Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category

I left my heart in San Francisco
January 25, 2011

And by heart, I mean 60-degree weather, college sparring partner and the best shrimp dumplings I’ve ever eaten. Because apparently that’s all it takes to win my undying love and affection.

Dave and I jetted off to the West Coast last weekend for an extended MLK Day celebration in the Bay Area, and were greeted with sun, fun and the opportunity to make snarky, smart-alecky comments to our former college newspaper officemate, in person! (Ok, just me on that last one.)

It must be said, before we get into all the details, that January is the best time ever for East Coasters to travel. Everyone else is nursing a massive post-holiday hangover, attempting to recover from all that booze and mini hotdogs and forced family encounters, while simultaneously slowly starting to realize that we’re in for three more months of this whole winter thing, huh?, and you’re like, peace out bitches! I’m off to India!

Um, or NorCal. Because the international adventure was last year.

Not gonna lie – it was a little strange and confusing to board a domestic flight this year, after three straight destinations that involved me getting off the plane on another continent. I almost missed the whole “constantly bracing for a massive catastrophe” part of traveling alone, to a third-world country, in questionable weather, and I definitely missed the Keralan sunset and the Indian Ocean and the three types of bananas at breakfast.

Until we showed up at a multi-storied dim sum mecca – Chinatown’s answer to the Taj Mahal, perhaps – and saw the umpteen types of dumplings. I mean, I love me some tropical fruit, but fried shrimp balls and turnip cakes and unidentifiable yet still oh-so-delicious Chinese vegetables will still win every time. The food was divine, the atmosphere legit, and the company, a combination of both.

Our table was in a prime location, the carts constantly bombarding us with Asian delicacies, and we ended up racking up a bill of nearly $9 per person – which gets you a hell of a lot of food at dim sum. From there on out, I can solemnly testify that I never actually experienced that vaguely familiar sensation – hunger – during our stay in California.

If we’re being honest, the problem had actually started the day before, on our Jet Blue flight. Those snacks are seriously delicious! And they really do let you have as many bags of Terra chips as you want! Then it was off to a Castro seafood joint with the most perfect salmon ever, plus enough appetizers to leave me down for the count when faced with a shot of tequila. (Totally out of character.) Sunday brought a post-dim sum stroll through Chinatown (a giant bag of reject fortune cookies was a must after being led back to view the fortune cookie machine), to North Beach (where we resisted Italian, thank god) to the Marina (where we invested in a sourdough roll, ripping chunks off as we walked), to Ghirardelli Square (where I legit had to unbuckle my belt in order to accommodate a hot fudge sundae.) The horror.

But the belt-loosening maneuver seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, as did the box of See’s candies we had to sample in order to ensure the gifts we were bringing back East were suitable, and the whole roast chicken we had to order at Zuni Cafethat night, because lord knows I will never get around to making that recipe at home. And then, I felt the need need to finish a burrito the size of my arm at lunch on Monday, at a place where they call your number in Spanish (ochenta y dos! ochenta y tres!) It seemed the only way I could prove my love of Mexican food was stronger than my native New England handicap.

I would have stopped there, really, I would have, if the news of my parents’ golden retriever’s death didn’t subsequently echo from the Atlantic to the Pacific, right after lunch, leaving me with no choice but to partake in a cone of Bi-Rite banana ice-cream in his honor. As the dog who once ate several pounds of gravel for dessert, it’s what he would have wanted. No pain, no gain, right?

Actually, there was gain too – several pounds of it, when I finally took stock of the situation in Philly this week. But on Monday, that seemed so far away. There were still San Francisco streets to wander and ride, a game of football to be played by the Golden Gate Bridge, childhood TV landmarks to visit and take dorky photos in front of, and childhood photographs to visit and dorkily poke fun at.

