23 October 2009

53 days left...

So I'm locking my bedroom door from now on.

I woke up the other morning with Matt sitting cross-legged beside my bed wearing nothing but his rubber boots, staring at me and rocking back and forth. He hasn't been right since we met with Paccha.

Oh right, the meeting with Paccha! So we decided we'd sat around long enough and had better try talking to a new community to see if they'd let us work. We called the president of Paccha, which owns Jambi Machi, the highest of the fortresses. They said they had a meeting Saturday (last Saturday) that we could come to and ask for permission to dig. We arrived to the school where they had the community meeting and the president and some other community leaders, including one who was the president of an association of 3 communities, came out to talk to us. The nice guy that was talking to us most said they're doing lots of conservation up there, planting native plants and so on (eucalyptus trees aren't native, but whatever), so we could take all the pictures we'd like but they don't want us to dig. They said investigations don't need anything more than pictures anyway, right? They were worried that the holes we dig would disrupt the water in the mountain and keep the rain from coming, even though it had been raining regularly for a while. We kept talking with them trying to explain that we're also interested in conserving the site, and that all the holes we dig will be filled in immediately after we're done with them, but they still weren't too keen on the idea. Eventually they said they have a joint meeting of the 3 communities November 7, and if we'd like we could come and give a workshop explaining what we do, how we do it, etc. to try to get the community to understand better. We said that sounded fine. A couple minutes later the folks from inside the meeting called us inside, and Matt said I should wait outside with Milton, our taxi-driver friend. He and Ave went inside, and Milton and I chatted a while. About 15 or 20 minutes later, Matt and Ave came out of the meeting in a rush looking fairly pale and not saying anything except to get in the truck, repeating that a couple times. We left and I later found out they had been threatened with beatings and told to leave immediately before they got started. That was the meeting with Paccha.

So, back to Matt at my bedside. I asked him what he was doing, and he said there were "things" in his room. I asked if he wanted to borrow my machete, but he said he'd rather just stay here with me.

That was Tuesday.

He's gone most nights now... we'll watch a movie and he'll cook dinner first, but then he's gone. We tend to eat a lot of chicken, which wouldn't be so bad if he actually cooked the stuff. I kind of feel like I'm in that episode of Seinfeld where his girlfriend makes mutton and he hides it in napkins... I have a little spot next to me on the bench where I put the pieces of raw chicken I cut up, and when he's gone at night I re-cook them for myself. I don't know how he doesn't have salmonella yet.

yesterday was weird, too. He was gone when I woke up. Didn't come in til this morning, walking in with his clothes all bulky like there was something underneath them and there was mud in his hair. I didn't feel comfortable asking what happened yet so I just said good morning. He grunted, went into his room and shut the door. I'm in the kitchen using the computer, and every now and then I hear shouting and pounding. His phone's on the table next to me, so I figure he's just having a horrible, horrible dream. I would be more concerned, but in light of last Monday...

Oh, the other night I was chased through town by a pack of stray dogs after I went to eat at chicken lady (she actually cooks her chicken). There's this old bearded man who shuffles through Cangahua all day wearing his pancho kicking trash from the sidewalk into the street as he smokes his cigarette... kind of like the old man neighbor in Home Alone. He kind of creeps you out, or else you think he's awesomely ridiculous, and then one day he saves your life. There were six of these dogs chasing me, growling, led by one of the dogs that had been friendly during the summer, so I started running and they ran after, until I saw the old bearded man standing in the street. He waved me past him and then for some reason yelled at the dogs in Portuguese, and they stopped chasing me, looked at each other, and then split up to go to their respective homes. It was weird. I thanked the bearded man but he didn't respond, going back to kicking garbage into the street.

Well, Matt's up now and telling me to write his memoirs as he dictates. I'm calling American Airlines in the morning.

13 October 2009

The Batshit Crazy Bunbury Concert Quest

I'm back in Cangahua now, got back yesterday. Had been staying with Ave in the Valley, and we ended up with an adventure weekend this week.

Thursday night, this guy who goes by Bunbury was giving a concert in Quito. This is one of Ave's all-time favorite artists, and she was dying to go. Tickets for the Quito show ranged from $30-$120 or so, so she was apprehensive about spending that kind of money... but a week beforehand she told her aunt about the concert and asked her to go with, and she said that sounded nice. Ideally, the aunt would buy the tickets and Ave would pay her back when she saw her.

