Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 - My Year In Review

I can't believe 2014 is coming to an end, it feels like this year flew by so fast! as I await for 2015 I am reflecting on 2014 and how this year turned out for me. If there is anything I can say for sure about 2014 is that I took major risks, followed my dream and listened to my heart. I am so proud of myself and I have really grown from the amazing experiences that I have encountered this year. Let's look at some of the highlights of 2014:

Quitting My Job

I had been working as an Accountant for the past 7 years (in various companies) and as the years went by I realized that I wasn't really happy working as an accountant, it got to a point where I was just working for a paycheck and each day it got harder and harder to get up in the morning to go to work because I really hated my job. I hated my job because I did not like being an accountant and I knew I wasn't suited for that specific career path. I always fantasized about quitting my job and taking some time off to find my real passion, It didn't matter that I had a degree in Accounting or that I had my MBA, I just wanted to leave it all behind in search of something more fulfilling. Quitting my job was one of the biggest risks I could ever have personally taken because if anyone knows me, I like playing it safe in terms of financial security so the fact that I decided to quit my job, give up the financial security and some of the benefits associated with having a job, is just something that I sometimes still can't believe but yet I am very proud off.

Following My Dream

I remember one time chatting with a good friend and mentioning to her that one of my dreams is to leave everything behind and travel for a year through South America living off my savings and just living life on my own terms doing whatever the heck I wanted at whatever time I wanted and how ever I wanted. The only thing that was holding me back was fear and I kept telling myself, "it's okay I can postpone this dream until I find someone to share it with me." Let's just say I got tired of waiting so I figured life is too short to wait for things to happen so why not take charge and make things happen for myself. When I finally decided to follow my dream things just fell into place and it's like everything had just been waiting for me to take a leap of faith before aligning themselves to my favor. I could not help but think of one of my favorite quotes from the author Paulo Coehlo, "when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

My Travels

I can not even begin to describe in words how fulfilling my travels have been through some of the countries I have been to this year. I have had ups and downs but I am glad to say that the ups have been way more than the downs and the experiences I have had have been priceless. I have been to places that I never imagined I would ever visit, I have laughed, cried, fallen in love, had my heart broken, danced without a care in the world, taken crazy risks, met amazing and some not so amazing people........the list is endless and I can say for sure that I have no regrets whatsoever and I will always cherish the memories.





Taking A Chance On Love

I had to end a relationship when I started out on my travels, it wasn't an easy decision but after I was done with the relationship I was determined to live life to the fullest as a single woman. I was not interested in getting into any relationship and I was definitely not even looking to fall in love with anyone. I wanted to be selfish and do my own thing without having someone by my side to think off. In the end let's just say even the best laid plans don't exactly turn out as expected. When I met my current boyfriend I was actually in the process of ending a "situation" I will use that word for lack of a better description. Anyway, I thought my boyfriend was just going to be a cute distraction as I got over my "situation" but lo and behold! the dude turned out to be such a genuine, amazing and honest person that I quickly changed my mind about dating and even adjusted my travel plans. I remember on one of our dates we went to this really cute park and we talked for hours, I always jokingly remind him of how much he pled his case on that particular date telling me everything about himself, his life and what he was looking for in a woman. He laughs and gets a bit embarrassed then says, "I guess it worked because you are here with me." We both took a chance on love and I am happy.

That's it folks, it's been a very interesting year for me and as we get ready to bid 2014 farewell I can't help but think back to a lot of things that have happened in my life within this year. I have so many hopes, dreams and goals for the upcoming year, I can only hope that 2015 brings as much fulfillment if not more. Have a happy new year and see you in 2015.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

To convince you that the clothes or shoes on sale are more fashionable, some sales people here in Quito will mention that the stuff came directly from Colombia. This reminds me of one time I was looking for a jacket in Cusco, Peru and the sales lady in trying to convince me to buy one of her jackets mentioned that it came directly from Lima the capital city so it's more fashionable. The way these sales people mention the origin of their stuff with so much awe in their voices can be funny.

Speaking of these fashion benchmarks, this one guy was trying to sell knockoff designer jeans to my boyfriend and when we pointed out they were fake he lowered his voice and whispered to us, "but they are from Colombia, they make the best knock offs!" we both burst out laughing, you had to be present to appreciate the humor.

