such a massive difference that I cried when I first saw her.) that my dad must have been in shock. I still don't know if he has processed it. 

Then grandma passed away. I spent my time crying. I rode the bike for hours. I listened to the same song on repeat for even more hours. I cried. I refused help from my friends, only finding solace with family. Poor Wayne had to deal with my mess. Nothing felt right. Nothing made sense. I hated everything. I felt horrendous.

I went back to work, and while my job is fairly good with giving us a week bereavement for a grandparent, I thought, "We should get a month." I was that much of a wreck after returning. Perhaps I could have asked for more time, but at the same time, it probably was good that I was "returning to normal." My coworkers understood my mind and I hid out, working at home in pajamas and crying.

Mexico was truly healing, and brought me back to a very different place. I talked a lot about my grandmother because she was so top of mind. I decided after Mexico, I'd run with her rosary beads in every single race - until Burning Man. And then I'll leave them in The Temple after the ultra, so they can become part of the universe, part of the playa, part of me forever.

I thought something was truly wrong with me; my sister and father and mother and cousins seemed fine. Instead, I was bawling on my runs and in the gym and during yoga class; I cried on the subway and in the shower. I sold my tickets to parties and concerts and thought about how my grandmother would never have my cookies again, and wondered what she looked like in the casket now, and it was so cold out and I hated that she was gone gone gone gone gone.

But everyone's different. I realize part of it is that I had the closest best relationship with her. My grandmother adored my father, but they had a very complicated relationship - and my grandma had a similar difficult relationship with my uncle. She was not appreciative of all that my mother and aunt did for her. My other siblings/cousins did not talk to her as much as I did. Family was everything; she pushed aside other things. 

I would visit her whenever I could. In summers, I'd bike to the beach and then bike up to her house. I'd run to her house in what I dubbed the "Grandma 50k" (because I ran the long 50k way there). I would call her once or twice a week. I'd send her little notes every week or so - and inexplicably, I found a few of these unopened in her house.

Her life was sad at the end - very alone, not much passion for things. It is a little scary.

I've had trouble keeping it together. I've been writing articles and running and going to work and doing my laundry and plucking my eyebrows and all that. But on the inside, I felt very shaky.

It's spring now. New things. Biking weather has begun, and I took my heavy blankets off the bed. My grandma always loved spring; I'd get her nice plants every year on Mother's Day. She loved them.

So even though she's gone, I must let my heart fill with joy again. I'm going to get a plant - the purple little flowers she liked - for my fire escape. I'm going to bake her strawberry shortcake for Wayne's birthday, maybe. I won't ever forget her, and even though my heart is still heavy, I have so much joy knowing how much she gave me.

05 March 2015

Why I Didn't Run the Ultra Caballo Blanco

I'm going to write a longer blog post about the UCB and traveling to the Copper Canyon for one of the most unique experiences ever......but this post is dedicated to why I didn't run it.

In the days preceding the race, drug cartel violence erupted. I have read multiple news articles in Spanish and in English, and all of them say slightly different things. Basically, we don't know exactly what happened, but some people were murdered. Some were kidnapped. People heard gunfire.

The race directors chose to cancel the race. It was for a variety of reasons: security issues (obviously), course changes, and this was a race of love and community and peace, and would it not be run like this if it occurred. There might be other reasons too, that I don't know about, but these were the main reasons.

I flew to run the race because it was to be a pilgrimage. I love to travel, and the idea of this race has intrigued me since I read Born to Run many years ago. To run with the legendary Raramuri....wow. The trails were gorgeous, and I love running in pretty places. I also was excited about this race as a come-back race from my injury. Most importantly, it was to be a race to honor my Grandma Ann, who died at the age of 93 what would be exactly three weeks before the race.

But it was not to be. Some people chose to run anyway: "I came down here to run with the Raramuri, and I'm going to!" I did not. Here's why.

