Monday, September 29, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Pichilemu, like Chile, was not what I expected. Expectaion plays a large role in one's experience in an unfamiliar place. My expectation was vague at best, but I am sure it played a vital role in our lives during our stay. The first thing I noticed upon arrival to Pichilemu was the red dirt like the dirt from childhood summers in Lubbock, Texas. I didn't like red dirt. I associate it with malicious fire ants and the burn from their bite. This red dirt had no such fire ants. Instead there were mysterious bugs that continually bit me throughout my stay in Chile. We still don't know what they were for sure, though every Chilean and their mother assured me they were mosquito bites, however we rarely saw mosquitoes.
Pichilemu was famous for two things, surfing, and being tranquilo. I don't enjoy pain, especially the searing burn of icy, salt water flowing from the Antarctic, so the nearest I ever got to surfing was dipping my big toe into the magnificent blue ocean. Although I consider myself a city girl, I loved living in a small, rural town. I loved the calmness but I also loved the town gossip; the mayor and his unusually bulging pockets was often whispered about in the teachers' lounge. The fresh air in Pichilemu was invigorating and I felt safe alongside nature. Maybe the best way to describe what it felt like living there is to take you on a familiar walk during our stay in Chile.
As I greet Canela, our adorable, and easily excitable chocolate labrador, the door shuts behind me. I walk around Jorge's motorcycle, his pride and joy, and out the tall black rod iron fence. The sky is clear and blue today, and although the house never seems to let go of the cold, the air outside is warm and inviting. With Canela trotting by my side, I walk towards town. I have two choices, the long way down streets and sidewalks, about 30 minutes, or the hazardous shortcut through the steep valley, over the bridge, through the mud and up a steep incline, surprisingly cutting the time in half. I choose the shortcut; I always choose the shortcut. The baby chicks pecking at the dirt road in front of me frantically scatter as I near, as if the ugly giant goblin has come to eat them one by one. I continue towards the pasture which is sometimes a soccer field, and sometimes a grazing ground for Don Pablo's horses. One time, Camila, our host mom, tried to teach Kyle to drive stick shift in that field. With Pablo screaming in my arms in the back it is a wonder how Camila, with true motherly skills, was able to think above Pablo's screams that hit every octave in the human range, to coach Kyle.
The field is empty today. I close my eyes, lean my head back and let my ponytail dangle free in the breeze, allowing the glow of the sun to envelop me. Behind me is our blue two story house, possibly the nicest house in the area. To my right, about ten minutes walking from where I stand, is one of my schools, Divino Maestro, where those diablitos we call children are sent to be babysat. Directly in front of me is a line of dilapidated houses blocking the view of the Pacific Ocean and grey sand beaches. And to my left is the valley, my chosen path into town. I take a deep breath and inhale the tranquility of this small town, far from the hustle and bustle of Santiago.
I walk through the horse pasture, seemingly lacking horses for the time being. Instead of horses however, I notice low flying birds, low enough to step on if one is not careful. They soar right above the grass, looking for those pesky yet tasty insects, I assume. I have never seen birds fly this low to the ground and I wonder where they come from, where they have been, and why they are flying around my feet now?
The first decline into the valley is similar to a dirt cliff side; steep, and without grass to hold the dirt in place. Rocks are dependable in some sections, but not all of the areas, especially during the rainy season when the dirt turns into a slip n slide made of mud. Had I not cared about the clothes I was wearing or the fact that I might plummet off the edge to my death, I might have taken up mudsliding as an extracurricular activity, but I did care about my clothes and my life.
We play a game while going down the hill; who can stay on one's feet the longest and not fall on one's butt. Of course I always win that game because I am the most graceful person you will ever meet; graceful maybe compared to Bozo the Clown!
As I make it down safely into the valley, I breathe a sigh of relief, but the obstacles aren't over yet. Next is the handmade bridge crossing the small muck colored creek. Luckily I have never had an issue with this bridge, although it is obviously older than I am, and missing planks. If it were a person, it would be an old miser who walks with a knobby cane and smiles a toothless mischievous grin. Once over the bridge however is the really challenging part, the "obstacle course," as we lovingly call it. The obstacle course is located in an open pasture that turns into swampland during the rainy season of winter. I keep expecting the swamp monster to come out of the sludge, growling and dripping mud, threatening to eat me. "Come on swamp monster, I deal with a room full of chalkboard scratching, booger throwing, snot nosed Chilean kids, I think I can take you!" But if he is there, he stays hidden in his swamp, smart monster.
A clear path lays straight ahead of me, but before I can reach that pass, I must traverse the obstacle course, a huge mud pit, with make-shift stepping blocks. First is the old tire, that has to be stepped on just right or else the side not stepped on will lift out of the mud causing the person to fall face first. Then its the rocks, boards, frisbees and some other objects thrown into the mix, helping passers navigate their way through the valley of mud.
I once mistakenly attempted to avoid the obstacle course through the mud pit and instead went around the wallow. "What a smart and novel idea, I am so clever." I thought to myself! The lower pasture, the only alternative, seemed safe, but the green grass of the pasture was merely camouflage for the 6 inches of mud below. I discovered this hidden swamp on the day when I had dared to wear my brand-spanking new black boots to class. I meticulously negotiated my path, but without reward. There was no reliable path. Everything was mud. Life is sometimes like that, giving you a choice between decorated and disguised mud or obvious mud. Guess what happened next? Before I realized what was happening my entire foot up to the ankle was submerged in mud, but not just one shoe, both, because as I took that first regretful step, to my dismay, I lost my graceful balance that I am so famous for, only to have both of my beautiful new velvety boots covered in that dreadful, gooky muck. I nearly turned around and went straight home after my humiliation, but I didn't, I dredged on, literally.
Now, walking into a class full of recalcitrant Spanish only speaking students who don't know what the term discipline in English or in Spanish means, can be intimidating. But walking into an already unruly classroom with boots covered in mud and humiliated pride is certainly not a helpful addition to the already hopeless situation.
I have mixed feelings about the time I spent teaching my students. Starting off, I was eager to make a difference and I was energized with new ideas. Most of the students hadn't ever seen someone from another country and their exposure to English let alone an English speaker was limited. I wanted to reach out to the kids, expose them to something new and hopefully improve their English or at least their interest in English. I was given two different schools to help teach at; Divino Maestro, and Digna Camilo. Both schools had English teachers. Brenda spoke English and Carmen, however sweet, did not. Both schools gave me the warmest welcome I could ever have imagined, with a full school assembly, thanking me for my presence in their country and in their schools. Digna Camilo even included dancing and songs in English in their welcoming ceremony. The kids seemed ecstatic by my presence, but that was soon to wear off. After my first few classes, their attention waned. I tried grabbing their attention with games, but the games would lead to rough housing, and no one seemed interested in the English. By the end, I was much less interested in teaching than in keeping my sanity and them in their seats for 90% of the class. I am ashamed I got to this point. I gave up on them as most of their teachers had done. The classrooms were more for group babysitting than a place for education. I don't believe in giving up in principle, but I did. We spent nearly a month on learning how to ask and answer simple questions such as, "What is your name?" and "How old are you?" but after a month, no progress had been made. I tried games, quizzes, rewards but you can't make someone learn something if they don't put in the effort. Maybe they didn't improve their English while I was there, but I am hopeful that I changed their thinking. Maybe someday, one of them will dare to venture out of their country, because my presence proved that non-Chileans aren't aliens after all. Maybe, a couple of them will learn to value English later on in life and go on to college. I don't know what impact I made and I may never know. I just pray that I made a difference in at least one of their lives. I went to Chile to make my mark on the world, to make a difference in someone else's life.
Even though I am unsure of the impact I made on my students, there were many people who greatly impacted our lives while in Chile. I have learned that it is important when we fall in life that we have people close to us, to help lift us back on our feet, even if we are covered in mud. Being in a foreign country, made me feel awkward and out of place much of the time but we were so fortunate with our support. We had many people around that loved and cared for us. Not so much from the Ministry though, in fact, hardly at all.
Although the Chilean Ministry of Education assured us that they were a sturdy leg for us to stand on, that leg was more like silly putty; flimsy, and without support or reliability. Our host family, unlike the ministry, was such an important factor in our adjustment. From the beginning, they were kind, helpful and caring. We felt welcome and comfortable with our host mom and dad, like we were really home. Camila was compassionate, humorous and motherly. When one of us had a cold, she would make us a special hot lemon tea with honey. When we seemed sad, she would tell us stories of her childhood to make us laugh. Jorge was absent minded but easily excitable, especially when it came to food. They welcomed us in as their family, and they will always have a place in our hearts.