Last night there was an accident on the street in front of our apartment building. We heard a loud screeching sound of a vehicle before it was followed by screams, fearing the worst we rushed to the balcony to see what had happened. Turns out this one driver was over speeding and hit one of the kids playing on the street, when we rushed to the balcony we saw the kid lying on the street screaming as everyone rushed to help her. The driver was trying to drive off but one guy from the neighborhood had managed to hang on to the passenger window which was open and he was trying to hit the driver to make him stop while the neighborhood kids were throwing stones at the car in a bid to make it stop. It  was so unreal and everything was happening so fast that I felt like I was watching a horrible movie. The driver did eventually stop and people somehow managed to drag him out of the car, I though he was going to be lynched as everyone mobbed him and several women started slapping him. To cut a long story short the police and ambulance arrived and order was restored. Fortunately the kid was not hurt, she was more stunned than anything. I hope the driver got some sort of punishment, I could not believe the idiot was going to drive off leaving his victim on the street. Some people are just heartless.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Feliz Navidad From Quito

The festivities associated with Christmas here in Quito have been on high gear and you can definitely feel the festive vibe everywhere you go which makes it pretty exciting. The streets are also quite colorful and vibrant with numerous vendors selling all kinds of Christmas decorations, festive music blasting from various shops and colorful displays all over the place. I managed to take a few pictures on one of those rare occasions when I decided to carry my camera with me. Sucks that when I didn't have my camera with me is when I witnessed the cutest displays, Ooh! well, hopefully these few pictures will give you an idea of what I am talking about.

The interesting thing about Christmas here is that families gather on Christmas eve to have a special midnight dinner where turkey is part of the main meal. Turns out in Ecuador turkey is mostly eaten during Christmas as a special meal, people don't normally eat it on a regular basis because it's expensive so it's reserved for special occasions.

Another interesting thing about Christmas here is that bags of candy are usually exchanged among families and friends during this festive season so on the streets you will see many vendors selling bags of candy and sugary delights, honestly it reminds me of halloween in the US.

Luis, the guy I work for at the travel agency surprised each one of us who work for him with a bottle of wine and a bag of candy. I thought that was really nice of him and it was a nice surprise indeed.

The boyfriend and I decided to have our own special Christmas eve dinner. He went all out on the food as usual and made typical Dominican dishes recreating what his family usually makes for Christmas eve dinner (this is his first Christmas away from his immediate family). I have to say I am enjoying the perks of having a significant other who loves and knows how to cook. 

Chow down!

That's it folks! have a merry Christmas from us to you, there is food to be eaten and drinks to be drank so I better get to it. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Random Things I Notice In Quito

Having lived in Quito for close to 6 months now, there are certain random things that I notice on a frequent basis and I decided to write about them.

Public Buses - A lot of the public buses here in Quito produce a whole lot of black exhaust fume that is enough to momentarily blind and choke you, all at the same damn time! Seriously every time a bus is about to drive past me I instinctively hold my breath and put on my sun glasses if I didn't already have them on. The upside of public transportation here though is that it's super cheap, with 25 cents you can travel within the city and cover quite a distance.

Weekend shopping madness - We do most of our grocery shopping either on Saturday or Sunday.............. and so does the rest of Quito especially if the shopping is at one of the major economical grocery stores. It is a shopping nightmare because the lines at the cashier are so long that you can easily be stuck on one for more than half an hour. I took the pictures below during our last shopping trip, believe it or not there are several line formations which are not evident in the picture. The best times to shop and avoid crowds are during the day from Monday to Friday, despite us knowing this we still continue to shop on weekends.

Popcorn with soup - Yup! you read that right, I had never heard of popcorn being eaten with soup until I came to Ecuador. I remember the first time I went out to lunch at a restaurant and the waiter brought out popcorn and soup, I was so confused and thought he had mistaken my order until I looked around and saw everyone pouring the popcorn into their soup before eating. Now I am so used to it that it doesn't faze me and you know what? it's actually not bad.

Almuerzos - Speaking of food I have to say I really do like the concept of almuerzo here in South America. Almuerzo means lunch and usually restaurants will have a set lunch menu of the day that includes: soup, main meal, juice and sometimes even desert. These set menus are usually very economical and cost less than ordering something straight from the menu. The almuerzo of the day can be chicken, beef or even lentils (called menestra in Spanish) and is usually accompanied by rice, some salad and plantain. I know the picture below doesn't flatter the plantain which looks like a snail but believe me, it usually looks better than this. I love sweet plantains!

