Rainy season

I was told when the rains started again back in May that they were coming late, and I could see El Salvador was parched and needed the relief by the time the rains were falling regularly. I am happy that it’s rainy season again because it makes our little garden happy, it makes the farms across the countryside happy, it makes the lakes and rivers happy, and it brings El Salvador back to the lushly green country we landed in a year ago. It’s a good thing.

It does also mean that our ceiling is leaking again, even though we have over a month of roofers up there after the last rainy season. It also, this time, means our little tomatoes aren’t reaching maturity because the daily pounding rains are too much for them to bear. And most annoying, it means the mosquitoes are out in force and have somehow breached our perimeter, such that I killed five inside the house yesterday and four so far today.

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Couldn’t hang.

Oh, you mean this weekend?

That time when Colin bought a bag of split peas that had more weevils than peas–and we cooked them anyway. The darn peas were so old that they cooked for five hours and were still hard–and we ate them anyway.

And then the day after, we had friends over for wine so poor that we mixed it with pineapple juice and pieces of watermelon and toasted Cinco de Mayo.

Two weeks from now, I’ll be on my way home, and one of these things I will miss, and one of them I won’t. Two years from now, I’m not sure where I’ll be, but I imagine it will be both of these things that I miss.

Predator and Prey

Blood on the pillowcase suggests foul play: there’s been a death here. Red splotches on the sheet and the wall against the bed make it look as if there was a struggle. The corpses that continue to cling to the netting, and there are many, confirm all suspicions.

No fewer than four mosquitoes infiltrated our safe zone last night, and upon flicking on the light to find and eliminate our unwanted guests, I discovered another four resting on the net along the length of my body. They must have been lethargic after a big meal; crushing them into the wall left smears of blood on both the white net and the green paint, the crumpled body of the bugs in the middle like a bull’s eye.

It’s enough to give a person nightmares.

I’m afraid that a mother mosquito managed to hatch a brood somewhere inside our apartment. About two weeks ago there was a wave small, slow, and dumb mosquitoes—up to at least twenty over the course of one evening. Now my even greater fear is that we didn’t manage to catch and kill all of that batch and that the cycle will repeat itself. How does one solve a problem such as this? Move out.

A much-improved night’s sleep

After the mosquito-squashing spree a couple days ago, I decided we couldn’t go another night without a net over our bed. I spend four hours of Sunday getting one and doing other holiday-related shopping. Exhausting.

Christmas isn’t a big deal over here, but there are still decorations and hilarious misinterpretations galore. My favorite is a pop-up style Christmas card with a bunch of Santas at a Japanese-style sushi train restaurant. Love it.

The Taiwanese probably analyzed the reality of one Santa visiting the homes of all the little children in one night and, even after factoring in different time zones, decided it couldn’t be done by one man alone. There obviously must be dozens of Santas delivering gifts. And where do the Santas go to relax after a long night of gift-giving? They wrap up with Hawaii and head straight for the sushi trains in Japan. They probably hit the KTVs right after.

小吃Small bites

After Shida night market’s Taiwan fajita, I thought I’d found my burrito substitute. Sure, there are no beans, cheese, or sour cream, but the cabbage and crushed peanuts rolled up in a rice flour wrap make my tummy happy. Then I finally re-found the Indian food stall in our night market that we’d been too busy to stop at months ago.

Chicken tikka roti = little wrap of heaven. It’s honestly enough to bump Indian up several spots on my list of vacation destinations.

Thick, unidentifiable seafood soup < fabulous. I wanted to try a new stall; I wanted soup; Colin wanted to throw up and I wasn’t feeling too hot myself.

And a few nights ago, Andy and Pascal invited us over for a dinner of pasta with clams. I got to watch the clams open up over the heat of the hot plate and everything. Andy was a great chef with Pascal’s tutelage, and I think I’m going to have to give the meal a shot one night when I’m feeling courageous.

Eight bugs a-biting

We woke up this morning to find eight mosquitoes in our apartment. They were fat with blood and lethargic enough for even me to catch them, which I did while Colin rinsed off the bug spray that hadn’t saved him during the night.

And I almost killed our toaster oven yesterday by leaving a piece of bread in for too long. Colin figured out what was wrong, but sometimes I’m like one of those 4-year-olds who needs to be supervised.

Circles of space

Bits about me

Upon first arriving, I was taking three cold showers a day. That’s simply too much time spent in the shower, so it quickly went down to two. Recently, I’ve been able to take just one shower a day, and sometimes it’s not cold, but lukewarm. I’m not sure whether I’m getting used to the heat or the sweat.

There are two elevators at school, and one goes only to the even-numbered floors and the other goes only to the odd, and they’re both slow, so they have been given up on in favor of the reliable stairs, which take you to any floor you wish. The elevator at home is nonexistent, so during the week I climb up and down at least ten flights of stairs. Minimum. That’s not taking into account trips to the bathroom at school (because the ladies’ rooms are on odd-numbered floors, and our class is unfortunately on the fourth floor) or trips downstairs to meet the garbage truck or trips up to the roof. Such trips nearly double my stair-count. Yes, you can call me the Stair Master.

Bits about the apartment

Our bathroom can double as a sauna.

I gave up fighting our ants, and now see them as a sort of truce with the bug gods: I won’t encourage Colin to spray the ants if you don’t let any more cockroaches into our apartment. Please?

