Thursday, July 31, 2014

All About The Art

If you ever visit Ecuador chances are you will come across many reproductions of these paintings and it would be such a pity if you ever left Ecuador without knowing the great artist behind these paintings.

When I first came to Ecuador I had no clue who Oswaldo Guayasamin (pronounced wire-sam-in) was until one of my Ecuadorian friend's and my Spanish teacher recommended that I visit his house which has been converted to a museum, in order to learn more about his life and work. He was a great Ecuadorian artist and humanitarian and some of his art work depict the injustices he witnessed. You can read more about him here.

Today I finally got to visit Guayasamin's house and I am very glad that I went because now I have new appreciation for his work especially after having guides explain his work and his life. I took a taxi to the house which wasn't too far from my school and paid the $6 entrance fee which included entrance into his house and the chapel next to his house.

The house was FABULOUS!!! this man was certainly not a starving artist for sure. I didn't know photography was not allowed in the house so I managed to take a few pictures before I was politely alerted not to. In the house we were shown his numerous art collections, his personal belongings, a video of him talking about his work and we also got to see some of his actual work. We also got to check out the dining room where he dined with the likes of Fidel Castro among other high profile personalities.

Guayasamin was not a religious man but he appreciated the work that went into creating some of these religious figures so he had quite a collection of them.

Hallway leading out to the veranda.

The tree of life, this is where Guayasamin and his best friend's ashes are buried. The tree is right in front of his house overlooking an incredible view of Quito.

The house

Next to the house is the Capilla del Hombre (chapel of man) which pays tribute to humanity. Pictures were not allowed inside the chapel but you could take pictures outside. Inside this chapel I saw so many of his paintings and thanks to the Guide inside I was able to learn so much about his work and the meaning behind a lot of his paintings. It was very interesting and definitely something worth checking out.

To the left of the picture is his house and to the right is the chapel.

That's it folks, I don't know much about art and prior to visiting Ecuador I had no clue who Guayasamin was but I am glad I got to learn about him and his work. It definitely was worth it.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

Whenever I am walking with my Roommate I notice we get a lot of stares, we both have our own theories about this. He thinks the men are checking out my chest and he is always shocked at how blatant they are but I think they are just looking at us because they assume we are an interracial couple and you don't see a lot of that in Quito. I would rather stick to my theory.

It's summer here and the sun can get pretty hot. Granted, the heat is bearable but dang! my forehead has been bearing the brunt of those sun rays. Maybe I should be wearing a hat daily.

Today at the museum of Guayasamin there was this older American woman who had a shitty attitude toward the guard at the main entrance. She didn't speak Spanish and she was acting like the guard should bend over backward to accommodate her. For crying out loud, you are in this guy's country where Spanish is the main language what the heck do you expect? she made it seem like it was ridiculous that the guard could not speak English. Really? I get so annoyed by such people.

On my taxi ride back home I got to chatting with the taxi driver, a young guy who didn't look more than 25 years old. He told me he studied digital communication at the University and graduated, he worked in advertising but it didn't pay much so he decided to drive taxis because the money was better. Chatting with taxi drivers I always enjoy learning something about their personal lives plus they always give me good tips about the city. At the end of my ride he gave me his card and told me to call him anytime I needed a taxi. I think I just found my main taxi guy and I certainly don't mind giving him some business, he was such a sweet kid.  

My weakness just caught up with me, I discovered this really cool clothing store which has the cutest tops and the best sale going on right now. Ahem! I have made quite a few stops and bought a few tops but the good thing is, I haven't broken bank so that's what keeps drawing me to the store. Those 70% discounts just keep calling out my name every time I pass by and I can't resist.    

Lesson learned, I will never venture into any barrio in South America that's located up a hill. I will look from afar but I will not be caught dead near these neighborhoods. In most cases this is where the favelas are located and these neighborhoods are not the safest, I am not being a snob just being very cautious. After my ordeal in Guayaquil can you really blame me?

Speaking of favelas, I was just thinking how in the US houses located up a hill overlooking the city would be expensive because of the amazing views but in South America this seems to be quite the opposite. Let me not generalize the whole continent so i will say from what I have observed so far in some of the cities I have visited in South America.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Still Standing!!!!

