The Candle that Burns at Both Ends


It seems unbelievable, but another year has gone by. It’s 2016! And I think, after all I’ve experienced in the last two years, that I can safely say that I have no idea what this year will hold. In any case, it’s time for my yearly tradition of writing myself a letter about the past year and my hopes for the next. For the last two letters, click here and here.

You’re still here. No small feat, that. Another year gone and you continue to stretch the limits of who you think you are, to challenge your own beliefs, and take apart your own assumptions. You continue to fight tooth and nail for what you want and yet you’ve allowed yourself the flexibility to change the object of your desire as necessary. When the world treats you poorly or life doesn’t unfold as you’d planned, your first instinct isn’t to blame the world, but rather to dissect your perception of the world, although you’re not afraid to place blame where it belongs. This year has been difficult in many ways, ways you mostly didn’t foresee, but you have emerged on the other side stronger, better, and more aware.

It’s hard to believe you’ve been in South America for fifteen months, not counting the three months you spent at home tying up loose ends. That time was spent in a kind of holding pattern. You couldn’t really get on with your life in California because all you could think about was picking up the strings of the life you left back in Ecuador. Eventually you made it back and spent the next couple of months wandering about, second-guessing your choice. So few things are ever easy. So few things are impermeable to doubt. But then you started the job you thought you always wanted, and soon after fell into the job you never considered you might be meant for. Connections came together as if they were meant to be (though you don’t believe that). You met people who irrevocably altered your time in Ecuador, and all for the absolute better. You laughed more this year than you maybe ever have. You loved harder and danced with less restraint than you had ever allowed yourself to do before. You nurtured the flame that burns so brightly within you. Continue to grow, to diffuse your limitations, to open up. Continue to follow–and emulate–the sun.

This year was quite literally a dream, yet it was also a challenge. You resent how the amount of harassment you experience on a daily basis fills you with a kind of oily, residual anger that makes you want to lash out at any strange man that says hello or tries to touch you. You daydream about screaming at them, about pushing or kicking the ones who touch you without invitation. Find a way to channel that anger in a meaningful way. Don’t let it make you bitter. Don’t let it make you blind to all the good men there are in the world. But also don’t let it make you smaller. Don’t change who you are in the hopes that they’ll notice you less. Be whoever the fuck you want to be. Show as much or as little of yourself as you want. Just make sure it’s on your own terms, and not subject to the whim or approval of some nameless other.

The state of the world has also made you angry and, at times, despondent. It seems the -isms are taking over. Don’t let yourself become numb. Don’t fool yourself into believing you can’t make some kind of difference, no matter how big or small. You can. You will. You just have to be brave enough to try.

Take what you’ve learned about yourself this year and hold it close. You’ve finally realized that what you crave above all else–in friendship, in romance, etc.–is intimacy. Don’t settle for less. The withdrawal, the sense of having cheated yourself out of something worthwhile, is too strong and too unpleasant. Work to forge the relationship you want and need from the building blocks of what you’re traditionally allowed. Burn down the cathedral if need be. No one knows what is best for you, what you are capable of, more than you yourself. You contain multitudes. Don’t let yourself be simplified.

In the coming year, you’ll once again be home, in a place that has become more and more worthy of that word. Don’t lose your sense of adventure. Pay off your debts. Cut off any ties that are not worthy of holding you in place, while simultaneously strengthening the bonds that are. Do everything you can to figure out what you want from the next few years of your life. After a year, will you stay or will you go? If you decide on the former, don’t be afraid to put down roots. You can always pull them up again if you have to. If it’s the latter, that’s OK too. Your instincts have led you well so far. Listen to them. Save money while you’re figuring it out, so that when the decision is made you will already have taken the first step.

Continue to work on being kinder. Allow for the weaknesses in others as they allow for yours. Be humble, yet willing to sing your own praises if no one else will. As C. S. Lewis said, “Being humble isn’t about thinking less of yourself, but thinking about yourself less.” Remember that when someone doesn’t want you, it’s only because they can’t see that which is valuable in you. Don’t judge others. When you have a negative thought about someone you don’t even know, remember that your perception is colored by your experience, and you don’t have the right to thrust this perception on those around you. Be authentic with your words–there are enough empty ones in the world without your contribution. Possibly the greatest lesson you’ve learned in Ecuador is how to say “no.” Hold on to that. Use it as both shield and weapon. You’re allowed to use it as often as you please.