The trip wasn’t epic in the same way that visiting an Indian hospital for stitches or biking past waterfalls was, but it was lovely and important for its normalcy and familiarity and comforts: the catching up with friends on their home turf, the seeing a city together for the first time, the wandering around a sunny suburb that’s not your own on a Tuesday when you don’t have to turn on your laptop. We were sad to leave and are currently contemplating our return. Whether it will be in June to take up permanent residence, I really can’t say (except when I’m talking to Dave’s mom; then I have to say no), but I know this for sure: it was a lovely way to start off 2011.

the backwards love story, part dos
September 20, 2010

*I’m working my way through this a little bit out of order, starting with the engagement story here and then backing up to our first meeting below. The last chapter, that of me freaking the fuck out this summer in anticipation of us declaring our whole let’s spend our lives together! intentions to the rest of the world, will round out this trio soon. But now, part II, also known as the official beginning…

Dave and I met for the first time, as in the first real time, as in the first time where neither of us was marooned on a bathroom floor or intending to hook up with the other’s roommate, in June of 2007, in a hostel on a prime street corner in downtown Barcelona, right by Las Ramblas.

I was wearing a gauzy yellow top, sitting on a stool by the computers, slightly hungover and dehydrated after an epic night at what was eventually deemed to be a gay club, and then an epic day exploring the Park Guell and La Sagrada Familia.

He was wearing a Penn shirt, which at first seemed to be a lucky coincidence, a perfect excuse to start a conversation, but then, like everything else, was ultimately exposed to simply be inevitable. (He had brought solely Penn t-shirts to wear during his five weeks of post-graduation travel. Go Quakers?)

Here I am, the day that we met, for real.

And here’s Dave, eating dessert at the restaurant we went to that night.

To explain to you how nervous I was, all I probably have to mention is that I didn’t order dessert after dinner. Yes, that nervous. Also, too nervous to insist or allow for a picture of us to be taken together. I have a shot of nearly every other moment of that entire trip, of my three and a half weeks spent crisscrossing Europe and sticking my toe in Asia, but I was too nervous to get one of me and Dave. I wanted to seem totally nonchalant that night,  didn’t want to act like it was a big deal that I had met this guy who I was totally falling for in an exotic Spanish city – even though under my breath all I could think was, howisthishappeningIamthecoolestpersonever! And my point-and-shoot simply didn’t fit in with the persona I wanted to project, the one who was trying to keep her shit together.

It was the only night I left my camera at home.

Not that I need it, of course.

I remember every detail of that night: the restaurant we went to, with the delicious tomato-rubbed bread; the hours we spent talking, about everything and nothing, in the common room until they kicked us out at 3 a.m.; the way he said “have a good rest of your trip” as the elevator doors closed to take him back down to his floor. “Have a good rest of your trip?” I repeated those words over and over to myself for the next week, alternatively pegging him as a callous asshole – “who says that! how impersonal!” – or as a sheepishly awkward science major, depending on which country I was in and what song had popped up as a backdrop on my ipod.

None of my friends can forget the encounter either, as I’m sure they’ll tell you. I wouldn’t stop babbling on and on about it: to Jon, as I nursed a sinus infection from my cousin’s house high up on the Italian hills overlooking the Mediterranean; to Amruta, in Istanbul, where I prattled on over mint tea and one too many tequila shots; and back home, where Bridget thought I was a lunatic for wanting to even show my face again to someone I had hooked up with in a bathroom. (The horror.)

I remember driving down to DC after I had landed stateside, riding shotgun alongside Nit with Meg flipping through maps in the back and turning to them and saying, I know this sounds crazy. I know I only spent a handful of hours with him. I know we’re not going to be living in the same place. I know it might not really happen for a while. I know all I have to go off of right now is a Facebook message from Paris and a promise to call. But I really think this is it. And them kind of nodding but also rolling their eyes and then going back to making fun of me for hooking up the weekend before with a 25-year old law student which – cringe – did seem dreadfully old at the time. And that was that.

