Blogging South America: Eliana the Llama and Being Hemispherically Undefined

Buenos Dias!

Last night I crashed at 17:30. In my jeans and T-shirt from dinner. One minute I was awake reading ‘Paper Towns’ and the next it was pitch black and someone was knocking violently at the door. This freaked me out because who on earth would be banging on our door at such an outrageous hour? I raised my head groggily. “There’s someone at the door,” I whispered to my roommate in the next bed. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness and I saw that her bed was empty. Oh, that must be her at the door, I thought. That made me freak out even more because how long had she been out there waiting for me to wake up and open the door?! It’s like— at which point I picked up my phone and saw that it was only 18:47. It had felt like I’d been asleep for hours and I’d been in such a deep sleep that I hadn’t even been remotely aware of the fact that she’d been knocking for a good half an hour. I’m a deep sleeper. I then slept for 12 more hours straight which is an achievement on my part because I usually can’t sleep for more than seven.

Breakfast at hotels is awesome because it’s always buffet and it’s always delicious and today was no exception. I ate a variety of cold and cooked meats, bread (including banana bread which is my new favourite thing), melons, bite size flapjacks, strawberries and a banana the length of my forearm. That sounds like a lot because it is. Everyone was ravenous and since the girls from our school are rather well known to be dedicated eaters, the buffet was restocked at least three times while we were there.

Today we visited three (or four?) churches. We went inside two- La Campañia Church and San Francisco- in which all that glittered was gold; everything but the floor was gilded in 18 carat or 24 carat gold. All my attempts to take panoramic shots failed because I just can’t bend 360 degrees. Leo, our tour guide, informed us that Ecuador has accumulated some debt over the years and that selling one of the churches could cover that debt and more. This didn’t surprise anyone. They really were magnificent.

Every Monday in Quito, in the main square called Independence Square, there is a a huge ceremony for the changing of the guard. Huge. Buckingham Palace ain’t got nothing on this thing. We were lucky enough to be around when it was happening. There were horses with feathery things in their manes and hundreds of men in blue, red and yellow uniform and a marching band playing the notational anthem and a school dressed all fancy to represent the youth or something and the Vice President was there. ‘Twas the true meaning of ‘the whole shebang’, I tell you. We took turns taking up-close-and-personal selfies with the horses. The locals took turns taking pictures with us because apparently pale, blonde ‘Gringos’ are not very common. We felt like celebrities. It was weird.

We had lunch in the sky. Sort of. It felt like that. We ate at the top of a dormant volcano which was completely cloud-capped (like snow-capped but with clouds) and you couldn’t see anything out the restaurant’s (El Crater) window of other than whiteness. We had a delicious set-menu three-course meal and at some point during the starter I realised that fresh avocado cubes, giant popcorn kernels and potato soup with cheese go really well together. I discussed Italian cooking with the teachers and then casually pointed out that the cloud-cap was lifting so you could see the inside of the volcano’s crater and then suddenly everyone was pressed up against the window going, “Ooh, aaaaahhh.”
Eventually logic kicked in and we went outside to enjoy the spectacular view. It was quite a steep drop inside the crater and far down below there were quaint little farmhouses and pastures the kind of green that makes you want to take a deep breath and inhale the freshness. There was still a thick cloud layer that rolled by speedily and tickled our cheeks and arms which were outstretched. It was while we were admiring the scenery that we met Eliana. Eliana was a charming and curious brown llama with a white face who posed with us as we hugged her and took copious photographs and, yes, selfies (#llamaselfie.) Llamas are known to spit, though so every time Eliana made a sudden movement, all the girls scattered, squealing. This happened many times and it was hilarious.

And then, the highlight of the day… The Equator. The Equator (which totally deserves to be capitalised) is represented by this massive square monument with a painted yellow line on the floor at its base and a globe on top. I ran along the line with one foot on either side, yelling “Southern Hemisphere. Northern Hemisphere. Southern Hemisphere. Northern Hemisphere,” with every step.
There were so many differently posed photographs being taken. I stood at one end and just saw a whole lot of teenage girls standing or sitting in a strange variety of unorthodox Tai Chi positions; trying to look like they were holding the globe and leaning against the monument and standing (or sitting) creatively in both hemispheres.
“You’re so fat that you expand over both hemispheres!” was the to-be caption of one photo of a girl lying on the line.
“My love for you stretches from north to south,” was another.
One girl balanced on one foot on the line and asked, “Okay, so which hemisphere am I in now?” to which I replied, “Neither. You’re hemispherically undefined.” and people laughed.
Leo took a photo of our 28-people group but we wanted one with him so we recruited the help of a tall, checked-beret-wearing French man who repeatedly (read: more than photographically necessary) announced, “Cheese!” So we said, “Cheese!” and sat, hemispherically undefined, on the equator.