Brenda, my partner Chilean English teacher was especially important as well in our support system. Brenda is one of the most kind-hearted people I have ever met. I was so grateful during our first meeting with her and the principal. She spoke English so well and I don't know that I would have been able to understand him otherwise. Even some Chileans had a hard time understanding what the principal was saying since he spoke so quickly. After studying English in the University, Brenda spent three months living in New Jersey practicing her English. She moved to Pichilemu from her home town of Talca, away from her beloved family to fulfill her dream of teaching English.
Two days a week, Brenda and I would lunch together. Some days, she would fix authentic Chilean meals such as a special Chilean casserole. Other days the meals were as simple as rice with a fried egg. It was so nice to relax and speak English in her beautiful home and have a friend I could talk with.
Another activity we cherished while in Chile was our English group diners. There were two other English teachers in the town that spoke English well, Cecilia and Luz. One evening a month, we would gather together as an opportunity for them to practice their English and have a cultural exchange. In the beginning we shared American and Chilean food. We cooked things such as baked potato soup and cornbread, and they made pastel de jaiva (an excellent crab dish). Pisco sour, their national drink, was always a must, except for the time Bethany decided to make mojitos and had to go on a wild goose chase to find fresh mint.
Bethany and the other volunteers in our region were another vital part to our support system. Bethany was the only other volunteer in our city and we became a little gringo family while in Chile, laughing and crying together. Twice a month, we would gather to have a gringo reunion, sometimes in Pichilemu, and other times in the other cities where the other volunteers lived. (When I say gringo, I don't mean white, I mean those of us who were not Chileans.) Our gatherings were a time for us to vent, speak English, play games, drink Baileys and enjoy each other's company. I am afraid to imagine what our sanity level would have been if it had not been for those extremely important friends.
Nothing about the valley is easy; the path down the cliff, the old man bridge, the obstacle course and certainly not the incline out of the valley. The incline is steep and often has zero traction. Some days a kind soul has poured sawdust into mud on the hill, allowing your foot to find some sort of stability. The way out, is bordered with houses, not really houses, shacks; shacks surrounded by trash and junk. I avoid looking at the puppies with their rib cages protruding, shivering outside in a huddle. Today, the family is outside and the two year old is grabbing at the ax stuck in the stump in front of their house. After the hike up the hill, I take a breather, taking care not to stare.
My journey in Chile, like the valley, has had its ups and downs. There were times when I couldn't see out of the valley and the feeling of desperation overtook my body, but there were also moments of untainted happiness. Looking back, I can say without doubt, that although it didn't always feel this way, there were more ups than downs in our rollercoaster ride called Chile. I came to Chile for several reasons. First and foremost I went yearning for change; change in myself and change in others. I wanted to find more of myself by helping others. Living in a culture that is not your own is difficult and rewarding. Difficult because it can be excruciatingly uncomfortable, and frustrating, but rewarding because growing is never easy, and if there isn't a certain amount of pain involved, we aren't working hard enough. I struggled with the language, and I struggled with the students. But I learned that even though it was tough going sometimes, scratches and bruises are just reminders of the struggle and growth. I am always searching for more, yearning for more knowledge. Although I didn't always feel like I was growing, I know I did.
I left Chile with some scratches and bruises, but also lasting friendships and a family away from home. I went searching for the meaning of life, and my purpose in it. I may not have found the answers, but I am on the right path. I am on a path out of the valley and on to greatness, I can feel it!
Brenda, me, Bethany and Kyle, when Brenda took us to visit her family in Talca.
The kids are jump roping in the courtyard.
At one of our Gringo reunions, except with two other Chileans
Pablo in my suitcase. He wanted to come with us.
p.s. you still have time to write a caption.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Thursday evening we went to see a local Seattle author, tell his story. A couple of weeks ago, BB came home with book entitled “The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian.” (Indian as in a Native American, not a person from India. I will continue to use the word Indian throughout because that is what the author called himself and his tribesman. I have recently had trouble figuring out what the proper way of calling the people who first inhabited this land is. I had been trying to force Indian out of my vocabulary and only say Native American until I read two books by Native Americans in which they only referred to themselves as Indians. Is it one of those examples of the people in a particular group being allowed to use the term when outsiders may not? I don’t know the answer.) The Redmond Library was hosting an event for a local author by the name of Sherman Alexie. The plan was we would all read his book and see him speak. The book was hilarious. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. The only complaint I have of the book is that it was too quick a read. I wanted more. Sometimes I hate to see a book end, because that means in a way I have lost my companion. I don’t have it too look forward to any longer.
He spoke directly to his audience in the book about his life with honesty and humor. The book is mostly autobiographical, with a few fictionalized sections. His character’s name is Arnold in the white world, but Junior on the reservation. And poor Arnold did not have it easy. Besides that he was abjectly poor with a drunk as a father and his tribe was dying of alcoholism, he had his own physical issues. His head, or globe as many of his peers nicknamed it, was abnormally large, especially as a child because of the disease known to many as water on the brain, medically known as hydrocephalus. This disease brought about seizures, which caused minor brain damage and some physical impairments. Also for some unknown reason, he had 10 more teeth than the average person. The normal person has 32 teeth; he had 42 teeth. And he loved books, any book he could get his hands on. His grandmother spoke English well, but didn’t read it well, but wanted to support his voracious reading habit. She would buy him any book with an Indian on the cover, which often times ended up being a romance novel. So he had a gianormous head, a skinny stick figure body, too many teeth, and was a book worm who wanted and needed more than the reservation could offer him. He decided if he is going to succeed in this world, he had to get off the reservation, and his only option in the end was to go to the whitest and most racist school in the area. I won’t give you the entire book report so I will stop there. But my favorite part of the book is that he included cartoons to tell his story, which I felt help describe his thoughts and feelings even further than the mere words. It made me wish I had a talent in drawing, but alas, I don’t. (click on the photos, you can read the writing)
It is interesting that the things we found so painful in our youth, so hilarious later in life. I have a great respect for people who can look back at those awkward and distressing years and reflect honestly and with humor. I only hope that one day I will be able to do the same.
The speech was free and in a nice size auditorium which was filled to the brim with the young and the old. An entire bus of elderly people from a retirement home came to hear him. We didn’t realize that until later, but as we walked into the auditorium, Kyle commented that something smelled of mothballs. I didn’t notice the mothball smell but I find that smell nostalgic. I am reminded of my great grandma and the many days we spent playing games at her house until she was not able to live on her own after the age of 97. But I digress.
He was just as funny to listen to as to read. One statement he said, I found thought provoking. Although he was half-joking, he said that he was jealous of females and how their affectionate behavior is acceptable. After the age of 9, it is not ok for boys to hold hands without being gay, but girls can do it their entire lives. He wanted to be able to show his affection with his male friends outside of the acceptable handshake. And it is true, but I never thought of guys as being left out before now. That is one thing that I truly love about being a girl is that I can be affectionate with my friends. I love that girls can hold hands, hug freely and rest their heads on each other’s shoulders. I miss that now that I am married and older. We don’t necessarily need that affection as much when we have husbands or partners, and that element is lost sometimes. I continuously go on tangents during this post, don’t I? Maybe it is because I didn’t have a clear understanding of what I really wanted to say in this post. I only knew that something about this man touched me, and I wanted to share a piece of it with you. So, although I can’t seem to keep my train of thought on a clear cut path, I hope you can take something from this. And if you have the time, do read the book. It is a wonderful read.
p.s. You still have time to write a caption for the previous post. I will decide on the winner sometime next week.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Well, it is official, I don't have any creative ideas of my own anymore. Once again I stole this idea from cfhusband.blogspot.com, a great blog that I recommend checking out. And also in lieu of a comment that my blogs don't necessarily invite comments, I am giving you, our readers, an assignment. Don't worry, it is fun. Write a caption for this picture. (This picture was taken in Lima as we waited for the changing of the guards) And, there is even a prize for the winner, a very small prize, but a prize non-the less. Alright, you creative minds. Let's see what you've got?
p.s. there has been some question about this. If you subscribe to the blog, you can respond directly to the email sent to you and it is only sent to me (and kyle), not to the entire subscription list.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Also, we joined a gym here in Redmond which is exciting because they have lots of different classes such as kickboxing, pilates, yoga and more. We have tried the ab lab class with the drill sergent ab lady. It was more like a cardio ab work out. Thirty minutes straight of ab exercises without even a second imbetween to catch your breath. I started out with my hair in a ponytail, by the end, my hair band was holding less than half of my hair. The rest was sticking straight out as if I had been electricuted. Tonight we are going to try a new class called Zumba, it is supposed to be a mixture of Latin American dances with a cardio twist. I am super pumped. I just hope I don't make a fool out of myself!
Sunday, September 21, 2008
I stole this idea from another blog, cfhusband.blogspot.com. The idea is to write 7 things that people may or may not know about you. I thought it was a clever idea so we decided to give it a try. Vanessa's List
1. I don't like coffee or beer. I know, I know, how can I call myself American, but I just can't seem to get past the bitterness factor.
