Day 42

Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
1
51
92
Trip End Dec 25, 2007


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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Today I couldn't find anybody to go with. And today the shuttle dropped us off in the original park, which was great except this time the other would have been better because it was only a couple of blocks from the Malecon. Whatever. I'd been seeing people set up all over the city polishing shoes, so I hooked my character shoes onto my shoulder strap and brought them along to get them polished. Since I'd been planning to go to the lighthouse and the cemetery all week, this was the last day to do it, so I decided to go whether I could find someone to go with me or not. Armed with a good map and a plan, I took the shuttle to central park and headed out from there. I had no trouble finding anything, but the Malecon was blocked off for cleaning and absolutely deserted because the holiday was over and nobody was out and it was a totally different street without the crowds of people on it. I got to the lighthouse without any trouble at all and went up the same way we'd come down the first day on the tour, even though it wasn't the main way, it was the closest to where I was approaching the hill from.

I got a ways up and realized I'd passed the place where we'd crossed staircases, and didn't know where I was or how to get back to the main stairs. It was clear that I was on staircases used by the people that lived on the hill and not by tourists, and I suddenly felt very much like a tourist rather than a traveler and started to feel the need to get off those stairs as soon as possible. I tried a couple of different staircases, but they just kept getting narrower and narrower and I would end up on the front steps of someone's house with nowhere to go and having no business being there. I was on my way back down when a man called to me out his window and came out of his house to talk to me. He asked if I was looking for the lighthouse, and I wished I could figure out a way to tell him to speak more slowly without sounding like an idiot so that I would understand. He kept telling me to focus and clearly thought I was silly but I couldn't think of anything intelligent to say besides I'm sorry I don't speak much Spanish. He asked me if I was alone and I realized that he probably was worried by the answer. He explained that the stairs were numbered and told me how to get there, I understood but must have still looked doubtful because he went back inside, hollered something to someone, locked the door and grabbed me by the arm. The numbered stairs were only a couple of staircases away and when we got there he gave me a hug and kissed my cheek and told me to be careful. I thanked him as much as I could with the words I had and wished I had something to give him. Then he was gone and I headed up the stairs.

The lighthouse was incredibly beautiful, although I wished I had someone with me to share it with. From the top I could see the whole city in every direction, and I looked along the waterfront for our ship but couldn't find it. I bet if I'd had binoculars I could have though. I wandered around for a while taking pictures and trying to decide what to do next. Eventually I climbed down and got out the map to try and find the cemetery. It didn't take me long but it did take me along some pretty sketchy streets. I stopped for water and another look at the map and before long I was there. I went in the gates, which were well guarded and made me a little nervous, and there was a crowd of bored-looking men sitting around as if they were waiting for something interesting to happen, and evidently something did when I showed up because they got pretty excited and insisted I have a tour. I was glad I had, because he told me some really interesting facts like who was buried where and which were the earliest graves. I felt bad because I couldn't understand all the information he was prepared to give, so he just took me around and showed me the graves that most people with cameras want to see. I walked around with him for a long time and then just wandered around by myself for a while, and went up into the graves that weren't as nice but even more interesting to look at and take pictures of. I felt very strange taking pictures, especially back there where all the "real people" were buried, and I was really careful when people came in to mourn to go around a corner or something and be really inconspicuous about my pictures.

At one point I climbed the hill behind the older graves, that were falling apart and had all kinds of trash and things dumped all over them because they weren't maintained like the "beautiful" parts of the cemetery, and could see out over the entire cemetery and the city too. There must be thousands buried in this cemetery, no joke. Probably tens of thousands, actually. Next to the cemetery I was in was a much more modern building, which was also part of the cemetery but clearly the newer part, and it had the mass-grave style graves as well, with people stacked like drawers above ground because the ground wasn't stable enough to bury anyone under it. At one point I climbed over a fairly precarious tree root and walked along a path that followed the drop-off of this hill into the modern cemetery building. I could almost see the top but I realized I wouldn't know what to do when I got up there anyway and that I should probably head down. When I got further down I saw a uniformed guard standing at the bottom of the trail, and it was soon clear I wasn't supposed to be up there. Of course I'd had no idea, it wasn't signed and more than that there was a distinct trail and people's loved ones were buried there, so some people obviously visited up there sometimes. He spoke in rapid Spanish and once again I was certain I looked absolutely ignorant and pretty stupid to boot. He sent me back into the main part of the cemetery and glared after me.

I wandered around a little more and then realized what time it was and that there was no way I was making it back for the one o'clock shuttle. I gave myself plenty of time and then left, feeling pretty in awe and a little shaken by the sheer magnitude of all the graves. It was a long way back to the park and I took my time, trying to stay on populated roads rather than the deserted ones that were starting to be really disconcerting. I made it back in more than plenty of time, and just sat at the park people-watching and looking back over where I'd been on the map. I traced the line and it was a big square, probably several miles of walking not counting the 400 something stairs to the lighthouse and all the wandering around the cemetery. So I sat. At one point a flock of pigeons flew right over my head and landed around my feet. There was one who was obviously being picked on, his feet were deformed and he'd been pecked up pretty bad, and when he and another pigeon went after the same crumbs, the stronger one attacked him and started pecking him some more. He made a direct beeline for me, running right under my knees and between my feet where they made a little alcove because of the way I was sitting. He hunkered down right there and the other pigeon went away. Eventually the flock moved on and my little friend was still there, just sitting safely between my feet. I checked on him a few times and once when I looked down he was gone, and I spotted him a few feet away under a food vendor's cart picking up crumbs. Then it was about time for the shuttle to come so I made my way on over to the stop.

Of course I'd been carrying my shoes all day long and now that it came to it I wasn't sure I wanted to get them polished after all; it might take all the character right out of them. I was sitting there debating it and Vanessa showed up, back from her trip and getting a last walk in the city in before getting back on the ship until Tahiti. I asked her about it and she was frank, as always, in saying that of course I should get them polished they're like ballet slippers and you should keep them in the best condition. So I got up and walked over there to talk to the guy, and for some reason suddenly had complete control over my Spanish. Perhaps it's the opportunity to rehearse in my head what I'm about to say. I said I'm sorry I don't have much Spanish but how much will it cost for these shoes. I should probably stop prefacing every conversation with "I don't speak much Spanish." Anyway he said it would be $30 and I said I only have $15 because that's all I had and he said okay. Clearly I should be more careful about what I pay for things; if $15 was okay from $30, obviously the $30 was a rip off. I sat down and he held my shoes so that I could put them on and he polished them right on my feet, being really careful about my white socks and the strap on my shoes and covering everything really carefully. He did a beautiful job and I paid him and put my tennis shoes back on just in time to walk right on to the shuttle. And my shoes are beautiful and I get to say I got them shined in Ecuador!
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