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January 13, 2012

The Learning Curve

At first when I was here, I was nervous about getting the right stuff. Then I hit a point where I was kind of in a groove, learning a lot and feeling that I had knocked off a lot of what was on my list plus some bonus surprises, and felt good about it. Then yesterday I got to that point where I realized I have so very much *more* to learn. And how can I ever do justice to a topic that I know so little about?!

[The head of the risk management secretariat for the province of Tungurahua explains evacuation decision-making to students of risk management from a university in Quito.]

I also realized that I probably won't have a chance to hike partway up the volcano. I'm to the point in my trip that limitless time is now limited--I've only got three days left here, including today.

[The virgin on the hill lights up as the sky goes dark.]

Did I mention the hostal's affinity for cheesy 80's R&B? "Secret Lovers" just gave way to "I Miss You." Gah. Has nobody told them? Should I be the one?

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January 12, 2012


Apparently there was an explosion and ashfall last night at about 1 a.m. So I might see the volcano erupt (again) this time after all.

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January 11, 2012

A Little Time for Fiesta

In case you felt sorry for me, here's a shot of the folks I went hiking with Sunday afternoon:

[Volcano seekers. Unfortunately, the volcano was in clouds so we just had to imagine it.]

On Monday, I cruised all around the volcano (the 180 degrees of it that has a road, anyway) to take pictures of life and structures around Tungurahua in the context of the volcano. Unfortunately, it was in the clouds all day.

[Corn damaged by ash.]

Yesterday, I got a bunch of material from the risk management group here in Banos, which will be enormously helpful. And last night, I decided to join my roommates and some folks they had met on a volcano night tour. I was curious about what the tour would be, since the volcano is quiet right now.

We started off on a party bus (a chiva) with flashing lights and loud music. Which is all you really need for a party.

And were dumped at an overlook with a view of Banos at night and the volcano, calm but visible with a white shawl of snow. We drank a warm cinnamon beverage which was delicious so long as you didn't add aguardiente and chatted and wondered when we'd be heading back down.

They conveniently dumped us off at a club with a free drink ticket that kept us there long enough to do an orange shot together (the only option with the drink ticket) and to enjoy some more loud music and flashing lights.

And then we were on our way. My way was straight to bed. No picture necessary.

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January 8, 2012

I Don't Need Friends Until the Weekend

Ah, the joys and annoyances of traveling.

Anyone who has traveled the hostel circuit will know what I'm talking about. Every night a new suite of 'friends,' every day a sampling of the same conversations: Where are you from, what are you doing, what do you do, how long are you traveling. Except I'm in kind of a particular situation. I'm at a hostel, but I'm working. And while I made friends my first two nights here, I had two nights with the six-bed room to myself and then a large group of college students from Quebec working on social projects flooded the hostel, and my room, and while they're very nice and we exchange pleasantries in English, they're not going to become my new hostel 'friends.' So, if I want to not eat dinner alone or if I want to converse with someone or if I want to have someone to go for a drink with, I have to actually put myself out there and make an *effort* to make friends. 'Friends.' (Don't be too fooled by the quotes--I really genuinely like the people I was hanging out with at the beginning of my stay, but the relationships are very transient.) And, quite frankly, I don't need friends until the weekend, when I'd like to go out so I can get a few shots of nightlife in Banos without being that awkward creepy kinda weird gawker.

Let me back up. I'm back in Ecuador to finish the project I started a year and a half ago. It's turning into my master's project: I'm going to take a look at how people live around an active volcano. It's pretty damn cool, but because I'm me, it's providing me no shortage of anxiety. Will I get what I need? Am I in the right places at the right times? Am I talking to the right people? Am I doing a good job? For instance, I'm not enamored with my photographs. But they'll have to do.

So I'm staying at the same LOVELY hostel for two weeks, which is great--it's in a good location, not super crazy, is clean and has a kick-ass patio with a good breakfast. (They make the bread in-house.) It's nice to have a home base right in the tourist center of the area. But it's a little weird to be surrounded by passers-through when I'm here with a goal other than to see the waterfalls, to check out the hot springs, or to close down the bars.

This morning, I went to mass. I wanted to go out last night to get pictures of nightlife, but I didn't have any friends last night--I was in a lull--and I couldn't be bothered. When I say I "wanted" to go out I really just mean I wanted the pictures. I didn't want to go out at all. I wanted to curl up in my bed and go to sleep. And that's what I did. I'm taking the gamble that I'll have friends next Saturday.