2. Last night I had my first bout of sleep talking. Evidently, I woke Kyle up by kicking him. He doesn't think I was trying to kick him, just generally kicking. At first he thought I was trying to wake him because I was startled by something, but when he asked, I said, "It's not my life that's changing, it's yours." And then I went back to sleep. Kyle has had many bouts before but never me. One of my favorite sleeptalking moments with Kyle was shortly after 9/11. We were laying on the couch, and Kyle was falling alseep, so I asked him for a kiss, instead he said to me, "But what about all of the immigrants coming into the US." Confused, I said, "Kyle, all I want is a kiss." His response was, "I know I know, but how do they keep track." I gave up since Kyle was already too far gone.
3. I am a girly-girl. I really love dressing up, wearing dangling earrings, and generally looking pretty. If there is ever an opportunity to wear a skirt, I will take it. When I was younger I was a bit of a tomboy, but in time I grew out of that.
4. I have fought owning a pair of chacos for a very long time. Kyle has long been a chaco owner, but I refused because I found them uncomfortable. But, it's official, I am capable of change, and I am now an owner of chacos. They are pretty and pink and I am pretty excited to show them off.
5. I am not obsessive compulsive, but I do have some obsessive qualities. When I was looking for jobs overseas the first time, I spent three days, 6-10 hours a day looking up jobs on the internet. I went a little stir-crazy afterwards, but I found our volunteer position in Chile through my obssesive looking. Now that I am in Seattle, I check my blog obsessively to see if readers have made any comments. Sadly, my readers aren't comment leavers, but just so you know, comments make our day :)
6. My feet are the equivalant temperature to ice. I don't don't think that could be litteraly true and I still be alive, but when it is the least bit cold outside, my feet are like blocks of ice. Once, I was trying to warm my feet on Kyle's legs, and he could feel the icy coldness through his jeans. He wasn't happy about it.
7. Some of you know that I have word finding issues. Lately, as a way to compensate, I have been making word lists. While reading, I write down words that might help to jog my writing skills. The words are sometimes words that I am not familiar with, but most of the time, I know the definition, I write it down in hopes that someday I will put the word to work. Here is an example of my word lists;
animadvert, sordid, pliancy, flout, irreverent, wistful, bereaved, erroneous, flail, juxtaposing, noxious, nethergarments, wellspring, looming, blithely, jaunty, tenuousness, flippant, countermove, spires...
1. I’m way into Fantasy stuff. Like to a point at me and laugh level. I can’t help it! I just really dig swords and knives and dragons and wizards and all that uber nerdy geek stuff. I’m not ashamed!
2. I fall asleep at the drop of a pin
3. I developed a taste for beer in Czhech and now every beer I taste pales in comparison. Actually, I have found many beers since that I like, but nothing will beat the first beer I ever liked there. Budvar by the way.
4. My favorite dessert at the moment is Rootbeer floats. MMMMMMM good!
5. I now want to create a new tabletop game. For those of you who know what tabletop games are, you’re a nerd! For those of you who don’t, be glad you don’t. You get a +2 on the cool scale for never having played one.
6. I LOOOVE to fish. It’s meditative.
7. I am very in touch with my Scottish roots. I have even reconnected with my clan via the internet. Told you I was a nerd ;)
I want to end with one of the funniest videos from SNL I have seen in a long time!
Friday, September 19, 2008
Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.... So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
So obviously Kyle and I have had hit road blocks in our life, but we haven't even brushed the edge of the decline that leads to rock bottom. In no way, am I comparing what we are going through to the rock bottom that she speaks of, but I think what she has to say about failure is so intriguing and true for some, but not all. I love the quote from the movie Catch Me If You Can, "Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse, wouldn't quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out." For some, failure is just that, failure, and there is nothing more to say or do. Rock bottom is just another place to live or die. But for others, for the fighters, for the ones who want more and are willing to struggle failure can be the lottery ticket to success, an opportunity. I am always so inspired by stories of failures that lead to success because I want to be one of those people who takes risks and isn't afraid of failure. The line where Rowling says, "I was set free" made so much sense to me. If what you fear is failure, and you have failed, than there is no where else to go but towards success.
Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared. ...I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International's headquarters in London. here in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. ... Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government.
... I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.
Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard and read.
And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before.
Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.This passage gave me a greater understanding of her books. While reading the Harry Potter series, I often got a sense that what she was warning against was not evil in the world, but instead, not standing up against what you know is wrong, even if you have to do it alone and at the risk of everything. Voldemort controlled with fear, paralyzing those who knew that he was wrong into doing nothing. Voldemort may have been a fictional villan, but what he stood for is unfortunatly far from fiction. Voldemort is much like the totalitarrian governments that strike fear in the hearts of many citizens of our world. Rowlings work with Amnesty International gave her a first hand look at what happens when we allow fear or totalitarrian governments to rule. Her books are beautiful stories, with imaginative creatures in a mysterious and enchanting world, but more than that, I think she wanted to send a message to all the children and adults in the world. Face your fear, don't let it control you, your dreams or what you know to be right.
And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.
I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.
What is more, those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridorwas this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.
With so much time on my hands, I have been doing a lot of soul searching. "Who am I? Who do I want to become? How can I improve myself and improve the world?" After working at Alamo Segway, although I enjoyed myself greatly while exploring the city via segway and meeting interesting people, I have decided that in order for my heart and conscious to be whole, I need to know that I am useful, that I am helpful. I want to live life to the fullist and for me that means that I need to do something extraoridary. That doesn't mean that I have to live in poverty in an orphanage in China. Extraoridariness, if thats a real word, can be found anywhere, even in our own backyard. I don't exactly know where that leads me, but it gives me a general direction to where I am headed. (An example of working in one's own back yard, Kyle and I had a job interview yesterday with the community center here in Redmond and may have part time jobs helping middle schoolers. More on that later when we know more.) I leave you with this quote that has become my recent mantra, "Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible. "
~ Cadet Maxim
Thursday, September 18, 2008
As many of you now know, Vanessa and I are married. For those of you who know us well, you know that we were dating for five and a half years before we decided to tie the knot. So it shouldn't surprise any of you to know that we are often referred to as Kylessa, in fact, many of you have probably done so yourselves at some point in time. Rightfully so I suppose, but let me make something clear, not to get the record straight or anything, I'm actually quite fond of our little petnames, but rather to "set the stage" as it were, for the story I am about to tell. Brace yourselves dear friends and family, this may come as a shock to some of you…we are not the same person. Now catch your breaths and close your mouths. I know it's hard to accept this statement as fact. In truth, I'm not entirely sure that by any scientific definition we could be considered anything other than symbiotic organisms at best. So let us contemplate that for a bit.
Take the Remora fish. If you have ever watched the Discovery channel during Shark week, you have seen a Remora. They are the little, shiny, sinuous fish that attach to the bellies of sharks, whales, turtles, manta rays and just about any other large object they can find to hitch a ride on. Now then, there is some debate about whether or not this is a true symbiotic relationship, as the transporter may or may not gain any value from the transported. At this point in life I feel I may be like the Remora in more ways than one, and I am sure a few of you are thinking the same thing, but that's not the issue I wish to address here. Perhaps when I have evolved into something a bit more productive than a clingy, semi-parasitic fish, I will be in more of a mood to discuss how alike I truly am to the Remora, but the point I am trying to make now is that, while the two are very rarely seen apart from one another, the Shark and the Remora are not the same animal! The same is true for Vanessa and me.
Again, I'm not trying to make a point. I just feel that in order to fully understand how this story could have possibly gotten so incredibly out of hand as it did, you have to understand how differently Vanessa and I operate. So that being said, it can all be summed up in one word. Persistence. Vanessa is quite possibly the most persistent person I know. She sees things through 100% all the way, where as I am much more prone to taking things at a more leisurely pace. Now, I admit that I am often times leisurely to a fault but I think it's somewhere in the middle ground that true happiness lies. So the fact that I am not by nature, nearly as persistent as Van is, or as most people are, should help you understand a bit why things happened how they did. Also, I think it should be said that much of what occurred seemed to me to be a rather long run of bad luck. If any of you have been following our current debacle, you know that the streak continues. Read our blog for further details.
So without further delay, the moment many of you have been waiting for, the story of the ring! This is a very long tale by the way, so those of you with lives may want to peruse the outline first and then take the actual story one bit at a time.
1. Chapter One-The One Ring- Here is where we learn the story of how I have to have the absolute, one and only, no other one like it in the world, perfect ring for my amazing wife to be….I never found that ring by the way.
2. Chapter Two- ETD 3 Months and Counting- At this point, Italy was looming and progress seemed to slow to a near halt the closer our departure date came.
