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.

23 August 2009

Done with Quitoloma!!

We are officially done with Quitoloma, and the units we put it may be the last ever to be placed there by the Pambamarca Project. We finished our shovel test pits last week and there were only a couple that had artifacts outside of the parts of the fortress that had been excavated before, so we made an agreement with the community president to open two 2x3 meter units at those locations to investigate further. He agreed, and Monday we showed up to work to find his wife waiting for us with a problem. She said the president hadn't properly understood what we had wanted to do, and two units of this size that go down 80 cm (the limit he had imposed that was okay with us... all of the artifacts found on the site had been found between about 30 and 60 cm) was "too much work" for 8 people to do in 5 days. We did not understand. What did she think we were doing, breaking through concrete? She wouldn't budge, though, forcing us to reduce them to 2x2 meters, even when we told her there was no possible way for us to extend this work into 5 days and we would have to end before the term of the contract was up. We finished the units in just over two days, finishing mapping and backfilling halfway through Wednesday. We called the president to ask about opening some more, and he and some dirigentes from the community came along to talk with us about what we were permitted to do. We agreed on opening two more 1x2 meter units near the others to help further our understanding of these areas, and when we'd thought all was arranged and dandy they demanded $300 more to dig these units. $300 to give the community members more work and more pay? We refused outright; we have 12 more fortresses to try to excavate and simply don't have the funds to spend another $300 on this one that has already been extensively excavated. As we started to walk away they relinquished their demand and agreed to let us continue work at the same rate as we had been up until then. We completed those units in a day and a half, and Friday we closed our work at Quitoloma. I could not be happier.

There is one interesting thing about the units we completed there before we left. The first two both turned up the regular materials, broken pottery, obsidian, sling stones. But my first and second units also had something different. The first, in an area of the fortress without structures that had never been excavated before, had a layer of a material we still can not define; its something sort of like cangahua (a compressed volcanic ash naturally occurring in the area and used by some groups of people for construction) but softer... it was in chunks, some of which had no interesting shape to them, but others which appeared deliberately molded. This material was burned all around the outside, and there were some pieces of carbon on top of them. The same material was found in my second unit as well, 1.5 meters to the north. One of my workers said that this material was cangahua, which says something about the site: The Inca, who as far as we know were the constructors and sole occupiers of the site, were known for their stone work, and I do not know of evidence of them building with cangahua (this is also a question at another site, Pukarito, full of Inca pottery but with cangahua defensive walls enclosing the site). Another aspect of this find is that cangahua does not occur naturally on this hilltop, only down below, so this means that it must have been brought up on purpose. Was there an earlier occupation of the site than the Inca fortress of Quitoloma? Is this material really cangahua? Are we reaching in the dark for something that isn't really there? Only time and diligent lab work will tell.

Other than that, not much of interest happened this week. We're pretty settled, enjoying our apartment and the town. OH! We finally got a kitchen sink this week! Previously, we'd had to go to the roof to wash our clothes and our dishes, at a large sink outside the bathroom. This week, however, the Males family, who rents us our apartment, came up with a metal sink and hooked it up in the room that had been our lab, moving the kitchen in there and giving us a much easier time with our domestic chores. We have also discovered that our stomachs have toughened up since our arrival in this country. Chifa, the word for Chinese food, is notorious in Cayambe for being a guaranteed stomach-turner and generally results in at least one day of being unable to go to work. We had the Great Chifa Challenge 2009 on Tuesday and, sure enough, we emerged victorious. Not so much as a twinge of ache in our stomachs, and we kept on working. Our second stomach-related milestone was when we decided to see what would happen if we stopped sterilizing our dishes after washing them. The water here is not drinkable, even the locals don't try that. During the project and up until Wednesday, we had been boiling our dishes after washing them in this diseased water. Mostly out of laziness, but also related to our thirst for adventure and and our quest for Ecuadorianness, we played a little game of See What Happens. And you know what? No issues. Our dish cleaning time became significantly shorter (it takes quite a while to boil water at this altitude) and we feel stronger, more badass.

Tomorrow I start work at Campana Pucará, where I worked for a few days back in 2007. Same deal as Quitoloma: Shovel test pits followed by targeted excavation. Matt will be touring the country with a friend of his until Friday or so, so I will be running both teams and doing a damn fine job of it. I'll write again later about how it goes.

Hope all is well back at home, keep me updated with the goings-on and all that. Hope to hear from you soon.

Oh, also, a reporter from the Los Altos Town Crier came by the project when it was still the field school and wrote up an article on it for the paper. I'm not quoted or anything, so you may not care about it, but here it is anyway: http://www.losaltosonline.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=18628&Itemid=56

16 August 2009

Nearly finishing Quitoloma, new negotiations.