Until, as these thing always go, it wasn’t. He called. We met in New York. He came down to see me in DC. And the rest is history.

Except, as these things always go for me, it wasn’t.

For someone who spends an inordinate percentage of her time devising detailed plans, I have a surprisingly tough time when those plans actually come to pass. Always being one step ahead of yourself – or two or four – can make the process of actually living your life nearly impossible. From almost our first date, I could see the whole future laid out before us, in a creepy crime show kind of way. We would date long distance for a year, and then he would move down to DC for a summer research gig, and then we would do long distance again, and then we would both move to Philadelphia for his rotations, and then we would get married and live happily ever after, just like my parents. (Double cringe.)

This internal monologue made things especially difficult for me at the beginning, when the facts of our relationship – we’ve known each other for a month! – didn’t quite match up to my feelings – I’m positive I’m going to marry this kid! Even my emotions themselves hadn’t quite caught up yet; I didn’t feel in love with him quite yet, but I was positive I would, and it was this relentless anticipating and waiting to catch up, waiting for other people (including him) to catch on to what I already knew (we’re going to be together forever!) that left me breathless and overwhelmed and slightly concerned about the very real possibility that I might be delusional.

Which, I understand, this ensuing engagement thing does not necessarily preclude. But at least now I’m delusional with a pretty ring on my left hand.

Thank you, Barcelona.

Ecuador: The recap, part 3
August 6, 2010

I know, I know. You totally don’t care anymore, can’t even remember where I went, barely recall who writes this thing in the first place. (That girl? With the blabbering? Didn’t she just go to India?)

But I’m here to correct you and insist you take a seat and listen to some final thoughts on my trip to Ecuador, that country in South America, where I journeyed ages ago. I can even refer you here and here and maybe even here if you need some background before we proceed. No worries, I’ll wait. After all, I made you wait, um, over a month, for this last piece. I’m terribly sorry about that.


But I think I’m ready now.

So. When we last left our reluctant, nature-phobic heroine, she was in Quito, soaking up all the cobblestone-lined streets, banana milkshakes and fog-rimmed views the mountain-enclosed capitol has to offer. And it was…well, it was okay.

To be honest, I was a little bit underwhelmed by Quito. Maybe it was because our tour guide had conveniently high-tailed it to Wisconsin or because our Spanish was embarrassingly bad, or maybe I was just unaccustomed to traveling without the constant sense of dread and anxiety that had accompanied so much of my India trip, but I just couldn’t get that excited about the city. It was new; it was different; it was fine – but I just didn’t feel like there was that much to see or do or, most importantly – let’s be real, eat there.

And then we went to Banos. And my trip was made.

Banos – pronounced Bon-yos, with a tilde that I can’t figure out how to add on wordpress –  is about a four-hour ride from Quito, up and down windy roads that cut away to deep ravines and rivers on one side, mountains stretching upward on the other. It was a multiple dramomine kind of trip. But once you get there…well, it’s worth it.

Very Jurrasic Park, no?

We stayed at a hostel that charged us $9.50 a night for a room with two sets of bunk beds, a shower with an ample supply of hot water and, unbeknownst to us at first, a massive spider that looked more like a furry mammal than an insect. Our confrontation with said spider resulted in me screaming so loudly that several people on our floor I was being raped, Ben sequestering himself in the computer room with the alibi that he was googling “tarantula and Ecuador,” and an employee eventually killing it with a shoe, while assuring us, “no es una tarantula.” I invite you to be the judge of that.

The hostel also had a rooftop lounge where we spent most of our time in the evenings, reading books (Eat, Pray, Love for me; something so complex and science-y I can’t even describe it here for Ben; Cavalier and Clay for Chels) and playing card games (well, playing card games for Ben and Chels, getting killed in said card games and then whining about it for me.)

The evenings were relaxing and easy, a perfect compliment to days full of, well, adventure.