  1. Safety. This was not "I might turn my ankle on this course" - it was, "I might die." I spent four days in Mexico City prior to come, some of my time which I spent talking with all my friends there about the drug cartels. (I also wrote a report about Mexico for work, and am quite familiar with the drug cartels and the horrific violence they exact on their opponents and innocent people.) My friends educated me about the government's link with the cartels, about the violence, about what has been going on. It scares the crap out of me. My friend Wendy explained that innocent people had been getting kidnapped (for ransom), express kidnapped, arrested, worse. I could potentially be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get in between cartel cross-fire, or, blonde gringa, could be seen as a nice person for a ransom kidnapping or express kidnapping. I want to live. No race is worth the cost of dying.
  2. Lack of power in numbers. Most people were leaving the canyon. Why would I stay here when most people were leaving? The course would be more isolated, less people would be leaving when I'd be leaving....no. Leaving was the right decision. While there were Raramuri and Mexicans who stayed and ran, the number was definitely smaller than it was supposed to be.
  3. Respect. I respect the RDs Maria and Josue. I am an RD myself, and it's always frustrating when someone is blatantly disrespectful. It's Burning Man for my race, so I try to be chill, but I do call out people who are cutting the course, dropping without telling volunteers, acting like a jerk. I want to show Maria and Josue the same respect given to me - and if that means following their directions and rules, yes, that is what I will do. And that is what any participant should do.

We still don't know the full story of what happened. We probably never will. I like to take risks and travel to foreign countries and go all over with my backpack and some books, but running a race where I was warned of safety issues is not something I'm willing to risk.

Further Reading:

08 February 2015

Goodbye, Grandma

My Grandma Ann died today. She was 93.

Grandma has always been a bit sickly, and also a bit of a hypochondriac. Sometimes it was difficult to see what was what, and to get the truth of the situation. She had a rocky relationship with her two sons, and wasn't always the kindest to my mother, but we got along well. I always sent her notes and letters and postcards, would bring her pastries whenever I stopped by, called her a few times a week. As she grew older, her hearing became more and more terrible, and we couldn't talk on the phone quite as much.

This story begins back in December, the story I'm about to share about the end of her life.
our last photo together

I invited my parents to come over to dinner - Wayne and I would make manicotti, garlic bread, veggies, some cranberry cake. We had some wine. I asked them to bring my grandparents. It could be stressful when my grandma came, because she struggled with my stairs, she complained it was such a long drive (30-60 minutes, depending upon traffic), and she drove my father crazy at times. She came. We had a nice time, and Grandma missed a lot of the conversation. She seemed to enjoy the food (She's Italian, so she appreciated the manicotti.) and seemed like she had a nice night. She really struggled going up the stairs, and I had a feeling it would be the last time she would be coming over. I noticed how she struggled when she got up to the furniture, grabbing onto pieces of furniture, using her walker. I said to Wayne, "She's gotten a lot worse."

I called my mother about our plans that Friday, and said I wanted to incorporate a visit to grandma's. She said okay. The morning of, while I was working at home, I received a text that she fell but seemed okay and that my mom was going to take her to the doctor. I was worried. When I arrived, my mom and my grandma were in the car at the train station. Grandma seemed very out of it and was not holding a conversation very well. She had a bandage.

We got to my grandma's house. I was shocked at the amount of blood EVERYWHERE. All of the living room floor, kitchen floor, paper towels in the sink covered with blood, in the bathroom. I couldn't believe it. My grandma's hands shook a lot, so I could see why there was such a huge mess. I was shaking and seeing how fragile my grandma was, I felt ill. She kept trying to get me to eat, and I couldn't. I felt like I was going to throw up.

I made my grandma a grilled cheese sandwich. I kind of burnt it, and grandma pronounced it delicious anyway. I had brought over some of my chocolate mint brownies, and she ate them, saying how good they were. Considering how picky she is, and how good of a baker she is, I was grateful for the compliment.

My mom cleaned up. I tried to cheer my grandma up.

After my mom and I left, I went back to my mom's house nearly in tears. My mom made me a grilled cheese sandwich, same as what I had made my grandma. I tried to explain that I couldn't eat there. All the blood....

My grandma spent that night at my mom's house. My parents spent Christmas with her (I was in the Galapagos.). I was worried about my grandma. I didn't call her because I had terrible internet connections all over Ecuador. When I got back, after hibernating for a day, I took a car2go and went out to visit my grandma. She was pleased I was visiting her, asked about the car. I brought her pastries from the best bakery, Fortunato Brothers. She loved the pastries. We ate the dough bows and creamy pastries with flaky crusts. She offered to get me tea; I told her I was okay. She told me she fell again that morning, even with her new part-time aide there. She was scared of falling. I gave her a magnet from Ecuador - she loved the magnets I brought her.

I left after two hours, because I paid for the car by the hour and I didn't want to get home too late. She was glad I came, and gave me money to take Wayne out to lunch (as she said) and kissed me and told me she loved me.

Two weeks later, she went into the hospital. She wasn't eating, and she felt weak and tired. It seemed like a bit of hypochrondria with how she was talking ("I must have tumors because I fell.") but my mom took her to the hospital. They tested her and my mom and I talked about how she wanted her to go to rehab before anything else. After a day in the hospital, my grandma began begging to go home, asked the nurse to call her a cab, asked my dad to take her home, called her friends to pick her up. She got mad and nasty at people.

