to South America and beyond


Feminism in Latin America

I need to rant for a moment about the state of male/female roles in South America (I´m sure some of you saw this coming). Back to more light-hearted topics in my next entry, I promise.

For the aspiring radical feminist in me, South America can be a terrible place. In two words, machismo sucks. This macho attitude that many of the men have (to be fair, it´s not all of them) eminates from them like a stench. You know they have never in their lives experienced the degradation they are inflicting on the women of their culture. My heart aches and my blood boils just thinking about what I´ve experience just in this short time, and even more when I think that the women here have to endure it on a daily basis. If I hear one more whistle, "tss tss", "reina (queen)" or variant, or endure one more unashamed, 10-minute stare, something in me will snap. Imagine if a man walking down the street to do some mundane chore of daily life had to listen to constant cat-calls and be subject to lengthy, leering stares from dozens of women along the way? Sounds ridiculous, right? Then why is it okay when we only reverse the genders?!

I´m slightly comforted by the fact that tourists seem to experience the worst treatment and the local women aren´t harassed nearly as much, but it doesn´t make it right. No woman, no PERSON should be treated this way. Ever. I want to take the women away from here, if only for a day, to experience a place where they are viewed completely as equals and not subject to this constant harassment, but I wonder, where would I take them? The U.S. certainly appears better on the surface, but we still have a long way to go to erase attitudes not even a half-century old about a woman´s place in society. I´ve become accustomed to the objectification and male baises that exist in our own society, just as I imagine they´ve become accustomed to it here, so is it really any better?

It´s sad to think that this problem is only the most visible part of what is a larger women´s rights issue including all the usual suspects - unequal access to education, employment inequality, domestic violence, etc. Of course, this is not the worst women´s rights issue in the world (at least Latinas can go to school and don´t have to cover their entire bodies when they go out in public), but it disgusts me even still. And as a tourist, especially a solo one, I can do nothing to fix it. Even angry responses would likely invite laughter and more attention. For now, I´ll leave the work to activist groups (like those that organize the Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Encuentros) and I´ll have to settle for observation and mounting rage.


Breakfast in Lima


El Oriente

Well, I'm in Quito, again. This town is starting to feel like home, I'll be sad to leave it. Kinda.

I came back into the city yesterday after spending four days at Yanayacu Biological Station outside of Cosanga, Ecuador. It's in the jungle region of Ecuador known as El Oriente. My former roommate Kimberly is doing research there and her boyfriend, Harold, runs the place. They were kind enough to let me stay for a few days even though I'm not doing research. Before I left, though, I was wishing I had gone there to work. After a couple days hanging out with biologists on the rim of the Amazon basin, it's hard not to consider a career change.

The station was exactly what I expected a research facility in the jungle to be. Everything was basic and functional, and yet, because it's also a center for creative studies, there was a great blend of art and science. And the location. Jesus. It's like heaven for biologists. The vegetation, animals, insects - everything just seemed bigger and more abundant when we arrived at Yanayacu. Harold took me and Heidi, Kimberly's research assistant and all-around cool chick, out to the forest the day after we arrived. He lead us through streams and knee-deep mud (we discovered quickly why the rubber boots, or botas de goma, were essential) to several bird's nests that he had marked and was studying. I would have never found these nests that were usually well-hidden under tons of vegetation, but I guess you get pretty good at it after 8 years. We were able to see Harold at work, measuring the eggs to determine metabolism rates and setting temperature gages under nests to record how often the birds sat on the nest. It was fascinating.

Later, we checked out the caterpillar project, which meant wandering through rows and rows of caterpillars hung up in bags from the ceiling. It was a tad creepy, but mostly impressive.

Check out pics from the town of Cosanga and my stay at Yanayacu here.


from the mountains to the beach

I´ve returned after a brief hiatus due both to necessity (shitty internet connections) and a desire to not spend hours of my trip in front of a computer. I spent the last few days at Yanayacu Research Station in Cosanga, but more about that later. First, let me tell you about life in the mountains and on the beach.

The first few days following my departure from Baños were filled with infinitely long bus rides and disappointing destinations. I developed a love-hate relationship with my bus rides through the Andes. Just when I´d had enough of the music blasting in my ears and the squirming in my seat for hours, we would begin a descent through the clouds or overlooking a volcano.

I would be so awe-struck that I almost forgot my legs had completely fallen asleep.

I arrived in un-impressive Cuenca and then inexplicably got on yet another bus to Ingapirca, Ecuador´s Machu Picchu.

Ingapirca was a good lesson in the history of the Cañari people, but as with Cuenca, I was unimpressed. I´m sure the real Machu Picchu will not disappoint.

Then it was off to Guayaquil, Ecuador´s second-largest city, where I was welcomed by a barrage of car horns. Why I didn´t die in Guayaquil, I have no idea. In Ecuador and much of South America they don´t believe in the pedestrian right-of-way, so whether the light is green or red, if you´re in the street, you better get your ass out of the way. After several near-death experiences, I realized that one night in Guayaquil was one night too many.