Wednesday night, Ave got a phone call. Auntie was going to the show with Ave's cousin, sitting in the middle-range ($60) area, and maybe she'll see Ave there? Apparently, she forgot that she was supposed to buy the ticket. Thursday night, Ave and I went to the theater to see if there were any cheap tickets left, or if we could find a deal with the re-sellers outside. The cheapest ticket was $70, a bit out of hand. Disappointed, we went back to the valley.

Bunbury was playing another show Saturday night in Sígsig, a small town slightly larger than Cangahua about an hour from Cuenca, in the south. Tickets there ranged from $3-$30, and with the $10 bus trip each way... it could potentially cost little more than the $30 Quito fee. Plus, we'd get to go to Cuenca, a beautiful colonial city, where we'd both been only once two years ago. We found a bus that left at 4 pm from Quito, threw a bag together, and left Friday afternoon.

Usually a 9-hour bus ride, we arrived in Cuenca at 4:30 am. Checked into the hostel where I'd stayed in 2007 and ended up with the same room, slept for 4 or 5 hours and headed out to find some cheap breakfast and a bus to Sígsig. Ate the most delicious cheese bread in the world, visited the cathedral, found our bus and set off.

At noon, Sígsig already had a couple thousand Bunbury fans waiting in lines on the street for the stadium to open. We immediately found $10 tickets, bought them, grabbed a bite to eat and sat on the curb in line. The stadium was to open at 2, with the concert starting at 9. 2:00 came and went, and they said they'd open the stadium at 5:00. At around 4:30 people started leaving, but we didn't know why. There was no announcement, the lines just kept emptying. Eventually we went to find out what was happening, and found out that the show was cancelled because the screens weren't working and the roof of the stage had fallen down. Nobody from the venue or musician's staff came to make an announcement, we just had to find out on our own. We asked three of the police officers standing around what the deal was, and got three different answers: 1) Cancelled outright. 2) Postponed to 5:00 Sunday. 3) Postponed to 9:00 Sunday. The thing I've realized about the majority of Ecuadorians is that if you ask them a question that they don't know the answer to, they'll make something up to get you far enough away not to come back and ask again. So we went further down the street and saw a huge crowd of people shouting... riot was in the air. The police were standing in a line with their armor on and shields out, and a group of idiots was yelling silly things, that Sígsig and the police were worth dick, that they should start a riot, etc. Understandably, the police were on edge, and tensions were high. Ave and I wanted no part in this riot, just information, but when we found a representative of Bunbury to ask what was happening and whether or not the concert was rescheduled for the next day he spent the entire time telling us they didn't want to fight instead of giving us real information. Eventually we found someone who knew something (a rarity in this country sometimes) and found out that it would be the next day at either 8 or 9:00. Good enough. We took the bus back to Cuenca.

We delayed our return bus ticket to the next day and checked back into our hostel room without issue and started walking around admiring Cuenca. It really is a fantastic city. Ate some shawarma, found the most awesome high school I have ever seen in my entire life (seriously, this place was fantastic. It's like a castle, and probably 150 years old and has these giant windows and high ceilings and a little garden, it was amazing), found an artisan named Jesus who sometimes goes by his name in Aramaic, Yeshua, and talked about Hebrew and Ecuador and several other things, and eventually meandered back to the hostel for some rest.

Morning came, got on the bus to Sígsig, and got in line again around 1:30. Made some new friends, and waited for hours until they started letting people in around 6:00. The line started to move and immediately the dark clouds that had been gathering overhead opened up and let loose on us. I had only brought the clothes I was wearing because I'd thought we would only be there the one night, so Ave and I took off our warmer clothes and put them in a plastic bag so that we'd have something dry and warm for the bus home that night. Shivering, we followed the line into the stadium, trudged through the mud and found the concrete steps that would serve as our seat. The stage was at the end of a soccer field, with those who paid more for their tickets on the field in front of it, and the rest of us in the stands on either side. A barbed wire fence surrounded the field, keeping us from those who spent more on their tickets.