It seems as if you’ve finally started writing something. Keep going. Don’t fear failure. Don’t fear that it will be less than a masterpiece. It probably will be. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. Pursue the things you love, the things that make you feel free. Take dance classes. Learn one of the many instruments you’re interested in. Take French lessons, or Arabic, or Portuguese. Never, ever stop trying to learn.

In closing, you’re so near to being everything you ever hoped you would be. Go on. Keep moving forward. Your candle may burn at both ends, but it casts that much more light for doing so. You deserve everything you want, and more. I love you.






A Mexicana Goes South of the Border, Cuckolds Mexico for Chile

Quihubo, amigos!? Despite living in Ecuador, I’ve been working so much that La Güera hasn’t gotten many chances to stretch her legs, but good things are brewing so stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s a guest post from a very close friend, Michelle Plascencia. She and I met while working together at a hostel in San Francisco, and since then have gotten ourselves into many an adventure, from terrorizing the quiet redwoods of Big Sur to bar-hopping in San Francisco’s Mission District and everything in between. I even followed her through South America (or at least as far as Peru) without ever actually catching up to her. She’s a wanderlust soul sister to the fullest extent. 

On February 6th, 2014, I boarded a one-way flight for Bogotá, Colombia, with an open mind and heart, ready to let the spirit of travel guide me. I was an anxious twenty-something filled with wanderlust, but I was in many ways ready for this aimless journey.

Little did I know that I would have a love affair like none I had ever known — with Chile: its culture, its people, the landscapes, the lovers, friends, and connections that were so indescribable. You know that feeling when your stomach is filled with butterflies? Chile filled me with this unexpected fluttering for four months.

Cuenca, Ecuador

South America is filled with culture and beauty. Each country has its own spice and flavor. As I made my way south through Colombia,  I was fortunate enough to meet Elliott, in Popayán. I instantly felt a bond with Elliot, a connection that was refreshing to a solo female traveler. I was nervous about crossing the border alone into Ecuador, but Elliot — a male, Chilean, travel guru — held my hand as we stepped from one country into another.  He understood why I was traveling alone, but was also compassionate about my fear. We parted ways again in Quito, from which I continued on to Baños in the south. I was thankful for Elliott’s guidance and had faith that I would be blessed with more characters like him on my trip.

I made it to Baños, the moment I like to refer to as the pinnacle of my trip. This is when I first felt it — the loneliness of traveling, the excitement and hesitation, the frustrations felt at times when I didn’t know what to eat or where I would feel safe. Transylvania Hostel became my home for seven days. This is where I met my great friend Camila, my roommate in the dorm, and another solo twenty-something female. Camila, born and raised in Santiago, Chile, understood my love for travel. She also understood why I was doing so alone, why I wanted to be alone. The hostel was filled with solo travelers, groups of Chileans, dudes from Argentina, France, and the U.S., including sweet Alex from Indiana. We were a mixture of everywhere. We shared many moments together, surrounded by the mountains in Baños, but we all knew what every traveler knows: that the journey continues. Camila and I parted ways and exchanged information so we could keep in touch, but what does keeping in touch really mean?

I made my way down to Máncora, a beautiful coastal town in northern Peru, accompanied by Alex. After a few days of partying and lounging oceanside, it was time yet again to say goodbye. I parted ways with Alex and boarded my 17-hour bus ride from Máncora to Lima, Peru’s capital. The bus ride was filled with emotion, excitement, and loneliness, the latter of which overcame me when I realized I was saying goodbye to a lover that I would probably never see again. Sure, we can keep in touch, but will that spark, that bond that we once shared, be the same?


I stepped off the bus in Lima and was immediately bombarded by taxi drivers clamoring to take me here or there. I didn’t even have my backpack yet, but I already had 15 offers for cab rides. This is when I met Indira and Sebastián. When they noticed my overwhelmed facial expression, they immediately asked where I was going. It turned out we were going to the same hostel, so we walked away from the terminal and the gaggle of taxi drivers together. They were a vibrant, friendly Chilean couple. Indira was a calm spirit, while Sebastián was a louder, macho kind of guy.