I heard about it and wanted to go. "Don't. She'll yell at you. She's not right."

My mom left on Thursday, to go visit my sister. I decided I would go visit her on Friday. She was awful. I mean, I've never seen her looking quite so terribly. Her skin had some weird dark marks, and the skin in her face was puffy and saggy in a way it had never been. She was slurring her speech. She said she wanted to die. She said no one should have to live like that. She said that no one loved her, that no one cared about her, except me. I told her that wasn't true, that mommy just spent 5 days with her in the hospital. She said why was my father in Florida. She said that my father and his brother wanted her to die. I told her that wasn't true. I was crying. I kept telling her we all loved her, that I loved her. I told her a little about going to Panama, but she didn't seem interested. I tried to give her cake. She literally ate a crumb. She spit up the second crumb I tried to give her. I told her to eat it, that I baked it for her. She begged for ice water. I brought a Styrofoam cup (Who still uses Styrofoam cups?) of ice water with a straw to her lips and she drank greedily. "Why am I so thirsty?" She asked me to get the nurse and get a bedpan. The nurse and I chatted; she didn't give any horribly terrible news. My grandma kept saying, "They say you don't get out of her alive." I told her that wasn't true; she had been in St. Francis Hospital several times before. She said she wanted to go home. I said she needed to get better, go to rehab. She didn't care. "I just want to go home." I pointed out that she couldn't walk to go to the bathroom or get food, so she couldn't go on like this. She needed to get stronger first. I held her hand, kissed her cheek, told her I loved her. She asked when my daddy was coming. I showed her photos of the kitties, but she wasn't that interested. She seemed lethargic and unable to engage in a way I hadn't seen before.

Saturday my aunt, a nurse, visited her. She is my mom's sister, so not related to my grandma. She talked to the doctor. My grandma had elevated levels of one of her heart medications in her blood - that was making her lethargic. Once she was stabilized, she would be stronger. "On Monday, she'll go to a rehab center." The plan was for my mom to fly up on Monday and help her move, and my dad to come on Tuesday or Wednesday.

I was relieved. It was going to get better. She was suffering, but we could figure it out.

I went over to my friend Beth's. I was in a bit of a distracted mood, upset. We went to another party. I drank cocktails and was distracted and tried to have conversations with people, but pretty much failed. My sister called. I figured I'd call her when I left. When I got out of there, distracted and upset around 11, I texted my sister in the cab. She immediately wrote back, "Grandma is doing worse. She went to the cardiac care unit."

I called her and began bawling as soon as she began sharing information. Grandma's blood pressure suddenly dropped. The doctor was concerned because of her age; she might not be able to bounce back. My parents were flying back the following morning. That told me it was really bad. I called Wayne after I got off and asked if he'd take me to the hospital in the morning. My cabbie offered his condolences, and we chatted as I bawled. Nice guy. He told me about his grandmother giving me couscous and goat milk when he was younger. He said he still misses her and she died 20 years ago.

I called the hospital and they said I could come after 10 a.m. I figured I wouldn't set an alarm because I'd wake up on time. I put out a nice outfit - a cashmere sweater (Grandma loves cashmere.), a nice pleated skirts, cute tights, boots. We went to bed.

I woke up at 9a.m. Wow. Late for me. I went into the kitchen, and began making pancakes. Wayne and I ate and chatted.

As I was about to hop into the shower, my mom called. "The hospital called your uncle. They think it might only be a few hours."

I jumped into speedy mode. I took a 3 minute shower, threw on clothes, and dragged Wayne out the door. He was looking for his gloves, and I was like, "USE MINE WE NEED TO GO."

In the hospital, my parents weren't yet there. I saw the nurse and thought maybe she already died. Her room looked empty. The nurse said she was in there. She was so small I didn't notice the lumps on the blankets. She said to go in. She was honest. "We are treating this as aggressively as we can, but she's doing terrible. We're doing everything we can."  I asked if I could go in. "Yes. She's not responsive, but I believe she will hear you. You can talk to her."

I went in and I stopped. I began immediately crying. "She didn't look like this on Friday. Oh my god. Grandma..."

The nurse nodded. She knew what had happened.