Hello, all. First big news is that we got the internet at our apartment. It's a modem that uses cell phone signal, so it costs less, I think, than bringing an internet line into this town. Anyway, it's convenient, and that's what counts. We can bring this with us anywhere in the country and have internet, it's nice.

Next is that we're almost done with Quitoloma. We've completed our shovel test pits (basically, small pits at regular intervals that are roughly the size of a shovel that are meant to see where-ish artifacts are) and for the most part found what we expected: artifacts can be found where excavations have been done there in the past. However, there were 2 test pits that had artifacts in them in areas where there has been no excavation, so we are taking the next 5 days to put units in at these points and find out if there is anything of interest. We'll be done with our first fortress Friday.

Yesterday, we met with the Pambamarca Community to try to get access to their three sites, Campana Pucará, Censo Pucará, and Pinan. Campana has been excavated before by the project, I worked there a bit in 2007 and I believe they excavated at least once before then... Censo and Pinan have only been surveyed and mapped, no ground has been broken. Our friend Milton, one of the taxi drivers here in Cangahua, knows the president of the Pambamarca Community and mentioned to us that they had spoken, and the president wants us to work there. Easy, right?

We drive on up the mountain to the community and call the president, and he tells us he is in the communal house and we can meet him there. Matt, Ave and I expect this to be like the meeting we had with Chumillos, where we spoke with the president and a few community higher-ups. We walk into the house to find the entire adult population of the community there having a meeting. A bit spooked, we waited for our turn to speak.

Ave, being Ecuadorian, did the talking for us. She explained what we wanted to do, digging shovel test pits on the 3 fortresses that they own and then doing targeted excavation based on these pits, and that we would like to hire community members to help us with the work. The first few questions from the community were simple to answer, and things seemed to be going fine. Then one man piped up who was very against us working in the community; he asked why we needed to take the artifacts away to a lab, what we could be doing with them instead of leaving them there where they belong; he said that taking these artifacts, "the riches of our ancestors," out of the ground kept the crops from growing, and made the rains stop. He was starting to rally supporters, raising all kinds of questions of why a huge group of folks from the US would care at all about their ancestors, and that we must be here to make money. Luckily the president was on our side, explained that we are not keeping the crops from growing, and the change in rain patterns is a result of climate change, not archaeology. Ave explained that there are just two of us here to work, and that after everything is analyzed and recorded they are not brought back to the US, but are the property of Ecuador. The president of the community brought up the idea to the people gathered that once they know more about the sites, which we could do for them, they could be made into tourist destinations like Quitoloma has been for Chumillos. This could obviously bring in some money for the community, plus they would know more about the sites in their own backyards. The community liked this, and when it was put to a vote, the decision was made to allow us access to all three sites, procided we hire 6 workers per day and give the community $500 to build facilities for tourists, such as a kiosk/ticket booth and the like. We happily agreed, shook hands, and wrote down our phone numbers.

The night before, Matt and I had been discussing a book we have called Culture Shock! Ecuador. It's a book that tells about cultural behaviors and such to help folks fit in to Ecuador better, and also to understand the people. This series has books about other countries as well, and even some cities (such as Chicago). At one point in the book, the author tells about trying to leave the country after his visa had expired and having trouble with customs at the airport. Eventually, the security guard asked him for some money for a cola, as a way of asking for a bribe. $20 later, the author was allowed to board the plane and leave the country. Matt and I were talking about how we had never heard anything like that and this must be a coastal thing (the author was in Guayaquil), and had satisfied ourselves with this conclusion. Sure enough, though, as we concluded negotiations with Pambamarca and were readying ourselves to leave, we were asked for some money for some cola. Amazed at the timing and elated to have gotten these negotiations done in one hour (Chumillos had taken 3 meetings over 2 weeks), we happily contributed to their soft drink fund. Everything was taken care of, and we walked out of the house with smiles across our faces.

As we walked toward the truck, though, we were hailed by the dissenters, the folks who didn't want us to work and had walked out after the vote went in our favor. The five of them were standing in a circle around the side of the building, talking amongst themselves and awaiting our departure. They had a few more requests of us in order to be happy with us working there. They wanted a couple of English textbooks so that they could learn some, which we readily agreed to. They also wanted paint for their cistern up the hill, which we also agreed to. Next they wanted us to buy a fence to enclose said cistern, and money to buy a water purification system in order to have potable water. As these were much more money-intensive, we told them we'd consider and tell them for sure when we come back to start work on the 24th. We'll crunch some numbers and see what we can do.