I quickly became the third wheel while traveling with this kooky couple, but I felt more like a friend to these new companions who were on the same travel high as me. They would smooch on each other here and there but then they would get into screaming battles while I simply observed, simultaneously taking it in and losing myself in my own thoughts. Their relationship was close to home, as my parents are professionals at yelling battles and making up. Being around them was comforting. We traveled together to Arica, Chile, where they were taking a flight back to Santiago — the same place I was going, only on a thirty-hour bus ride. I was supposed to meet a dear friend of mine there. Indira and Seba walked me through everything: where to find reasonable bus tickets, what to do when I got there, etc. They gave me their addresses and phone numbers for when I arrived, before making sure that I got on the bus and waving goodbye from a distance. Indira and Sebastián… what a whirlwind of love they were.

I finally arrived in Santiago and felt like I was home. I stayed with Camila (my roomie from Baños) and was as welcome as if we had been friends for years!

I later met up with Indira and Seba, and it was as if we were on foreign lands together again. They welcomed me into their homes where  we ate almuerzos, laughed, and later smoked a porro (joint) in Barrio Brasil.

Keeping in touch had a new meaning to me now. It was a real thing. We actually did and still do keep in touch.

As always, the journey continued, and I soon found myself in Punta Arenas, Chile, very unprepared to trek Torres del Paine. Full of ambition, I went to the well-known Erratic Rock to get some pointers for the hike. I was fortunate to cross paths with Osvaldo and Keko, two Chileans who were also prepping for the big hike.

“¿Vas sola?” they asked.

“Yes,” I responded hesitantly, “I am going to rent some gear.”

“Ven con nosotros, po!”

“¿En serio?”

“¡Claro! Nomás vamos nosotros dos y tenemos todo. Nomás traete tu comida. Aquí nos vemos a las 6 a.m. mañana.”

Torres del Paine

Five days later, we returned with endless stories, laughs, memories, and experiences that the three of us would always share: the moments we trekked in the rain, wind, snow, and sunshine and even rotated who would sleep in the middle to keep warm. The memories that created the kinship I instantly felt with them. The hike wouldn’t have been the same alone. As I hiked eight hours a day with Osvaldo and Keko, I imagined doing it alone. The magical moments of the breathtaking landscape would have been the same, but the happiness I felt as we approached Glacier Grey wouldn’t have been as magical if I had been alone. Sharing these moments with strangers felt wholesome. Once we got back, I headed back up north while they continued south into Argentina. As always we urged each other, “Keep in touch!” We embraced and parted ways.

I was finally heading out of Chile and into Bolivia. I stopped in Pisco Elqui, Valle de Elqui, Chile, a small town tucked away in the Andes. I attended a yoga class at Centro Tierra Pura, a holistic healing center, and was mesmerized by the energy there. I felt as though every moment prior to my arrival had been aligned to guide me to Pisco Elqui. After gushing about my instant love of Pisco to Loto, the owner, she immediately offered me a room to stay in in exchange for helping her while she traveled for work. I was a solo female wanderer, no plan or itinerary, and everything that I had experienced in Chile had brought me here, so I said yes. I was able to participate in meditation ceremonies, yoga, and other holistic healing practices.

The times spent in Pisco Elqui enriched my relationship with myself and opened my mind to the encounters that life has to offer if you’re paying attention. I learned to embrace the present moment and understand that every moment, happy or sorrowful, is a gift. Sulking in what ifs, would’ves, could’ves, and should’ves tend to bring regret and cause us to forget to live in the present, creating a domino effect that takes away from the enjoyment of the now.

valle de elqui

These few encounters that I’ve mentioned here are only a handful of the Chilean people that made me feel at home, made me feel like I could always go back to Chile and be welcome. All these encounters led me to my home in Pisco Elqui at a time and place that I cherish deep within my heart, remembering the moments as if they were dreams.

A surfer in Pichilemu, Chile, told me that there is no such thing as one soulmate. As humans, we are fascinated by the connection we share with an individual. Whether it’s for an hour, a day, or a month, sometimes you feel a connection and sharing those moments together are far more meaningful than waiting and longing for ONE soulmate.

