Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Zorro Mask.

Have you ever seen "The Mask of Zorro?"  It came out in 1998, so I would have been 10 years old at the time.  It became one of my favorite movies -- maybe the action, the passion, or the mystery (Antonio Banderas is eye candy, but probably not my reasoning at 10 years of age).  Or maybe it was that MASK.  Well, this year, I was able relive my slight fascination with Zorro to bring in 2015....   

For New Year's Eve here in Chile, everyone goes all-out!  None of this American philosophy of "draggin' the wagon until midnight finally hits."  Oh my no!  Most people here in Chile bring in the dawn, actually the morning.  I have friends of ALL AGES who stay up EVERY YEAR until 8am, 9am or 10am bringing in the New Year.  And unlike the USA, it doesn't always involve getting drunk or one night stands. People just love to celebrate here: dancing, eating, conversing, games, and MASKS.  Oh wait, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's take it back a step.

First, it's tradition that the families have dinner together at around 9pm or 10pm, followed with conversing like parakeets for a good while.  In the V region of Chile, all along the coast -- from Valparaíso to ConCon -- they have a massive fireworks show that sets off at a little past midnight.  So, most families either make their way to the coast or they can see it from their houses to watch together.  The fireworks don't go off at exactly at 12:00am because you have to have at least 5 minutes for the tradition of the "New Year Hug," where you hug everyone individually and wish them "A Happy New Year" ...and any other wishes or blessings you'd like to say. For a person who is affectionate, it's a magical way to wish in the new year.  From there, most people under the age of 30 go out to party, whether it's at a friend's house, a club, a bar, a restaurant...etc.   Eat, eat, dance, dance, laugh, laugh until the morning hours arrive.

This year, my dear husband and I decided not to give any Christmas presents, and we spent that money on the unforgettable experience of seeing the fireworks from the middle of the ocean.  Yes, we dared to face the waves of PEOPLE, worse than NY Times Square I would argue. Absolute chaos, noises everywhere, running, yelling, squished like sardines, but totally worth it.  Just to give you an idea:  Usually, from our apartment to Valparaíso, it takes about 45 minutes in car.  On New Year's Eve, anytime past 3pm in the afternoon, it would take us 3-4 hours of driving in car with all the traffic and people everywhere.  It's that CRAZY!

So, after an hour of waiting, we finally boarded our boat. Aye aye, captain! There were 22 of us total -- 2 counting me & Pato, and then 20 members of the SAME family. Definitely odd men out. The main lady who was the "overseer" of the family had her buttock in our faces for the first 10 minutes, making sure that the "salads" and the "purple, black and grey backpacks" and the "entire family" was all present and accounted for.  Me trying to be a lady, I did not tell her that her rear end made a better door than a window (but by golly, it almost slipped).  OH, WAIT, IT GETS BETTER. We're in the middle of the ocean. It's 10pm at night. There's a breeze. Why would you board in shorts?  Don't ask me.  The overseer finally sits down in front of us, unbuckles the first button on her shorts, then looks at the both of us and states, "Hey guys, I am really cold, so I am going to change into my jeans."  I was speechless and inept to respond, so Pato shocked as well replied, "Oooookay."  She stood up once more, yanked down her shorts, (thankfully was not wearing a thong) and put on her jeans right there in front of us.  Pato looked in the other direction like a classy gentleman, but I swear that my mandible went down further than any other anchor in the ocean that night.  = No words! I don't care if you are rich, poor, or in the middle.  Money does not equal class. This lady simply had no class.  Me, trying to be understanding, patient and not judgmental, I thought to myself, "Be calm, Isabel, maybe it's a cultural thing. In the States this would never happen, but be patient. It's probably normal here in Chile. Breathe, honey, breathe." Only to find out 2 hours later from Pato that he also was just as appalled.  NOT a Chilean thing at all.

[There was a disgusting adventure in the bathroom that night as well, but probably a bit too explicit to get into details here in on facebook.  Let's just say that the toilet had ocean water that would spray upwards every 2 seconds to baptize any of its victims.  Enough said. Use your imagination.] 