I went in. With tears in my throat, with Wayne behind me, I touched her shoulder. Her eyes were closed. There was blood rimming her nose, around her lips. A tear was stuck to the side of her face. Her hair was flat and smaller. Her skin was darker; splotches. She seemed struggling. I held her shoulder. The nurse said, "Her hands are so cold," and gently put mittens around her hands. Tears streamed down. I talked about Wayne, about the cats, about my sister, about her babies, about anything and everything. I was desperately hoping she'd respond.

Someone came in to test the pacemaker. We chatted a little, but I tried to keep talking to Grandma. I cried a lot. My parents came in. I immediately ran into the arms, crying. I told them to talk to grandma, that she could hear, and I gave all the information that the nurse had given me. My dad went over. "Hi, ma, it's me. Kenny. I came from Florida to visit you."

As my father began stammering as tears poured out of his eyes, I could see something change in my grandma. Relaxing. She knew he was there. She was at peace. I tried to continue to talking to her, and the nurse and my mom talked. My mom came back in, and gestured wildly to my dad and I and my brother. The nurse had asked her if she wanted DNR, that it was the humane thing to do. I knew what my grandma wanted, but I let my dad answer. He agreed. But then the machines began beeping, and someone said, "She's coding." I didn't know what it meant, but I did. The doctor came running in. Somehow we were talking with him, and my uncle was put on speaker phone. My uncle said, "She hasn't been eating. She's anorexic, that's why she's here--" and my mom interrupted him, "Yeah, but right now. Right now." My dad and my uncle agreed.

We said goodbye. We told her we loved her. I thanked her. We said goodbye from the animals, and my sister and her kids and Brian, and told her we all loved her. I squeezed her shoulder, and then went into the hallway. 

We all hugged each other. We were crying. I called my sister and told her the sad news. I texted a few people. I cried. My knees grew weak. I cried. I cried. I cried.

The doctors and nurses were so nice and compassionate. 

My dad and brother and Wayne left; my mom and I would talk to the nurses. The nurse was like, "Do you want to see her?" I shook my head and cried. "Am I a bad person if I don't?" My mother said, "Of course not," and went in. Then she came out. "Cher, I think you should see her. She looks much better." 

I went in. She did. She looked at peace. I was glad I saw her like this. I wasn't aware of how much she was struggling and how she was in pain.

I'm glad she's not in pain, but I'm not glad she is gone. It hurts so bad. I miss her so terribly. She never did eat the cakes I brought her. I'm sad that she'll never try another dessert of mine, or give me a kiss, or listen to a story, or anything. She had a sharp decline. She lived alone, her entire life. I'm happy she has as good of a life as she could. I miss you, grandma.

quick stop in panama

a short weekend.
chaos cooking.

30 January 2015

Traveling Epiphany

As I stare out the window at the Panama City skyline, at a bird soaring high close to the tall buildings, I realize that I have quiet. Time to think. It's a bit sad, because there are so many things to think about, often painful things to think about. There are unresolved thoughts and ideas. Everything is happening at once. When you realize how many things are happening in the world at one - hammering a nail, someone crying, entering data into a spreadsheet mindlessly, people having sex, a woman having a baby, someone dying, someone breaking a bone, dinner being scorched, a snowstorm, lightning striking a person, a car crash, a nap, a fight, crying - it makes you realize that this world is about way more much than you.

21 January 2015

Mindo: Lovely, Lush Jungle

Mindo was the end. 

I ended up my trip in Mindo, and it ended up being one of my favorite places. I felt like I got a good chance to say goodbye to Ecuador, to traveling, to freedom in Mindo.

A cab driver drove like a maniac between bus terminals (Quito has approximately a million bus terminals and they're all pretty far from each other - but it was only a $5.80 cab ride despite being over an hour! Go Ecuador!) and we only narrowly made the bus. Randomly, my seatmate ended up being another backpacker. We ended up chatting, and then spent all of our time in Mindo together. We stayed at Cecila's, which is right on the river and gorgeous, if a little rustic. My private room was $10 a night and totally fine; Jason's was $8 because half of the wall was missing. Though it was closer access to nature and very pretty, I worried about large numbers of bugs entering. We both did have mosquito nets, though.

Jason and I ended up spending all our time together. It was a quiet town, the hostel was nice, but definitely wasn't a party house when we were there. We went to a chocolate tour and tasting, which was pretty awesome. Crystalized ginger in chocolate, HEAVEN. We visited hummingbird gardens and couldn't stop taking photos. We went to butterfly gardens, and Jason told me about the amazing butterfly gardens he volunteered at in Peru. I took approximately 600,000 photos, but I'm resisting posting them all here. We went to orchid gardens, and I translated the Spanish tour to English for Jason. We took this tiny metal box 55 meters above the floor of the forest, and hiked to see waterfalls. We played Jenga, Scrabble, cards. We ate terrible pizza, terrible grilled cheese, terrible salad, but it was okay. We were in a hot tropical gorgeous jungle that wasn't over-touristy. 