You didn't think I was going to pack up and go home after my last ordeal did you? I am still standing, as I always say you can't keep a strong person down, not for long anyway. I am back, same old J is back or should I say same young J? anyway, I am back to keep you posted on my travels and adventures along the way. I did end up packing my bags however and "escaped" from Guayaquil, yes I say escape not leave because that's how dramatic I felt my exit was.

My initial plan had been to stay in Guayaquil for the weekend then head to Montañita, a small coastal town here in Ecuador. Previously I had shown you some of the natural gems in this country, from the jungle, forest, volcanic mountains, cascades to lakes and rivers. I figured the last gem left was the beach so my plan had been to experience the beach here but unfortunately even the best laid plans sometimes just don't work out. Bummer! but such is life, right? sometimes you have to look at the silver lining in every cloud though.

After the robbery on Saturday the host family I was staying with felt so bad and when they learned I had lost my camera and pictures, they wanted to accompany me to all the places I had visited so they could help me take other photos. I really did not want any memories of the places I had visited because they would only remind me of what followed next so I politely declined. They offered to take me to the beach the following day for a chill out Sunday and I figured why not, it sounded like a better alternative.

On Sunday we spent the whole day at the beach and my host family was so sweet, they even made sure to take some pictures so I would at least have memories from the day since I didn't have my camera.

Would you look at that sun reflection on my forehead, can you say major sunburn??!!!

On Sunday night I decided to change my plans and take the overnight bus to Quito. I really didn't feel like traveling elsewhere alone plus my family in Quito was urging me to come back so I decided to cancel my trip to Montañita because I had experienced the beach setting anyway and to be honest, I am really not a beach person.

I arrived in Quito on Monday morning to a very warm welcome from the best family I could have ever asked for in this city. Everyone was waiting for me and I was greeted with a group hug plus treated to the best surprise ever! they had written these cute notes with lovely messages and posted them all over my room. To say I was touched doesn't begin to describe how I felt, I truly have a family here and at the end of the day that's the most important thing.

So everyday I have to eat papaya which greatly helps with my digestion, my host mum here knows this so she decided to buy me a papaya. Funny thing is on my way to the house I was thinking of doing some shopping and buying papayas but she beat me to it. She is the best I tell you.

Love these flowers and they smell so good! best of all was the message attached to the flowers.

That's it folks, my silver lining was the realization that I have met truly amazing people in this country, people who have been there for me when I needed it the most. Incidences like the two unfortunate robberies just highlight how lucky I am to have certain people in my life. Right now I am so happy, I feel positive and I refuse to let anything or anyone take my joy. Continue following me as I go places far and wide.............

Random Thoughts of The Day:

My lips are so chapped right now, my chapstick and my favorite lip gloss were in the bag that was stolen so I had to walk around with chapped lips until I got to Quito. I had no time to buy any in Guayaquil. Dang! those robbers got me walking around with ashy lips, not cute!

The unprofessional behavior I witnessed from some of the police in Guayaquil was just insane. The cop who drove me home started asking if I have a boyfriend, any children and if I like to go out dancing. Really? meanwhile I was busy bawling my eyes out. I swear lord forbid I ever have to need the services of such cops again.

I got really sunburned at the beach yesterday, my forehead is actually sore right now and my feet are still swollen from the heat I experienced. I am definitely not a beach type of person.

I have decided when traveling here I will be wearing a ring at all times on my ring finger and I will be saying I am married and have children. Maybe I should even say I am 3 months pregnant to make myself extra unavailable, I just want to deflect all attention away from me.

I was having an interesting conversation with my Spanish teacher about machismo in Latin American countries and he was saying that most times women actually perpetuate this mentality because when they have children they favor the sons so much and they do everything for their sons making them little "kings" in the house so when these kids grow up they expect women to do everything for them. Interesting.......

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Violently Robbed In Guayaquil

I think I am going to have a break down or something, I can not stop crying hysterically and I just want to stay in my room forever. This is the worst day of my life! just when you thought lightning can't strike twice, it just did and this time it was in the worst way possible.