My most favorite activity of all was a bike ride we took down a popular path in town, which leads you through a series of waterfalls, or cascadas. It was totally downhill, and I was wearing a horseback-riding helmet, which is to say it was as far from a legitimate physical activity as you can get. But I managed to get some sort of massive endorphin kick out of it nonetheless – probably further evidence of how activity-starved my gym-avoiding body is – and, cycling past the scenery with the sun burning my shoulders and my little helmet bobbing up and down on my head, I was really, truly ecstatic.

I remember repeatedly shouting “This is SO MUCH FUN!” over my shoulder as we wove our way down the hills. I remember making Chelsea take a picture of me in action. I remember stopping so much that at one point Benjamin got worried, but I just couldn’t let it all go by so fast.

By the time we reached our final destination, a massive, pulsing, shooting stream of water catapulting itself over rocks faster than anything I’ve ever seen, I was oh so happy.

We hiked down a path carved into the shrubbery until finally we reached a drawstring bridge with a sweet view of the waterfall. Still happy.

And then we paid a few more bucks to access several balconies that have been carved into the side of the canyon over the years, slippery, rock-covered platforms suspended over and in the rushing waters that, if you’re brave enough, will take you right there. In it.

Chelsea was the first to insist she was going, descending the wet stairs to look the thing in the eye and feel it all. Per usual, I volunteered to hold her camera. I’d be fine up here, I said. Like I mentioned, already totally happy. No need to go throwing myself into a waterfall for the full effect!

But she went and she didn’t die and she came back up soaking wet and laughing hysterically and insisting that we go back down, with the camera too, and was I coming or not?

So I went.

And I’m very glad I did.

Guess what? Still happy. As if you couldn’t tell by their smily faces.

And then they saw the other balcony.

The one where you had to slide on your stomach up a tunnel carved into the side of the hill, pushing yourself up against the smooth rock until you finally emerged…where? Somewhere, up there, in it.

This time, I volunteered to hold the backpack. Someone had to do it, I argued. Can’t get all our stuff stolen in South America! Can’t shimmy up a three-foot-diameter cylinder with that thing strapped on!

So I woosed out, momentarily, and they went up and scoped it out for me, and came back and said it was amazing, awesome, I had to go, and Benjamin would help me. So he did, and I did. And I’m glad for all of it.

We climbed back up the path, soaking now, but happier even still, to find that it had started to rain for real, up there, in the real world. We didn’t even care, pedaled through the gray and walked our bikes up to a bus stop, where a local bus eventually came by and picked up our dirty bikes and dirty bodies and ferried us back the way we came, up the mountains this time, to Banos.

Where we decided it was time for some food. Strangely enough, the town has a creepily high concentration of restaurants featuring international cuisine: Mexican places and red-and-white-checked-tablecloth-bedecked Italian eateries, Argentinian steakhouses and French bistros. We covered a decent amount of ground over our three days there, indulging in the “meat platter” at the Argentinian steakhouse – which was really a series of platters stacked high with sausages and filet and pork loins and other glorious, bleeding delicacies; tostadas and burritos at the Mexican place; and cheesy baked pasta dishes at the Italian restaurant, plus a pizza with a fried egg in the middle. We also had our share of gigantic, cheap breakfasts, complete with eggs and toast and hot chocolate and fresh-squeezed fruit juices, all for a couple bucks. South America, my cheap Jewish heart salutes you.

While we’re on the subject of food, I should probably tell you about the little obsession Chels and I developed in Banos.  We discovered galapaguitos, the objects of our affection, while on a lazy stroll through the grocery store in town, and instantly fell in love. Small vanilla cookies coated in chocolate and finished with a layer of crunchy, round, multicolored sprinkles, these things were delicious and adorable and hilarious. Let’s be honest: traditional Ecuadorian food they were not, as evidenced by the big Nestle logo stamped on the back, but I really couldn’t have cared less. Coincidentally, we made several repeat trips to the grocery store, where I had a habit of clutching the single-serve pouches to my chest.