3. Chapter Three- AVAST YE SCAVERNOUS DOGS!- Whoever says pirates are a thing of the past will be forced to walk the plank!
4. Chapter Four- The One Ring, Take Two- Yet again, the search is on.
5. Chapter Five- Proposal in Italy…ok Spain….ok Germany….Switzerland?...
6. Chapter Six-Homeward Bound- AKA The One Ring, Take Two (continued)- Now that we're stateside, things should get easier right? …Right?
7. Chapter Seven-Settlement- Not happy about it but there's no such thing as the perfect ring!
8. Chapter Eight- Ring dirt- Got the ring but why the hell is it dirty!?
9. Chapter Nine- Time's Up!- Rehearsal day and it's finally ready!
Chapter One-The One Ring
This story starts where this kind of story always starts for all guys that think about tying the knot. Jewelry stores… YAY! Now, I am probably one of the least masculine guys I know in many ways. I actually enjoy arts and crafts. I even took jewelry making in High School art class and loved it, but nothing could have prepared me for how frustrating and mind numbingly boring ring shopping would be. For one thing, every jewelry store out there carries the same damn stuff! Now you ladies may be saying "that's not true!" but believe me, to a dude, it's all shiny, it's all gaudy, and IT'S ALL OVER PRICED! So trying to find "just the right one" felt like trying to find just the right grain of sand at the freakin beach. It's so overwhelming to a dude! And truth be told, most dudes end up settling with something that won't break the bank that they think the lil lady MIGHT like, but really they know that they'll be back with her choosing the one she REALLY wanted anyways. Well that wasn't gonna be me! I was determined to get the ONE RING! And by God, if I couldn't find it I would make it myself. So after 20 some odd jewelry stores of the same old crap, I knew what had to be done. Here's where the journey truly began.
It all started with a jeweler that my Grandparents had been acquaintances with for 50 years or some ridiculous amount of time like that. If I asked, they could probably tell me exactly how long they had known him, but since this is my story to tell, I'm going to exaggerate all I like. Anyways, Harvey had been my grandparents jeweler for 500 years and was famous in my family for the extravagant work he had done crafting my grandmothers wedding ring. It really is a thing of beauty. So after I found me a good catch that I thought maybe I would marry some day (wink), it was time for me to give Harvey a call to see if I couldn't squeeze a deal out of him. After all, he had been my Grandparents jeweler for half a millennium, and I really did like his work. So many messages left later, he returned my call and said he stopped making rings 200 years ago but he had a good contact for me who just happened to also be named Harvey. I'm not positive about this but I think they may have been related as Harvey number 2 had the same speech mannerisms as Harvey number 1. So many messages left later again, Harvey 2 returns my call and says he would love to help me find the One Ring. Now, I'm not great at returning phone calls, as many of you probably know, but there are some people in the world that just flat out suck at keeping in touch. And it seems to me that the more you need to be in touch with those people, the longer it takes to reach them. Stop snickering, I said I was bad about it myself, but I'm not THAT bad. Harvey 2 was. But after a while things settled down in the jewelry business I guess, cause he started calling me every other day. For nearly a month straight he'd send me emails of rings he thought I might like, but none of them were what I was looking for and on top of it all, I was really hoping to use the diamond my mom had given me that was her engagement diamond. That would save me a pretty penny, so I thought and it would have been nice to have something with sentimental value. So the emails keep flying, but so does the time. It should have been fun, but in reality, it just became more and more frustrating. Good things come to those who wait right? B. Freakin S.!
Chapter 2- ETD 3 Months and Counting
So at this point in our lives, things were lookin pretty good. We had transferred to UT, thank God, we had made some good friends, and our next adventure was just around the corner. We had decided that we needed to see the world a bit. We did some traveling around the U.S. but Europe was what we were really craving and an opportunity popped up at just the right time. So it was off to Italy to study abroad for a bit. Officially, we were going to study Art and Art History, but un-officially we were going to study European travel. Awesome trip and we blogged all about it but this is the story of The One Ring, so I'm going to try not to digress too far. The deal was, here we were getting all excited about Europe and I wasn't any closer to finding The One Ring than the day I started with Harvey 2. So the pressure was on. Eventually we started seeing eye to eye and he was able to send me some samples of how the ring would look. Awesome! It was nothing like what I had shown him how I wanted it to look but it was far better than anything else he had sent me and I figured, like most dudes do, that she would like it well enough and want to change it eventually anyways! The fact was, I would have a ring to propose with while we were in Europe!!! And it wasn't ugly, in fact, it was a very nice ring. Not The One Ring but a good one none the less. The only problem was, we were less than a week away from leaving and Harvey 2 still hadn't made it. My nerves were going haywire as I realized what was going to have to happen. I was going to have to ship it to Italy DUN DUN DUUUUUUN!
Chapter 3- AVAST YE SCAVERNOUS DOGS!
Now there are many things in this story that I could have done differently and saved myself a lot of trouble. In fact, in some instances, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see I was flat out stupid doing some things the way I did. But here's one part of the story where I clearly made a good decision. After having settled on a ring and having settled into our new home in Italy, it was time to have the ring sent. I had figured out a way to get it to the school without Vanessa noticing. Here's the smart part, I HAD IT INSURED! Good call right? Now I know that this may sound like common sense, but let me just remind you that I take things pretty leisurely and to tell the truth, I often think I am a bit too trusting of the system. Well, this time I decided to be on the safe side and went ahead with the insurance. The best 25 bucks I ever spent. Who knew that it would actually be of use? FedEx sure didn't! Here's where things get really interesting. Somewhere between the U.S. and Italy, the cargo freight with my ring in it had gone A.W.O.L. That's right, an entire Cargo freight just went bye bye. If it seems confusing to you, imagine how I felt. Now like I said I had it insured so no biggy right? HA! FedEx and I are the best of friends now. Actually, they really were fantastic. After about 2 months of telling me "we're investigating, we're just not sure at the moment, thank you for your patience" things actually went quite well. As frustrated and concerned as I was, things could have been a lot worse. The people at FedEx customer relations are true pros. They have it down like no other. Phil was my contact dude and first thing he said when I was turned over to him was "I am so sorry that this happened. I can only imagine how frustrating this must be for you and I just want to let you know that I am here 24/7 to help in every way I can." Phil is the man. Every customer relations person could take a lesson from this guy. So anyways, to make a long story less long, Phil calls me at 10 one morning, which by the way I figured out later was 3 in the morning where he was! Anyways he calls me and says "you're not gonna believe this. Pirates took your ring!" I didn't know what to say at first. For a good three seconds, silence was all I could muster. "Pirates? Like Blackbeard pirates?" I said and Phil laughed. "Well no, not quite Blackbeard but my supervisor told me that the freight with your ring was redirected to an un-registered warehouse and half the stuff is just gone. BUT NOT YOUR RING!" So he goes on to tell me that yes indeed they had the ring but not exactly safe and sound. For whatever reason the "pirates" decided to separate the stone from the setting. It didn't quite work the way they wanted and I ended up with scrap metal and a chipped stone. Anyways, the insurance actually covered piracy! Not piracy exactly I don't think, but they did cover everything, including the cost of shipping. Too bad that was just pointless as we were pretty close to being on the way home by the end of all this mess.
Chapter Four-The One Ring Take Two
So after the Pirate episode was somewhat resolved, the next task at hand for me was to figure out how the heck I was going to make the proposal work without a ring. This is a whole other story. No, literally, I'm making another story of it so you'll just have to tune in next time for that one. That's Chapter Five-Proposal by the way. As I was in the midst of putting together the perfect proposal, I was also fighting an uphill battle with Harvey 2. Basically, the problem was, he hadn't kept the mold or the models he used on my ring. Why, I do not know, but hey, I'm not a jeweler. So the search was on yet again for The One Ring, whilst planning a proposal, whilst traveling Europe and whilst …well that's it but I like saying whilst and isn't that enough? It wasn't easy AND on top of it all, I had to make it look like everything was fine! Such a mess. Like I said before, this entirely too long of a story to tell now but I guess I should give you some idea of what was going on at this time. Our Italy program was over and we had a long list of places to cover in a very short time. I was calling Phil and Harvey 2 on a near daily basis, without Van ever noticing mind you and I'm kinda proud of that. I was desperately hoping that I would be able to have the ring sent to us where we were when it was ready, which meant at any given time, I would have to know 3 days in advance so I could know where to send it. Bottom line, that never happened and again, in retrospect, never could have happened but at the time I was desperately optimistic. The biggest problem was that Harvey 2 had completely lost base with what I was going for before. I don't know if he thought I was a different client of his but everything he was sending me look NOTHING like the ring we had settled on. Not even close. Had he actually made it in time, I don't think it would have worked out anyways but still! Harvey 2 was my least favorite person in the world during our travels. Still in my bottom 10 to this day.