After having such a good time with my hosts yesterday I decided to venture out today alone and visit some of the touristy spots in Guayaquil. Everything was going well and I was having a good time despite the oppressive heat of this city.

See the picture below? in the background there is a barrio up on a hill, my hosts had told me I could get good views up there and assured me that I would be safe going alone since it is a touristic area and there is a lot of security.

I had just had lunch and decided to climb up the hill and take pictures of the city below before heading back to my room because the sun was out in full force. Right before I started climbing the stairs leading to the barrio, I came across some guards and I asked one of them if it was safe for me to go up alone, he said it was safe and I shouldn't be worried. I saw so many people going up and I even saw more guards up ahead so I felt really safe plus it was in broad daylight anyway.

Everything happened in a flash, one minute I was staking pictures and the next, these two guys were on each side of me and one was attempting to grab my bag. I started screaming so loudly because I knew there were guards nearby but one of the guys held me in a choke hold and I could not breath. I was in a state of shock but I held on tight to my bag and somehow managed to get out of the man's grip. They threw me on the ground as I kept screaming and started dragging me through the street while I was hanging on to my bag, my dress was halfway up to my waist and my arm and leg were bruising as they scraped on the ground, I could see blood.

There was a street dog that had been laying down not far from where we were and as soon as it heard me screaming it came running towards us barking loudly at the two and trying to bite them while protecting me but these two were determined and would not leave without my bag.

Finally I saw two guards approaching and I thought, "Thank God! finally!" to my utter shock one of the thugs pulled out a gun and aimed it at the guards who were not armed. The guards could do nothing, they just stood by and watched as I was being dragged through the street screaming. At this point I was scared I was going to be shot and after seeing how helpless the guards were I think I just gave up my fight and the thugs ripped my bag from my shoulder and took off. Actually they walked off and no one did anything, no one came out until they had left.

As soon as they left that's when everyone was coming out of their shops and homes to check on me, those fucking cowards who saw a woman being held in a choke hold by a man and being violently dragged through the streets while desperately screaming and trying to fight off two men. All over a sudden they were offering me water and telling me that the same thing had just happened to another tourist the previous day. The guards told me they couldn't do anything because they were not armed since they are not allowed to carry arms. They called the police who arrived promptly and well armed but at that point I just wanted to scream, "FUCK YOU!!! HOW ARE YOU GOING TO HELP ME? I WAS SCREAMING FOR DEAR LIFE, WHERE WERE YOU??!! I PUT UP A GOOD FIGHT TO BUY MORE TIME!"

Turns out the area is notorious for robberies, can you believe that? the police even had pictures of the suspects on their cell phone! apparently the thugs are well known. Anyway, they searched the area and finally told me there was nothing they could do. One of the police gave me a ride in his car back to my house, I cried all the way home. I cried when I was telling my hosts what happened, I cried when I was showering and washing my hair, I can not stop crying. I keep seeing myself being held in a choke hold and being dragged through the street and I can not believe how ruthless some people can be, that a man can be this violent toward a woman, choking her and violently dragging her through the street without any feelings. This is what is making me so emotional. I just can not get over the inhumanity. I am not even crying for the camera and pictures I lost. I did everything right and took all the safety measures yet that wasn't enough, it is so unfair! I just want to get the hell out of this place.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Grand City of Guayaquil

Yup! I am in Guayaquil pronounced wire-kill (that's the closest form of pronunciation I could think of). Guayaquil is the largest and most populous city in Ecuador, It's located in the coast and it's about 6 to 7 hours away by bus from Quito depending on the drive.

I had wanted to visit this city for a while and turns out I had chosen the best time to visit because there are festivities taking place this weekend, Guayaquil is celebrating it's foundation. I took a night bus last night from the south terminal Quitumbe because I wanted to sleep my way through the long trip and wake up in Guayaquil. The bus was huge and the seats were very comfortable so I was able to sleep through most of the trip.

This is how the long distance buses look like inside, not too shabby. They also show movies and play music, on the side of the seats they have empty plastic bags for garbage and at the very back there is a   tiny bathroom/restroom.