Afterwards we came back to Cangahua and had to backfill a unit on Pukarito, down the hill, that had been left open from the field school. I made dinner, spaghetti with mushroom sauce and garlic bread, and it was fantastic and we went to bed satisfied after watching The 13th Warrior. All in all a good weekend.

I've also put up as many pictures as I think I will until I take more, so go ahead and follow that link from the last post and take a gander. Hope all is well where you are, I'll talk to you soon.

10 August 2009


Nothing to say for right now since we're about to head back to Cangahua, I just wanted to pass on the link to the pictures I've managed to upload so far. The progress is slow-going, but we are soon going to have internet in our apartment and I will then be able to upload away and you'll get to see more than you've ever hoped for.

Here it is:

Enjoy, hope all is well, talk to you later.

04 August 2009

Quitoloma begins

Is it Tuesday? I've lost track. Anyway, today we started work at Quitoloma. Negotiations with Chumillos went very well once we gave them the definite amount we have to spend to work in their community, a lot of their demands vanished and now all we have to do is pay the workers and give a slight amount of extra money for upkeep around the site. I don't know if I've mentioned before, but Chumillos is trying to turn Quitoloma into a tourist destination, but that's going to be a hell of a challenge. First of all, the road from El Quinche (between their community and Quito) is so bumpy it'd make a mountain goat sick. Second, the site isn't something that most people would be excited about. When general tourists go to an archaeological site, they're expecting the pyramids or Chichén Itzá or Macchu Picchu. Something big with impressive buildings and an exciting story. While the story of Quitoloma and the whole Pambamarca region is interesting to many people, the site itself does not exactly inspire awe in the hearts of those pining for a Pompeii. Further, it's a bitch of a hike. Although today it didn't seem so bad, probably because I've been down here for a while... when we take the students to Quitoloma in the beginning of the field school, it usually takes a half hour or 45 minutes for everyone to make it... all of us made it up today in 13 minutes. We're beasts, I know. The point is, though, most of the people interested in hiking up to a site like that are backpackers or Swiss, and those may not always coincide with folks whose interests fit with the site.

Anyway, moving on. Work today was the most fun windy day of work I've had in a very, very long time. Sometimes I could not walk forward if my destination was upwind from where I was, and if I jumped straight up I would land in a different spot. We are digging shovel test pits in and around the fortress to try to get an idea of occupation density. Excavations have already been conducted there for at least a couple field seasons, so we won't open any units unless we find something unexpected and spectacular, so this will probably be the easiest work we do down here. We have 100 test pits to do, and today we completed 16 after starting late in the morning. We should finish pretty expeditiously, I believe.

Lastly, my Quichua studies are going well. The advantage of living out in the country is that everybody speaks at least a bit of Quichua and they are eager to help someone who wants to learn it. This language is ridiculous, there are things you do with prefixes and suffixes that I have been unable to get any sort of explanation for so far, everyone just gets a blank look on their face and says "that's just the way it is." But the family who owns our apartment also runs a store downstairs, and they teach me bits of Quichua every evening and I repay them by teaching them the English equivalent. One strange thing that has been happening sometimes, though, is that when I try to remember a Quichua word I think of the Hebrew word first... I can speak one about as well as the other right now, which is sad (for my Hebrew skills). But the fellas I was working with today were extremely helpful once they realized I wasn't just blowing smoke about wanting to learn Quichua. When I first asked them to teach me something, they tried to find an equivalent for my name (failing) and then gave up until I let some phrases slip at appropriate times. The rest of the day was spent joking and learning... along with working, of course.

But hey, I think that's about all I have to say for now. I'm still having a great time, enjoying this country and these people, and definitely keeping myself occupied. Sunday night is the Independence Day celebration (Independence Day is 10 August), and it also happens to be the bicentennial of Ecuador's independence, so this should be a hell of a fiesta. We're going to Quito to celebrate with some of our local friends for whom this holiday means more than an excuse to go back to the city and not work on a Monday.

This time for real, I'm outta here. Talk to you all later.

30 July 2009


This was a fantastic week in every way. We were in Quito until Sunday for the end of project festivities, and then on Sunday afternoon several of us headed south east to the town of Baños. While the word baños does mean "bathrooms," this town came to be called such because of the volcanic hot springs within and around the town. Baños is a stone's throw from the Tungurahua volcano, an extremely active volcano that you can occasionally hear rumbling while walking around the area.