Chapter 6-Homeward Bound
So nothing I had planned had worked out in the least but Vanessa decided to accept my weak ass proposal anyways. I got an automatic +10 for doing it in a cute gazebo in Paris but a +10 on a -20 proposal still ain't breaking the surface is it? Anyways, our European travels were over, and it was time to head home. I decided that the last few days of our trip would be a chance for not just Van and I to rest, but for Phil and Harvey 2 to get a little break from me as well. Believe it or not, they actually started calling me. Weird how that works isn't it? So we get home and I think, good deal, we're stateside, we've got plenty of time now to get this thing taken care of, awesome. Nine months. That's how long it took to finally get the ring. We could have had a freakin baby in the time it took Harvey 2 to get the stinkin ring to me. The first month back our conversations went something like this;
Me: Hey Harvey it's Kyle Rogers.
Harvey2: ….OK…..How can I help you?
Me: Well…I was just calling to see how the design was coming.
Harvey2: OH!...yeah ok, gimme just a sec….(ruffling of papers, sound of coffee mug falling, Harvey 2 whispers some profanity) ya Kyle I've got the designs here, I um…I think these are pretty close to what we had before so I'm just gonna send em to you and see what you think ok? Be sure and get back to me as soon as you can so we can get goin on it.
Me: Right, well, Van and I are back in the states now so hopefully we can all get goin on this a little faster now. So, I'll check em out and let you know right away.
Harvey2: Ok great, have a good one.
Me: Ya you too.
2 Weeks and 3 phone messages later;
Me:Harvey, it's Kyle Rogers.
Harvey2: Oh hey Kyle, I was wondering if I was ever going to hear back from you.
Me: Harvey, I've called you like 3 times in the past 2 weeks, did you check your messages?
Harvey2: Well, the answering machine has been broken for about a month now, I just answer when I can. What did you think of the designs?
Me: Well that's what I was calling about before, I never got them.
Harvey2: Oh that's right, I couldn't send them cause I don't have your email.
Me: Harvey, I've sent you at least 15 emails in the past month, and you responded to 2 of them. I really wish you had let me know sooner that you didn't know where to send them to.
Harvey2: Oh here it is! Ya, somehow your email got in my junkmail. I'm real sorry about that. Ok, I'm sending them now. Just let me know by the end of the day what you think.
Ok, I'm not going to bore you with the rest of our conversations but I think you can get the picture here. It was not pretty. Harvey 2 must be the flakiest dude in the world. For the next 7 months, he was number one on my "people I'd like to slap silly" list.
Now I have never personally designed a ring before. The sketches I sent Harvey were paper and pencil drawings of knots and ivy and pretty designs that I liked. Nothing even close to the 3 D models he was sending me. He really did have a talent for that but the thing was, the models seemed to have very little of my influence in them at all. For 7 months Harvey and I went back and forth about including elements that I liked and finding ways to make it possible. The real problem we kept running into was Harvey 2 was a very geometric dude and I wanted something more organic looking. Something less mathematical and more musical. I guess that's pretty hard to do on a computer program but still, Jewelry craft is an art right? SO BE ARTISTIC! Well, it may have taken 7 months for us to get there but get there we did. Finally the designs were getting close enough to what I had in mind that I was able to reach a point where I could say "yes, that is a ring I could see Van wearing." And I think, that was about all that either Harvey 2 or I needed to be able to say, let's stop here. It wasn't perfect, but it was close enough. Not to mention we were 2 months away from Wedding day. We were really cutting it close.
Chapter 8-Ring Dirt
After 7 months of dealing with Harvey 2 Super Flake, I was so ready to be done with him for the rest of my life. We had a design and I was very relieved for that. Harvey 1 had offered me an amazing deal on a new stone for the ring and got it to me the next day. Take a lesson Harvey 2. I wasn't naïve enough to think that it was all going to be downhill from there, but I really thought things would move just a little faster than they did. But, for all the trouble, Harvey 2 said he would only charge half what he usually did for custom designs. I didn't actually have the ring in my hands until 2 weeks before the wedding. And the worst part of it was, when I excitedly opened the pretty little cherry wood red box. The ring was dirty! That's right, dirty. For those of you who have seen Van's ring, you know that it has very tiny crevices were stuff can collect very easily. All those little crevices were filled with a strange wax like substance and the white gold band and setting had smudges all over it. Even the diamond had a smudgy layer of what looked like grease on the top. I did the best I could with a polishing cloth but, afraid to try anything else, I decided I needed professional help. First thing I did was call Harvey 2. No answer surprise, surprise. I left a very angry message which probably wasn't helpful in the least but it made me feel better for the time being. Second thing I did was call Harvey 1 to see if he knew what to do. He recommended I take the ring to a place in Austin that he had worked with many times. Said the guys there were the best and they owed him a favor in very mafia esc fashion. Mafia or not, I didn't care. If these guys could make this puppy shine, I was up for the trip. I still had 5 days till W Day and not much else to do with my time than run errands so I just added it to the list. The guys at the counter who I talked to first were 2 italians pushing 250 each, with slicked back hair and about 2 lbs. of gold jewelry on. After I showed them the ring they both let out very Italian exclamations and they looked at each other and said, "I think we need to get Rudolf on this." It was like something out of the movies. Rudolf wrapped up the cliché about as perfectly as any movie director could ever hope for. Basically, Rudolf was Mel Brooks. 70 year old, curly side burned, Yamika wearing jewelry Yoda. The guy didn't say a word. He looked at my ring, then at me. "Harvey did this?" "No, well yes, but not the Harvey you know. A friend of his who he recommended who is also named Harvey. Harvey Nimitz I think." The three of them all let out different exclamations but I think they all meant exactly what I thought of him; Flakey, lazy SOB. Rudolf turned back to me and said, "don't worry, I owe Harvey a favor so this one's on me but it's gonna take me a while to get to it. How long ya got?" "4 days." I said. No problem. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I thought for just a second, wouldn't it be just too fitting for my ring to be mysteriously miss placed by 2 mobsters and Mel Brooks just days before the wedding? Then I thought, well hell, it would just be one more thing to add to the book!
Chapter 9-Time's up!
The day before the rehearsal, I call the Mobster's to see if my ring was ready yet. Yes, they said but Rudolf's wife had passed away a day before and the funeral was today. I was going to have to wait till tomorrow to pick it up. Tomorrow was the day of the rehearsal. Would you have told 2 Mobster's that tomorrow wasn't going to work, and that they had to get it then? I sure as hell didn't think that was a good idea. So the next morning, I got an early start to the store, gave my condolences to Rudolf, who did an absolutely amazing job on the ring, thanked the Canolli twins and booked it back to town just in time to be 45 minutes late to our rehearsal. I dropped a knee as soon as I saw Vanessa, she said yes again and the rest is history!
Tune in next time to see how Kyle was completely unable to get a single proposal idea to go according to plan!
The end result.
Monday, September 15, 2008
When we first arrived in Seattle, mid August, the temperatures were in the 90's. Cool, in comparison to to Texas, but hot considering the lack of AC units in a state that only has 2 months of sunny skies. After our brief spurt of "heat," the sun lost it's nerve and went into hiding for several weeks, shortening their already pitiful 2 months of summer to 6 weeks. We felt lucky if the temperature reached 70 degrees on any particular day. But on our arrival, from Oregon, back into Seattle, the sun re-emerged, spreading it's rays and enveloping Seattle once more, except that the temperatures soared to a whopping 75 degrees this time, warm in the sun, cool in the shade. But never-the-less, we were thrilled. The weekend was forecasted to be beautiful, sunny and perfect for outdoors activities. Puyallup State Fair, a combination between a rodeo and a carnival, advertised for being epically fun, was our choice of activities. We jumped in the car and drove the hour plus through traffic to Puyallup. The first thing I noticed when arriving was the difference in the clientele between Bumbershoot, the music festival and Puyallup fair. The most noticeable difference being the average weight of the fair goer. While Bumbershoot patronage was mostly a younger crowd, but not limited to that, the Puyallup crowd was mostly families, and agricultural folks. The food at the fairs was a good indicator of the type of people in attendance. While we snacked on salmon and lamb at Bumbershoot, Onion burgers and fries were the peoples' choice at the Puyallup State Fair. The crowd at this event was unbelievable especially considering the expansive fair ground. We entered an enclosed building to stroll lazily down the aisles, looking at the different booths and vendors, however each aisle that we attempted to walk down was lined with people and strollers from one booth to the next leaving absolutely no space for breathing and or moving. I am used to crowds, and am not bothered by them for the most part, I sometimes even find them invigorating, but this was the most crowded besides NIOSA (night in old San Antonio) I have ever seen. We couldn't even find a space to fit our bodies to walk down the aisles. And the ladies bathroom was totally havoc, I was afraid I might not ever be able fight my way out again.