I arrived in Guayaquil early in the morning and fortunately for me my airbnb hosts were waiting for me so I didn't have to worry about having arrived way too early. The neighborhood looked a bit sketchy at first sight and I was a bit worried as to what to expect but when I was shown my living space for my short stay in the city I was blown away, turns out there is literally a whole apartment with 3 bedrooms built on top of the main house and since there were no other renters, this is what I was presented with.........a whole apartment to myself! and might I add at a very pocket friendly price.

After I settled in my hosts asked me what I had planned for the day and I told them I wanted to go to the main part of town to check out the festivities taking place there and then later on go to a free salsa concert that was being held around the area. They suggested accompanying me to the festivities and showing me around the city if I wanted, of course I wasn't about to pass up the wonderful opportunity of being shown around by locals, so I agreed.

I ended up being introduced to the extended family and we all went out together, they were really cool people and made me feel very welcome. We took a walk along the old part of the city which was really pretty and full of people. The streets were so full that it actually got tricky trying to maneuver our way around at some point.

My hosts, such lovely people I can not thank them enough for their generosity and kindness.

After walking for a while and enjoying some of the activities around us, we finally got to where the free salsa concert was being held. We were kept waiting for 2 whole hours but thankfully they were playing good music to keep folks entertained so that made things slightly better. For real though, I can not believe we had to wait for 2 freaking hours!

Finally the musicians showed up and did their thing, making up for the tardiness.

That's it folks, first day in Guayaquil was awesome and I hope the next day I get to experience a good time as I did today.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

This city is HOT!!! and humid to make matters worse, good thing we went out later in the evening when the heat wasn't as bad.

There seems to be more interracial mixing here than I have seen in Quito. I have seen so many varied complexions and they are all so beautiful.

The girls in this city are curvier, Its not like I am gawking at people's bodies but some of the outfits I have seen leave little to the imagination.

The Spanish accent here is very fast and I have trouble keeping up, it's even giving me a headache from the effort I have to exert to follow conversations. I like how it sounds though.

There is a club or bar next to the house where I am staying at that has been playing some really good salsa music. Even though it's very late at night it doesn't bother me because I like the music.

I just found out one of my favorite bands Grupo Niche will be performing tomorrow night. I am so excited and depending on how things work out I might go to their concert.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Alternative To Otavalo Market

In this post I had written about the famous Saturday market in Otavalo where you can buy all sorts of goodies. Otavalo is a town that is about 2 hours away from Quito and there are buses that can easily take you there so usually a lot of people from Quito leave in the morning and return in the evening.

If you are in Quito and are not up to traveling for 2 hour to check out the market in Otavalo on Saturday, worry not because there is Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal which is equally good if not better in my opinion. I actually came across this gem by chance as I was taking a walk with a friend and since then, I have been a frequent visitor. what can I say, I never seem to be able to resist bright colored goodies that are so abundant in this country. From leather purses, wallets, trinkets, shoes, clothes, panama hats you can find all sorts of souvenirs here and at reasonable prices if you know how to bargain.

The market is open every day, Monday through Sunday and I believe they close at 7:00 pm. It is very well organized with each stall having a different number so if you are looking to return to a particular vendor, it is easy to trace them by their stall number. Price wise I don't think there is a big difference with the one in Otavalo because I have seen some things cheaper in this market or more expensive but there is always room to bargain and lower the original price.

Would you look at all the vibrant colors! if I wasn't still traveling to other places and needed to stick to a budget I would do a lot of damage that is.

After all the shopping or window shopping, there is a central place with benches where you can sit down and relax while watching the going ons around. During world cup a lot of people used to gather here to watch the various matches.

That's it folks, I think Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal is a good alternative to Otavalo and in my opinion, it's actually better than the Otavalo market. Sometimes I come here just to walk around and check out some of the beautiful stuff that's on sale, this is definitely a place I would recommend for souvenirs to friends or family.

Random Thoughts Of The Day:

I just love my weekend trips outside Quito, at this point I think I should start a weekly quiz entitled "where is J going this weekend."