Fast forward to midnight:  It was breathtaking to be in the middle of the ocean, among some of the largest warships I've ever seen.  The moon was playing peek-a-boo among the dark heavens and illuminated clouds.  Suddenly, I hear all the ships go off in synchronization at 12:00am to announce the new year's arrival.  It made me smile from ear to ear.  It was like a choir of bass voices among the waves.  Pato and I hugged each other and kissed a little to bring in our new year.  And then of course, every family has the crazy uncle, so we got a few hugs from the slightly drunk uncle as well.  AND THEN... the fireworks!!  To see a vivid, colorful, creative display of fireworks from the middle of the ocean, with Valparaíso night life as the backdrop -- it will be an experience I always treasure of my first year of marriage. 

From 11pm-1am, we were floating on the waters, and finally made our way back to land about 1:30am.  That wasn't enough, eh? Then Pato and I ventured to our next stop:  a party at a friend's house. EVERYONE before, during, and after midnight is all decked out in their outfits -- glow sticks, head bands, feathers, blow horns, and masks.  So, because of this and the party afterwards, we both invested into some spiffy masks.  Pato, as usual the hit of the party, wore a MOUSE mask which caused a contagious case of the giggles no matter where we went (see pictures).  I, on the other hand, went for the female version of Zorro.  My dear Zorro. Unfortunately, I was lacking my intimidating sword, but there's always 2016 for that. We stayed at the house dancing, eating, laughing until 6am, arrived at home and in bed at 6:30am. 

That's how the cookie crumbles. 
Who's down for bringing in 2016?  
You're welcome for some tasty insanity here in Chile! 

2015, HERE WE COME...

Saturday, December 20, 2014

20 Hours of Life.

Yesterday was seriously one of the best days ever. The 20 hours I was awake was jam-packed with surprises, new experiences, and savory moments. Want the run down?  Well, if you insist...

1- First, Pato and I decided to wake up at 5am and drive to go see the sunrise out in the country (no pictures sorry).  We brought our thermo, had our hot tea, boiled eggs, bread, and fruit all while listening to the birds chirp and watching the sunrise over the mountain top. 

2- Next, since it was still really early, 8am by now, we decided to go to the beach 20 minutes away and watch the fishermen bring in the morning's catch from the ocean.  Being from the Midwest, I have discovered that I am plain ole ignorant in any and all things regarding seafood. We saw them unraveling Hake from the nets, chucking the the pesky little crabs back into the ocean, cleaning out conger eels' heads & pelicans/sea gulls going bonkers watching all of it.  It really was quite a scene!  I am determined in the next few months to do a photo shoot there. 

3- After the beach shores, we jutted inland once more to finish our Christmas shopping at a local outlet mall. Normally, I don't really enjoy shopping like most of the female gender, but I loved this time for two reasons.  (1)  I had the most scrumptious cup of COFFEE for the first time in over a year. I never drink caffeine anymore, so you can imagine what Pato had to put up with for the rest of the day. (2) We ended up conversing with two store clerks for almost 30 minutes about cultural stereotypes and misconceptions between the Chilean culture and the American.  We clarified about how American movies really export a horribly poor image of my nation, how Chileans are total classicists, how Chileans are much more open and affectionate in public arenas, how most Americans perceive Chile, and the like.  It was beyond satisfying... and hilarious!

4- By this time, it's almost 2pm, so we went to eat and a quaint little restaurant, then we returned to our apartment.   We organized a bit and waited for some close friends to arrive for "once" (in my humble opinion, Chilean version of British tea time). Our guests arrived at 4pm; I introduced them to some homemade cinnamon rolls from the US of A.  Who doesn't like cinnamon rolls?  Total success.  So after the pre-game for three hours, we left for the rockin' party at church for young adult group on Fridays.  However, in the middle of the service, we determined that we simply had not had enough time together.  I absolutely LOVE Latino culture because there is no "start time" or "end time" determined for outings (some can last 7-8 hours if everyone has the time). So as soon as church ended, we decided to continue with the after-party yet again back at the apartment for some more laughs and numerous rounds of Dutch Blitz. If you are not familiar with Pennsylvanian Dutch ways,  I have attached a link for the curious George out there who wants to know: <> Everyone left after midnight, and we obviously sawed some serious logs around 1am.