Throughout my trip I came across many soulmates, individuals that enlightened me with their spirit and who allowed my presence to enlighten theirs. We shared special moments and conversations, stared at the breathtaking landscapes of Chile, ate together, drank, hugged, laughed, or simply sat in pleasant silence. Although I don’t keep in touch with all of them, they are all part of the person I have become. They are part of the love affair I had, and will forever have, with Chile.

Michelle is a full-time wanderer and film enthusiast who’s almost always simultaneously training for a long-distance run. After working various film festivals and supporting arts education in San Francisco, California, for five years, she decided to take a leave of absence from her routine lifestyle in the States. Her recent trip to South America sparked a new and unexpected interest — to teach English abroad. Low and behold you can now find her in Incheon, South Korea, teaching energetic preschoolers. It has been a whirlwind of cultural differences and adjustments, but that’s part of the thrill of living abroad, especially in a country that rarely sees a brown-skinned woman. The students, of course, never hesitate to ask why her skin is darker than theirs.

The Jouissance of Worldly Love

The mountains surrounding Quito, Ecuador

The mountains surrounding Quito, Ecuador.

I have accomplished many things in my life, though it is no more nor less than many people I know. I have done many things that I have been told I was “supposed” to do: graduated from college, found “real” jobs, moved out of my parents’ houses. I have also done many things just for me, the most important of which is the impetus and theme for this blog: traveling through South America. But in spite of all the many things I’ve done, I have come to realize that I have never been in love.


Taking a dip in the Cuyabeno River, Ecuador.

Don’t misunderstand me; I have loved and do love many people. I have loved members of my family with the possessive, wonderful, though sometimes internecine kind of love that is so unique to those few whose love you were born into, if you are lucky. I have loved friends who have shared both good and bad times with me, who helped me home when I had made the bad combinatory decision of wearing high heels and drinking whiskey, who were game to spontaneously go out of town when I felt that I would burst from one more day of being in the same place, who held my hand when it was all I could do to hold myself together. I have loved men romantically, too. There is a difference there that is seldom talked about. You can love people without ever “falling in love” with them in that Meg Ryan rom-com kind of way. There’s the love that exists because you care about someone and they care about you, because they see your best and worst parts and love you anyways. There’s a kind of love that springs from the fact that they are the only person who can talk to you for hours on end about things you’re obsessed with (writing, nerdy fandoms, books, Buffy the Vampire Slayer [you people know who you are]). More often, for me at least, there’s the love that means you can not even look at a person without wanting to throw them against something and touch every inch of their body with every inch of yours. I know all these kinds of loves. But actually falling in love with someone? I haven’t done that. Why? Because it scares the ever-loving shit out of me. As Diane Ackerman said,

We think of it as a sort of traffic accident of the heart. It is an emotion that scares us more than cruelty, more than violence, more than hatred. We allow ourselves to be foiled by the vagueness of the word. After all, love requires the utmost vulnerability. We equip someone with freshly sharpened knives; strip naked; then invite him to stand close. What could be scarier?

I am not the most humble of people but, ironically, I think one of my greatest strengths is my ability to acknowledge and admit to weakness, and making myself vulnerable is probably my biggest weakness. So it is true that I have never fallen in love with a person, but to say I have never been in love is a gross exaggeration, for I have been and continue to be irrevocably in love with something much less transient and even more physical than that latter love I mentioned above: places on a map.


Rose and I in front of Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, Paris, in 2007.

The first time happened more quickly than I could have imagined. When I was 18, my mom traded houses in the south of France and in the process of taking two friends to the airport and picking one up, I spent a little less than a day in Paris. I spent that day eating macarons and drinking café au laits in restaurants some of my most idolized writers frequented. I climbed the towers of Notre Dame and, like a gargoyle, hung over the edge to look as far as I could see in every direction as I considered the mastery of the cathedral itself, which I was then reading about in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I wandered, and was momentarily stalked, through Père Lachaise cemetery, and I left the trace of my lips, on top of those of so many others, on Oscar Wilde’s grave. Everyone does these things, it seems, when they go to Paris. But for me, I left something there which I have never gotten back. Whether it got caught in the cobblestones of the streets, in the scent of roasting meat, in the lilt and arabesques of the language, some part of me became a part of Paris. I went back a summer later for a month and the feeling only became stronger, the hunger for the city and all it held only more voracious. Years and years have passed since I’ve been back, but when I think of that city my hearts seems to pull in that direction, like a compass towards the Pole. At those moments I feel a longing which so many poems and stories describe as the way one feels for a beloved that is out of the reach of one’s arms. Paris holds for me the memories of minds I admire, of written words that have helped form me, of stories that sparked in me my own desire to write. My love for Paris is one of the mind.