And stocking up on an embarrassingly high number of bags. For gifts, of course. Galapaguitos: make a great souvenir from your Ecuadorian adventures! Especially when you’re too cheap to actually visit their namesake.

Lest you think our vacation was all food and fun, let me assure you I did my fair share of hiking.

And by that I mean I took a gondola-type thing to the top of a peak bordering Quito, walked a few hundred feet, decided I had altitude sickness, and went back to the lodge for a snack while Ben and Chelsea fended for themselves in a freak hail storm.

But that was back in Quito. In Banos, fueled by a waterfall high and freshly-squeezed blackberry juice, I actually made it to the top of a few walks that involved the vertical.

I laugh in the face of danger (peligro!), obviously.

Despite the time that I valiantly spent in sneakers, I should admit that the hot baths were really more my thing.

Banos is built on hot springs that pump naturally warm and mineral-rich water into several man-made pools, where you can soak and sun yourself and pat yourself on the back for that half-hour-long hike you did in the rain that morning.

It was relaxing and lovely while still being different and new and maybe even a little scary at first. Actually, I’d say the whole trip was kind of like that, when you stack everything up, side by side, activity after activity. And every time I do, I come to the same conclusion. Totally worth it.

July 26, 2010

Great news! I’m totally not dead.

I was thinking maybe we could focus on that instead of the fact that I totally ditched you for the past few weeks, still haven’t finished my final Ecuador recap and currently lack the focus to finish reading an issue of US Weekly, let alone the copy of Anna Karenina I started almost ten months ago.

Yes? Good.

So, like I was saying, totally still alive. And while the majority of the past few weeks has been completely and utterly lame, marked mostly by my inability to do anything constructive, this past weekend was actually kind of great. So I thought I would tell you about it. You know, just to try to get back in the swing of things, and assure you of my existence.

In my past life of being a diligent blogger capable of stringing sentences together on a regular basis, you may remember me mentioning the engagement of my adorable friend Katherine this past winter. Well, those Southern women don’t fuck around. Girlfriend got her ring in January and was well on her way to a July wedding by the time Valentine’s Day rolled around.

So down Dave and I drove, to Western North Carolina, starting with a short three-hour leg to DC on Thursday night.

I thought I was totally prepared. I arranged to crash with a friend in the district, plotted our course on Mapquest, purchased an ipod cord so we wouldn’t have to suffer through my annoying addiction to the ‘seek’ radio button for 12 hours straight, watched commercials for the new Say Yes To The Dress in Atlanta (internal monologue: “I’m spicy! And I’ve seen Steel Magnolias!”) and assured myself we would be just fine below the Mason Dixon line. I was totally ready to be southified.

But some things, my friends, cannot be prepared for. Like discovering that the “town” you thought you were staying in is, in actuality, a Methodist summer getaway. With roads like “Baptist Bible Drive.” And cultural attractions like the World Methodist Museum. Per usual, I cannot make this shit up.

My friend Lauren laughed at me when I finally figured this out. Like, didn’t I know Katherine’s dad was a minister? And that all of her friends from this town had parents who were ministers? Yes, yes I did, but it’s funny what you can block out until you’re sitting in a house on the shores of Lake Junaluska clutching a pillow embroidered with the words, “the lord is my shepherd.”

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a culture shock, the prayers before meals and the sleeping in houses according to gender and the being petrified that someone was going to figure out Dave and I slept not just under the same roof but in the same bed most nights.

And we had a few awkward encounters, like when Dave attempted to get changed for the rehearsal dinner at the girls’ house, because we didn’t want to bother Katherine’s mom for the key, only to have her run in the door, point at him, and promptly remove him to the boys’ quarters. (That woman has eyes all over Lake Junaluska, I’m telling you.)

Or when Dave had to try on bathing suits at the local KMart.