Today my roommate was asking me if I have ever experienced racism in South America. To be honest so far I have not had an awful experience related to my race but I have noticed that whenever I visit certain stores or restaurants, I have received "the look." It's the "what are you doing here, can you afford to be here" look. I notice the stares which at times can be a bit unnerving but once I open my mouth to speak and people realize I am a foreigner, the 360 degree change I notice is incredible! all over a sudden everyone is super friendly and helpful which makes me wonder, would they treat me this way if I was a local and not a foreigner? what must the regular black person who is a citizen of the country experience frequently?

My roommate on the other hand who is white, was telling me that his case is the opposite because as soon as people see him all they see is money and he has been in a lot of situations where people have taken advantage of him financially. For example, whenever he goes out he is always expected to foot the bill or wherever he goes, prices are usually jacked up tremendously. I suppose we each have certain disadvantages for being foreign.

Speaking of race I have learned a lot from my afro Latina friends about their experiences with race in their respective countries. A couple of my female friends in Ecuador have told me about this mentality that some ignorant people still have which is, "black women are for sex but white women are for marriage." Isn't it a coincidence that these women who don't know each other would say the same exact thing? and not only them but I have heard about this stupid mentality from my Colombian friends as well and I also read about it in a Brazilian blog that highlights racial issues in Brazil. Of course in each society there are bad and good apples so I don't want to generalize but it's sad to imagine that certain people would actually think this way.

On a positive note I have met some awesome people who have truly embraced me and made me feel really comfortable so I do appreciate these good apples within society and I would like to think there are more good apples than bad ones, you always have to have certain faith about people.

I swear some people's dad's and grand dad's can be really sleazy! from cat calls to kissy or sucking sounds, to blatantly eye balling my boobs and I don't even wear tight tops because I hate attracting certain attention, I have experienced them all and they usually come from older men. I usually just keep it moving and don't pay attention. As long as they don't get physical with me it's easy to ignore them and continue with what I am doing but I certainly wouldn't want to be caught in a dark alley with some of these characters.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Salsa Called & I Answered

A few days ago I had mentioned how long it had been since I last went out dancing salsa and that I had lost the enthusiasm for going out. Well, I am glad to say that the enthusiasm did come back with a bang! as soon as I listened to some of my favorite songs on youtube I started itching to go out and check out some salsatecas.

This one club named Lavoe had been recommend to me by several people and I finally decided to check it out. On their website they had descriptions of what kind of music to expect on each salsa night and since I ended up going on Wednesday, the theme of the night was Salsa Brava (loosely translates to hardcore salsa). It seemed interesting and I was really looking forward to checking it out so I called one of my Dominican friends and off we went.

The sign at the entrance is a bit small and if you are not too familiar with the location you can easily miss it especially if you arrive too early and there isn't much traffic. It took our taxi driver a few minutes to find it, turns out we had just driven past it without realizing it.

To get in we didn't need to show our ID like in other clubs I have visited in the city. We were given a card and instructed on how to use it if we wanted to order anything from the bar. The bartender would scan the card with any order we made and at the end of the night we would need to present the card at the entrance so it would be scanned once again to determine the total bill which would have to be paid before leaving the club, the bouncer at the door would need to see a receipt before letting you out.

This was at the entrance, there were numerous pictures of the clientele and various bands that have performed at the club.

When I entered the club I realized what had inspired it's name. There were posters of Hector Lavoe all over the place and the first thing you noticed as soon as you entered the club was the big sign with bright lights, of Lavoe's image right upfront. Hector Lavoe was a legendary Puerto Rican salsa musician who is now deceased. I am sure if any of you is into salsa you have probably heard some of his songs. Mark Anthony and Jennifer Lopez actually produced a movie based on his life, the movie was titled El Cantante.

On the walls there were posters of more salsa legends and it was interesting checking them out as we waited for the club to fill up. Entrance was free before 10:30 so you know I was there before then, any opportunity to save money can not be taken for granted.

Celia Cruz and Hector Lavoe

The club started filling up as the night progressed and I got to see some really good dancers. To be honest I felt a bit intimidated watching all the fancy turns and footworks from many of the dancers. A lot of them seemed to be professionals, the theme of the night was salsa brava after all. I noticed that everyone seemed to know each other and only danced within their circle of friends, It actually felt a bit cliquish but it was fun watching some of the amazing dancers.