Aji - Still on the topic of food, you will notice a lot of restaurants here in Quito place some liquid concoction on each table. This is usually Aji, a spicy mixture which can be added to food to give it an extra kick. I personally don't think it's very spicy but some people find it too spicy. I usually prefer bottled Aji which appears red and is more spicy but the Aji below also does add a good taste in food.

Internet cafes and phone charging services - Every block has at least one or more internet cafes where you can cheaply browse online, make international phone calls, print or make copies of any documents you want and even buy minutes for your phone. I remember one time I needed to print something and I visited one of these internet cafes, I must have been there for close to an hour at least and was expecting a significant bill. You can imagine my surprise when I only ended up paying .50 cents, yup! it is that cheap.

A lot of people have prepaid phone plans through Claro or Movistar (I have mine through Movistar), I noticed the same in Colombia and Peru as well so I guess these two companies are major players in this part of the world. Anyway, there are always places where you can buy minutes once you run out, notice where it says "recarga aqui?" it pretty much means that you can top up your minutes from this location, you don't know good it feels to see one of these signs when you run out of minutes and need to make an urgent call.

Pharmacies - It's amazing how many pharmacies you will find here, It seems like at every block you can count on seeing: a bakery, an internet cafe and a pharmacy. The good thing is a lot of pharmacies here are open everyday of the week including Sundays which makes it very convenient if you really need some medicine. The Sana Sana chain of pharmacies seem to be everywhere, sana in Spanish means health. There are other pharmacy chains as well aside from Sana Sana.

Noisy neighborhood dogs - My new neighborhood has several dog owners so you can imagine the noise they make on a daily basis. During the day the dogs seem to be asleep or something because they are so quiet but come evening at around 6 pm until late at night to early morning, these dogs are a riot. They bark so loudly it just drives me crazy.

See the cutie below? on this particular day I managed to snap a picture of him/her alone but usually there is a line of about 4 dogs in the same position barking at the cars and people passing below (this is at the very top floor of the building next to our apartment).

The dog spotted me taking pictures and decided to confront me before another friend joined in, what cuties! if only they were more quiet.

That's it folks, there are many other observations I could have written about but I will stick with these ones for now. I have to say the good thing with traveling and staying in one place for a longer time does help in making you feel like you are part of the community as you slowly assimilate and adapt to local ways of doing things.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

There is this one street near the Mariscal area in Quito which is very popular with druggies. There is always someone smoking something other than cigarettes or offering you drugs for sale especially at night. I was walking along this street with one of the guy's I work with at the travel agency and I noticed a lot of apples and oranges that seemed to have been randomly dumped around various areas along the street. I pointed this out to the guy and he mentioned that some people use fruits to smoke weed. They cut out holes and smoke weed through the holes so they can get the flavor of the fruit as well, I'll be damned! the new things I learn each day. I never would have known this.

The weather in Quito has been weird. One minute the sun will be shining bright and the next, clouds will suddenly gather before a heavy downpour. It's funny but the days I decide to wear sandals or open shoes is when it really pours so I usually end up with wet feet which I really don't like, that's one of my pet peeves. Heck! I don't even like walking on dewy grass early in the morning unless I have closed shoes because I hate the sensation of wet feet unless I am in the shower.

Sometimes when I am walking down the street on my way to run errands like make bank deposits for my job or other mundane errands, I think to myself, "wow! I am actually in South America living life as a local, speaking and reading Spanish without major barriers." I never imagined I would be living this life and It actually feels good immersing myself in a foreign land and learning the language and way of life to the point where I feel self sufficient and not lost due to language barriers. Ooh! and I also get excited watching shows in Spanish and listening to Spanish music where I can understand what is being said without too much effort as before. I have to say I am very proud of myself!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Our New Apartment & Neighborhood

We moved to a new apartment last week and I love the new place and the neighborhood. Let's just say I am glad we got out of our old apartment, we were paying a bit much for a dump and the caretaker was just a shady scumbag. Anyway, let me not raise my blood pressure by thinking back to that old apartment so let's focus on our new place.

We found a really nice mini apartment (mini departamentos as they are called here) in a nice residential area and we couldn't have asked for a better place. Trust me, after seeing some of the "apartments" we had come across, this one was a gold mine! I swear some people just dig holes in their basements, plaster some paint and deem such hell holes as mini apartments ready for rent.