So instead of that enclosure, we went to visit the farm animals. We saw, cows, and I mean the most massive cows I have ever seen, goats and dwarf goats, Shetland ponies, giant rabbits, dwarf rabbits, and a creepy looking rabbit out of a horror movie.
Our favorite event, by far, at the fair was the mutton bustin. It is similar to bull riding in that the person is trying to stay on for as long as possible, but instead of a bull, it is a sheep, and instead of a cowboy, it is a child 6 years or younger and under 60 lbs. The M.C. would announce the child's name, age and place of residence. Armed with a helmet and a padded vest, the children who didn't back out at the last moment were placed on the sheep near the rear. The goal was to stay on longer than six seconds, but most didn't last a second before they flew into the special sand dirt engineered to be extra soft, but provided no help in the case of trampling. Some of the children understandably lost their nerve at the last moment but those who rode never fell gracefully. It was a great show which even went into overtime when two children tied. The little boy requested that he use the bathroom before he perform in the ride off, however when he returned, he no longer wished to participate. Mutton bustin was a really cute spectacle, a crowd favorite. I'm glad we got to see it! All in all, a fun day at the fair!
The Brick Wall
Pacing, back and forth,
Back and forth like a caged animal.
The floor is hard and dirty
My hands and feet are covered in filth
But I continue to pace
Hoping for change.
The brick wall shrinks not,
but seems to grow taller.
I want on the other side
But I am told I must wait.
So I wait, and wait some more.
Will the brick wall grow a door,
Or must I build a ladder to climb.
I have tried pushing
And climbing with my bare hands
But the brick wall holds me
I will wait it out
But for how long will I be a caged animal?
(I don't usually write poetry, but I felt inspired by my friend Andrew who is a poet. You can check out his blog in the side bar. So this is my attempt at writing poetry. Tell me what you think. Kyle thinks that I should take out "the brick wall shrinks not" and say "The brick wall doesn't shrink." Your thoughts, criticisms, and comments are welcome and wanted. Thank you.)
I recently watched Randy Pausch speak in the “Last Lecture” series given at Carnegie Melon. The purpose of this series is to allow professors to give a lecture over anything they want, as if it were their last lecture. For Randy Pausch, however, it was his last. Diagnosed with a terminal cancer, the lecture’s title took on new meaning. His speech, however was not about cancer or about overcoming it, but about achieving his childhood dreams. One of the things that struck me was what he called “brick walls.” Brick walls are his metaphor for barriers that get in the way of your goals and dreams. But, he said, they are there for a reason. They are there to keep those who don’t want it badly enough out. As most of you know, we have run into our own brick wall. A brick wall that has an indention from the multiple times we have banged our heads against it. I would like to attach another purpose to Mr. Pausch brick wall, in that it makes the achievement all the more sweet when your blood and sweat has been spent. So many things have come easily to us in the past. Maybe, the purpose of our brick wall was to throw us back into reality. Life isn’t always easy, it is a struggle, but the more we struggle, the more reward we feel when we reach that goal. “The sweet isn’t as sweet without the bitter” is one of my favorite quotes because I feel it is right on the mark. We really want it, and if we have to sit in the holding room for a while, then that is what we shall do. For now, I will just have to imagine the sweet taste of victory running down my throat, because eventually we will get over this wall. We will succeed because we do want it badly enough!
If you want to want watch the lecture, click here for the link.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
(While we have so much time on our hands, I have decided to write the stories I never got around to. This is the first hopefully of many. It is long, but I tried to make it entertaining. Enjoy!)
When Kyle and I got married, September 2, 2006, Kyle was finishing what we thought was his last semester in school. The wedding took place the first weekend of the fall semester. We knew when planning the wedding we wouldn’t have the resources, aka: mula, to take the honeymoon we had always dreamed, so instead, we took what we dubbed “minimoon” to the hill country of Texas for three nights and two days. It was a lovely couple of days but was lacking significant factors that we felt were inherent in a proper honeymoon. A “proper honeymoon” needs to have the following qualifications; beach with warm, swimable water, relaxation, nice accommodations (not hostels) and plenty of sun/ sunbathing and it needs to be at least a week long. Obviously the Texas hill country is lacking in a beach, and the honeymoon was only a couple of days, therefore it did not meet the qualifications and could not be considered a proper honeymoon. Around the time of our one-year wedding anniversary, Kyle and I decided it was time to take the honeymoon of our dreams with the little money that we had. The main deciding factor in choosing Ecuador was because we had heard from our good friend and fellow Chile volunteer, that Ecuador had humpback whale viewing which was amazing. For any of you that know Kyle and I well, you know that we LOVE nature and things to do with learning and experiencing nature. We were big nerds in our Texas Tech biology class, and would stay after class to talk with the professor; NERD ALERT!!! We even took a two week camp, herpetology course with this same biology professor where we spent our days chasing snakes, reptiles, and other scaly, slimy green creatures, despite our mothers’ fears. That course was one of the highlights of our Texas Tech careers. All of this to say, we love the outdoors, animals and biology, so when we heard about this opportunity to see humpback whales, we couldn’t resist. Now, I know some of you might be thinking if you love animals so much, and you decided on Ecuador, why did you not choose the Galapagos Islands. We definitely did consider the Galapagos Islands, but in the end, decided that however much money we were making up just to make this trip in the first place, we couldn’t spend the amount necessary to visit the Galapagos Islands, but make no mistake, we will someday make it there.
The trip started September 18, Chile’s Independence day. We wanted to make sure we had some good solid celebration time with our host family before we headed out on our vacation. Chileans receive an entire week off for Independence Day, and it is by far the most important holiday because they can revel in their pride for their country and culture, which they believe to be an outstanding culture. We, the country and I, have differing opinions on whether their culture is amazing or not, but we wont go into that now. After attending the parade of all the schools with their children and teachers walking through the streets of downtown Pichilemu, displaying their school banner, a fascinating spectacle, we jumped on a bus to Santiago to catch our plane to Lima. After our Peru trip, we had become excruciatingly familiar with the Lima airport, and felt as though it had become our second home. Our flight to Tumbes was not until the wee hours of the morning, but we didn’t feel it was worth our time and money to catch a taxi to a hotel/hostel, sleep a couple of hours in a real bed, take another taxi back to the airport to catch our flight. Instead, we toured around the airport, ate Papa Johns pizza, that’s right Papa Johns, we were so excited to find it, visited the tiny chapel, discussed whether they would take offense to the pews being used as beds, ultimately decided against it, and finally settled down to sleep/pretend to sleep on the chairs adjacent to the entrance of the airport.
Ecuador/Peru border crossing
Our arrival in Tumbes, was an experience in itself. Tumbes is on the Peru, Ecuador border and is not considered one of the most safe of border crossings in fact, it is considered by some to be quite dangerous. Gathering around the only conveyer belt in the tiny airport the size of a large office, a man came around offering taxi rides over the border, including to the immigration office and check points. He sat in the front seat next to the driver of the taxi. Kyle and he made small chat, as I stared out the window at the gray skies and desolate, dead fields, trying to quiet the overweight butterflies crashing into my stomach lining. I was wondering if we had made a mistake in coming to this country. I am not going to lie; I was scared. We were seasoned travelers, and we had been through many border crossings before, but this one seemed the sketchiest of them all. Although our guide assured us that he was trustworthy, we didn’t know who to trust or what to believe. The butterflies only seemed to put on more weight as we drove through the town. Women walked down the dirt streets wearing, tight, unflattering shirts that exposed their midriff. Little boys ran around in raggedy clothing, barefoot. The streets were chaotic, and full of people, animals and vehicles. As our taxi came to the border between Tumbes and Haquilles, we were halted by a police officer eating a burrito. He wouldn’t look directly at us, but wouldn’t let us pass. The taxi driver got out of the car to explain that he had a license to cross the border and that he did this everyday, but the police officer stared into his burrito chewing meticulously, unmoved, as our taxi driver grew angrier, throwing his arms wildly in the air. By this point our car had been surrounded by 12 to 13 year old boys offering to help us with our bags. I clutched on to my belongings until the cords cut into my hand, watching the boys carefully to make sure they didn’t run off with any of our bags or money. We gathered our luggage and walked two blocks through the chaotic streets to catch another taxi. The man, who rode in the front seat, stayed with us throughout the entire trip, for which I was grateful. We jumped in another taxi for $2 and rode 2km to the Peruvian checkpoint to let them know we were leaving Ecuador. We then had to jump in another taxi to the Ecuadorian checkpoint, to inform them that we were arriving in their country. Outside the checkpoint, friendly men with fixed calculators were happy to exchange money for a good deal, in other words, pay you 60% of what you should receive. We politely declined. We were really on edge and felt extremely vulnerable throughout the whole process, but somehow we made it through without being robbed. After the checkpoints, we walked to a station where our guide said we could catch a ride to Guayaquil. However before we were to depart from our guide, he asked for a tip. Now when we negotiated the original price of the trip “only $10” was his response. Evidently that $10 was to go to the taxi that couldn’t make it across the border. We then had to pay more money to take more taxis, not part of the deal. We gave him $5, nearly all of the cash we had left. He wasn’t satisfied, but after haggling with us for sometime, left grumbling. We paid much more than what we had read it would cost to cross the border as it was, and $10 was the agreed upon rate. In my opinion, he needed to take up his complaints with the taxi driver.