Teotihuacán, the “Place Where Men Become Gods”.

The next time I fell in love was even stranger than the first. Strange because although I barely knew Mexico (I grew up practically within sight of it), I had a deep-rooted craving to know more. Like an attractive person glimpsed in a crowd, I thought of Mexico and was caught up in what it would feel like to be there, to feel that language on my tongue, to run into its vastness and feel engulfed. In college, I went abroad for a year to Querétaro, the city that was Mexico’s capital in colonial times. Technically I went there to study, but I can think of little that I gained academically from my time there. In truth, I went there to continue my lips’ love affair with the language, my belly’s obsession with the food, my eyes’ infatuation with the bright colors of the culture and architecture, and my heart’s sight unseen yearning for all of Mexico’s accoutrements, both the bright and exciting as well as the dark and dirty undersides.

On the river in Xochimilco

On the river in Xochimilco.

Sometimes in life we meet people and we feel as if we had always known them, that somehow this is not a chance encounter but a predetermined reunion. That is how I felt with Mexico. I was meant to be there. It was far from perfect and I missed some luxuries that I had taken for granted back at home but at some primitive, savage level, Mexico and I were meant for one another. In the four years between coming home from Mexico and leaving for Colombia, I would sometimes be walking down the street in San Francisco and my ears would perk up and hone in on any utterance of that language that has become an amalgam of European Spanish, indigenous Mexican languages, and even smatterings of English, and again my heart would beat a little faster. Like hearing the voice of a love that has been lost, the Spanish language calls forth yearnings that feel strong enough to break me in half. Even here in South America, when I hear the Mexican dialect I feel a completely unexpected pang in my heart, a mixture of nostalgia and sadness and irrefutably and undeniably, a sense of being called back to something that I had fallen in love with long before I was conscious of it. I think of Mexico as my spirit country. My love for Mexico is one of the soul.

Fishermen bringing in the day's catch in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador.

Fishermen bringing in the day’s catch in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador.

Now here I am in Lima, Peru on my last day in South America. I fly home tonight at midnight. I won’t go into my feelings for Ecuador again (check out this entry for more), and perhaps I am not worried about feeling lovesick for Cuenca because for once I know I will be back soon, but in all this I have discovered something truly important. There is somewhere else I am in love with, and not just for the people in it. This time it is not love at first sight (Paris) or a fierce kind of love that was waiting for me to find it (Mexico). This time it is the kind of love that can suddenly blossom out of nowhere. The kind of latent love that you may have for a best friend, whom you’ve known for years, until suddenly one day you realize you want to do more than hold their hand in friendship.

Sunset in the Sunset District, San Francisco

Sunset in the Sunset District, San Francisco

With no warning at all, the love I feel for this place has gone from platonic to… something else. The last few mornings I have woken up (in Cuenca, in Máncora, in Lima) and all I have wanted was to be waking up in my bed (or any bed as I don’t currently have one) at home in California. California with its gorgeous coastline, with its metastasized suburbs, with its mountains like broken teeth and its lakes like bottomless pools of pellucid tears, its cities as different as anything could be, its hyperinflated housing and its beautiful, invaluable diversity. It is with my home that I have finally fallen in love. I know that I will continue to leave it, again and again, but I will never again forget my devotion to it.

Morro Bay, California

Morro Bay, California

It is easy to fall in love with places. They ask nothing of you except an open mind. By loving them, you do not also give them the power to destroy you. By loving them, you are only finding pieces of your own heart that you never knew were missing. And though one day I hope to find the courage to fall in love with a person, for now my love for places, for Paris and Mexico, for Ecuador and California, is enough.

My love for California is one of the heart.

California, la güerita is coming home.

La Güera Seeks Escape, Finds Freedom

Biking down the Cotopaxi volcano.