That gave me the opportunity to go to mass this morning. 8 a.m. mass. I interviewed a priest a couple days ago and wanted to get shots of him in action. When I interviewed him, in an office, he was lively and animated and talkative and friendly and candid--he's 74 and born and raised here in Banos. He told me to be careful with my camera because--not everyone--but some people may want to steal it. Better to not give them the temptation. So more than being a Father, he seemed like a father.

Today, in mass, he was almost a different person. He was more serious. He also seemed to have a hard time coming to the words--not that he didn't know what to say, but that he was having a hard time speaking, and kept putting his hand to his collar, as though he was feeling uncomfortable physically. I was afraid he was nervous or having a heart attack. Mostly, he was just a little removed, not connecting with the people like he had connected with me in the office. So this was my favorite part of the mass: At the end, everyone was crowding up to the front--I had no idea why at the time, but it was to be blessed by holy water. The priest was still back behind the altar. He broke out of his speech. "Don't leave your places. Stay where you are. Don't leave your places. It's not safe. Someone could rob you." As people are pressing in to be blessed. Ah, there's the father.

And now, a confession. While I don't really need friends until the weekend, and they're kind of a distraction, I wouldn't mind having a friend for part of today to have someone to do something with. An excuse for a bike ride or a hike, to nowhere, with no intent of taking pictures or doing interviews. Just to go, and to have some pleasant company.

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January 5, 2012

Viva la Revolucion!

I awoke a little after 6 a.m. to a bang. .... the volcano? .... a gunshot? ...

and I did what any good budding journalist would do. It's innate. It runs in my blood. What wasn't already there has been pumped in through three semesters of multiple journalism classes. I got up, threw on some clothes, grabbed my camera and a notebook and ran to the street to check it out.

OR, I hoped it would go way and went back to sleep.

Apparently, journalism doesn't run through my veins. But a love for sleep and for being snug in bed does. Many of you already know this about me. Apparently these things don't change just by matriculating.

Actually, I woke up even earlier, to the sound of what I think was a recorded song about la virgen. That went away. The bangs didn't, at least not right away. I was driven to sit up in bed and peer outside--I had switched to a bed right by the window--but couldn't see anything of interest, so lied right back down.

It did occur to me what the sound might be, after continued listening: Fireworks. More like firecrackers, a single burst, like a bottle rocket. the bangs continued throughout the next couple hours, accompanied at times by what sounded to be a band, playing the same song periodically. What I really wanted to know was: Who won the revolution? And then, secondarily--what revolution?

When I did get up, shower, and dress, I ran upstairs--suddenly with urgency--to the terrace restaurant to ask what the fuss was all about. Fortunately, it was nothing relevant to my project.

Or... it was the beginning of a day-long celebration to commemorate the return to Banos. I had no idea. Banos was evacuated in October of 1999, when the volcano awoke into its current eruption phase. This I knew. The evacuees, with the help of neighboring communities (many of which suffered economically from the evacuation) forced re-entry of the town, guarded by the military, on--as it turns out--January 5th.

This year marks the first year of the 5th of January as a city-wide civic day. I spoke later with the mayor, Jose Luis Freire, about it. It's not a vacation day, he said. It's still a work day. It's still a school day. It's a day of mandatory civic engagement.

So, I missed the 6 a.m. disparos (shots), but I had a very full day ahead of me of myriad other events.

There was the parade at 10 a.m.

And the panels of newspaper coverage and student essays set up outside the town hall.

The children who wrote many of these essays were not yet alive during the evacuation, which was 12 years ago. The mayor's idea is to involve the children to reinforce the community's collective memory of what it is to be forced to leave a home and what it is to live with an active volcano.

A two-hour radio program in the early afternoon featured interviews about what the evacuation and the re-entry was like for both the people who lived it and the people who covered it in the media.

At 2 p.m., there was a caminata from Los Pajaros. I took this to mean there was a march from a landmark, a statue where there were two birds and where as of the eruption of August 2006 there is now just one, to the town, commemorating and perhaps somewhat re-enacting the forceful re-entry to Banos.

[Boarding free transport to la caminata.]

Instead, it was a procession with La Virgen de Agua Santa (The Virgin of Holy Water) from a church somewhere closer than Los Pajaros to the church of Banos, ending in a special mass. Which is not surprising, in hindsight. Coincidentally, the mayor is planning on making next year's caminata into something almost exactly matching what I had thought I was going to attend.

All day, bands were playing, and all day, periodically, single firecrackers were shot into the air.