Or when I spent an hour with the flat iron only to find my efforts turned to big, barrel curls in the North Carolina heat. Clear proof the South hates Jewish hair.

But I’d also be remiss if I didn’t tell you what a fucking awesome time we had, being somewhere different and doing different things, together (minus the sleeping part.)

We spent Saturday floating down a creek in bright red inner tubes, alternatively holding hands and drifting our own separate ways, always finding out way back to each other again, and always smiling. Maybe it was just because I had weddings on the brain, but the whole time my head was swirling with metaphors of the happiest kind, and I couldn’t help but feel so lucky to be somewhere beautiful with my partner, my buddy, my other half.

Also, it was funny to watch him tie the tubes to the roof of our little Honda.

It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time, probably since that awe-inducing bike ride through Ecuador that I, um, still haven’t gotten around to telling you about. Whoops. Moving on.

More lovely things about the weekend: Everyone involved in the wedding was beyond warm and hospitable. Katherine’s mom arranged free housing for us, the family members we sat with at the rehearsal dinner were chatty and kind.

As an honorary bridesmaid, I really felt like a part of the celebration and the commitment they were making to each other.

The ceremony made me tear up. She looked stunning. I know they’re going to be so happy together. The band played Blink 182 to close out the night. They had Shock Top on tap at the reception. I danced until my feet hurt, and then I took off my heels and danced some more.

And, for all my bitching about how different it was down there and how culturally and religiously apart I felt, you should probably know that Katherine insisted on doing the horah. At her methodist wedding reception. With her minister of a father.

A fabulous and surprising weekend all around.

Ecuador: The recap, part 2
July 8, 2010

So, where were we?

The center of the world, I think, or, El Mitad Del Mundo, as the Ecuadorians say.

We trekked out on Sunday to the creepy South American tourist attraction that is Ecuador’s tribute to the equator. Except apparently, according to my Lonely Parent, it’s not even actually on the equator. Details, details – they still have a nifty line.

It even runs right down the center of the performance platform, where we watched some traditional Ecuadorian dances while chomping down on empanadas and banana batidos – milkshake-like concoctions worth every pound I gained during the trip.

Unsurprisingly, I was particularly struck by the deep-fried rice and beef stuffed empanada we ordered, and the dancers wearing the rainbow of big, swirling dresses.

We cabbed it out to El Mitad Del Mundo but decided to test our luck with the bus system for the ride back. And this was where South America started proving itself to be so much easier than India. Like, in India, I managed to get myself into trouble just by boarding my own personal car (which had a habit of rolling down hills sans driver and getting itself into accidents.) In Ecuador, we shrugged our shoulders, said what the hell, and hopped on a random bus – and it miraculously took us exactly where we wanted to go, despite the fact that my Spanish has apparently disintegrated to the point where I may actually be more fluent in Hindi. (Note: I don’t speak Hindi.)

It may have taken a while, the bus crawling up the narrow, steep streets of the cities seemingly on a route to nowhere, but suddenly, our destination of choice appeared: the statue of the winged virgin that keeps watch over Quito, high up the hillside. El Panacillo, they call her. She’s pretty creepy; but also, kind of awesome.

And she comes with a great view.

Next up: the fun stuff – our three-day trip to Banos, complete with waterfalls, actual physical activity and an evening of horror that ended with the assurance “no es una tarantula!” Stay tuned.

Ecuador: The recap, part 1
June 27, 2010

Well, that was fun.

Especially with a little bit of hindsight.

Let’s recap, shall we?

We arrived in Quito on a Saturday afternoon, fresh from a 6 a.m., one-layover flight from JFK, during which I insisted on taking the two sleeping pills left over from my non-stop India excursion. It seemed like a good idea at the time, considering I was pretty beat from our 2:45 a.m. wake-up but too wired to effectively make up for lost time on my own. Sadly, though, the de-boarding in Costa Rica and surprisingly good in-flight french toast  kind of made for a waste of an Ambien – especially for the girl who has to take two in order to calm the f down. I pity the person who had to help semi-woozy, semi-nauseous drugged me retrieve my bag from the overhead compartment.

