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!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Fiestas de Quito

I can't believe December is already here and the year is almost coming to an end, how fast time flies when you are having fun. Here in Quito things have been pretty festive as December marks the celebrations of the foundation of the city (Fiestas de Quito) then there is Christmas to look forward to and the new year.

Quito was founded by the Spanish conquistadors on December 6th in 1534 so the city celebrates this day each year thus the title, Fiestas de Quito. Actually the celebrations are not just limited to that specific day but rather start at the beginning of December and come to a head on the 6th marking a week of festivities. There have been street parties in different neighborhoods and free concerts being held in various locations, Sting the world famous musician actually held a free concert this past Wednesday.

During the week the boyfriend and I were busy moving into another apartment and getting it spruced up so unfortunately we were unable to check out some of the festivities but on the last day of the fiestas de Quito which was yesterday, we decided to check out what was left of the fiestas. We ended up going to Parque Itchimbia which is famous for hosting concert events.

We had heard that various artists were performing at the park and there was all kinds of music being played from: salsa, bachata to merengue. We were pretty excited until we got to the park and found out the concert that was taking place was actually pure hardcore rock, no salsa or bachata or merengue but hardcore rock. Neither of us is a rock fan but we decided to stick around for a few minutes to check out some of the performances. Security was pretty tight and there were riot police with full body armor walking all over the place like they were ready for action. I was nervous wondering what kind of crowd was at the concert to warrant such heavy security, I guess being a free event there were all kinds of characters so the police just wanted to make sure nothing crazy pops off.

The weather unfortunately went from being super bright and shiny to dull and cloudy.

I think I may have damaged my ear drum from being this close to the stage, it was LOUD!

We didn't stick around for too long before deciding to head out and look for other festivities within the city. We grabbed a taxi and as we were driving past this one street we happened to come across various marching bands that looked interesting. Unfortunately we could not get out of the taxi to check them out so I took a few pictures through the taxi window.

There was even a chiva bus in the mix. Chiva buses are colorful party buses that drive around the city blasting music with people dancing and drinking inside. You can gather a bunch of your friends and pay a determined amount to get a chiva bus so you can party in the bus while being driven around. Looks like so much fun but unfortunately I haven't had the pleasure of being in one.

That's it folks, we had to run some errands so unfortunately we never did get to experience the fiestas of Quito in full effect but I am sure there will be other parties to be enjoyed. As we were heading home we found out that Prince Royce, a famous Latino musician whose music we both like was offering a free concert on the same day but it happened to be way far than we were willing to go. It was about an hour away by taxi. Ooh! well, we will continue enjoying his music on youtube.

Random Thought of The Day:

I have to say I have witnessed several incidences where men have been very physically aggressive with women, around here. This doesn't even include incidences where cops have been involved because some guy was physically abusing a woman on the street. One night my boyfriend and I were coming from a club when we witnessed this one guy shoving a girl he was with so hard that she almost fell on the street, if she hadn't bumped into me and broken her fall I think she would have been hurt pretty bad. We were so shocked that we both stopped in our tracks and so did this other Cuban guy. Him and my boyfriend shouted at the guy asking him why he did that but he continued walking with his friends like nothing happened. My boyfriend was so mad he wanted to follow him and confront him but I stopped him because the guy was rolling with a big crowd and I didn't want him to get hurt. Both my boyfriend and the Cuban guy who stopped on the street just shook their heads and commented that they continue being shocked at the level of aggression and violence men display against women in this country.

I was having a conversation with one of my Ecuadorian friends about the issues she was having with her boyfriend. She ended up telling me, "well, at least this one only cheats on me. My ex used to beat me unconscious that I would wake up not knowing where I was." To say I was shocked is an under statement. Later on I came to find out that the current boyfriend had started hitting her as well.......

At our former apartment building there were a lot of Cubans living there as well and most were professors at the local university. One day I was chatting with these two female professors and they were telling me about their experiences in Ecuador. We started talking about gender issues and they were telling me that the level of machismo they see in Ecuador is on another high level that they haven't witnessed in Cuba. This is not to say that there is no machismo in Cuba as well, apparently it's on a different level than here.

There are a lot of Venezuelans that visit Ecuador a lot. I came to find out that many of them actually come here because of the dollar, they get dollars from Ecuador so they can go back and sell them in the black market in Venezuela.

I always have fun trying to guess the nationality of the different Spanish accents I encounter. My boyfriend always points out if I am wrong or right. I am becoming pretty good at distinguishing the various accents. My Spanish has become pretty good that I am impressed with myself.

These factors have contributed to improving my Spanish: I don't have English speaking friends so all the people I interact with only speak Spanish and that also includes my boyfriend. This has given me a great opportunity to practice and improve on the language, I am very dedicated to my Spanish classes and I watch movies and TV shows in Spanish. Talk about full immersion!