I was getting my goodbye. We ate chocolate lava cake and complained about the bad service, but really, we weren't in a rush, so it was fine. We laughed and talked about what was next.

10 January 2015

Advice from Wanda

I don't want to lose this amazing advice Wanda gave me:

Take time for you. Do things you love. Let yourself feel your feelings. Have fun. Go dancing. Drink good beverages. Make/eat good food. Don't feel bad for being sad & especially not for being happy or doing happy things. Love your kitties. They're perfect (and purrfect). When you need to, sink your head into them and let their purrs erase your troubles. 

08 January 2015

Baños: Baths, Hiking, and Of Course, the Waterfall!

Getting to Baños involved another fun day of bus rides - the 8 a.m. bus to Ambato, then standing around while buses left without us because they were packed. I met some other backpackers, and we walked to the bus station (a bit confusing to find the exact part) and then got seats on the hour-long ride to Baños. Hurrah.

After I checked into my hostel, I headed out to get some good food. I went to Casa Hood, because I needed some veggies. I hadn't eaten anything other than plain biscuits all day. The server flirted with me, and even gave me a free cookie. Wooohooo.

After eating, I walked around town. I hung out with some guys at my hostel, and we walked around more, but honestly, I was too beat. I was asleep before 930pm. This trip is about the early nights.....Ha!

The next day, I got up and ran, with some pain. UGH. Then I ate breakfast, and Anders and I headed out to the baths. He kept making fun of the water, and hte color, and I told him it was because of the minerals. (Lonely Planet told me so!) He kept saying it was dirty. He had the last laugh when I realized my white and gold bikini turned orangey and cold. Booo!

In the baths, I befriended two English girls and an English guy (one of those pretentious travelers that likes to name drop places), and we chatted in the pool until we were beyond prunes. We rinsed off, headed back to town, got a late lunch, and then we all relaxed and showered. We met up for dinner, watched fireworks, and then went to Leprechaun, the bar to go to - they have a firepit, gave us awesome free shots, and they have a super sweet kitty. Awwwww.....

After drinks, we headed to bed.....and I was wakened five hours later by some drunken backpackers screaming in the courtyard. Thanks, kiddos!

I got up, ran a bit, more pain in my foot, and then after the usual, I met Ronny and Benny, two Germans (Conversations in Mindo talk about Travel Germans vs. Classic Germans....they were kind of a mix.) and I went for a hike. It was a great hike around the city - you hike up to the Virgin Mary, then you go around and up to the volcano (which we couldn't see due to clouds), then we headed down. Pretty tough but awesome.

After, I showered and got dinner with Ronny and Benny, and Ronny and I watched Amelie at Casa Hood. Awwwww.....

We went to the waterfall to take photos, and then I ran into a really bizarre street parade. After, I headed back to the hostel to get my express massage (20 min, $10), and full facial (65 min, $30). It was incredible. I felt so relaxed.

I stopped by to get a lentil burger, wrote a bit in my journal, and then headed back to the hostel to get sleep before an early rise to Mindo!

05 January 2015

Not Loving Traveling

Going to Ecuador has not been my favorite trip. There are a bunch of reasons, and I’ve struggled to identify why as I feel sick with this all-encompassing emptiness.
                I think I’m mainly burned out from traveling and being away from home so much the past two years. Yes, there have been a lot of races, visits to family members. But time away from home means time away from sleeping in the arms of Stedman, cuddling with my kitties, cooking and baking and eating my awesome food, drinking wonderful tea (I’m obsessed!), having access to all my clothes, taking baths when I want, and just the ease of home life. I never missed it like I do now.
                It does and it doesn’t have to do with being away from my partner; I miss him, though I enjoy the space at times. But right now, I just want to be with him. And with my home. He is mainly listening to me and supporting me.
                Traveling involves a lot of negative things – like crummy food and long days and risk of bedbugs and risk of robbery and risk of getting sick and getting lost and everything.
                The food here is not my fave. I really miss eating at home. I’ve lowered my standards, but it’s sad how little I enjoy food here. I also am getting sick from something – I’m not sure what, because even when I cut out fruit, I still get sick. I’m only drinking bottled water. Literally every morning, I have a battle with my stomach. At least it’s only in the morning, and I’m not throwing up, but I’ve never been quite so miserable. Ugh.
                I find the countryside just gorgeous, but unfortunately, those pretty mountains make for long and uncomfortable bus rides. The bus rides have high risk of robbery, so you need to keep your valuables on your lap (not above your head, not between your legs) in case your bags get slashed. I’m not exaggerating.
                Many people are nice one-on-one, but I have found people to be overall rude. For instance, if you are walking down the street and someone is walking with a group, they won’t move over to let you pass. They’ll let you walk into the gutter instead. Or they’ll walk into you and refuse to apologize. Wow. Even in New York City, if you walked into someone and didn’t apologize, you’d get a yell, “What’s your problem?” or some cursing.
                I haven’t been in love with this trip. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been having fun, I haven’t been enjoying my freedom, that I haven’t been doing really amazing things. It just means I think I need to rest for a while and not travel. Just way too much….