The Quito airport itself is nestled in the heart of the city, which can make for some harrowing landing experiences, but a fast and cheap cab to wherever you’re headed. Actually, even if it was a long cab ride, say the 45 minutes to an hour it took us to get from our home base in Quito to the city’s South bus station, it would still be cheap: everything is ridiculously inexpensive in Ecuador. Like, really. $2.75 for a full meal, $9.50 for one night in a hostel. That kind of cheap. My inner jew rejoiced immediately!

My inner HGTV nerd also found cause for celebration after we paid the cab driver and made our way to the house we would be staying in in Quito. Said home belongs to Caitlin and Alex, two Wisconsin natives and former colleagues of my brother, Jake, who were kind enough to let three total strangers crash with them for four nights. Not gonna lie, any resentment or frustration I had toward Jake for stranding us alone in South America kind of disappeared once we saw Caitlin and Alex’s pad, complete with two guest bedrooms for Ben, Chelsea and I; a gorgeous terrace with views of the city and the surrounding mountains; and a living room bordered by a cozy fireplace on one side and and floor-to-ceiling windows with a gorgeous panoramic backdrop on the other.

We felt especially lucky to be staying there after hearing about Jacob’s former apartment, which was alternatively described as being “in a basement” and “in a garage.” He also apparently used a headlamp as his light source after dark. (Not sure if that’s a reflection on the quality of his landlord or just his affinity for climbing gear, but let’s just say it was a turn-off for this city girl.)

In contrast, Caitlin & Alex’s place was bright and spacious and just really comforting. We got to play with their two, totally insane cats, collapse into their hammock for impromptu reading sessions and make fun of Spanish commercials by the fire. It gave the vacation a really relaxed, warm vibe that I totally needed.

On Saturday afternoon, we had plenty of company too – Caitlin & Alex had a bunch of the teachers from the American School in Quito – former haunt of Jake – over to watch the world cup game. They even fed us: platters of roasted vegetables and grilled chicken breast, stuffed plantains and herbed mozzarella. And all the filtered water we could drink! I was a happy camper.

Ben, Chels & I were kind of itching to explore the city though, so we didn’t stay to chat with the gang for long. Alex plopped us in a cab (we were miserable at trying to communicate where we were going on our intro-level spanish) and off we went to Old City, with me snapping photos from the back seat.

We wandered along the plazas and narrow, steep streets, which were pretty much devoid of tourists.

The architecture is really beautiful and the layout of that portion of the city intriguing, but it was still a little creepy to be honest. I don’t know how to explain it – it just felt a little cold and strange. A few women warned me to be careful with my camera. It seemed like the threat of crime was always lurking a little bit under the surface, although I can’t say we were really scared, per se. More like wary, which definitely forces you to separate yourself from the city a bit, I think. You can’t just fall into it the same way you can in Rome or Madrid.

Still, the city feels alive. There’s bright colors and loud children and affectionate couples and stray dogs running everywhere.

They’re also very into ice cream down there, which they serve all sorts of ways, including all whipped together and doused in sugary syrup. Kind of like if the kid who always insisted on mixing his eye scream sundae into “soup” at your birthday party took over the entire market for frozen desserts in the states.

We weren’t the biggest fans of that variety but made it our mission to explore all the helado Ecuador had to offer in the days to come.

Next up: Ben, Chels & Rach take on a creepy South American tourist trap. Stay tuned!

Ecuador photographic
June 22, 2010

Unedited Ecuador pics, plus some gratuitous pictures of my parents’ elderly golden retriever, are up on flickr.