There are little green things in the strawberry planter. I would call them strawberries with more certainty if it weren’t for the fact that the soil we bought seems to have come with some green things (grass? weeds?) already in it. But Colin thinks they’re strawberries.

We bargained for printed scrolls at the flea market yesterday during our seven-hour marathon of shopping, so now our walls won’t be so barren. (What else did we get in seven hours and four shopping venues? A lamp, two yoga mats, a tent—you know, the bare necessities.)

Bits about our neighborhood

Chewing betel nut, considered a backwards practice by many snootier Southeast Asian countries, is a popular alternative to chewing tobacco in our little neighborhood. Betel nut gives its chewer a mild high and a red-stained mouth, and the red splatters and frayed husks on the road betray our neighbors’ fondness for the habit.

Fireworks go off on random nights, and normally not as part of an organized show, but just because. We haven’t figured it out, and we miss most of them because by the time we pull away from the glow of the computer screen, the last blazing bits have faded away. Tonight we watched a bunch going off on the other side of the river—this one looked like an organized production.

It could have been related to Ghost Month, which I believe is now wrapping up. Ghost Month is when the gates of the afterworld open and the ghosts of your ancestors come to collect. All over the city there have been tables large and small burdened with food (from whole fishes to chocolate Frosted Flakes), burning incense, and “money.” Wary of unconsciously disrespecting someone by getting too close, I can say only that the money looks like smaller versions of the actual bills glued onto pulp paper. They burn this too, in bins about two-and-a-half-feet tall and a foot across, and from six flights up, I watched a neighbor doing this a few nights ago. He put in stacks so large they nearly smothered the flames. Stack after stack went in, and he stood back in between and lifted his face, watching the smoke curl up to his ancestors or looking away from the heat. As his final stack of bills quickly turned from flame to embers, he clasped his hands, sending a few prayers up with the money.

There is a preschool not three doors down, and we can hear the kids out playing mid-morning. The teachers lead them in song sometimes, and it’s adorable. We’re surrounded by a few elementary schools too, and there are two police stations very nearby. The scooter mechanics have to outnumber everything, though—there are dozens!

Bits about Taipei

Many of the women wear skirts—they’re not big on dress slacks—and they’ve got pantyhose on underneath. I suppose if they’re wearing a professional skirt they’re working in an air-conditioned office, but that strikes me as unbearable for walking around the city.

The streets are clean; there are very few public trashcans or street people. Walking on the sidewalk is little safer than crossing the streets, as scooters scoot through any spaces they can. It makes me really resentful of them; probably more so than I should be.

When I walk along the streets, I often get that stitch in my side that usually is a result of exercising too hard too soon. I’m going to go ahead and blame that on the scooters, tiny polluters that they are.

“I do not want to meet the thing that made that.”/”There it is!”

“Just 15 minutes outside of Taipei, it’s jungle.” A bit of an exaggeration, but we got Anders’ meaning.

The MRT took us 30 minutes from our station to Xindian, where we caught a bus for Wulai, a 40-minute trip on curving jungle-lined road. We followed the river—the ultimate reason for this adventure—the entire way, and its milky turquoise water called to me.

Colin Cam

Colin Cam

Village on a river. Colin Cam

Wulai: village on a river. Colin Cam

Wulai’s main attraction is its waterfalls, so we huffed and puffed up the paved road to see the wonder. On the way, we misinterpreted the directions to take Lovers’ Pathway, the sign for which was hanging on the wall of a clearly closed-off section of the road. Well, that would be awfully private for lovers, so we hopped the wall and strolled through the eerily deserted patios connected by wooden boardwalks. Colin led the way, brushing spiderwebs and the like away until one wouldn’t brush away ( it actually broke the twig Colin was using). This web could have held an aging, overweight Spider-Man, but instead it housed the biggest spider I had ever seen. It hung over the bottom of the stairs, waiting for passers-by to scare (or prey on).

It looked like everyone had just up and left. Colin Cam

It looked like everyone had just up and left. Colin Cam

Moments before the Encounter.

Moments before the Encounter.

I kid you not, this blurry thing had the leg-span of a grown man's hand. Colin Cam

I kid you not, this blurry, spindly thing had the leg-span of a grown man's hand. Colin Cam

As a recent survivor of a black widow attack, I was less than interested in hanging out or walking under the thing, despite the beautiful river pools on the other side of it. We agreed that if there was one down here on this deserted walkway, there may be more, so we high-tailed it back to the main road. It turns out that was Lovers’ Pathway the whole time.

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We could have just taken the kiddie train and saved all that huffing and puffing.

We could have just taken the kiddie train and saved all that huffing and puffing.

The waterfalls were charming, but since we were stuck in the concrete-and-slab viewing area quite far from the base of the falls, I couldn’t get in the water and so I was not satisfied. This has been one of the few decisions I’ve felt strongly about since we arrived—let me in that water.

Wulai Waterfalls

Wulai Waterfalls

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Colin Cam

We took a few moments to peruse the shops, watched over by aboriginal Taiwanese women in traditional dress—bright yellow and pink headdresses and skirts that could be worn long or short.

Back down Lovers’ Pathway, we found a river spot with Taiwanese tourists swimming, and a bit further upstream, we found a spot of our own. It was marvelous, even if I was the object of many a stare in my bikini: Taiwanese women wear T-shirts and shorts if they go in at all.

Finally! Colin Cam

Finally! Colin Cam

Raging rapids, even.

Raging rapids, too.

Even the Caterpillar wanted to cool off.

Even the Caterpillar wanted to cool off.