March 22, 2013

Gold, Boats, and Forts

I'm just getting to finishing up our posts on Colombia now so bear with me. Thanks! ~Ayelet

We spent our last few days on vacation in the town of Cartagena, right along the coast. In a way, I felt like our vacation only started when we got to Cartagena.

Watching the sunset on century-old city walls

Because 1) it's warm and humid, 2) the people are super nice, 3) it was easy to walk around and felt safe within the old city walls, and 4) there was a variety of things to see and do.

One morning we spent some time in the old fortress on the hill. Cartagena was where Spanish kept all the gold they stole from the indigenous people before they shipped it back to Spain. So pirates loved to raid the city, or at least try to. The old city is faced on 2 sides by water and is protected by the city walls. The fortress on the hill protects the back sides of the city. We had a great tour guide at the fortress - at one point, he had us go down a dark maze to show how the military communications worked back then. And then he let us flounder our way out of the maze and scare us half to death in the process. Fun times!

Leading to the mazes below the fortress
On another day, we took a boat tour to a few islands off the coast. It took 2 hours to get out there, but let me tell you, this guy was the most entertaining guide/boat game show host we've ever had. We've got video, which we hope to eventually put together, but for now, I'll share this photo of just one part of this voyage.

Yes, those are two men who are cross-dressed up in women's clothes from female volunteers on the boat. They even have lipstick on and stuffed towels up their butts. Then, they were made to walk the "catwalk" and even dance with a pole. And I just want to say that the North American/European tourists were in the minority on this boat. That afternoon, after the boat, we ate lunch on Playa Blanca and relaxed on the beach under a cabana. It was perfect.

Because it was really hot in Cartagena one afternoon (actually, who am I kidding? It was hot every afternoon so we took our siesta usually between 1-3 pm), we stopped by the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum). To our surprise, it was an air-conditioned museum delight! The first floor was about the Zenu Indian tribe, which had goldsmiths quite early. They were around 200 BC to 1600 AD although there are a few remaining members still around today. It was amazing to me that they had an advanced enough society to use gold and have enough wealth to pay for gold jewelry during that time. When you hear about modern civilization, you don't hear about how advanced the non-European societies actually were.

Gold earrings that both women and men wore 
On the second floor, there was a section that talked about how they created a canal system over 400,000 hectares (almost a million acres) of land in northern Colombia because it would keep flooding. They carved out canals in their lands so their crops would still get the nutritional benefits of being in the flood plains, but their houses and villages were safe on the canal ridges. It's interesting because even today, people often build in places that are almost guaranteed to flood without taking precautions.

We were not expected Cartagena to have so much to do and see. We were pleasantly surprised.

March 17, 2013

Portrait of a Painter

Around the time Luis Martinez started painting (late 1800s, early 1900s), Ecuador was still establishing itself as a nation. So his paintings of countrysides could be seen as a way of marking Ecuadorian territory, if only in the public sentiment. He showed Ecuadorians and the rest of the world what Ecuador was (after all, this was during a time when people couldn't just hop a plane or even a bus).

Martinez was a mountain climber, which gave a lot of realism to his art. But his paintings were definitely romantic - you can see a lot of inferences to the presence of God in his work. The sky in many of his paintings take up a third to half of the piece. And there's a lot of golden, heavenly light in there, too.
Another thing he was really good at was working in a play of light and shadow to create depth and add distance to his pieces.
He saw his work as a scientific document - he was not just painting a pretty picture, but more importantly, showing everyone what these mostly unseen landscapes looked like.

El Altar in the early 1900s
View of El Altar in 2008, taken by Ivan Layedra P
Even in modern times, his paintings have this aspect of a scientific document to them. His work gives us a view into this part of the world before industries and people began polluting and causing great changes in the atmosphere. He painted mountains with snow-capped peaks. When we see them today, much of the snow has disappeared. Probably in a few decades, these mountains will be completely bare of snow, leading to huge consequences for the people who live in Ecuador and the rest of South America.

I think his work really conveys the feeling that one gets in the solitude of nature and in the presence of something greater than ourselves. These mountains and landscapes will outlast all of us.

[Paintings from the book "Luis A. Martinez" by Fernando Jurado Noboa]

March 8, 2013

A City Full of Knockers

We appreciate the simple things in life.

So, when we recently vacationed in Cartagena, the knockers really stood out to us. You would probably show up and say, "Wow, these knockers come in all different shapes, sizes, and designs. Where could I get some?" Well, take a close look at our Cartagena tour of knockers.

March 5, 2013

Our Next Adventure...

Greg and I have decided to head back to the US after almost 4 years away. It's been a hard decision and we've had a lot of pros and cons of going somewhere new versus going back home.

Even though we're looking forward to being back in the US, we do miss the excitement that comes at this time of year. Most teachers go to job fairs and get their next overseas gigs right about now. Switzerland, Italy, Qatar, Mexico, Venezuela, Hong Kong, Panama - the world opens up to an international teacher (and his/her spouse :-) for sure.

In the US, our ideal location is Fort Collins, Colorado. For both of us, Colorado now feels like the closest thing to home. We've got great friends there and the landscape is beautiful! We don't have jobs yet, but after our time overseas, we've adapted to tougher situations. If we can't make things happen in Fort Collins, we're open to looking at Denver or other towns.

The biggest challenge for us will be trying to go without a car. One of the best experiences we've had overseas is walking, biking or taking public transit (ok, this part hasn't been fun in Quito). It's so much healthier. I really hope we can make it work in the US. We know we'll need use of a car at some point, but renting or using car sharing are options.

Now, the important thing is to enjoy the next few months without thinking too much about the move back (and all the planning, bureaucracy, closing of accounts, taxes, etc. that goes along with it). I think Scoots also will be very happy to have a more permanent home... and I will be happy to not deal with transferring him to and from different countries.

There are a few other things I look forward to:
  • Seasons - Quito feels like spring most of the time, with a distinct rainy season that's colder, but no snow! I'll probably be sick of it after one snowfall, but whatever, it's SNOW!
  • Grocery stores are open 24/7 (even on Sunday - a big no-no abroad).
  • I can get anything I want in the US. I can't even tell you how many delicious meals I haven't been able to make because they don't have the ingredients in Ecuador (or didn't have them in Germany).
  • Everything will be in English - this is going to make our lives just that much easier.
  • Customer service is amazing in the US. Even the worst customer service agents in the US have nothing on the Germans! The Ecuadorians try to be helpful, but it's just not the same. 
  • We're going to be so much closer to family. I'm already hoping to get home (or NYC) for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, in September. I haven't been back for at least 4, maybe 5, years and it's one of my favorite holidays.
It's not going to be all fun and games though. There are quite a few things that we're not looking forward to:
  • Our friends who've moved back from being overseas have said adjusting to the American lifestyle (and especially the lack of work-life balance as compared with other countries) is tough. 
  • We're not going to be bombarded by culture and new people all the time. 
  • The health care situation in the US scares me personally. 
  • There seems to be a trend of lack of respect for teachers in the States right now.
  • The general safety in the US (especially idiots with automatic guns) is frightening. 
  • Not enough people seem to be worried about the consequences (environmentally and socially) of buying cheap clothes, tons of plastic toys and foods that are wrapped in insane amounts of packaging. It'll be hard adjusting after basically living out of 4 suitcases; wearing our clothes down so they have holes in them; and being resourceful instead of buying items. 
I'm sure you guys didn't want to hear all that, but I'm just writing what's on our mind as we make our way back into the country. We'll be back in July - only 4 months away!