The long day ended with a full fireworks display, propelled into a lightly rainy night. I watched the end from under an umbrella on the hostel terrace. The town was dark, and quiet, and the bands were done.

I was overwhelmed by stories. Stories, stories, stories! How could I, can I, every do any of this any justice?

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Lahar Day with Patricio Ramon

Tuesday was a purely organizational day, trying to get my feet under my and my mind around the project and the place, and this morning was more of the same with things starting to feel like they were coming together. I was just about to move rooms to a single so I'd have my own space, be able to spread out a bit, be able to sequester myself away from transients to be able to concentrate, and then to go find something to eat and then go start finding things and people when Patricio Ramon called from the observatory to say there were lahars last night and he was going to go to Palictahua on the other side of the volcano to check it out and did I want to come. Yes. Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. So my plans changed. I gave up the single room, which was a good call because it was stuffy and humid and dark and dank and the dorm room ended up working out quite well. I also gave up eating lunch, which is just how it goes sometimes. Actually, it's how it went most of my stay, for whatever reason. Weird for me, I know.

I was psyched about this day for a number of reasons. I wanted to get more shots of this road, since it's an important element in the story, and last time I was in Ecuador it was impassible because lahars had washed it out in four or five places. Whether to restore the road to its former paved self and what traffic to allow on the road have been hot topics at various times. A better road means more traffic means higher risk of having people in the wrong places at the wrong times. No road at all means the people who farm this area have to move their produce by foot or on horseback or burros.

I also needed to get to the south side of the volcano to get some more shots there and to talk again with one senor Jorge Totoy who had told me two years ago how he had adapted his farming practices to better withstand ashfall. I was lacking enough photos of his land to illustrate his points.

Jorge is amazing. Smart, engaged, upbeat. We almost didn't find him, because we were knocking on the wrong door and our cell phones had no service. Fortunately, his son popped up at just the right moment, and not only was Jorge there, but he was willing to head up to his land with us. And Patricio was willing to take the time to go there as well. I love it, love it love it when my work is easy like that. Thanks Patricio and Jorge.

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January 2, 2012

Picking Patty's Brain

Woke up disoriented because I kept not seeing daylight through the windows even though it seemed it should be late enough. Realized when I did get up that the windows were covered with metal shutters because the room was on street level in the busy part of town. Doh! Decided to switch rooms to try to find something upstairs.

First things first: I was too wired to be hungry so I went to get a cell phone (whew--amazing what a relief that silly little piece of technology was. Communication. Don't get me started) and went to the bank and the grocery store.

[The local cock fighting ring, apparently no longer in use.]

When I got back, I decided I was settled enough to have breakfast. And my disappointment in the hostel melted away in a single moment like the salted butter that would soon be spread on the homemade bread they serve with their omelets. Their balcony and breakfast are... well, un pedacito del cielo, or a slice of heaven, as they like to say. Yep, that confirmed it. This would be my home.

[Jen on the terrace, later in the day.]

I met Patty Mothes and Jen Connor, the daughter of a colleague of Patty's who was touring Ecuador and had spent the night at the observatory, for a little afternoon adventure. We went up to Loma Grande, a hill across the valley from Banos, to check on the progress of a new equipment shed. Data from the volcano is repeated back to the observatory via Loma Grande. Loma Grande, as in "big hill". Aptly named.

[Jen and the volcano at one of several stops on the way up.]

[Banos, nestled in between two high ridges at the volcano's base.]

[Tungurahua. The gray areas at the base and to the right are pyroclastic flow and lahar deposits. Banos is off the picture to the left.]

[Patty chats with the contractor up at the equipment hut on Loma Grande.]

Patty knows everyone in the entire region. She knows everyone because she stops to talk to everyone, and she gives out whatever she's stocked up on. Today it was bread and mandarines.

[Patty can't help but share some bread with the dogs, too.]

The road we traveled is the escape route from Banos should lahars or pyroclastic flows or landslides or avalanches shut off the main route. Patty said it was in poor repair until recently. For now, it's great.

[Cliff of lava to the left, river to the right, volcano straight ahead.]

I picked Patty's brain the whole way. On our way back, she pointed out massive lava flows and we stopped for lunch by a constriction in the river called the Key Hole, where tourist pay to cross the canyon on a tarabita, or cable car, and where we ate delicious chicken ceviche.

[The Key Hole.]

Patty's the best.

And she knows so, so much.

She dropped Jen and me back in Banos and went on her way to the observatory to continue working. Jen and I checked into a six-bed dorm room on the third floor of the hostel where the windows were never shuttered and we had a bathroom in the room and a view of the virgin statue on the hill above the west side of town and we dropped our things to go for a hike.