Cuenca: Prettier Than Quito, Indeed

                I was pretty excited to go to Cuenca because I heard it was really pretty. And it was. It was prettier than Quito, hands down.
                It’s a very walkable city, with lots of churches, plazas, markets, and two rivers. You can run or stroll or bike along the river, but do note – the main river that you see in town ends up splitting into two rivers, and you can end up horribly lost like me. (My first run which I was aiming to do in an hour ended up being nearly two. Ooops.)
                I arrived on New Years’ Day and almost nothing was opened. I walked around to get my bearings, and took a few photos. Then I ate an okay-for-Ecuador burrito (It wasn’t terrible, but if it was New York, I wouldn’t have made any great pains to go to the same restaurant again.), caught up on email at my hostel, and went to sleep.
                The next day was my wander-around-town day. I visited Museo Banco, some art, anthropology, even ruins in the backyard. Some signs are in English, but I managed reading the Spanish ones when they were lacking. Woohooo! I found a nice French café, The Black Olive, and ate a nice quiche and salad, some of the best food I had in Ecuador. I heard a lot of loud nasal American English in this café. I cringed at obnoxious comments and rudeness towards the servers, and wrote in my journal. Then I walked more about the city, stopping at a few markets to stock up on V’s birthday gifts (ha!), and ran into an American girl I had seen the night before. I ended up chatting with her and working around with her and her German friend who were both backpacking for nearly a year, but after a while, decided their mission of shopping in stinky (Seriously – one smelled like a gasoline leak!) clothing shops selling secondhand American brands (Ray always told me that people buy all the clothes from Goodwill by the Pound and sell it down at stores in South America – he’s right.), so I headed to a market, bought some plantain chips and fresh coconut, and headed back to my hostel. I ended up chatting with an English girl, Chloe, and a German guy, Ronny, and we headed up to a mirador to take photos. It was really pretty, and we got some lovely photos of Cuenca. Chloe and I made plans to go to these ruins the following day, and as our hostel was boring and we were tired, I just caught up on some email.
                After I ran the next day, I came into seeing Chloe miserable. She had been throwing up all night long. She suspected improperly washed fruit. It could be so many things down here. Literally my stomach has been a wreck EVERY SINGLE DAY. Every morning I am experiencing misery. I can’t wait to go home and make the awesome tofu from Thug Kitchen. I dreaded going alone and almost chickened out, but was glad I didn’t. It’s a two hour bus ride to Ingapirca, the ruins, but a really gorgeous one – hilly, green meadows and hills and mountains and clouds dipping in. Really pretty. I read a bit, wrote a bit, and stared at the window.

                The bus leaves 8:45/9, and gets there a bit before 11 a.m.; it returns to Cuenca, leaving at 1:10 p.m. – which is actually the perfect amount of time. I took a Spanish-language tour, and actually understood the vast majority of what was said. YAY! Then I wandered around the property, taking photos of stones that looked like the Inca, tortugas, etc. There were a few small shops, nothing that unique. So much of the tourist stuff is the same.
                I sat next to a Brazilian guy on the bus and we conversed in Spanish. That was really nice.
                I took a cab from the station to near my hostel to see an art fair. The cabbie started his meter but not his car for a while; then when we arrived at my destination, he tried to charge me a higher price than was on the meter. This led to an argument, and him calling me “gringa puta.” Lovely.
                The art fair was not there, so I walked around instead. I got some cheese at the market for my bus ride snack in the morning the following day, ate at the Black Olive for dinner since I hadn’t eaten much other than cookies all day. Then I went back to the hostel, and hung around with some of the backpackers, chatting, playing Uno. We headed out for a drink and I met these awesome Canadian backpackers.
                In the final morning, after a run, I got on the 8 a.m. bus to Ambato. Seven hours on a bus, and then I have to get a bus to Banos, which is another hour. Ugh. I hate all this traveling on crummy buses. Oh well, the price you pay to travel…..