The soccer field was only half full, so at one point the organizers and police started letting some of us poor folks in. We formed an orderly line and waited, but then the police said they wouldn't let anyone else in because if they let some in, everyone would want to come. The thing was, most of the people saw us lining up and knew what it was for, but didn't care to move. Oh well.

Aside from being slightly closer to the stage, an advantage of being inside the field was access to bathrooms and food. We had no such luxuries. The food stands were against the fence, though, so vendors started selling nourishment to us by passing money through the chain-link and climbing up to hand the food through the barbed wire. It was like we were smuggling things into a prison. We didn't have money for food anyway, so the only real issue was the lack of bathrooms. We survived.

Afterwards we caught a bus back to Cuenca and waited for our 3:20 am departure to Quito, made it back to the Valley a little after 1:00, and headed back up here to Cangahua. Yesterday was the first day it's rained for almost a month, and I told the Males family, the folks who rent us our apartment, that I'd gone on a 2 week quest to find the rain and bring it back. We should tell this to Pambamarca, since they said the rain didn't come because of us. Now they should let us work to thank us, right? ...We'll see.

Okay, that's about all I have for now. Gonna go relax in the apartment or take care of some business in Cayambe. Hope all's well.

04 October 2009

Quito vacation

Sorry it's been so long since I've written again. Lots going on.

After working at Campana Pucará we started our shovel test pits on Tabla Rumi, a fortress never before excavated by archaeologists. Didn't find much except for in 3 of the test pits, where we found tons. In one test pit we found pieces of pottery that fit to about half of the rim of the pot and that included a part where a handle used to be. Our workers were nice and happy and everything was going fine.

Problem is, the rainy season hasn't started yet. It was suppsed to start on the 15th of September, at which time it did rain for 2 days, but it hasn't since. There are a couple folks in Pambamarca that don't want us there (even though the vast majority of the community does) and they used this to talk to their peers about why we shouldn't be there. They said because we're taking the gold and other riches of their ancestors out of the ground the rains aren't coming and the crops aren't growing. Of course, when they talk to us, they say that if we pay them shittons of money (they said for us to have come from the US to work, the fortresses must be worth millions, so we can buy them to work on them) then there won't be a problem with a community. Obviously these folks don't actually believe the superstitions they're telling their fellow community members, but some of the others do and that's not good for us.

We called the president of Monteserrin Alto, the community that owns Tabla Rumi, last Sunday to thank him for a good week's work, tell him our plan for the next week to finish that fortress, etc. He cut us off mid-sentence to say we were no longer permitted to work because the people from Pambamarca had come to their community to tell them the lies they had come up with about us. We came to Quito and talked with the INPC (National Institute of Cultural Heritage) about what they could do to help, and they basically said they couldn't do much. So then we went to talk to the Ministry of Culture (basically the Dept of Homeland Security where the INPC is the TSA) and talked to their head guy, Florencio Delgado. He was very sympathetic to our cause and realizes the problem with losing so much time and put a team on our case to not only talk to the INPC but also to the communities we are having issues with. We heard from them Friday saying that it'll take more time, though, because the indigenous are pretty miffed at the government at the moment due to a new water law that takes away a lot of their autonomy.

So... I'm in Quito. More precisely, the Valle de los Chillos, a valley below the city, staying with Ave's family. Much cheaper this way. I did spend a night in Quito's colonial section, though, just to see what it was like. It was nice, went to the Basilica and some other places around there, walked around looking at the colonial architecture. It was awesome. Haven't really been doing much else, just enjoying a vacation and relaxing in a town other than Cangahua. But I'm doing well, I'm abolutely safe, and I'll let you all know when I know more.

Hope all's well at home.

14 September 2009

Still alive

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted. I'm still here, alive and well. We haven't been doing too much of interest lately. We finished our work on the part of Campana Pucará owned by Pambamarca, completing our shovel test pits and opening two units. Matt's unit had nearly 100 pieces of ceramics, along with some carbon remains. Mine had many more artifacts. Turned up somewhere around 370 pieces of ceramic, with two and a half spindle whorls (used in thread-making) and what seems to be a ceramic mold for making... something. Pottery? Who knows. I also had an obsidian core (used to break off pieces of obsidian for tools) and almost 140 sling stones, which were used as weapons. I haven't heard of many (if any) concentrations of sling stones that large before, and I was extremely excited. These finds point to the area where I placed my unit being a place of production of various kinds, or at the very least an area for refuse. Some of the sling stones were perfect, entirely or nearly entirely spherical and smooth and aerodynamic, while others were more rough and blocky. I'm thinking that maybe this was an area where they refined the stones to make them better for fighting, but I'm not completely sure yet. Anyway, very successful unit. I have good luck with these things.