On Sunday we took it easy, arriving after sunset to find our hostel and get settled in. Monday we decided to jump off a bridge. This wasn't just some dinky bridge, either-- it was 45 meters down to the river below, with sheer cliffs on each side. Of course, we had a rope so that we wouldn't fall all the way to the water. The folks that brought us to the bridge had a little iron platform that they fitted over one side of the bridge which we stood on, the rope went under the bridge and on the other side was a man holding the end of the rope, watching for when we jumped off so that he would know to hold on tight. On the count of three, you let yourself fall and tumble through the air, watching the mountains and the town and the river and the bridge swirl around you as you try to remember to breathe, and after a few seconds the rope catches and you swing across to the other side, back and forth like a pendulum as they lower you to one of the cliffs below to unhook yourself. I am extremely afraid of heights, but I am so glad I did this. It was one of the most thrilling experiences I've had so far. After 6:00 Monday night, we went to the hot springs and soaked in the steaming hot mineral baths for a couple hours to relax and soothe our souls.

Tuesday we decided to go white water rafting. Our guides drove us out about 45 minutes further east of Baños into the beginnings of the Amazon rainforest, with greenery all around us-- new types of trees and flowers, and we even saw monkeys (real wild monkeys!) jumping through the trees along the road. We went down to the Pastaza River, went over rafting safety basics, and hit the water. I was expecting more rapids and more near-death experiences based on the experiences of friends of mine that had gone before me, but even without that it was a great time. At the beginning of the trip we were still in mountains, with cliffs along the river going straight up 40 or 50 meters, waterfalls pouring in every once in a while. At one point we went close to one of these waterfalls but not underneath it, our guide mentioning that sometimes rocks fall from these cliffs. Sur enough, several minutes later right after steering away from one of these walls, we heard a huge splash as a boulder weighing nearly as much as a small car crashed into the river, directly in front of the other boat full of our friends. Nobody was hurt though, so it was okay. As we continued down the river, the mountains stopped and we were out of the sierra and into the flat land of the Amazon. the jungle spread out around us and it was fantastic-- we hadn't seen so much flat land since we'd been at home. After rafting, we drove on back to Baños and went to the hot springs again that evening.

Yesterday, my Ecuadorian friend Ave and I decided to climb the mountain between Baños and Tungurahua to catch a glimpse of that famous volcano for which the province is named. Usually the hike takes about an hour, according to Ave and others who have done it before, but we were determined. Even though it was very steep at times and I have flatlander gringo lungs, we made it to the top in a little over a half hour. When we arrived at the summit to the one wooden bench left there for those tired hikers who decided not to rent a truck or four-wheeler to take the road up, the volcano was completely covered with clouds. We sat up there for 3 hours, talking and starting to learn Quichua, and finally the clouds broke right at the top of Tungurahua and we got to see its peak. There's always a reason for sticking around, right? The peak hid once again after only a minute, and by that time it was starting to get dark and we had a ways to hike down that would be very difficult at night, so we headed down. We were exhausted and called it an early night, heading back to Quito today.

Tomorrow, Matt and I meet with Chumillos to finalize excavation plans, hoping to start work Monday. This vacation was exactly what I needed beforehand, though, a great break full of new exciting experiences, some of which I had to sign my life away for... but all of which were worth it.

25 July 2009

My address!

So, I have an official address now. I'm not sure exactly how mail gets delivered to Cangahua, so maybe if you send something send a postcard first and I'll let you know if it works, but here it is:

Micah Smith
054 Gonzales Suarez y Espejo
Cangahua - Cayambe

So give it a shot, will ya? This will be my address until I leave December 15. Mail takes a couple weeks to get here, so don't expect an immediate response. That's all for now.

24 July 2009

Field school is over


No more students, no more having to enforce rules or try to find ways to get people to work. From here on out it's just Matt, the local workers we hire for whichever site we're working, and myself. This is going to be fantastic. I'm in Quito now, but not without a hiccup. We had arranged for two buses to pick us up from our digs up in Cangahua and the Hacienda and bring us to Quito, paid them part of their fee in advance, and were waiting for our 11:00 pick up, having packed and mentally prepared ourselves to leave. Around 10 or 10:15 I find out that the buses decided not to come. They said that if we paid them an extra $160, they'd find 2 more buses to come instead a couple hours later, and then they'd refund the first $100 on Tuesday. Almost everyone's gone by Tuesday, this doesn't work. We paid them to drive us, not to call us with 45 minutes to spare and say they wouldn't show up. So I called Anibal, the bus driver I know best, and asked him to stand by in case these jokers didn't come through. Sure enough, they didn't, but Anibal and I are pals, so he picked up the slack and called a friend of his with another bus and off we went. Now we're in Quito and I had a wonderfully hot shower and stayed in it until the hot water ran out. I haven't felt this good in weeks, and most of the dirt is out of my hands now. I get the feeling, though, that these hands won't be fully clean until a few weeks after I get back to the States. Small price to pay, I guess.