From Guayaquil, the cities and mountains faded away and I passed into Ecuador´s coastal region. Small fishing towns dotted the beach along the way to rest and relaxation in Montañita.

Ah, Montañita. Half hippy-town, half tourist-trap, Montañita was a welcome break from big cities.

My first day was comprised of lying in a hammock with una cerveza, dinner and piña coladas with a couple from England and reading under my mosquito net before bed.

The next day I felt a little sick, so I planned another day in the hammock with a good book. Before the hammock, I had a quick lunch and met Amanda, another American traveling alone. She said she was taking surfing lessons after lunch and that I should join her. I looked at my book for maybe a second before I enthusiastically agreed.

So we surfed.

And then we drank. And then we went to La Fiesta de la Luna (the full moon party) and danced until 4:00. God I love it when life gives your plans the finger.


syntax sucks

i´ve decided that english syntax has ruined me for life. or i have a language disorder. i can´t wrap my head around spanish phrases like, "me puede decir . . . ", which is "Can you tell me . . . ?" because my brain wants to flip it around. this takes way too long, of course, for any sort of normal conversation. argh.

i would give myself treatment if we had ever been taught how to do that. fucking carpenter.


baños, continued

Saturday was a long and glorious day in Baños. I started the day with breakfast and a discussion of US politics with the Danish owner of a cafe down the street from my hostel. Then there was shopping. I´m getting quite good at the phrases, "Cuanto cuesta?" and "Lo tomo."

The view from my hostel

Then from the market, I wandered into La Basilica.

La Basilica is comprised of a church and a crazy museum that begins innocently enough with wardrobes of former clergy and Christ statues, but soon turns into a freak show. First, there are stuffed animals ripping each other apart:

Then my personal favorite: chanco con trompa y orejas de elefante (pig with elephant trunk and ears)

These are followed by bridal gowns and historical artifacts. Obviously.

The church at La Basilica is a shrine to Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Agua Santa (Our Lady of Holy Water), the patron saint of Baños.

In 1773, the town was apparently saved when the nearby volcano, Volcan Tungurahua, threatened to blow. The people of Baños prayed to la Señora de Agua Santa and voila, no eruption. The rest of the church is filled with giant paintings of other miracles performed by la Señora de Agua Santa, most including the appearance of a giant hand to save someone falling off a bridge or out of a burning building. The people of the town all still believe faithfully in la señora´s power to save them from eruptions and many other disasters (her name is written on the sides of all the buses, making it perfectly safe to go 60 mph around turns at the top of cliffs, not that I know this from personal experience). Why can´t churches back home be this cool?

As a side note, there was a recent eruption of Volcan Tungurahua in late August that destroyed many homes in nearby towns, but Baños was perserved. I heard from fellow travelers and some locals I talked to (well, "talked to" is a stretch, I still only understand about 60% of what is said) and everyone told me, "Baños esta segurro" - Baños is safe. Upon further investigation, it seems that this might only be partially true. The volcano is still active and it is likely that, if it erupts, the mountains surrounding Baños will divert the lava away from the city. But I've also heard that the citizens main reason for believing they are safe is not scientific or geographic, but religious. They believe so strongly that they are protected by la señora that they profess this as fact to all the tourists. And, since their town survives on tourism, they have a monetary reason to claim this also. Not being Catholic myself, I´m getting on the next bus outta here.

Anyway, back to Saturday´s adventures. After the museum, I took a tour on a Chiva (open-air bus) to Las Cascadas (waterfalls). For most of the trip we sat on top of the Chiva as the driver sped through narrow roads overlooking cliffs. At the first cascada, we stopped to take a trip across a gorge via cable car.

See the cable car?

Perched high above the earth

One of the many cascadas

To get to the final cascada, we hiked through a bit of forest (very nearly the amazon, as Baños is on the edge) to this bridge

And at last, the final cascada

Later that night, the second part of the tour (again, via Chiva) was a nighttime view of the volcano. We took another insane ride to the top of a cliff overlooking the city, had a little cinnamon drink (con trago, provided by the tour guide´s buddies) and listened to some traditional Ecuadorian music around a fire. The last song of the night, for the gringos present, was a completely butchered, but totally awesome, rendition of Pink Floyd´s "Another Brick in the Wall." Brilliant.


baños, no not THOSE baños

arrived in baños today and so far it is my favorite city in ecuador. i breezed through latacunga and ambato to the north and will stay in banos for a couple days.

maybe the best part of the trip to these cities has been the bus rides. although they´re not the most comfortable and i´ve had to listen to about a thousand speeches from the locals who hop on the bus before you depart and try to sell you stuff, i´ve seen the most amazing views of the andes. the mountains here are like nothing back home (imagine that, on another continent).

note to self and others planning travel: pack nothing. i thought i had packed very little, but am now developing some beautiful bruises on my arms from lugging my damn pack around everywhere. not smart. i´m thinking some things are getting shipped home in the near future.

well, i´m off to enjoy a little bit of baños nightlife and then i´ll hit the mountains tomorrow. buenas noches!