Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Week of Finals and Firsts

This week has seen my time occupied with proctoring final exams, and though there have been some days when I've had almost no work to do, there have been others, like yesterday, when I had to grade 52 tests at once. It feels a bit like leaving a stifling hot house and going out into the cold winter night. It's just screwing up my system and confusing my body.

In between nearly falling asleep listening to the same oral exams over and again and grading the written exams, I've been trying to figure out what to do with my week off next week. I had originally planned to head south to Loja and Vilcabamba for a couple days each. But then I was suddenly presented with a great opportunity.

My friend Casey had gone up with his wife Lara to Riobamba last week and did some climbing on Chimborazo, the tallest mountain in Ecuador. Also, because of the equatorial bulge, Chimborazo is technically the highest peak in the world. While there, Casey and Lara met a man who is the last of a dying breed. For centuries, indigenous people would climb up the mountain to chop out blocks of ice and sell them at the market, but because of the invention of the refrigerator, they have been dwindling away. Now there is one man left, a 65 year old, who is the last ice man.

Though he hates tourists, you can arrange to follow him up on the 8 hour hike to about 16,000 ft and watch him chop out the ice and bring it back down the mountain. The man also speaks Quichua, and not much Spanish, making it a bit more complicated. But I plan to go to Riobamba now and do this climb, and hopefully be able to write a nice story about it. Along the way, I'll probably also stop in Guaranda, about 2 hours away, to see a couple friends for a day or two.

I'm by no means an expert climber, so hopefully the altitude won't do me in too badly. I have been living at about 8,800 feet for a couple months, but when I was still in Quito, I was sucking air at about 13,000 feet on Pichincha.

Next week is also Thanksgiving, and some people were planning on coming into Cuenca for a little feast Saturday night. I'm hoping to be back by Friday afternoon, but the only problem is I have no idea how to cook a turkey. Or anything else for Thanksgiving. We might have to just wind up going with some street meat in the end. The main point, however, is to meet up with some friends and other Americans to celebrate the holiday in one way or another.

I've also learned something important. For a while I would say that some people in Ecuador speak Quechua, but that is a mistake. The indigenous in Ecuador speak Quichua (kee-chew-ah), and the indigenous in Peru speak Quechua (keh-chew-ah). The pronunciation is slightly different, but apparently it's nearly an entirely different language. So to review: Ecuador=Quichua, Peru=Quechua.

So there's the chance that I won't be writing much next week, but you can be sure that when I get back there will plenty of good stories to tell, and no doubt with some nice pictures as well. Who knows, there might even be some video. Stay tuned.

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