The trip to Puerto Lopez
We had arrived in Tumbes around 7am in the morning. The border crossing although it had felt like days, only took about an hour. The red van, equipped with AC, would take 4 hours to arrive to Guayaquil, the main hub for Ecuador and we were just in the initial stages of this epic journey. We piled in to the impressively clean van for South America with three other men. Our stomachs ached from lack of food, rumbling and grumbling in an attempt to display their unhappiness, but there was no guarantee that the food at our food stop wouldn’t anger our already disgruntled tummies with unknown bacteria. Although we explained this to our digestive organs, they didn’t want to listen to our logical arguments and continued their squabbling. Between the seats in front of us lay a cardboard box labeled sandwiches, and for a fleeting moment of illogical hunger-driven thinking, I thought that the box was filled with food to feed us. What a kind bus driver to think of his potentially famished clients. However, t as I stared at this box that could hold my potential lunch, I observed holes which I thought strange for a sandwich box, since we all know sandwiches don’t need to breath. And then the box moved. Out from one of those curious holes flashed a brown oddly shaped object, only for a brief instant. Perplexed and a little alarmed, I leaned in closer to get a better look. When the object poked through once again, a small thin dark tongue emerged, and to my horror, I realized that within this box, not more than four inches tall, lay a parrot desperate to escape. The hole grew as I watched the beak rip at it’s cardboard prison. The owner of the box/illegal parrot, sat with his head leaning against the window, mouth open and snoring. We decided to wake him, only when fear that the parrot might actually be successful in it’s getaway attempt became evident. My heart hurt for the trapped parrot in it’s unnaturally small box, but I also didn’t want to be a sitting duck, confined in the van with a maddened parrot, squawking and flying around looking for another escape route and/or someone to blame. Not to mention, the legal ramifications of smuggling a parrot might not mean prison or capitol punishment for all in the van with the criminal party, but I didn’t want to take my chances in country with a corrupt government. He patched the hole with tape, and although it slowed the determined creature, the call of the wild was strong in him, and if left to his efforts for just a couple more hours, his attempts would have probably been successful.
We jumped out of the van, almost literally, at the bus depot in Guaquille and ran to catch our next bus that was leaving within five minutes. Kyle’s bladder had been full for over an hour, but rather than risk missing the bus and having to wait for several more hours until the next one, he crossed his legs and stepped on to the seedy bus for yet another 5 hour bus ride. The bus jetted almost as soon as we stepped on making several stops to pick up vendors selling everything from bottled water, to fruit, to ice cream and candy. We were parched and starving by this point, but had been advised by more than one source not to eat street food, and we figured food sold on buses were included in that category. We did break down and buy a bottle of water, but when we opened it, we discovered that it had been opened before and had probably been filled with tap water. We were parched but our desire not to have Mantasuma’s revenge on our honeymoon took priority; we didn’t drink it. The ride was bumpy and long and poor Kyle had to endure almost the entire trip having to pee. Several hours in, we made a quick stop at a gas station to refuel. Seizing his only opportunity, Kyle jumped off the bus to find a restroom. Visions of the bus leaving with Kyle running behind, permeated my mind. I was in a delicate state, and although my fear had mostly subsided by this point, my senses were on high alert until our arrival to our hotel. Luckily Kyle returned, safe and sound without having to race after the bus.
The sun retreated behind the mountains, and darkness slowly sprinkled the sky until it was fully saturated in black, but the bus driver seemed to take the lessoned vision as a cue to drive faster up mountains. I tried to look out the window as we drove at lightening speed, but Kyle assured me, it was best that I couldn’t see anything.
When we arrived in Puerto Lopez, we took a motocab, a motorcycle with a cart attached to the back to carry people, to our Hotel. We were relieved to have arrived at Hosteria Mandala alive, and with all our belongings. We had been traveling for 30 hours straight. We were wearied and famished, but we were home.
Hosteria Mandala was an amazing hotel. A labyrinth of paths, fringed by exotic and colorful plants connected the individual cabins. The rooms were small, but held the essentials. A large bed covered by a mosquito net took up most of the room. There was a closet, a small bathroom and a porch with a hammock and chair. It was a perfect paradise in the sea of chaos that colored our journey up till that point. At the restaurant connected to the hotel, our red eyes from lack of sleep, our slow yet deliberate motions and our near silence as we ate might have led some to believe us zombies and another day of hectic travel like the one before might have sent us over into the zombie realm, but luckily the longest travel portion of our trip was over, and we were glad of it. That night we went to sleep zombies but awoke live humans, refreshed and ready for whale watching. The whale watching journey included much more than just watching for the large knobby sea mammals; a boat ride for the whale watching, a guided tour of Isla de Plata, named for silver supposedly hidden on this island with the blue-footed boobies, and snorkeling for anyone who dared. Our boat ride was over an hour, and during that time we saw many humpbacks breech the water, unruffled by our presence. Their stunning yet peculiar bodies surfaced not 20 feet from our boat and as their tales hit the surface of the ocean, the upset water splashed the boat. It was the end of mating season, and during peak season, the males jump out of the water, performing whale acrobatics to impress the choosy females. At the end of mating season, less jumping and impressing is to be had, but they remain in the area for humans to enjoy. We were lucky in that we did see one jump clear out of the water, creating a tidal wave to be envious of any cannon ball connoisseur. These resplendent creatures range from 40-50 ft and weigh approximately 79,000 lbs. “The humpback has a distinctive body shape, with unusually long pectoral fins and a knobby head. It is an acrobatic animal, often breaching and slapping the water. Males produce a complex whale song, which lasts for 10 to 20 minutes and is repeated for hours at a time. The purpose of the song is not yet clear, although it appears to have a role in mating.” (wikipedia)
We arrived on Isla de Plata (Island of Silver), and took a guided tour by our Spanish only speaking guide. The main draw to this island is the blue-footed booby, a clumsy bird with blue feet. We couldn’t get over these birds and their blue feet. We must have taken over 30 pictures of just these birds and what’s more, their feet were not homogenous in the chromatic sense, their feet varied in the color blue from one bird to the next. These colorful birds made delightful models for our ever snapping camera, seemingly indifferent to the humans with the black boxes attached to their heads. Occasionally the birds would block the path across the island, and because coaxing was punished with a swift snap of the beak, we would have to wait for them to cross. The trip didn’t end there however, because after ogling came snorkeling. The water was clear but not exactly warm, and although the sun was out, the day was not HOT. We jumped in the water for all of five minutes, partially because of the temperature, but also because of the invisible, microscopic jellyfish, stinging our bodies. We never identified the stinging culprit, but whatever animal or thing was guilty of the crime, we didn’t like it.
The following day, we rented bicycles and road what we were told was 12km, but what takes 30 minutes by bus, you do the math. Either that bus moves at tortoise speed, or 12km was not an accurate distance. Nevertheless, we road bicycles to Los Frailes, reputedly the most beautiful beach in Ecuador. The bikes were old, the road, bumpy, in poor condition, and much in need of a repavement. By the time we arrived to Los Frailes, our legs were sore and I was sure my butt was black and blue from bruises since it felt as if someone had used it as boxing practice. The warm and inviting sand made an excellent bed for our bike worn bodies. Soon the dampness that hung lightly from the grey overcast sky like spider webs that brush lightly against your skin, progressed to an unwelcome misting. From vibrant tropical green to desolate, near death brown, the mountains that surrounded the white sand beaches were not the mountains from the brilliant posters, rather in the dull light and mist, they looked melancholy, but none-the-less they still held a certain awe-inspiring quality. The misting continued to thicken as we hopped on our bikes for the ride back into town. Contrary to what the bike shop said, the ride back was not easier. The soft sand had not healed the bruising on our behinds, and despite the rain, we walked the last five blocks back to the shop.
The next day was our relaxing day. We slept in, ate a large breakfast, lay reading in our hammock and took a stroll on the beach collecting shells, rocks and sand dollars.