We didn't stay for too long because my friend had to work the next morning so we called it a night but not before goofing around.........

The following night which was a Thursday I decided to give Lavoe another chance to see how the crowd and music would be like. The theme of that night was salsa romantica and bachata. I had no one to go with so I decided to go alone. As usual I made it to the club before they started charging entry so it was a bit empty but there was good music playing and that kept me entertained.

Bar none! these were the best plantain chips I have ever had, just writing about them makes me want to take a taxi to Lavoe for the sole purpose of getting these goodies. Yes! they are that TASTY! and best part of it is, they were free.

The club filled up as the night progressed and unfortunately it seemed like everyone was part of a couple so I never got anyone to dance with. Those who were not part of a couple only danced with the people they seemed to know and once again, there was that cliquish vibe going on and I felt uncomfortable and intimidated about asking someone to dance. I stayed on for about 3 hours before calling it a night, what can I say? sometimes you just don't get lucky on the dance floor and that night was one of those unlucky nights, On the dance floor........don't get any other ideas.

That's it folks, would I go back to Lavoe again? nope! unless I have a partner to dance with or I am with a friend. I would go in a heartbeat for those plantain chips though. Don't get me wrong, the club is fabulous with a well sized dance floor, very good customer service and great music but the crowd just didn't seem too open in my opinion. I think I will stick to the tiny salsa clubs in the touristy La Mariscal area where the vibe is more down to earth.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

During my travels I have learned never to depend on anyone to make things happen, If I want to do something or go somewhere I just do it. If I have company great, if I don't that's fine too.

I have interacted with different people from different backgrounds here in Ecuador and it's interesting to see how things are on each side of the fence. Take for instance these group of girls I met not too long ago and who introduced me to their circle of friends. They all seemed to have come from very well off families, had traveled extensively, had studied abroad and seemed to have very comfortable lives. Money seems like the least of their worries and one of the girls even mentioned how she had traveled to Miami to buy her wedding dress and was so proud that it only cost a mere $5000. I almost choked on my drink as I remembered earlier on chatting with a taxi driver who works 16 hours a day so he can afford to keep his two daughters in a better school. Guess how much he needs for each kid every month for school? $150! that's $300 total. Such is life indeed.

Not that I am against anyone wanting to spend however much they want or can afford on their wedding dress but personally if I was to ever get married I am hitting David's Bridal where I can get a gown for less than $500. I would rather splurge on other things like a down payment on a house or an amazing and unforgettable "Round The World" honeymoon trip. To each their own.

A couple of days ago I bought these really cute panties and I was so excited to get home and try them. Unfortunately things didn't turn out as I expected, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the end.....laugh because of how off the mark I had been about the size of my butt (talk about under estimation) or cry because I now have these cute panties that I can not wear and it's not like I can return them to the store, Le sigh! By the way when I say cry it's just a figure of speech, it's not that serious.

It's funny that a lot of times I am mistaken for Dominican or Colombian by some people, until they hear my accent. I can not tell you the number of times I have been asked that. I don't know how these assumptions come up but I find it interesting. PS: In case you didn't know, Colombia has a huge black population.

One time these two guys stopped me on the street and of course they asked if I was Colombian or Dominican, I told them I am Kenyan. I swear and I am not even exaggerating, one of the dudes almost knelt down as he shook my hand with excitement and to my utter shock said in English, "My sister ooh! I am from Nigeria!" while the other one reached out for a hug saying, "you are our sister!" The first thought that crossed my mind was, "dang! is it that serious?" the second was.....okay I can't remember what the second thought was but I have to admit though, the whole incidence was pretty funny and dramatic but I understood where they were coming from. We ended up chatting for a while before I had to rush off because I was going to class.

I am a big fan of Humans of New York on Facebook and I have discovered other Humans of (insert city here) Facebook pages. Today I just came across Humans of Tehran and I ended up reading all their posts on FB. Now I have this new fascination and budding curiosity to visit Iran.