Even though I've been involved with Spanish & the Latino culture for over 15 years now, there have still been some intense cultural transitions, more so right at first. It's one thing to study abroad in a country or live with a short-term goal/mentality, but to really create your LIFE in another country is a different ball game. BUT there are always days that are pure treasures. Gold nuggets really. 

Yesterday was one of them.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Marriage Newbie.

I've only been married a mere five months, but I've arrived at one conclusion: almost all the advice you hear before marriage will suddenly sprout wings and fly out the window after those wedding bells chime.  You realize you aren't as cool, patient, or selfless as you once thought.  You realize that men really are from Mars; it's not just a book title! Marriage is sticky, complicated, wonderful, mind-blowing, fun, never predictable....  All those characteristics ON STEROIDS when you're making the transition in another hemisphere of the world.

I've always savored a good challenge, and an international relationship is the best in its game. Sometimes I react differently because I'm an American, and then other times just because I'm purely female (always a toss up between the two).  However, my husband was specially created for my insanity, naiveté, need-for-adventure, and cultural confusion. Sometimes I just look at him, and I think to myself: "How, or better yet WHY, does he put up with this crazy, skinny, white chick?"

Above all, readers, please don't listen to those embittered or pessimistic couples out there for counsel. Sorry, but I believe that the honeymoon can last more than just one month (it has so far); please let me live in my dream world.  I believe that the first year of marriage the couple must discover HOW TO communicate, the glue in the marriage bond, but it doesn't have to be as horrible, hard, and discouraging as everyone makes it out to be.  It depends on the individuals.

So, everyone asks me, "How is married life?" And honestly every time I answer the same:
"It's insane to create a new life with someone else, especially when that's compiled with cultural transitions here in Chile.  But you know what? I absolutely love it! I love doing life with my husband." Marriage is as awesome as the two make it to be. 

Each season has such a beauty to it, treasures that might never be experienced again when a new chapter is written. So enjoy the season you are in!  Find the beauty!  ......In the meantime, I am going to go take a nap with my hubs and listen to his Harley-Davidson-Motorcycle-like snores.

Friday, April 4, 2014

66 Memories in Ecuador

To commemorate my 1.5 years here in Ecuador, I thought I would write a list of my 66 most memorable moments here.