Biking down the Cotopaxi volcano.

Freedom is a concept that has both enthralled and horrified humanity for its entire existence. It is hard to define because of its fluidity, its tendency towards subjectivity. It varies between ages (both historical and chronological), cultures, ideologies, individuals, and any other subcategory of the human race. In John Stuart Mill’s famous essay “On Liberty”, he describes it as such:

The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual.

Perhaps in its most compact, concentrated definition, freedom is simply the ability to choose.

Having spent the last almost 5 months traveling, for the most part on my own, freedom, my own personal definition and more importantly its consequences, has been on my mind a considerable amount of the time. I have never felt more free in my life and most days that is an amazing and incomparable feeling. But freedom is not a synonym for comfort. In my freeness, there have been times where I’ve been sure I was about to be kidnapped or worse, where I had no place to sleep, where I couldn’t wish for anything more than people who loved me to hold me in their arms and take care of me. Like I said a few entries back, freedom often comes at the expense of security. But from the best to the worst moments and everywhere in between, freedom is the overarching theme of this entire journey.

Let me give you a little insight into my past and present life: seven months ago I was working at a job I hated five days a week from 8:30 to 5, for bosses who wanted only my silence and obedience and often used humiliation as a means to achieve that end. I spent my days staring at a computer screen making spreadsheets and searching for decades-old paper documents in archives organized as well as Bogotá’s bus system (which is to say not at all). I made only enough money to cover my bills and the minimum payments on my credit cards. For my efforts, the most vacation I could hope to get was 10 days per year. Every single morning I woke up and thought desperately of any viable way that I could avoid going to work that day. Don’t get me wrong, my life was still pretty great, but free was not something I thought of myself as being. Despite living in a city I worship, with friends equally deserving of adulation, I felt trapped and unhappy at least 40 hours a week and that is no way to go through life.

Seven months later, I feel joyful almost every day. I wake up most mornings and I and I alone decide what to do with myself that day, or, if I am on some kind of schedule, it is because I chose to be. I often think that if I were to die right now (which of course I hope doesn’t happen for, say, 70 years), I would be absolutely content with what I have done with this one life. Even in my moments of bowel-gurgling fear or crippling loneliness, there is a revitalizing quality to knowing that I have willingly made the choice to be here, not out of some “responsibility to society” or obligation or some mindless and robotic forward motion, but because of a willingness to risk everything in the search for my own joy.

But freedom has a price, like everything. To be truly free, you can have no ties to people or places or things, or at the very least, you must accept that they will come second to your freedom. But I am not willing to give up the people I love in order to maintain indefinitely my freedom. I am not willing to think only of my own happiness at all times at the expense of the happiness of others. There are a relatively large number of people in my life whom, if they asked me to come back because they truly needed me there, I would drop everything and run to. But they have not asked and so the exhilaration of freedom continues to fill me like some euphoric stimulant. I know I said a few weeks ago that freedom means not always coming when you’re called and I still hold to that, but there are things that rival freedom and love is one.

When I was 19 I got a tattoo on my back of a swallow flying out of a gilded cage with “La Libertad” in script below it. At that time in my life, freedom meant living on my own, enjoying the fruits of preliminary independence. But freedom’s meaning for me has changed since then, become deeper, and in this moment, I believe freedom is the ability to take advantage of opportunities that come up unexpectedly. To be free means to rely on your own body and spirit and intellect to find your place in a world in which most people, for a variety of reasons, remain in the same place they have always been. As Dylan Thomas said in his story “The Peaches”, “I was aware of me myself in the exact middle of a living story, and my body was my adventure and my name.” Sometimes you are offered things which to decline would be akin to spitting at the feet of Fortune. Sometimes these opportunities are in direct opposition to your “plan”. Sometimes to accept would be to change your mind again and again, at the risk of seeming fickle or indecisive. Opportunity cares not at all for any of these things. You take it as it comes or it passes you by.

On that note, I’ve been offered a room in a beautiful house in Cuenca, Ecuador, in the same country that I wrote about being reluctant to leave last week.

I accepted.