This week was pretty much entirely made up of closing everything down; we closed all of our units, finished all of our maps, and finished almost every single thing that needed done in the lab. I am fairly sure this is the least behind the lab has been in the 3 years I've been a part of this project. Well done.

Wednesday, Matt, Oscar, a couple others and myself went to the Chumillos community to get formal permission to dig on the fortress Quitoloma. The project has a long history with this community, so the meeting went well-- other meetings might be significantly more difficult. In exchange for letting us work there, the community wants us to stay at least several nights in their community, help them update security around the site (they've turned it into a tourist destination, selling tickets and handing out maps and whatnot), help with some other aesthetic improvements, and teach the local children some English. We will likely be able to do many, if not all, of these things, we have another meeting with them on Thursday to hash out the details. These stipulations, of course, are in addition to hiring community members to help with the excavation. I'll pass on the details of our negotiations once we define them.

I think that's about all there is to update about right now, I'm in Quito until Sunday when several of us will be taking a quick vacation to Baños, a city with hot springs and white water rafting and some other fun, mind-clearing activities. It will be exactly what I need before getting back to the grind stone.

Hope all's well, talk to you soon.

20 July 2009

Weekend adventure

I don't even know where to begin this time. So much has happened that I haven't written about and there's no way to catch up, so I'll just start with recent occurrences. First, like I mentioned before, we had a gal doing GPR on the pyramid where I was working. She found the corners of the structure, which was very helpful, and also found a ... something. We couldn't tell what it was from the image, just that there was something there, so I opened a unit there on Friday. I haven't been back since they started finding something other than just plain soil, but I hear there is a sloping layer of stones that may or may not be covering something. I'll let you know more when I know.

Yesterday was the day most of the project went to Oyacachi, where they have hot springs and trout farms. I've been there twice, so I decided to help out in the lab cleaning artifacts. When I got there, though, I found out a handful of other folks were going up to Imbabura, the next state to the north, to see some interesting sites, and the guy I was going to help in the lab and I decided to tag along. We piled into the back of the pickup truck and took off, going first to the city of Ibarra to see an Inka bath house being excavated by a woman by the name of Tamara Bray. The site is fantastic. Beautiful Inka stonework floors and walls that fit together perfectly without mortar, drainage and canal systems that feed water into the middle and take it back out again, baffled stairways into the middle area... I asked if I could work with her, but then remembered I already have a job for the rest of the year. We went and got Chinese food afterwards, called chifa, and at that lunch I found out that it is absolutely legal to drink while riding in the back of a pickup truck, which we use as taxis. We grabbed some beers and headed out to the next site.

We continued north to the Lake of Blood, or Lago Yahuarcocha, the place where the Inka finally defeated the Caranqui people after years of fighting. They slaughtered the Caranqui on the shores of the lake and pushed their bodies into the water, all 20,000 or so of them. The lake turned red with their blood. Now, you can rent a swan paddle boat or ride four-wheelers on the shore or ride in a tour bus shaped like a caterpillar. Above the lake are some tolas, similar to the pyramid which I was excavating. On the road up, we passed 3 signs in a row saying entry to this road was prohibited, that it was private property. One of the other staff members commented as we continued anyway that it wasn't really private property until there was a barbed wire fence blocking the road. A minute later, we came to a barbed wire fence blocking the road. The Ecuadorian with us opened it and went onto the land to the house to find the owner and ask to look at his pyramids, but nobody was home. Apparently in Ecuador, people don't mind so much if you're just walking around on their land, and aren't likely to come out bearing a shotgun asking questions later, so we looked at the tolas and went on our way, pulling the wire back behind us.

We also went to a Caranqui fortress above the same lake, and wound our way back to the Pichincha state and home to Cangahua through tiny towns off the highways where we might find more tolas... but couldn't. One of these towns was having a fiesta on their main street so we had to take a detour, but this town also had large, foot-wide trenches going across several of the roads. Instead of covering an area of them with concrete like most towns around here do, they instead filled certain areas with rocks kind of sort of where tires might go if a vehicle were trying to cross them. Needless to say, this is not an area high in automobile traffic. But we made it, the truck stayed intact, and we are better off for it.

Today I'm in Cayambe, I took a student to the clinic to get a tetanus shot and helped the cooks get money for grocery shopping. Now I should go back and probably help at the lab for a bit. I'll write again soon.