03 January 2015


Fun beach town? Of course I would love it. But really, there's only so much of Montanita that I could take!

About 3 hours on a bus from Guyaquil, this surf town is for partying. When I got off the bus, lost with my giant backpack, pants, and a sweater (I flew into Guyaquil from Quito!), I was so out of place. Everyone was friendly, coming up to me and asking me if I needed help. Why, yes, I do!

I got to my hostal (Hostal Kundalini, recommendation is that it's overpriced but the wifi and hot water were great), dumped off my bags, went into to town to drop off laundry, and ate a fruit salad. Ahhhh....Then I walked around a little bit, lots of people selling stuff on the streets - but then I headed straight to the beach because THAT IS WHAT YOU DO IN MONTANITA!!!!

It was great. I chilled and read some magazines, went in the water (It was warmer than the Galapagos!) and then went back to my room. I checked in officially, then went for a run. I found out about yoga, and ended up hitting that up after my run. I was never so smelly during yoga.

The class was great, in Casa del Sol, with the sounds of the ocean. Really lovely. After class, the Ecuadorian guy next to me chatted with me about yoga, and then on the beach, I befriended a girl named Tracie who I ended up chilling with a lot the rest of my time in Montanita.

I went back to my room and had the first awesome shower of my trip. Then I Google Hangout-ed (Hungout???) with Wayne, and it was nice to catch up. Finally, I was starving. I messaged Tracie, and asked her where she would be after dinner.

Then at the entrance of my hostal, as I was heading out, I hear someone say, "Brooklyn." I yelled, "Who's from Brooklyn? I'm from Brooklyn."

I ended up meeting a pretty big group of Americans from NY/NJ (though mostly NJ, very Jersey). They were social and loud and I decided I would be very into making new friends...so I went out with them.

Group dynamics...waiting for everyone, everyone's personality - I experienced that a lot over the next few days as I hung out with them. I realized I was so happy to be traveling alone to NOT deal with that, and I will never travel with a big group.

After dinner, Tracie messaged me but I got up at 3:30. I just wanted to sleep. So I did that. I went back, went to sleep. I got up early and went for a nice run on the perfect packed sand. It was bliss. And then I went to yoga, also bliss. So good to do yoga after a break.

The rest of the time in Montanita - beach. Massage on the beach. Run on the beach. Drinks. Juices. Giant fruit salads. Sunburn. Talk with Wayne. Teach Mom how to Google Hangout.

New Year's Eve is HUGE. Rooms sell out in June. Seriously. Fireworks start at dark. Drinks everywhere. All the surfers rush into the water just before midnight so they can catch the first wave of the New Year. There are bonfires everywhere, and after midnight, people toss effigies stuffed with firecrackers into it. AWESOMENESS!!

We danced, hugged strangers, listened to music, looked a the sky. Then we went to a club, which wasn't necessary, but Tracie and I danced until 4am. Because why not - you want to start off your new year dancing!!!

31 December 2014

Quito, Part II

We got into Quito pretty early, but had a full, awesome day.

After dumping off our stuff at Casa Helbling, a nice, German-owned hostel, we went to Quito's equivalent of City Streets. They shut the streets down, everyone bikes and runs, and some walkers, though not as many as New York. (In NYC, there are lots of freebies, so that attracts tons more people, esp walkers.) 

We rented a tandem bike, which was a little scary and wobbly to ride. We both found it harder to run, and I found the fact that I didn't know what was coming next or Wayne was doing (in terms of aiming the bike, gears, braking, etc.) a little scary.

It was really fun, and then we were hungry. Way too much is closed in the Masicral Sucre area, but we found a nice restaurant with a super-friendly server in the square, and ate a bunch. Ahhh. Then we headed back to the hotel to move our stuff into the room, and then browsed the guidebook. We realized a ton of things were closed on Sundays, but the botanical gardens were not. We love botanical gardens! Perfect!

We walked around, taking lots of photos. It was a really quiet gardens, full of lots of quality plants. (Venessa would've loved it!) It was really special.

Also neat - I discovered I could translate the signs in Spanish for Wayne. My Spanish is really improving.

We went back, stopped by the ATM (and later found out I incurred a $16 fee - thanks HSBC!), dropped the money off, and then chilled and read. Then we went out for burritos, and while it was no Calexico, it was still pretty good.