Hasta La Próxima, Ecu

La Lobería, San Cristóbal, Galápagos

La Lobería, San Cristóbal, Galápagos

Parque Nacional de Cotopaxi, about an hour outside of Quito

Parque Nacional de Cotopaxi, about an hour outside of Quito

Ingapirca: Incan ruins outside Cuenca

Ingapirca: Incan ruins outside Cuenca

Parque Nacional El Cajas

Parque Nacional El Cajas

Waterfalls in Baños.

Waterfalls in Baños.

Isinlivi, the tiny town I ended up in when I fucked up doing the Quilotoa Loop.

Isinlivi, the tiny town I ended up in when I fucked up doing the Quilotoa Loop.


Whale watching in Puerto Lopez

Robbie in El Cajas

Robbie in El Cajas

Volcán Tungurahua

Volcán Tungurahua

On the Cuyabeno river in the Amazon

On the Cuyabeno river in the Amazon

I had another big theme planned for this week, but I think I’ll ruminate on that one for a while longer and keep this simple. I’m finally leaving Ecuador. While originally planning my trip, this country was little more than the space between Colombia and Peru in my mind, and yet I’ve stayed here for three months, making it the country in which I’ve stayed the longest, regardless of the fact that it’s also the smallest. The only reason I’m leaving is because my tourist visa expires on Sunday. That, and my flight home leaves out of Lima.

I have loved every moment of my time here: the fuckups, the moments of anxiety, of awe, of absolute heartrending perfection, from sitting alone on the end of a rock jetty in the Galápagos to sitting in a beach bar playing Scrabble with expatriates to biking down a volcano. But everywhere I’ve been I have also been glad to leave, if only in delicious anticipation of the next unknown. Everywhere, that is, except for Cuenca.

I knew it as soon as I got here, which is why I extended my stay from a few days to a few weeks. Something about Cuenca struck some corresponding thing in me and it has continued to vibrate for the entire almost-month I’ve been here. I’ve only had this feeling once before, and that was Paris, a city which still inspires me, of which I still dream. There are many possible reasons for this: it reminds me of Querétaro (where I lived in Mexico), I have already found a niche in which I could be happy, and I have had more concentrated fun here than anywhere else…

All I know is that this will be the only place I’ve been in the last four months which will hold onto a piece of me when I leave it, a kind of nostalgic calling card to remind me of what I’ve left behind and what I could one day come back to if I choose. This will be the only city I move on from where I will feel as if I was saying goodbye to a long-lost friend whom time and circumstance were coercing me to abandon too soon.

Guayasamín and Galeano Tell the Story of the Indígenas

In exchange for the skins, the Indians get weapons to kill each other, or die in the wars between Englishmen and Frenchmen who dispute their lands. The Indians also get firewater, which turns the toughest warrior into skin and bone, and diseases more devastating than the worst snowstorms (Faces and Masks, Eduardo Galeano: 1717: Dupas Island, The Founders).

“Tears of Blood”

According to Le Jeune, they do not like working, but they delight in inventing lies. They know nothing of art, unless it be the art of scalping enemies. They are vengeful: for vengeance they eat lice and worms and every bug that enjoys human flesh. They are incapable, Biard shows, of understanding any abstract idea. According to Brébeuf, the Indians cannot grasp the idea of hell. They have never heard of eternal punishment. When Christians threaten them with hell, the savages ask: And will my friends be there in hell? (1717: Dupas Island, Portrait of the Indians)

Photo Credit: Raising Miro

[The Indians] recognize themselves in Jesus, who was condemned without proof, as they are; but they adore the cross not as a symbol of his immolation, but because the cross has the shape of the fruitful meeting of rain and soil (1774: San Andrés Itzapan, Dominus Vobiscum)

Photo Credit: El Proyecto Matriz

Absence is punished with eight lashes, but the Mass offends the Mayan gods and that has more power than fear of the thong. Fifty times a year, the Mass interrupts work in the fields, the daily ceremony of communion with the earth. For the Indians, accompanying step by step the corn’s cycle of death and resurrection is a way of praying; and the earth, that immense temple, is their day-to-day testimony to the miracle of life being reborn. For them all earth is a church, all woods a sanctuary (1775: Guatemala City, Sacraments).