Throughout the day we also saw a 45m-tall silver statue of the world’s only winged Madonna and some more breathtaking scenery from the top of the mountain on which the aforementioned Madonna is placed. Quito is a densely populated city in the middle of a valley constantly filled with clouds. You’d think that because it’s on the Equator and only has one season all year round that the weather would be quite predictable. It’s not. Quite frankly, it’s the most bipolar, least predictable weather I’ve ever come across. We met the author of a book on Galapagos who signed and sold us his book full of beautiful photographs of the Galapagorian flora and fauna.

After the day’s planned activities,there was time for us to visit a local market where I tried bargaining for the first time. It was exhilarating. The trick is to ask a price, halve the given price, be denied that price, walk away, and then buy whatever you wanted at your price. We single-handedly saved Ecuador from having to sell one of the gilded churches, I’m sure. Looking at my purchases, I sincerely hope that no-one in my family is allergic to alpacas because otherwise things could get very awkward. I haven’t bought myself anything yet and I really hope I get another chance to buy myself a jersey or something so I can say, “It’s quite cold outside; I think alpaca jersey.”

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Blogging South America: Easter on the Western Side of the Greenwich Meridian

I realise I’ve been blogging a lot over the last 24 hours or so but I’m on another plane. Somewhere possibly over Ecuador. Maybe Colombia. I actually think were still over Brazil. Either way, I have not much to do besides read (which requires a light which would disturb other people so… not now), be entertained by the entertainment system (but I make a point of staying as up to date as possible with movies so I’ve seen everything that isn’t in a foreign language), and write (which I’m doing right now.)
I’m also listening to John Mayer- just to mix it up a little.

I was lucky enough to get a window seat this time and the sky is completely black- save for one outstandingly bright star that I have to lean a little forward and look a lot backwards to see ’cause it’s behind the plane.
Every now and then the sky below us gets starrily speckled, too, in conglomerations of artificial yellow light. Like now, actually. There it is, a little South American town just below the plane’s right wing. It’s shaped very much like an electric guitar with a rectangular hole in the middle. Who knows why.

It looks like Easter Sunday is catching up with this side of the world, at last: there’s a stripe of red and then a stripe of orange and then a stripe of colour that’s kind of green but it’s also kind of blue and then there’s a a whole of blackness and then there’s that one outstandingly bright star that I have to lean a little forward and look a lot backwards to see.
It’s the kind of scene that simply will not be done justice with a photograph- no matter how brilliant the camera- but I’ll put one in anyway.

The fact that I can’t stop staring out the window somewhat makes me realise that I’m not really afraid of heights; I’m afraid of what happens when there’s no economy class plane seat beneath my now (after six hours of sitting) completely numb derrière. Though that realisation still does not mean I’m about to start climbing on every roller coaster in town.

I know that my family is probably having a good ole Italian- South African Easter Sunday lunch right now. My uncle is probably wearing a nationality-appropriate apron and waving a pairs of tongs around authoritatively. My sister is probably within two meters of a dog. A good portion of the family is probably talking about how far away I am or something of the like.
And I’m thinking quite a bit about everyone and how much I miss them but I’m also thinking quite a bit about the food.

The flight tracker thingy still says there are four hours’ worth of sky time left so… By the time I post this I’m going to guess that my family is most likely having tea and cracking bright red Greek Easter eggs and it’s nearly the end of Easter.

But Easter has just caught up with this side of the Greenwich Meridian so I have one heck of a lot of Easter left.

And if you thought the Swiss were big on chocolate, you should have seen the Brazilian airport.