We read for a bit more and I fell asleep in Wayne's arms while he read. I was so sad to say goodbye, in tears as I helped him gather his items and leave. So horribly sad. And now I'm alone, and it doesn't feel as good.

29 December 2014

Otavalo: Markets, Animals, Getting Lost - and Realizing It's Not About the Destination, But About the Journey

The main reason you go to Otavalo is to go to the market. When I was trying to organize dates and destinations for my trip, I figured out that Wayne would only have a few days. He said he wanted to see the culture of Ecuador, and I figured, what better way than to go to an authentic market - the biggest in Ecuador?

Otavalo is a 2 hour bus journey (we paid $2) but our flight from the Galapagos didn't get in until nearly five, and we decided that instead of backtracking to the bus station in the city, and then waiting, and then taking a 2-3 hour bus ride, we'd bite the bullet and pay $60 to take a taxi. We didn't really want to take a bus after dark, as we have read warnings about doing so, so we figured for once, safety first. (At Burning Man, the motto is "Safety Third," but when I'm traveling, I really do put it first, even when it's more expensive or inconvenient.) 

We arrived at our hostel, En Rincon de la Posada, where we spent $30 total for a private room with private bathroom. It was comfortable, nothing fancy, and breakfast was included. It was also in a great location on a quiet street right in the center of town.

Wayne looked at everything and immediately thought, "What a dump." But he was totally wrong.

We rested a few minutes in our room, then headed out for a proper meal. Lonely Planet listed a bunch of vegetarian-friendly options, and we wandered a bit on the way there. People were taking down the remnants of the market, and Wayne spotted blankets. "We should get one for our bed." This sounded like an excellent idea, and we vowed to get one the next day. (Wayne was leaving a day and a half later, so we figured we could for once get bulky souvenirs.)

Dinner was really good, one of the better places we've been to in Ecuador. They had a few vegetarian options at Buenavista, and specials, and we hung out there, snacking, chatting, waiting. (Waiting is always a theme at Latin American restaurants, especially at the end. You'd think they'd want you out of there to get a new table in, but no, they always disappear when you want la cuenta, and even after you ask, you could wait 15+ minutes.) After dinner, we walked around a bit, and then went back to our hostel and crashed until the next morning.

In the morning, we headed over to the animal market. It was a bit crazy, a bit sad. Animals were shoved around, for sale, negotiated over. We walked around, but didn't buy anything.

We headed back to the hostel to shower and eat. Then we went to the regular crafts market that happens every day, but in the biggest way on Saturdays. It was Saturday.

We had a list of people to buy souvenirs for, and I even bought a few things for myself (pretty quartz rings - I wear nice rings every day back at home, and need something on my fingers to feel normal - so cheapish rings are great, esp when they don't turn my fingers green). We headed back after a few hours of negotiation, and purchases. We dropped them off, and tried to figure out what to do next.

We headed out to another vegetarian lunch at Oraibi, which was good but served way too much cheese for even yes. (Yes, there is such a thing.) Menachem would've been in hell with his hatred/love of cheese. Or heaven.

After, we headed out of town to do a hike to see the knowledge tree, condor park, and waterfalls. We were told we could do all three.

The hike was gorgeous. I took tons of photos - the scenery was stunning, and we were very much alone on these roads. We were so glad we didn't take a taxi. First stop was the knowledge tree, but somehow we missed it, and didn't realize until we arrived at the condor park. We questioned how we could have possibly missed it, but looked at the birds. A lot of them were in smallish spaces when they should have been soaring. It was a bit sad.

We got directions to the waterfall and the tree, and couldn't figure out the waterfall directions. Very confusing. We decided to go back to town via the knowledge tree, which we wouldn't miss now, not for sure.

We looked. We did that argue because we're lost thing. Then duh, we realized, this is just gorgeous and who cares that we are lost? I asked for directions again. And again. Finally, we got in a cab and had the cabbie drive us and actually point out the tree.

We never would've found it. Ever. It was tucked back on a dirt road off the main road, just by a parilla place. We took photos. We looked at it, and then we headed back on a pretty walk to town, with lots of photos.

We rested. we ate dinner at the same place we ate at the day before, but the food wasn't as good and the manager a bit rude to us. We read in bed, and fell asleep on the early side.

I was going to get up early and run, but I was worried about my foot. I decided to skip my run, and cuddled in bed with Wayne, so sad he was leaving that night.

We walked to the bus station, hopped on a bus heading back to Quito, paid $2 and got a badly dubbed in Spanish American movie blasting in our ears for two hours.