Oh, but lastly: Last night I finalized the arrangements for my apartment for the rest of my time here. It's above a store that sells candies, grains, shampoo, beer and liquor, and other whozits that we'll need tons of. Matt (the guy I'll b working with) and I will each have our own bedrooms, there's a living space, a small lab/artifact storage space, a deck, and a roof... and on the roof is our bathroom and kitchen. We move in at the end of this week but then I think we're taking a several-day vacation, but afterwards I'll try to get pictures of the place up. It's costing us $150/month total, including all utilities and the landlord family doing our laundry. Pretty good, huh? Anyway, just wanted to update you on that. I'm excited. Plus, if anyone decides to visit, we have a place for you to stay.

16 July 2009


Sorry it's been so long since the last update, I've been extremely busy. I don't have much time to write now, so this will be brief.

All is well here; the fiestas are over so Cangahua is back to the quiet mountain town that I'm used to. I've moved to a new site for excavations, too. I'm now at the Loma Sandoval, where there was a pre-Inka flat-top pyramid on a man's land that he buried with a bulldozer to protect it. We have found one corner of the structure and the steps on its east and south sides, and we are hoping to somehow get a look at the top of the pyramid before excavations end this weekend/the beginning of next week. Lastly, today we had a grad student from Denver at the site to do Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), and initially it looked like we had some interesting findings. She as analyzing the data as I type.

Well, I should go because I have to drive everyone back to Cangahua for dinner, so I'll write more later. Hope all's fantastic back home.

06 July 2009

Weekend festivities, a new type of structure.

My arms got sunburned today and I just scratched it and that hurt.

Otherwise, things here are fantastic. This weekend included visits to Otavalo and Cochasqui, and of course the 4th of July. Otavalo is the famous market town of Ecuador, where local handicrafts such as alpaca sweaters and scarves, knock-off paintings, stone carvings, hats, and nearly anything else a tourist could possibly want are on sale for a flexible price. This year, instead of sticking to the mostly tourist area of the market, some of the students and I ventured uphill to the local area. Up here, where we were the only gringos in sight, we could buy remote controls, underwear, dvds, harmonicas, cameras, sewing machines, fresh fruit, fish, chicken, pig... the mainstays of local life. The smells of the fruits thankfully overpowered those of the fish, and it was a great new experience to see the part of the market not meant to sell tourist swag meant for nothing but to advertise to your friends where you´ve been.

That night Cangahua had another gathering in the town square, in part to celebrate the 4th of July for us and to make us feel at home. It started with music playing and the expectation that folks would start dancing around the square in traditional Ecuadorian dancing circles resembling the horah, but many of the students and staff were bashful and waited for some of the locals to start the dancing. As soon as the emcee offered a free box of wine to the group with the largest circle, however, a wave of archaeologists poured off of the stairs and into an enthusiastic double-ring of merriment. We won several. Later, the town erected a tower of fireworks that would break every health and safety code known to America and lit it for all to admire and run away from. The tower was a 30-foot tall square steel structure with a hundred different fireworks all around it supported by a single steel pole. One man's job was to stand underneath and rotate the darn thing. They lit the fuse at the bottom and different fireworks would go off in turn, each lighting the next as the display moved around and around and higher and higher. Some would just shoot sparks, some would whistle, others would spin. Maybe on purpose, some shot into the crowd and bounced around while everyone would cheer or dive out of the way, depending on their level of inebriation. Once the fire reached the top there was a grand finale of the fireworks we know and love that shoot into the air and explode in bright colors and loud booms. Happy Independence Day.

As far as excavations go, I have a really cool unit going right now. We started it last week at the same site where I've been digging this whole time, but it is different from every other unit that has been started. Up until now, the floor of every structure that we have excavated on Molino Loma has been stone covered in either plaster or pumice. The floor in this structure, however, had neither; instead, the stones are arranged in lines that compartmentalize the floor, and in each section is a different type and color of ash. Today we decided to go deeper into one of these sections and found a ton of carbon, mostly burned wood that looks from the way it is laid out to be roots. Along with this we have found several pieces of burned and unburned pottery and lots of blackened cangahua, the name of the volcanic building material used by local folks. There are all kinds of interpretations as to what this could mean-- multiple occupations? a storage building for something different than the other structures? Who knows! I'll keep you updated as to our conclusions.

Well, I'm hungry as hell right now, so I'm going to grab a snack to hold me off until dinner. Hope all is well where you are and to hear from you soon.

30 June 2009

Flaming shower and more work

This is from June 27th... internet is being fickle.

So remember how I said the showers don't get hot anymore? Apparently, they fixed that.

I was taking a shower after work a day or two ago and was ecstatic to find that the water was actually warm! Maybe not hot, but warm anyway. So I was in there doing my thing, looking at all the steam building up around me, when I noticed the smell of burning. I thought it was strange, but I had a warm freaking shower, there's no way I could pass that up. So I finished the shower, got dressed, and didn't give it a second thought.