Photo Credit: El Proyecto Matriz

Count Buffon says…that the Indians, cold as serpents, have no soul, nor fire for females. Voltaire, too, speaks of hairless lions and men, and Baron Montesquieu explains that warm countries produce despicable peoples. Abbé Guillaume Raynal is offended because in America mountain ranges extend from north to south instead of from east to west as they should, and his Prussian colleague Corneille de Pauw portrays the American Indian as a flabby, degenerate beast. According to de Prauw, the climate over there leaves animals sickly and without tails; the women are so ugly that they are confused with men; and the sugar has no taste, the coffee no aroma (1780: BolognaClavijero Defends the Accursed Lands).

Photo Credit: Final Portfolio

José Antonio de Areche, representative of the king of Spain (as he interrogates and torches Túpac Amaru): Deny it!… You have promised freedom … The heretics have taught you the evil arts of contraband. Wrapped in the flag of freedom, you brought the crudest of tyrannies. (Walks around the figure bound to the rack.) “They treat us like dogs,” you said. “They skin us alive,” you said. But did you by any chance even pay tribute, you and your fellows? You enjoyed the privilege of using arms and going on horseback. You were always treated as a Christian of pure-blooded lineage! We gave you the life of a white man and you preached race hatred. We, your hated Spaniards, have taught you to speak. And what did you say? “Revolution!” We taught you to write, and what did you write? “War!”…. You have laid Peru waste. Crimes, arson, robberies, sacrileges… You and your terrorist henchmen have brought hell to these provinces…. How many thousands of deaths have you caused, you sham emperor? How much pain have you inflicted on the invaded lands?…. The Incas… No one has treated the Indians worse (1781: CuzcoSacramental Ceremony in the Torture Chamber).

Photo Credit: Latin American Art

According to the bishops, pulque is to blame for laziness and poverty and brings idolatry and rebellion. Barbarous vice of a barbarous people, says one of the king’s officers. Under the effect of the maguey’s heavy wine, he says, the child denies the father and the vassal his lord (1785: Mexico City, Pulque).


The mulatto Ambrosio, who belongs to the commander Nieva y Castillo, was denounced to the authorities for having committed the crime of learning to read and write. They flayed his back with lashes as a lesson to those pen-pushing Indians and mulattos who wish to ape Spaniards (1804: CatamarcaAmbrosio’s Sin).


Great fortunes in a few hands, thought Mariano Moreno, are stagnant waters that do not bathe the earth (1811: Buenos AiresMoreno).


On the headlands of the Quequay, General Rivera’s cavalry have completed the civilizing operation with good marksmanship. Now, not an Indian remains alive in Uruguay. The government donates the four last Charrúa Indians to the Natural Sciences Academy in Paris…. The French public pay admission to see the savages…. From the shape of their skulls, they deduce their small intelligence and violent character (1834: Paris, Tacuabé).


For the southward and westward growth of the great estates of the pampas, repeating rifles empty out “empty spaces.” Clearing savages out of Patagonia, burning villages, using Indians and ostriches for target practice… (1879: Choele-Choel Island, The Remington Method).

I am not often moved by fine art. This is not to say that I don’t see the beauty in art, but seldom do I feel anything amounting to more than an aesthetic appreciation. But every once in a while, I look at an artwork and it moves me with an almost physical force. It happens so rarely that I can remember each time it happened, like the piece that will one day be tattooed on my body that I saw in the Petit Palais in Paris. But I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an artist whose entire body of work affected me, which is what happened when I walked into the Capilla del Hombre in Quito, Ecuador, the museum that houses much of the work of Oswaldo Guayasamín, the art you see in this post.

Painting is a form of speaking while also screaming. It is an almost physiological attitude and the highest consequence of love and of solitude. That is why I want that everything be clear, that the message be simple and direct. I do not want to leave anything to chance; each figure, each symbol, must be essential; because a work of art is the unceasing search for the self that is like the others but similar to none. (Oswaldo Guayasamín, my translation)

Looking at his portraits of indigenous men, women, and children made me an implicit but impotent audience to their screams and cries, a sympathetic but ultimately removed witness to the injustices committed against them. Looking at the brushstrokes that were their eyes, I thought of Eduardo Galeano’s words. Staring into their disjointed, pain-warped faces, I felt for a moment connected to the river of blood that continues to carry the histories of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and the histories of the rest of us, too.