31 January 2009


A blogmate of mine, Zhu, who happens to be traipsing down South America at the moment, escaping the North American winter (I so envy you, by the way), asked several people, including me, to write a travel story. She says it can be three pages long, or just two lines. We'll see with this one.

Even though my most recent travel overseas was to Europe this past summer, where I visited Denmark and Hungary, I will opt not to write about that. I will write about a series of incidents instead, that happened about a year and a half ago, when I was in Quito, Ecuador.

I stayed at this hotel in the old town, next to Plaza Sto. Domingo, where there looms this huge church. I was awaken every morning by the sounds of the city, such as the people chatting nearby, the school children walking, the cars honking, and so on. Watching the buzz of the local citizens was fun, especially when I was at the very top floor of the hotel, where they have the restaurant and breakfast area. The hotel I was staying at had a very nice view of the plaza, and I could see everyone.

I was there, enjoying my breakfast, consisting of eggs, bread, jam, some strong Ecuadorian coffee made with real killer-strong coffee liquid, called essencia, diluted with milk. It was too strong that I think milk took three-fourths of the cup to make it drinkable. Otherwise it was fine.

Breakfast was fine, until someone sat next to me. I suppose I should say I was traveling alone at this point. When I looked next to me to see who sat next to me, there was this rather interesting woman, around late 50's or early 60's perhaps, and she was trying to make conversation.

I have to say though, that I made a mistake in preparing for Spanish when I did this trip. I bought a Teach Yourself Spanish book several months ahead, but it didn't work. I should have just bought a Spanish Phrasebook, which I did a year later, which worked, when I was in Peru. But I digress. When I was in Quito, all I knew was Buenos Dias! and Disculpe, pero mi Castellano es no bien. and Puedo sacar una foto? I cannot believe I got by those few phrases while I was there. Obviously, this woman situation was one in which those phrases did not help.

She asked me what my name was. I got that far. I think I repeated my name twenty-seven thousand times for her, and yet, all she got was Choobie. What the heck was that? It reminded me of blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos. Ah, I could possibly instruct her to do the proper articulations in order to pronounce my name, but she wouldn't understand that anyway.

That was Day 1.

The next morning, I was taking my breakfast again. And then again, she was there. The moment she entered the hall, she shouted Good morning Choobie! It was so loud I really wished I could just vanish and disappear. And somehow, on this morning, I learned that she was a widow, and that she was from Peru. She and a few other middle-aged women are having a vacation in Quito. I also learned that the day after would be their last day.

Somehow, gestures and the fact that Tagalog had plenty of Spanish borrowed words proved helpful.

I didn't see her the next day, since I skipped breakfast to board an early bus heading to Otavalo. However, I saw her when I came back to the hotel. Around late afternoon, I was on the lobby, using the Internet, when someone from behind shouted nothing else but Choobie! Good thing her group's airport shuttle was already there. Before leaving, however, she gave me a keychain, a wooden one, shaped of an owl. To this day, I use it, although the paint on the wood is all chipped and fallen off. She said it is a souvenir from Peru.

(Barren Trees, from my Mount Vernon Series)


  1. Funny story and the setting (having breakfast after a short night because the hostel is noisy...) is familiar.

    I have somewhat a long last name (Italian) and my hubby a short one (Chinese), so hostal clerk at check in always mention it. Plus, his last name is Pan in Chinese, which means bread in Spanish... always makes locals laugh.

    Like your story, well described and explained!

  2. Zhu,

    Ah, the mismatch. Well, I suppose locals would definitely catch on that.