Later that night, though, another staff member went to use the same shower I had used and shouted a little bit and switched to a different one. Apparently when he had turned on the shower, the wires leading to the electric shower head had caught fire and sparks were shooting out of it. He said the tape used to repair the damn thing was already melted, which leads me to believe that the shower head was burning during my own shower, too. I was too glad to have a comfortable water temperature to look up, though, and missed it. Hey, I survived.

Otherwise, work is going well. I substituted for another staff member who had to go to Quito today and opened a new unit that is one of the last 2 necessary to completely expose one structure on this site where we're working, and it is coming along nicely. We uncovered the remaining section of exterior wall and have gotten to the floor, finding fragments of what may be burned textile material-- very exciting-- along the way. We haven't found much else worth mentioning, but the work is going well, the students' morale is high, and I'm still very glad to be here.

Some things are slowly coming together regarding the work I'll be doing here into December, too, such as places we may live and ways to get to places we want to work, but this is happening at an Ecuadorian pace. I'm not worried about it, but I get the feeling my coworker is slightly more stressed out. We'll make it.

Okay, that's all for now. I'll check back in later. I did get the news that Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died, is there anything else I should be aware of?

25 June 2009

Cangahua and first excavations

Hello again!

I've arrived in Cangahua and started teaching archaeology for the season. The town has changed so much, it's strange. They completely redid the plaza with lights and benches and these statues in the middle of a man decked out in chaps and other fiesta gear and a woman with a spool of wool. There are now 2 internet cafés, bringing the total number of computers in town with internet access to 9. They´ve built new houses, new two-story buildings, and prices have gone up: a 12-case of double-size beers was $7 in 2007, $8 last year, and now costs $11. Damn inflation. The showers don't get hot anymore which is a bummer, but it feels good to be clean whether the water is hot or cold.

We're excavating the hilltop behind the Hacienda again this year, the site where I did a quick survey last year and above which I excavated that damn "watchtower" that had no artifacts. My unit is at this pit that we call the "well of souls," an ovular impression in the ground about 4 meters long and 3 meters wide covered in fallen stones. Some of these stones line up into what turned out to be a wall, but the rest are just scattered in there. We started excavating it today and while we didn't get all that deep, we have found pieces of what is likely colonial ceramic roof tiles, an obsidian scraper, and a bullet. Only the scraper dates from the time we had been thinking the site was occupied, which either means that we were wrong or that it was occupied for a long time, into Spanish colonialism.

I have to go to dinner, that's all for now. Will post more later.

22 June 2009

Quito Funtimes Explorations

I'm still in Quito and I found free WiFi (unheard of!), so I get to use my own computer and a keyboard whose layout I am familiar with. Huzzah.

What have I done since we arrived? Let's see. Friday, Dara and I slept in because we needed it. After the confusion of Wednesday and Thursday, a late Friday morning was more than we could have asked for. We took it easy, walked around the neighborhood of our hostel, and got a very cheap and gigantic seafood dinner. Mine was a simple fish fillet with rice and fries, and Dara's was this monstrous plate of rice and oysters and clams and shrimp and who knows what else... which turned out to be something she'd be paying dearly for the rest of the night.

Saturday several students, Dara and I decided to go to the Mitad del Mundo, or "Middle of the World," a huge stone monument and town built for the equator... but built about 250 meters away from the real thing. We took the 40-cent bus up there, and as soon as we got off it started pouring down rain. Absolutely pouring. We were unprepared and quickly found ourselves soaked to the bone. We found our way into the town (finding out later w were supposed to pay an entrance fee?), took shelter under some eaves and once the rain slowed down we went and saw the immense misplaced monument. It was nice. Apparently, if you pay to go into the museum, they have an exhibit that proves that water goes down the drain in the opposite direction on either side of the equator. First of all, that's not the real equator. Second, it has been proven that the thing that determines the direction of spin on toilet flushes is the direction it is sent into the toilet bowl. Bogus.

We stuck around the town for a bit, watching indigenous dancers and listening to some singers and buying small souvenirs and sweaters from the shops, and then hopped a bus back to Quito. While we rode a bus from the same company as we had taken to leave the city, our inbound bus did not stop at the same station we left from. I realized this and then noticed we were in the old city and decided it might be cool for the students to walk through there for a bit on the way back to our hostels, see the big churches and such. Unfortunately, we ended up in a seedy part of the old city, and wlked very quietly with our hands in our pockets. Almost immediately upon leaving the bus, one student's sandl broke, but we found a very nice old man who we couldn't understand a single word from to mend it. We eventually found taxis home before it got dark and made it back unscathed and unrobbed.