The apartment needed some cleaning and paint job but despite that we saw great potential. In Ecuador when they rent out an unfurnished apartment you are getting a completely empty space with absolutely nothing, not like the US where the apartments come with refrigerators and cookers. Here you will have to buy everything! the owner had promised to clean and paint the place for us before moving in as she should but I guess promises and obligations are pretty expensive around here that's why some people hardly keep them. We ended up doing everything by ourselves and my boyfriend who is very good with his hands was the one who put in most of the work in the place, I give him a lot of credit for that. He painted the apartment, cleaned it up really nice and fixed the lighting and shower head. Yes, there was no shower head in the bathroom, there was just an open pipe and we had to buy an electric shower head so we could get hot water.

Without further ado let me take you on a tour of our neighborhood first before we get to the apartment. You see the mountains in the background of the picture below? well, we live up toward those mountains. Let's just say a walk back home is like a session on a stair master machine, it's not a joke! the street may look flat in the picture but it is actually quite steep as you head toward the mountains.

We have our local Lavanderia where we get our laundry done, by the time we get it back it's been ironed and folded so nicely that you just want to keep it in that state permanently plus it smells so good! the owner is such a sweet man and every time we pass past his shop he never fails to wave to us and exchange greetings. Ooh! did I mention he gives out candy when we go pick up our clothes? what's not to love about this place???

This is the alley that leads to our apartment entrance, you see the sign that says "Viveres?" our apartment entrance is right next to it. The sign belongs to our local Tienda where we can buy little things we need for the house, it comes in handy when we need something like milk or bread and we don't feel like going all the way to the major grocery stores.

This is our apartment from outside.

For the grand finale here is the inside of our small but really cute apartment. This is the kitchen which you immediately see as soon as you enter through the front door. Well, there is only one main door but you get the idea. Everything you see in the apartment came from us, I wish I had taken the "before" and "after" pictures just to give you an idea of how much work we put into this place to make it look as it does now.

The dining area.

The bathroom, it is small but thank goodness it's clean and was in good condition when we moved in, I can not stand filthy grimy bathrooms.

The view from our front door, isn't he just lovely? Ooh! we were talking about the actual view right? check out those mountains, lovely! right?

We live in the upper floor so we get really good views of the surrounding streets plus we get more than enough natural light which brightens the apartment during the day and ensures it's always warm. Nothing fun about living on the lower floor where it's colder and without much light. This is the view from our balcony.

That's it folks, we both love our new place and couldn't be any more happier. I just love how cosy the place is and since it's only the two of us, the size suits us just fine plus with $130 that we pay in rent we can't really complain. Its way cheaper and prettier than the other apartment we lived at. Ooh! and we have a very friendly neighbor who lives next to us that has become buddies with my boyfriend, he offered to share his internet with us for $10 a month. Good deal if you ask me!

Random Thoughts of The Day:

The caretaker from the other apartment tried robbing us of our deposit, the nerve of that idiot. Thank goodness I had made sure we had a solid contract in place which had taken a whole month for him to sign because he kept dodging me. I swear you can not leave anything to chance.

It's very unfortunate the way people here will try to rip you off at any given opportunity. I remember prior to coming to Ecuador I was talking to this one guy in Colombia who told me he didn't like Ecuador because he felt like people were out to rip you off and get whatever they could from you. At the time I thought he was being too harsh in his judgement but now I totally understand what he meant. Don't get me wrong, it is a beautiful country with so much to offer but I have come across so many shady characters that have left a very bad impression.

Remember the Tienda I had mentioned earlier? next to our apartment entrance where we buy small stuff for the house? the couple that own it is an elderly couple and when I say elderly I mean they are pretty well advanced in age. The woman is friendly but her husband is grumpy and mean, dude actually tried ripping us off! it's a long story but we went to buy something from the shop and he was trying to quote a higher price, good thing this nice neighbor who was present at the time pointed out the price discrepancy. I swear the audacity of some people! I just kept thinking, "seriously at his advanced age shouldn't he be making peace with the world before his last days instead of trying to rip  people off?"

So our neighbor next door was giving my boyfriend heads up on which neighbors to watch out for & avoid and which ones are friendly. You should see the two of them talking on the balcony like two best friends, its actually really cute and funny.

Apartments here are referred to as departamentos, you can say apartamentos too but the former title is most commonly used.