(1)   Enjoyed teaching English more than I ever thought possible.
(2)  Visited Cajas National Park almost 10 times.
(3)  Entertained nine visitors here in Cuenca.
(4)  Gained friends off the street from Switzerland, Holland, Chile, Colombia & California.
(5)  Enjoyed my favorite New Year’s to date in Santo Domingo.
(6)  Witnessed how a Panama Hat is made, from beginning to end.
(7)  Tried guinea pig (twice).
(8)  Suffered from the worst case of parasites and amoebas.
(9)  Spent one hour trying to crack open three crabs with a wooden hammer (just embarrassing).
(10)  Sassed more vulgar men in public than I thought I ever would.
(11)   Experienced most intense parent-teacher conference (to date).
(12)  Found a tarantula in my first room here in Cuenca.
(13)  Had a tarantula crawl on my face in the Amazon (on purpose).
(14)  Learned to detect when there’s a urine stain on the sidewalk.  (and the smell assists)
(15)  Stood three feet away from wild macaws.
(16)  Saw over ten breathtaking waterfalls all over the country.
(17)  Illegally played with monkeys.
(18)  Explored natural regimens for a sundry of physical ailments, ranging from popping garlic cloves for horrendous colds to eating papaya seeds for two weeks straight to kill my parasites.
(19)   Got to see an ocelot like one foot away (in a fenced property).
(20)  Learned the basics of the Salsa de rueda (or Casino).
(21)   Lied way too much about my marital status to the taxi drivers (e.g., “Why yes, I am happily married to the most gorgeous man on earth!”)
(22)  One hour nightly walk in the Amazon, trying not to think about the bullet ants waiting to attack.
(23)   On that nightly walk, however, had a fun rainforest frog on my hand. (not poisonous)
(24)   Agreed to let Ecuadorians take pictures with me merely due to the fact that I am a token gringa. (Not exaggerating at all here)
(25)   Made chocolate from cocoa beans with a native tribe in Misahuallí.
(26)   Chased, tortured, pet too many llamas. Llamas, llamas, llamas.
(27)   Hosted dance parties in our apartment into the wee hours.
(28)   Lived a pyromaniac’s dream with the highly unsafe, firework “castles.”
(29)   Became addicted to the coastal patacones.
(30)   Weaved a basket from the straw root itself.
(31)    Traumatized initially by the open-air market and ended up making amazing friendships by the end of the year.
(32)   Got food poisoning from my own mushroom soup (long story).
(33)   Stood in awe at hearing the rumbles of the Tungurahua volcano (a top favorite).
(34)   Had drunk-like symptoms on two pills of Dramamine in Isla de la Plata.
(35)   Heard the slightly disturbing mating calls of the blue-footed booby.
(36)   Chased crabs like a 4-year old in Puerto López.
(37)    Avoided kids like the plague during Carnival, who would try to spray me with foam or throw water balloons.
(38)  Swam above 4-5 foot sea turtles in the wild. Majestic.
(39)  Had a sea lion play with me for 10 minutes, blowing bubbles in my face the whole time.
(40)  Investigated zero, first, second, third and mixed conditional tenses for two hours in order to teach that lesson correctly.
(41)  Used boat loads of cumin in muffins instead of cinnamon.  In my defense, the bottles looked the same!
(42)  Beautiful times with my dear Colombian friend for the first three months.
(43)    Taught at least 50 Ecuadorians how to make hand turkeys for Thanksgiving.
(44)   Saw algae glow at nighttime in Máncora, Perú.
(45)   Learned to surf and cut up my foot really bad on the rocks.
(46)    Discussed with taxi drivers the profound differences of dating a Latino versus an American.
(47)   Attended my first quinceañera party (celebrating a girl turning 15-years old).
(48)  Attended first concert ever in Latin America:  Jesús Adrián Romero.
(49)   Attended second concert in Guayaquil:  Rojo.
(50)  Asked if I was from Spain probably about 20 times. ¿Vale?
(51)   Participated in a promotional, tourism video of Cuenca.
(52)    Rappelled off of an immense waterfall.
(53)   Left out of breath countless times after walking up about 50 stairs at 8,000 feet of altitude.
(54)   Paraglided with my dad in Paute.
(55)   Named the rat upstairs “Boris” (only heard not seen, a true enigma).
(56)   Overwhelmed by the beauty of the  Lava Tunnels at Isla Santa Cruz.
(57)   Performed an interpretive dance while my two friends sang karaoke to “I Will Survive” in a very public place in Guayaquil.   Attracted a MASSIVE crowd and received donations.
(58)    Performed reggeatón in front of hundreds of Cuencanos. Won a CD!
(59)    Blessed to see an enormous double rainbow over the Andes mountain range.
(60)   Danced in the rain and jumped in puddles on a public street while the locals just stared.
(61)    Learned how to make good soups from scratch (broth and all).
(62)   Scared people with my hysterical laughter (wheezing, crying, lack of breathing overall) at least 10 times.
(63)   Having the best roommates EVER.  Hands down.  Wow!
(64)   Learned to play basic, classical guitar.
(65)   Woke up to the river and mountains every day.
(66)   Fell further in love with South America and its people.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Taking Notes from a Child

Whenever I first arrived to Cuenca, I was beyond intimidated by the open-air market scene, to the point where I didn't go at all the first three months.  Everything moves fast. It's huge. Everyone's in your face trying to sell produce. My Spanish would have to be on steroids. I simply didn't understand the inner workings. Finally, I mustered up the courage to visit one of the local markets with my close Colombian friend here.  Man, by the end, we were both ready to throw a peach at someone.  Just rude.  However, my experience since November 2013, has been a night-and-day difference.

There is another open-air market close to my apartment, and I forced myself to give it a round two. The friendly, helpful vendors there have officially won me over.   In the past nine months, I have developed some really unique relationships with the ladies here that I will always treasure as part of my experience here in Ecuador.  

