Moving at the Speed of Earth

Photo of Jen and Sasha in both hemispheres
I have felt the rotation of the earth multiple times. I am familiar with the sensation. In each case, tequila or some other, equally unscrupulous libation acted as the conduit for the experience.  

I am standing perfectly still, with my feet together and arms at my sides, I feel nothing. At a velocity of just over 1000 miles per hour, I am perfectly balanced.

With eyes closed, I raise my arms out from my sides and, as if trying to walk a tightrope, I take a step forward. Nope. I can’t do it. Incredibly, the drag created by my arms extending away from each other into opposite hemispheres is enough to knock me over, no Patrón necessary.

Photo of Sasha balancing an egg on its end

Sasha balanced an egg on its end

It’s important to get some tourist shit accomplished before diving into the nitty-gritty of culture-immersion. I’m enjoying easing into the discomfort with distractions of water spinning in different directions as it drains. It is true that water does spin in different directions depending on which side of the equator you’re on. I just felt why.

Pepe Revisited

Photo of Basilica del Voto, Quito Ecuador

Basilica del Voto

I’ve been yanked from my own reality and put into one that has me reliving the scene in Romancing The Stone where Juan, the bell maker (drug lord), helps our protagonists escape in a customized 4×4 named Pepe the Little Mule, except that in this dramatic reenactment, we’re in a sometimes speeding, sometimes lurching taxi zigzagging our way across Quito, Ecuador. I’m in the back seat with Sasha. There are no seatbelts. We’re both just hanging on to the Oh shit! handles as we traverse the bumpy cobblestone streets and take corners at speed while staring out the windows half mesmerized and half stunned at what we’re experiencing. All the while this small, delighted Ecuadorian man named Wilfredo is turned around in the front seat alternating between telling the cabbie which route to take and pointing out the windows at iconic points of interest as we speed by them. We pass the Basilica del Voto with its spires reaching for the sky and just beyond that is the house of the President of Ecuador. Wilfredo is speaking to us in rapid-fire Spanish which, of course, I don’t understand. What I have been able to figure out is that we are not going to our requested destination. I am completely conflicted about how to feel about this situation. Overwhelmed by my surroundings and incapable of comprehending the conversations that are going on around me, I’m inclined to abandon all notions of responsibility and just go fuck about this incredible city. 

Photo of the House of the President of Ecuador

House of the President of Ecuador

I’m stressed out about fulfilling my work obligations which require access to the Internet. As of right now, I am completely disconnected. My iPhone is nothing more than a pocket camera that displays the time in Atlanta, the last place I had service. After having figured out the shower, which only had one knob and a small electric water heater strapped to its head and consuming some instant coffee that wasn’t as bad I thought it would be, we explained to our host that we were in desperate need of access to the Internet. Not knowing the password to the house wi-fi and not wanting to wake her son to find out, Magi walked us to the corner internet cafe where we could use an old Dell for $0.50 an hour. We found a listing for a store that sells pay-as-you-go SIM cards. Thank you, Google de Ecuador! 

But we’re not going to that store. According to our hosts, Magi and Wilfredo, the store we want to visit is in an area that lacks anything of interest for a couple of American tourists fresh to the big city. 

Wilfredo and Sasha are now having a conversation in Spanish that I don’t understand. Sasha’s attempt to translate the exchange is cut short by Wilfredo suddenly exiting the cab. Just a quick “chau chau” and a wave and off he goes down the street. Despite my anxiousness, I’m delighted by the sight of Wilfredo walking off down this little side street sporting his newsboy cap and an oversized sweater. He is quite an endearing old chap.

Photo of steep street in Quito, Ecuador
Now it’s just us, Sasha, the cabbie and I, in this cab headed to an unknown local. I admit that I’m a little shaken up by this. I’m having trouble rolling with it. When did I get so uptight? Shaking my head to clear it, I take in my surroundings. Our cab is perched at the top of a very steep and narrow street jam-packed full of bumper to bumper cars seemingly too big to fit through this canyon made of Spanish colonial facades with custom-crafted doors set at severe angles to the incline of the road. In a handful of minutes that feel like stop-motion filmmaking, we find the bottom of the hill and our destination, El Centro. 

We’re now standing on a corner in downtown Quito with no map and no cell service. 

I wonder if the Force works in Ecuador?

Flight 673 to Quito

There’s brightness on the other side of my eyelids. I’m not ready to open them, not yet. That would require a commitment on my part to accept the reality which I was complicit in creating for myself. What I need now is something comforting, something that will reaffirm my life choices. What I need right now is coffee. Where the fuck am I going to get coffee? I don’t even have a good sense of where I am right now.

I have a vague, zombiesque recollection of standing in line for hours waiting to go through customs after a full day spent flying coach. I remember thinking that Quito International excelled at looking like a typical airport and that this was reassuring to me. After all, does it matter that I can’t comprehend any of the way-finding signs? I can figure them out in context. Most symbols are universal. It was quite cocky of me to think that I might have a handle on this.

I’m an idiot. In this harsh light of day that I’m resisting through my clenched eyelids, it is clear to me that I did not adequately prepare for what comes next. Avoiding the inevitable, I roll over and find the comfort and solace I had been looking for before selfishly panicking about where I might get my next cup of coffee.  

Sasha is stirring next to me. She can make even this lumpy futon feel like home. We have a saying between the two of us, home is where the girl is. Never before have I felt so deeply the truth of this statement. 

I don’t want to move. I want to remain snuggled up with my girl for just a bit longer. Still reluctant to open my eyes, I open my ears instead. The sounds of the city begin to fill my head. I can hear the traffic, grinding bus gears, a coughing diesel engine, cars honking, dogs barking, the whining sound of a hydraulic lift on a dump truck. I hear someone whistle for a cab and my heart leaps. A siren wails and then fades into the full chorus of car alarms that is coming from every direction. All of these sounds mixing together create a complex rhythm, at its core a heartbeat, one that states unequivocally that this city is alive.  

How did I tune out this soundtrack that has been sadly absent from my life for so long? Four years I spent missing the sounds of the city and grumbling about the quaint absence of noise. When I first moved to Eugene, Oregon the only way I could get to sleep was to play action movies for ambient city noise. From the sound of things, there’s a Jason Bourne movie playing out at the corner. I think I want to go check it out. Maybe Jason knows where I can find a decent cup of coffee.