It had not even occurred to me to hike from Banos. It had not occurred to me, either, to bring my guidebook, since I was not there as a tourist. But Jen had a guidebook that told her there were hiking trails leaving right from town so we took one of them. We got a little lost finding the trailhead and were assisted by two very helpful young men who were keen on joining us on the hike until we said no, thank you, that we weren't interested in smoking weed with them, and then somehow and fortunately they immediately changed their mind.

[A break on the way up.]

[beer koke water.]

The hike was great. Steep and steep and up and up and lovely and we kept following signs past a couple lookouts toward Runtun, until the signs seemed to contradict themselves and we asked someone how to get to Runtun and she said we were there. Oh. I had one of those tourist moments. But Runtun is just a town? What's there to see? What's there to do?

[Puppies in Runtun.]

[A brief almost-view of the volcano from Runtun just before turning back to town.]

We could have continued up, but dusk was just stepping in. So we headed back down, lost our way and found our way and ended up unintentionally on a different path to Banos and were a little uneasy until we came upon a substantial structure that felt like a reentry from the wilds and then came upon a group of Europeans soaking in a rooftop hot tub in that structure who looked down on us, literally, with what might have been some pity as we walked by. Yes, we were definitely back from the wilds.

[Prominent lights: Virgin statue on the hill to the left, church towers on the bottom right.]

And just in time. We arrived back to town at dark. Went to our hostel, made some new friends in our dorm room, and went to dinner with them at what would become one of my two favorite spots. We almost turned away from it, seeing all white folks inside, but decided we were hungry and done looking around and why deny what we were, anyway, so we went in and had a slow but delicious meal. Casa Hood lasagna = I love you. I do.

After dinner, Catharine, a nursing student at Emery, opted for bed, but Jen and Simeon and I tried for a drink. Somehow, the town was as quiet tonight as it was busy the night before. Turns out there's a law in Ecuador prohibiting the sale of alcohol in bars on Sundays, but since Monday was a holiday they'd switched it to Monday, at the very least unofficially, so everything was closed. But Simeon had remembered seeing a brew pub, probably a German brew pub, on his way back from his bike trip that afternoon and was determined to find it. From my journal: Jen and Simeon and I went all over town looking for a brew pub Simeon had seen earlier and it turned out to 1) exist and 2) be the only bar open.

The brew pub was not German. It was not even run by a Belgian, as Simeon had later decided (I think based on the brewmaster's last name as posted next to a picture on the wall). No, the German was wishfully thinking the brew pub he had seen, tired and thirsty at the end of this bike ride, was a product of his homeland. As it turns out, it's run by a couple U.S. ex-pats from Chicago. Jen and I had a drink at the bar after Simeon left and chatted with the bartenders and I decided that probably every night of my stay I would be there for a nightcap of tequila and fresh maricuya (passionfruit) juice.

I went back once more, two nights before leaving Banos.

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January 1, 2012

Quito to Banos - What Time Change?

Whew. Stiflingly hot in my room. I'm pretty sure that added to my weird sleep this morning. Woke early--maybe 6:45? Sun beating on me from a window right next to the bed. Then back to sleep a bunch and had a hard time waking up and adjusting when I did finally wake, before my alarm, at 10:30 or so. But now I think I'm okay with the world. Here we go!


The weather is ridiculous. It's hot! This is not the Quito I remember!

[Indeed, it was not the Quito I remembered. It was unseasonably warm. Except it had nothing to do with the season. It was just plain hot. That's all there was to it. It was strangely hot. I really did wish I was wearing shorts or a skirt instead of pants. This is very unusual for Quito.

I went to a park called El Ejido that's in a commercial center in hopes of buying a phone. But since it was Sunday, and a holiday, everything was closed. But this also meant the park was packed. It was fun to walk through and watch the people.]

It feels breezy. A lovely day--a day in the park! I don't even need this awesome jacket. Maybe the whole trip. I need a skirt, and sunblock! And sunglasses. And a hat.

[It's a good think I brought the jacket. I wore it every day, including that evening. Banos, as it turns out (I couldn't remember), can be chilly too.

After the fruitless but nice visit to the park, I headed out for Rosi and Modesto's house, where I stayed last time I was in Ecuador.]

I am just beside myself that I've learned the metro bus system. 25 cents! Why did I not know this before? It's brilliant!

[We had plans to have lunch at 1:30. I was running a little late, but felt like I was doing pretty well, considering I don't know the city that well.