I just got back from Chile about a month ago, and I brought a few special chocolates back for my friends at the market.  There is one lady in particular (Norma) and her 8-year-old daughter (Raquel) who have stolen a piece of my heart, and rightfully so.  The majority of my time is with Norma because Raquel is obviously in school during the day. Honestly, between almost two hour conversations with Norma & her always giving me free potatoes, haba beans, peas & inviting me to have some juice with her -- she is one of the most generous, open-hearted people I know here in Ecuador.  Today's trip to the market was no exception.

I arrived and was greeted with hugs.  I mean, come on, that's enough right there.  Afterwards, I was told that Raquel wanted to tell me something.  And this is how it went: "Isa, thank you so much for the chocolates.  The white chocolate was by far my favorite.  You are so sweet for thinking of me and my mom."  That right there melted my heart.  She had obviously practiced this "thank you" based on her little hands folded in front of her and her sweet but rehearsed tone of voice. She continued with, "I would like next week to invite you and your friends to some ice cream and a walk along the river."  The mom followed up with explaining to me that she wanted to use her allowance that she gets on a weekly basis to treat us to a delicious afternoon of ice cream.  I didn't know how to respond verbally to the generosity of this amazing 8-year-old.  All I could do was hug her and say that we would love to.

I am definitely taking some notes about sincere generosity from this beautiful child.
I feel most days that I am more blessed than being a blessing. 

"You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give." 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Make 'Em Laugh

Sometimes, it's quite the challenge to get a hearty laugh out of the locals here in Cuenca. It isn't that they aren't friendly; I just don't think laughing out loud in public places is a cultural concept here, which is simply mind-boggling to this giddy gringa.  Therefore, instead of feeling frustrated by the lackluster, I am determined to infuse, enrich, and instill this population with a bit more joy, a bit more laughter, a bit more love of life.

Most of the time my cheesy jokes don't quite achieve the full-on laughter I seek -- you know those deep belly laughs that make you laugh in return.  For this precise reason, I have had to resort to more extreme measures lately.  Today was a great example of such.

*At the open-air market 10 de agosoto*

We were looking for some beautiful, plump oranges today, and by golly, after walking up and down a few aisles we spotted the perfect ones.  More importantly, this particular lady selling the oranges obviously had some impeccable taste in music, as her Salsa music animated my feet into motion.  I looked at my dear three American friends who I was with, and I said to them, "Okay, I think I have a great idea to get a laugh out of this vendor."  So, I went right up to her and said, "Good afternoon!  How much are your beautiful oranges?"  She replied, "They are three for a dollar."  I said, "Uff. That's a little much.  Couldn't it be four oranges for a dollar?"  At this point in our interaction, I poked her side gently a few times with my elbow as I stated, "Listen, if you give me the four oranges for a dollar, I promise to give you the best Salsa dance right here at your stand."  There was that hearty laugh!  There it came!  But no, it doesn't stop there. I convinced my girl friends to dance Salsa with me right there in the market.  And so we did.  We even did side-to-side, front-to-back, and some lovely turns just to add to the zest of our show.  My friends rock the world.

As she handed us our four oranges, she said, "You ladies dance so wonderfully."  We smiled and said, "Have a great day,"  with the last phrase coming from my goofy mouth: "Stay tuned for our next show. Coming soon."  Yet another dynamic laugh resounded! :)

So in the wise words of Donald O'Connor from "Singin' in the Rain"....  
MAKE 'EM LAUGH. Enjoy life a little more.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Equilateral, Isosceles or Scalene?

A very wise friend told me something recently that ended up encouraging me during my visit back home to the USA and my subsequent arrival back to South America. He said, "Let's pretend that the United States is a square culture.  You were born, raised, and drenched in being that square.  Now, you decide to dedicate your life and passion to the Latino culture; we'll say they are the circle culture.  You have been in-between these two cultures for the past 10 years -- whether in your studies, friendships or travelings. Finally, after all these years, you feel like you are not completely a square anymore and yet you will never completely be a circle either.  Therefore, because of the progression of events, you all of a sudden are this unique triangle, trying to constantly figure out your place between the two cultures."  And you know, the most encouraging part of this real-life analogy is that I've come to accept that it's okay to be that triangle. Actually, it's quite a beautiful thing, although rather challenging and confusing at times.  I am a triangle. I accept my triangle-ness.