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 caf├ęs, 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.