Sadly, Ecuador wasn’t the most photo-friendly place, seeing as we were actually doing shit, which is apparently new and different for me. I shot a bit in Quito, but was too scared to bring my camera to Banos, figuring it might not be secure in our $9.50 a night hostel, and that I wouldn’t be able to drag my gear along on our hiking/biking/bathing adventures anyway. I spent half the time regretting that decision (see: insane views of the valley that were just screaming for a high aperture) and half the time thanking my lucky stars I left the dslr safe and sound in Quito (see: water-clogged shots in midst of las cascadas)

Bottom line: photos in Quito are by me, on my Nikon, while photos from Banos are on Chels’ camera, taken either by her or me, who, unsurprisingly, felt the need to commandeer the point and shoot on a regular basis. In the end, I think it was good for me to get my eyes out from behind the lens for a few days. And I don’t think I’ll ever forget those waterfalls, despite my lack of dslr photographic evidence.

The reluctant adventurer
June 21, 2010

I’m baaack.

Safe and sound, despite the trepidation this picture suggests. And I’m bursting with a story or three about the trials and tribulations of traipsing through South America with your philosophy major younger brother and your Brooklynite hipster friend. Also: fun. We had a lot of fun.

It wasn’t as epic as India; as in, I managed not to inflict any bodily harm on myself. But it was still an eye-opening week that pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to get a little up close and personal with nature.

I’m going to chill a bit for the next few days, as I’m kind of swamped with work and life and trying to make the most of the four days overlap Dave and I have together in between our respective summer vacations, four days already crammed with perfectly pleasant activities like barbecues and baseball games and movie dates and unpacking my suitcase too, eventually, I suppose. For now, though, you should probably at least know that, yes, I am being pummeled by a large waterfall in the above photo, and, most importantly, I am wearing a horseback riding helmet in the process. Did I ever ride a horse? Of course not, but it did come in handy for the spelunking. (Bet you haven’t heard that word since Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego, huh?)

Hasta luego, chicos. Hablaremos pronto, si?

The fourth continent
June 11, 2010

On Saturday, God willing, we’ll touch down in South America, and I will set foot on my fourth continent in six months (also: 25 years.)

The weather forecast looks dismal and all of our plans are still up in the air and I seem to have the touchings of a bizarre skin rash on my right elbow and all of the other health problems that have made their presence known in my life over the past three years are flaring up too. But I’m sucking it up and packing my granola bars and resisting the urge the freak the f out, both because the freaking out did me absolutely no good last time I tried to pull this off, and because I know that when I get off that plane, Chelsea and Ben will be there beside me. And, while I still have very little faith in myself, I have faith in them and thus faith in us and I really do think it’s all going to turn out ok. Splendid, even. Maybe.

The only sure thing is that you’ll get to hear all about it upon my return. Until June 21, then, kids. See you on the other side of my insane travel aspirations.

assorted reactions to the volcanic eruption in Ecuador
June 1, 2010

From the kid who forced his girlfriend to leave before he got his shots, because he “didn’t want her to see him like that.”

Ben: Is it the apocalypse?

From my chill Brooklyn-based travel buddy.

Chelsea: I was wondering when that would happen. It seems appropriate.

From my chill middle brother, who is, granted, now some 3,057 away from the ash and lava.

Jacob:  dont worry, you guys will be fine.  but if theyre closing the airport in guayaquil, i dont know where you will end up when your plane gets diverted because of the fog in quito…maybe brush up on your portuguese?

Thanks, Jay. My Portuguese is about as good as my Hindi, and we all know how that went down.

He was also kind enough to point out that the volcano in question is right next to Banos, the town we were planning on spending the majority of our trip in. And by “planning,” I mean “didn’t get the vaccines necessary to go anywhere else.”

Jacob:  it was also erupting in jan/feb but i dont think it changed anything, people still went to banos. but this time it seems a little worse.

Never fear though, kids – there’s an upside!

Jacob: on the other hand, they supposedly do some pretty cool volcano tours where they put you in a chiva (ie. open air party bus) at night and drive you up to where you can see it erupting!

Always a silver lining.