Fast forward eight or so hours and guess what? I’m on a plane! Shocker.
This time I’m leaving Panama from an airport in the middle of a forest at the edge of sea.
One of the flight attendants could be my gym instructor’s brother. He was at his post at the front of the plane with his arms crossed and his gaze menacing and we were all feeling sufficiently intimidated. Then a little curly-topped boy wearing an abundance of Ben 10 merchandise jumped into the aisle and started crying. The flight attendant didn’t react aside from menacingly turning his neck to the side at which point (if this was a movie) there would be an audible click.
And we remained sufficiently intimidated.

We remained that way until some upbeat dance music played and – I kid you not he did a rhythmic cha-cha down the aisle.
We were then sufficiently amused.

Happy Easter! xo

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“A little bit of heaven never hurt no-one.” ~John Mayer (from, ironically, a song called ‘On The Way Home’.)

Blogging South America: Literal and Figurative Movies

Me again.

I think my iPad clock is inaccurate. But that’s unlikely because it’s higher grade technology so it’s probably me who has pressed something wrong.

But, family, fret not! Because everything else is going smoothly. Including the flight. When the pilot announced that there were stormy conditions over the Atlantic, I was kind of like, “What?” and then I yawned and my ears popped and I realised what he’d said (that hit me a lot harder and a lot faster than, you know, the fact that I’m going halfway across the world) and then I was kind of like, “Well. Crap.”
But it’s been alright. It’s actually been one of the smoothest flights ever. I can recall two five-minute wiggle-jiggles and that’s about it. Phew.

Anyway.
You know how several ridiculously cheesy romantic movies start with two total strangers: a girl and a guy, sitting next to each other on a plane and romance, inevitably, pursues? Well, the set out happened to me.
I’ve always wanted it to. I mean, I say such scenes are ridiculously cheesy but that doesn’t stop me from picturing it happening to me. And it did. And in my movie, a Chase Crawford- lookalike was cast as the stranger guy and Yours Truly played the part of the stranger girl who, before entering the plane, was hell bent on asserting her high school seniority rights and switching seats with someone so she could get an aisle seat closer to her friends but then the tables turned. And she kind of didn’t want to switch seats anymore. Just, you know, for the fun of it.

But it’s very difficult to do such things just, you know, for the fun of it when every single girl on the tour is staring at you and making inappropriately suggestive eyebrow movements.
One of the owners of a set of inappropriately suggestive eyebrows sent me a message and this is how the conversation went:
Her: “You go girl! [winking face] [laughing face]”
Me: “Inside I’m laughing my head off. Can you tell? [laughing face] [straight face]”
Her: “Trust you to get the boy. Swop with [insert name of particularly outgoing individual] [winking face].”
Me: “I’m, like, the most unqualified person on the trip to have gotten this seat [laughing face].” (Because, quite honestly, I’m not exactly known for being a particularly outgoing individual)
Her: “That’s my point! Well, we all start somewhere [winking face] [laughing face].”
Me: “I’m evolving. I suppose it’s fitting since it’s Galapagos and all. #survivalofthefittest.”
Her: “Brilliant.”
Me: “I accidentally stuck my seatbelt thing in his seatbelt thing.”
Her: “Sure. Accidentally.”

At this point I pulled out the in-flight magazine which happened to have an article called “In Flight Fitness”. It had pictures showing how to do the movements…

Me: ” [picture of article] *choreographs mating dance according to these plane-approved moves*”
Her: “This is why you’re my favourite.”

The plane took off and this, somehow resulted in Handsome Stranger’s book falling off his lap. For one second I thought, This is my chance to make great, life-changing, romantic-movie-worthy conversation.
Unthinkingly, I reached for the book, gave it to him and then unthinkingly, again, I just said, “Book.” like I was checking it off a list or something.

(Sure. That was totally something Nicholas Sparks would be proud of.
Book – check
Passport- check
Momentary Social Skills – remarkably lacking)

To which he replied, “Thanks.”

So I recovered from my social awkwardness by doing something I’m good at: enjoying book characters’ social awkwardness. And at some point I fell asleep. And then at some other point, I half woke up and sat in a barely conscious, somewhat paralysed state for a good two minutes, pondering whether or not my mouth was open and whether or not I needed to close it because apparently I snore like a purring cat when I sleep upright.
My mouth was open, after all.

The credits to “Saving Mr. Banks” rolled across my mini screen and the movie, both literally and figuratively, was over. I had landed in Brazil.