Montinitas (little mountains) was the next town on our trip. After an hour long bus ride in a beat up puke green school bus speckled in mud from the unpaved roads, we arrived at our destination. It was a cute, colorful hippie surfing town that has become an international hub for arts and crafts vendors. A quiet city by day, and a pueblo loco by night. Famous for it’s nightlife, Montinitas comes alive by dark. Our hotel, however, was situated away from the hustle and bustle of the famous nightlife, tucked away in a quiet corner far from the craziness, or so we thought. Because we were only spending one day and night in Monitinitas before dragging our lifeless bodies on a bus at 5:30 am the following morning, we specifically picked the hotel known for it’s peaceful and quiet evenings. Our heads hit the pillows by 9pm but by 10pm our beds were jumping and jiving with the rest of the wedding situated directly outside our hotel. Eighteen huge speakers, 300 crazy Ecuadorian guests, and a blushing bride and groom were to blame for the lack of sleep that evening. Luckily our bed was not agile enough for swing dancing and we were spared acrobatics. By 5 am the party raged on as we left the hotel, giving our saturated ear-drums and vibration worn bodies a reprieve.
Three bus rides, fourteen hours and one swollen and itchy foot by an unknown bug later, we arrived to heaven on Earth, Vilcabamba. The Valley of Longevity as is it often called, is not only known for it’s outstanding beauty, perfect all year climate, but it’s inhabitants who live well into their 100’s with the oldest reporting 135 years of age. Located in a valley at the foothills of the perpetually green and beautiful Andes mountains, Vilcabamba, because of it’s stunning beauty and magical air, could be the home to the supernatural creatures found in fairy tales. Our lodging, Madre Tierra hotel and spa (Mother Earth), was a paradise within heaven on earth, and had the most outstanding accommodations yet. The rooms, tucked away on the mountainside, were individually designed and decorated and included a large stylized porch with an amazing view of the valley. An organic breakfast and dinner were included in the price of the room, only $70 per night and 50% off all spa treatments.
After passing up Madre Tierra after having explained three times to the bus driver our destination, we arrived just in time for a romantic dinner, outside, under an awning dotted in Christmas lights. The tables were long, family style, and covered in colorfully striped tablecloth. The food was delicious, a perfect reward for our long, arduous day of travel. On our first day we spent our time between leisurely strolling through the tranquil, and quaint town and fabulous treatment at the spa designed to feel like a tropical cave dwelling. (For all of you who are wondering, Kyle has been converted to that of a spa-going and spa-enjoying male.) The spa had a special sample treatment deal which included a foot massage, a facial, a mud bath, a salt rub, a sauna treatment and a hair treatment. In total the treatment took three hours and only cost $45! (If I sound like an advertisement, I can’t help it, it runs in the family, I love a good deal!) One of the most interesting of the treatments was something we dubbed sauna box. After having our feet rubbed, our heads massaged and conditioned while listening to the extremely soothing and relaxing music our bodies were no longer our own, but had been molded into rag dolls. We were told to strip down to our Adam and Even suits, sit in this specially designed wooden box with a hole on the top. The hole’s purpose was so that while the body was being steam-cooked like a vegetable, the head could rest above with the cooler, fresher air. However, the seat within the box was crafted for one much taller than I, and I strained and stretched my neck to keep my chin above the hole. After steaming for a while, the lady came back in to let us out of the melting pot. It was a strange feeling standing naked and vulnerable in front of this stranger, but I did as I was told. She stood me up and using a hand towel soaked my wilted body with cold water. At first I shrank from the stark change in temperature, but I slowly felt my body rejoicing in the refreshing coolness. But we were not done yet. After fully adjusting to the coolness, I was placed back in the oven. This routine happened three times with only how I was drenched in cool water changed each time. The second time, I sat in what seemed to be a sink and had water poured on me. The third, I stood in a shower and was sprayed with water like I was car getting a spray down. There is sometimes a fine line between torture and pleasure, with this activity slightly leaning towards the pleasurable side.
Our activity for the following day was a guided tour to a hidden, therefore magical waterfall. (Ok so it wasn’t actually supposed to be magical, but it makes the story all the more interesting when there are magical elements. Am I right?). Our tour guide was very nice, spoke English well, and was eager to share any and all information on his country. Although, I found the waterfall to be plain and not as magical as I had hoped, the hiking was lovely. Had we come across the waterfall unexpectedly on our trek, I might have found the waterfall to be one of the most spectacular sights in the country, but because it was our destination, the goal of our entire trek, my expectations were high and in the end, as with most high-expectation situations, I was disappointed. On our walk back to the hotel, our guide took us to a sugarcane factory where the raw sugarcane plant is processed in a huge tub of boiling goo. We were given samples of the golden magma goo, which was delightfully sweet and lovely.
That evening we had a charming dinner with some volunteers on a medical team from California who had come to Ecuador on a mission to repair skin damage on fire victims. One of the benefits of the long, family-style tables was that it supported a community feel, and we got to know many of the other travelers at Madre Tierra, including a crazy Austinite who had come to Madre Tierra for a week, but had stayed five and counting. After dinner we watched The Year of Living Dangerously, an old Mel Gibbson movie in the ballroom. The wind, which can often be playful in the valley, was serious and forceful, howling into the night as we walked up the mountain to our room. Not minutes after we had climbed into bed, did the windows start rattling. I thought the wind was up to it’s mischievous and odd behavior once again, until the bed that we were in began to shake. It felt as if a giant was trying to jiggle his favorite toy out of the room. Afraid to move, I asked Kyle what one might find an obvious question, “Is this an earthquake?” Neither one of us had experienced an earthquake before, nor as the shaking continued did we know what actions to take while in an earthquake. As a child, we had tornado drills in elementary schools where all the students kneeled in lines against walls and covered their heads, but never had we practiced what to do in the case of an earthquake. For a moment I became aware that our room overhung a cliff, and feared that if the quake continued much longer, our room may be found at the bottom of the valley. After what seemed like hours, but was probably only 45 seconds, the shaking ceased. Our friend whom had befriended at dinner and had the room adjacent to ours, called through the wall, “is everyone ok?” Shaking and strangely excited, we threw on light jackets and headed next door. From this incident, we learned that the latest reports on safe procedures in an earthquake are to stand against a wall instead of a door frame like previously suggested, and being under a heavy object that could fall and crush your body, was not a good idea. An hour later, still jittery, we crawled back into bed.
I was surprised, the morning after that the workers seemed unfazed by this 6.0 earthquake, brushing it off as “solo un temblor,” (only a tremor). We might not have been at the epicenter of the earthquake and I might not be an expert, but a tremor does not shatter the glass walls to a spa.
Paradise, although near perfect, can sometimes have it’s draw backs. For me, these draw backs came in the number 60. Our very first evening, one of the first questions I asked was if bug spray was necessary. I have a special relationship to bugs, I hate them, and they love me. In fact, you could say I am a beacon in the night, a lighthouse, for all those creatures who seek blood. My blood is like the holy grail of bloods according to the mosquitoes and their kin, and is sought after like Pooh bears to honey. I was assured that this was not mosquito season and bugs were not an issue. This statement might have been true for a person like Kyle who only received 5 bites during our stay, but not for an attractive blood donor like myself who by the end, had over 60 bites. Yes, I said 60, not 6, not 16, but 60, 15 at least on each limb. But what made these even more special was that these weren’t just regular bites, they were unique. Two of my bites on my ankles caused swelling and discoloration with a diameter of at least three inches. Another bite bubbled up in a form of a blister that had to be popped. By the end, I was like an art project gone wrong, splattered in colors and shapes, but not very sightly. But despite my multiple itches covering my body, we had a fantastically romantic time in Vilcabamba.
Zorritos (little foxes) was the last stop on our honeymoon. We were the only guests staying at the hotel, situated on a picturesque and serene white sand beach. Zorritos itself was a dump, but we hadn’t come for the town, we had come for the sun and the beach, a last repreive before we returned to cold Pichilemu. We spent one day on an unexciting tour of the mangrove forest while the other was spent lounging on the beach. The chef at Costa Azul, our hotel, had amazing hands for seafood and we dined in ecstasy nearly every night. Our time in Zorritos was relaxing and uneventful, unless you consider my crisply burnt feet, but nearly a perfect ending to a perfect honeymoon. On our last day as we walked along the beach, holding hands and reveling in our perfect honeymoon , a fin penetrated the water. A pod of dolphins of at least 6 swam along the shore as if to say goodbye and good luck.
Our honeymoon, unlike the easy uneventful, resort honeymoons that many people enjoy, was full of wild border crossings, long bus trips, and painful bug bites. But as we are not most people, and enjoy adventure and all the hazards that come along with adventure, we consider our honeymoon a success. It was a fabulously romantic adventure always to be remembered. It was the best honeymoon we could have asked for, and I loved it as I love Kyle exactly the way he is.