Archive | January, 2014

A Recipe for Hilarity

16 Jan

Hello 2014!

A few friends and myself decided, somewhat last minute, to do it BIG for New Year’s Eve 2013.  Yes, I just came off an amazing vacation, but the end of the year/start of the year holiday has always topped my list of favorite celebrations. It’s a time for reflection, renewal, much-needed new beginnings aaaand champagne! And this time around, it wouldn’t be your regular sparkly-ensemble, midnight-smooch-with-your-cutie, make-12-wishes-for-every-grape, party-all-night soirée. No sir, 2014 is much more than that.  I’ve had this number, 2014, ingrained in my brain since the moment I received my Peace Corps country assignment letter back in March of 2012.  That’s the first time I ever saw the phrase “Betty Zambrano, Peace Corps Volunteer, 2012-2014.”  Ever since then, every official document, email, vacation request, survey, evaluation, work report has had “Start of service: 2012/End of service: 2014” emblazoned on it.  Up until now, it’s been an elusive date, a vague reminder that one day there will come a time when I’ll be done with this life and heading back to America.  I know it exists, but it seems so far off and impossibly distant, its almost a waste of time to register it in my present mind.

But somehow we found ourselves at the end of 2013 and thinking of how to welcome this new year and the changes it will bring.  We decided a celebration this epic would have to take place in our neighbor to the north, Ecuador!

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A last minute plan, one world-famous beach town, two tents , three floaties to be used as mattresses and five broke girls looking to live up the last of 2013— that’s a recipe for hilarity if I’ve ever heard one.

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I’ve borrowed Leland’s gut-busting (but not lung-popping) recount of our trip to share with you the time we lived as gypsies, ran through the beach with surfers at the stroke of midnight, and welcomed the new year with a surprising self-discovery, free drinks and a big bang!

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I am fresh off a Christmas/New Years vacation from Ecuador, but rather I feel as though the border crossing rocketed me to some alternate planet far, far away from Perú, devoid of chaos and tiresome struggles; a world where toilet paper is plentiful and drunkenness is reserved for foreigners vacationing abroad.  Now, here I am, back in Chiquián, rejuvenated and ready for a new year as I begin to already confront to the adversities that is not Posh Corps. 
 
We might as well have stepped off the recently detailed Mega-Bus equipped with air conditioner and drivers with ties and sex appeal in polleras, campo hats, and a bag of guinea pigs or chickens swung over our shoulders.  We did not belong.  We were fresh out of poverty and hardship, yet we had no idea until we laid eyes upon a three-story bus station ready to send you off peacefully and quickly to your Ecuadorian destination with no hustle, line-cutting, badgering bus/van drivers, nor shirtless men who consistently rub clockwise their beer-induced guts and lick their lips your way only to top it off with a whistle and a salute.  We were bewildered.
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In Perú, I take a combi (mini-van) with at least 12 other strangers, shoulder to shoulder and toe to heel.  I sit in the back corner with my bag on my lap looking out my window just waiting for the car to fill so that we can head on our way.  Slowly, but surely people pile in. First, the abuelitas (grandmothers) with their large hats, fancy hair clips, and sacks of animals or a nice bouquet of flowers.  Then, a young mother with two children at her tail, one on her hip, and the last on her breast, shuffle into the first row of seats.  Three youthful boys gather in back with me as each one plays his personal favorite Huayno song aloud on his phone for all to hear.  An agile elderly man hops into the car and takes a seat by the door.  Lastly, a professor or two fill the remaining seats with their ANTAMINA briefcases and shinned, pointed leather shoes.  The driver and some friends fill the front seats and the cobrador (money collector) slams the door and stands with his head and arm out the window soliciting more passengers for our already packed combi.   
 
In Ecuador, I wait at a bus stop for the bus to stop.  It does.  I put my bag safely below, and I continue to an empty seat, which are plentiful.  I take a seat and so do the other four people with whom I was waiting.  We are all seated, the bus continues onto the next scheduled, established bus stop.  Some people get off, and some people get on.  No one stands, I hear no yelling, I touch nobody’s sweaty leg, and I wake up with no one’s head nestled on my unforgiving shoulder. I make it to my stop unaware of my neighbor’s natural body scent and with space to exit the vehicle freely and undetected.
 
In Perú, I yell out the window to a woman with a snack cart across the street.  I say give me a water; she comes running; I give her exact change; my car speeds away.
 
In Ecuador, I ask the co-pilot for a chilled water.  He comes back with the bottle.  I give him a five-dollar bill.  He obediently gives me my change, no fuss about it.  A public transportation vehicle that provides a beverage option, they might as well offer a free shoeshine with my manicure.  That doesn’t happen in the U.S., people.
 
As I said, we were out of our element and soon realized that the Peruvian Sol does not get you far in Ecuador, a utopic country fueled by the Dollar.  After the easiest leg of our travel from Guayaquil to our final destination of Montiñita, we step off our bus to the bustling streets of the most adorable and hoppin’ beach town known to man.  We must have looked like those aforementioned Peruvians with traditional skirts, hats, clogs, and the sack of gerbils because a kind man walks up to us and asks if we are lost and need help finding a place to stay.  We tell him we have our tent and all we need is a patch of land with maybe a river or water spout nearby to wash our feet and do our laundry.  He tells us he knows just the place.  He takes us just past the main streets with the high rises and fancy hotels.  As we walk down the dirt road we comment on the group of what could only be gypsies juggling fire and knives a few meters away.  We stop and greet this crew and they show us in.  We ask the Knight in Shining Armor if he is staying at the campsite as well.  He looks at us, smiles, and says, “No, I have a beachfront apartment, see you around.”  We set up camp and watch as the gypsies make jewelry and clothes, juggle, do magic tricks or make sandwiches to sell on the beach.

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Later we would befriend said gypsies who sell hand made goodies and food in order to make his or her long way back home.  A few sales here and there–they make enough for another night on the land, maybe a soda, and a new pair of walking shoes they hope will see them home.  These humans with ragged clothes yet booming businesses and free spirits, we would later uncover, seemingly earn more money than we volunteers do.   That being said, one might not feel so bad when the cute nomad from Argentina spends 10 of his hard-earned sandwich dollars on a down and out PCV who needed a cold one to keep her going until 2014’s first sunrise.
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I use the term gypsy with love, with not a trace of judgment, and with only a pinch of jealousy.  Here we were, at a campsite with our tent, ready to save those dollar bills.  Yet, everyone around us has a certain unique and refined skill to offer wealthy beach-goers lounging in chairs under umbrellas at the beach–another sign of distinction we could not afford; I suppose we lay some where between university students and vagabonds.  Anyway, the drifters labored for their stay and punched their work cards each day as we slipped our bathing suits back on, re-inflated our floaties, recharged our speakers so that the world could hear about Beyoncé on a surfboard, and headed to the beach each morning.  We were nothing more than mere admirers of a better life; humans set adrift from down south, brought to paradise by the cold Humboldt Current.  Again, we did not seem to fit in our surroundings.  On the one hand our camp mates sold handmade goodies to survive, while on the other, the vacationers ordered plates of delicious seafood, drinks galore, and bought precious earrings from our wanderer friends.  We on the other hand would split an almond 4 ways and never pass on the condiments. 
My glorious vacation to the land of organized transportation, cat-less calls, friendly shop-owners, and the American Dollar made me realize two things: I am a Chola from the Peruvian Sierra through and through, and I am not ready for America, not now. 
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Visit La Vida Lila to read more about Leland’s incredulous experiences living and working in a small town on the side of an Andean mountain.
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