Aside from that, lots of relaxation. I did a full day of picking up students from the airport, finding rooms for them, feeding them and making them comfortable in this new country, they all went up to the project this afternoon after we found an art museum at the Catholic University. That campus seriously only has one entrance/exit, and lots of trickster paths that lead into walls or padlocked doors with nobody to open them. We escaped eventually.

Dara's flight out is Wednesday, after that I head up to the project and join my fellow archaeologists. It's good to have her here, though, I'm doing some touristy things around Quito that I hadn't done before that really needed to happen.

I'll post again when there's something to post about, hope everyone's doing well.

17 June 2009

Taking up residence at O'Hare

I haven't even left Chicago yet, and already I have a story.

My flight out of O'Hare was at 10:45 this morning, I was to get in to Miami at 2:45, then fly to Quito at 5:55 arriving at 8:55 pm. I was to meet my friend Dara, who is coming to visit for the first week I'm there, at the Miami airport. We were on the same flight, sitting just two seats away from each other by random chance. We would check into my favorite hostel, the New Bask, say hello to my friend Segundo, maybe grab a beer and head to bed.

That was the plan. But, since I had to leave my apartment around 7 in the morning to get to the airport with a comfortable cushion before my flight, and since I had to clean out my room for my subletter and pack everything I'll need for the next six months, I didn't sleep last night. I didn't trust that I would wake up in time. I have a talent for sleeping through alarms, and this would not be the day to sleep in.

So I stayed up all night, caught a cab and passed out until he pulled up to the ticketing counters. I came into the airport, talked to some friends, got breakfast-- no coffee, because I planned to sleep for the entire flight-- and then went to my gate to wait for boarding to start. As I sat there trying to pass the time, I kept nodding off to sleep but waking up when my neck decided not to support my head anymore. My flight was delayed 10 minutes... 20 minutes... and then, all of a sudden, there were only four or five people sitting at the gate. I looked at my watch, and an hour had passed. It was 11:30. My plane was gone.

I went up to the service desk and told the lady behind the counter what had happened. Immediately, she said "Oh, you're Smith." They had been paging me over the airport loudspeaker for ten minutes before the plane took off, but as I said before, I have a talent for sleeping through alarms. The next flight to Miami would get me there at 5:10, possibly giving me enough time to make my connection to Quito and reuniting with my friend. But it was already overbooked by nine tickets. The only flight I could get on was at 5:30, and then the next flight to Quito was Thursday at 3:30. It would have to do.

I called Dara and explained to her what happened, and American Airlines changed her flight to match mine, neither of us being charged a fee. The blessing in all of this: I'm spending tonight in Miami Beach, going to the ocean, relaxing in 80-degree tropical weather, and tomorrow I still get to go to Ecuador.

Now I'm waiting at the gate and my eyelids are almost as heavy as they were before my first flight... but this time I have the internet to keep me awake. Wish me luck.

11 June 2009

2009: 6 Months of Awesome.

Hello, folks.

This year I'll be spending quite a bit more time in Ecuador than I have in the past. I arrive June 17th and don't come back to sweet home Chicago until December 15th. From a week after my arrival until July 25th, I'll be working with the Pambamarca Archaeology Project again, probably teaching archaeological methods to field school students almost entirely from the US. Afterwards, I'll be working with a friend of mine on his doctoral research investigating as many of the 14 fortresses of the Pambamarca fortress complex as possible. By the time I get back, I'll be a lean, shaggy, bearded archaeological machine. Be ready for it.

I'm ridiculously excited, obviously. I've never spent so much time out of the country, and I've also never spent so much time working in what I believe to be my career of choice. If nothing else, this experience will tell me once and for all if this really is what I want to do with my life. I'm also a little bit nervous, because a couple days ago it finally hit me how long I'll actually be gone. It's easy to fall into the trap of assuming that it's just for the summer as it has been in the past, plus a little bit extra. But this time, that "little bit extra" is going to be all of August, September, October, and November. Labor Day. The autumnal equinox [which will probably be spent drunkenly on the equator itself, if all goes according to plan]. Halloween. Thanksgiving. I won't be home until nearly Christmas and New Years. So much happens in six months. I'll be much better at speaking Spanish, I'll hopefully have learned a bit of Quichua, my beard will be longer than ever before, my friends will better not have forgotten about me, and I will be horrified at US prices for food and rent. But I will be spending the whole time learning, getting better at archaeology, connecting with the local people and places, and genuinely bettering myself as a citizen of the world, I believe.

Really, though, I'm just eager to get down there and see what the hell happens. Cheers to that.

My new home.