At their door, however, they greeted me with "We were so worried! We thought something happened!"

Okay, I was a little late, but Rosi did say between 1 and 1:30 and I said 1, so I didn't think 1:15 was that bad. They fawned over me a little more and I apologized but was a little confused. I mean, come on.

We sat in the living room to chat. So good to see you, they said. How are you? We were so worried! Something must have happened. We waited and waited, and we're sorry but we ate.

You--you ate? What, you waited 5 minutes, and then scarfed it all down in another 5?

And then I figured it out.

"What time is it?"

Yep. I'm an idiot. I was going off my iPhone, which had updated the time in Houston, but not after. Because I had it in airplane mode so as not to get charged for any service. And I hadn't bothered to 1) look up the time change from Boulder to Quito (I know, I know...) and 2) thought to but forgot to ask the woman at the hostel what time it was as I checked out.

Which means a few things. I didn't get to the hostel at close to 3 a.m.--I got there at close to 4 a.m. And I checked out an hour late, at 1 p.m. And, of course, I was an hour and 15 minutes late to see Rosi and Modesto instead of just 15 minutes late. It also meant I was an hour behind my intended schedule to get to the bus for Banos.

[Rosi in her living room. Note the wax nativity on the right, catching that great light they get through their dreamily big window.]

[I took this for my mom. All the pieces are handmade.]

I left their place at around 4:30 (the for-real 4:30) to get to the bus terminal. The first cab wanted $10! No way! So I got out. The next cab wanted $20. I paid him $13. Sigh.

At the terminal, I was told there would be no bus until 10:30 p.m. I dejectedly took this to mean that everything was full until then, since it was a holiday weekend. But check back with the other companies, they said. Good, I thought, something might open up.

Funny thing about Ecuador. They have more than one bus company. Curious, no? And maybe it's even more curious that in a country (the U.S.) that frowns upon monopolies there's only really one bus company. Anyway. They have more than one bus company, all leaving from the same terminal. I was proud of myself for understanding this part of the system.

But when I was up walking around and found that there was a bus leaving for Banos at 7 (hooray!) and then I got on that bus and there were fewer than ten of us, I felt like I was back to square one. I'd originally thought that a spot opened up on a full bus, but apparently a whole bus opened up. Do they just add and take away buses at will? Did a bus driver wake up from a nap and say "Hey, honey, I think I'm going to drive to Banos. Call the company and make me some coffee, will you?"

[Strolling in the Quito bus terminal at night.]

Well, whatever. Getting on a bus at 7 was much better than having to wait until 10:30.

The bus was in cruise mode. I forewent the bad action movie shown in the front of the bus to listen to some of my interviews from last time on my iPod, which is also how I spent much of my flights. (When I wasn't waxing poetic about the clouds.) I think we were in Banos by 10:30.

And I went to my hostel. The one I had found by looking not-very-hard online, and had called to say I'd be in late. (Turns out there are still pay phones in this world!) And I buzzed the door. And it was opened by.... the guide Judah and I had last year to take us to the jungle. When it was just Judah, me, and the guide. (Awkward.) The one who told us he had five women who didn't know about each other. The one who explained to us that a drum was an instrument, and that you hit it with a big stick to make music. The one who was supposed to speak English but didn't. I almost wanted to run. Either away, or in to my room to e-mail Judah and tell him right away so we could burst out laughing. I held it in. If he recognized me, he didn't let on. And as it turned out, he wasn't the regular night guy. I think I only saw him two more times in my stay there.

I dropped my stuff in my room and went out to walk around with my camera. Banos has a little bit of everything everywhere, but it makes life simple for tourists by concentrating things in small stretches. There are two blocks of concentrated family restaurants and artisan shops, leading from the church square to the town hall square. There are two blocks of bars, perpendicular to and halfway down the restaurant strip. One block has both the supermarket and the --nonsupermarket? (There's also an open-air market a few blocks away on the weekends, blowing my simplicity theory to poop.) Since this was still a holiday weekend--Monday was a national holiday--the streets were hopping. Including the bars, funnily enough. I learned later that by law in Ecuador no alcohol can be sold, in bars anyway, on Sundays. But apparently it's more of a night-before-we-start-the-week thing than a Sunday thing, because the bars were definitely open that Sunday night. And definitely closed on Monday.

[One of the town's main attractions.]

[Busy Banos.]

[The bar strip.]

[The town hall? Or a party?]

Small kids were still running around with their parents when I headed to my new home an hour or so later. Welcome to Banos.]

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