Other than that, Tina came in last week. She just graduated from UIC and is a friend of Matt's and is here to help us out for a month or so. She's also an archaeologist and she seems excited to be in the Andes. It's nice to have a fresh face around here.

Other than that, I really don't think there's much to report. I'm getting these awesome rubber boots from the shoe store down the block to prepare myself for the approaching rainy season, and they'll also be great for the snow when I get back to Chicago. The locals have been warning us about the rainy season for the past month or so, they say it should start any day now. The way they initially described it made me think that it would basically be constant monsoons for a month or two, but further questions showed that it tends to rain more in the afternoon and evening than the morning, so we should still be able to get a good amount of work done. Speaking of weather, last weekend was one of the windiest I've ever experienced. The problem here, though, is that when it's extremely windy the power goes out. From last Friday at 11 am until that Sunday evening around 6:30 or 7, we had 14 hours of electricity. We ate a lot of meat that weekend.

Oh, that's right! Last weekend I went with Ave to Otavalo for their Fiesta de Yamor. Yamor is this delicious chicha (fermented corn drink) they make specially for that festival. We stayed at Sr. Males' house, he's the pater familias of the folks who rent us our apartment in Cangahua. They're from Otavalo, the market town up north, so they also have a comfortable house there. There was a parade with really cool floats and dancers from all different parts of the country (the ladies from the Amazon had some great looking outfits, though they must have been freezing), including some groups from Bolivia, Colombia and Perú, and it was really neat. I ate possibly dangerous street food (dangerous in terms of health for those not used to local fare, e.g. gringos) and emerged victorious, satisfied and healthy. Matt and I are claiming Ecuadorianness because of our newfound iron stomachs and my improving negotiation skills with market shopping.

Well, I think that's about all I have to say. It's comfortable here, but I'm definitely starting to miss home. But 3 months from tomorrow I'll be back there in the freezing ass Chicago winter, so I guess I'd better appreciate what I have here before it's over! Anyway, I hope all's well where you are and to hear from you soon. Keep me posted on important news happening over there.

30 August 2009

Continuing Campana.

Sunday seems to be my update day. Well, this week was tame and a short work week. Only worked Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, continuing our shovel test pits on Campana Pucará. The workers are good and friendly and the work is going well. This particular fortress is owned by two communities, though, so each transect we do has to stop at the property line between the Pambamarca Community, with which we're working, and Pitaná Alto. Hopefully someday soon we'll get in contact with, and permission from, Pitaná to finish our work on their side of the fortress.

Other than that I've just been doing work that can be done at home, artifact cleaning, trying to make some maps of what we've been doing. The program we have to do the image work, though, is in Spanish... so everything takes quite a bit longer than it normally would. Hell, I don't know what half of the functions in programs mean in English, let alone Spanish... but it'll all work out in the end and we will have some beautiful products.

We had a visitor here last week, so Saturday we went to Otavalo again, the market town to the north. Walked around and got some things I needed, like a new pair of gloves and a new winter hat, also a soccer jersey I'd been wanting... these things sure are comfortable. I've never worn one before, and I'm considering making my entire wardrobe of t-shirts into soccer jerseys. If I get one every couple weeks, I'll be set. Hmmmm.

Anyway, that's about all I have to say. Continue this week with a full work week, probably/hopefully finishing the test pits and moving on to excavation units.

Hope all's well homeside, talk to you folks later.

27 August 2009

Address update

I went to the post office today which is in the next town over... my suspicions were correct, there is no sort of mail service to Cangahua where I live. Instead, the lady working told me the following is the best way to address any mail to me, and I'll go into town to pick it up when it comes:

Micah Smith
Correo Central
Cayambe Ecuador

So if you're planning on sending me something, do it that way and then let me know that you've done it so I know to go to the post office sometime a couple weeks later.

That's all for now, will post again soon.