Sunday, September 30, 2007

Spray Paint

While all the Ecuadorians were at the polls, I took the afternoon to do something I'd been intending to do for a while--walk around and photograph graffiti. It seemed fitting, since most of the graffiti is political, much of it pertaining directly to the Constitutional Assembly election today or the Presidential election last fall.

Quito is a very graffitied city, thus the saying "There are no blank walls in Quito." But the first thing I noticed was how crude it all is, scrawled in ordinary sloppy handwriting. I first wondered if the graffiti culture just wasn't developed, but clearly the culture is huge and well-established. It does seem to be less of an art form and more of a medium for expressing particular messages, often political, often amorous (though these tend to be in marker and often in more hidden places, like stairwells.) I suspect being in a country where the police are corrupt and where you won't be given a slap on the wrist if you're caught spending hours defacing someone's property leads people to get their message on the wall as quickly as possible, maybe using two colors as a flourish. Thinking about what I've seen, I'd classify the works into three groups.

First, of course, there are lots of tags, cryptic signatures saying, "I was here."

Second are the many messages meant to be read, rhetorical statements about politics, love, and other topics: "Out Yankees!" "Stop Wars," "We fight for Socialism." Sometimes the message is clever or a little obtuse: "Bald heads should roll" with a hammer and sickle, or, in reference to President Correa's election and move to rewrite the constitution, "The final Correazo comes. Chau Businessocracy" where 'Correazo' refers to the President, but also means something like 'whipping,' a play on the president's name meaning 'belt.' It's also interesting to see which issues are pressing, but marginalized, pushing their advocates to graffiti as a medium.
This one says, "My being a woman isn't for men. It's for being Free!" To which, someone has added "Yes." There are also walls demanding that abortion be legalized, and that lesbians unite. Despite the promises of the Constitution, women's equality is a long way off.

Finally, there's a small amount of stencil art. Interestingly, I've seen it only on walls, never on the sidewalk as is common in California (where, perhaps, it's done by people who are uneasy about defacing a building that clearly belongs to someone, but feel that a public sidewalk is fair game.) Although some are political, these pieces tend to be more artistic, conveying some sort of meaning beyond what a tag does, but without the clear agenda of political slogans. While applying the stencil is still quick, time and craft can go into making the stencil, although here too they aren't nearly as elaborate as I've seen in California.
Even if you don't speak Spanish, you can probably make out that it says "Violators of Verse."

I'm sure you'd like to see more of what I found on my walk, so take a look at my Graffiti Flickr set which contains about 75 photos. (I've translated those that need translation and provided some notes on acronyms and local references.)

New Fruit (#4)

Only one fruit today, since the remaining new fruit at SuperMaxi this week were big enough to feed a large family. So this morning I'm just eating a PITAHAYA, which is apparently called a "dragon fruit" in English.
It's a weird-looking, yellow, pear-shaped fruit with wrinkly green succulent leaves all over and comes from a cactus that grows on trees.
Inside is a translucent pulp with squiggly white filaments leading to small black seeds. It smells distinctly of sweet corn being husked, scoops like a very soft melon and has a pleasant and sweet, if not particularly strong or distinct, flavor. It's especially nice with a bit of lime juice squeezed on top. I'm beginning to wonder if I should start an exotic fruit plantation back in the States. Would these things grow in a greenhouse?

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Latin-American Constitution

While researching the Constitutional Assembly election, I ended up reading a good chunk of the current (1998) Ecuadorian constitution. Almost the first half lists and explains rights, "shoulds" (deberes), and obligations of the people and the government. It's a far cry from the US constitution, which, aside from setting up the structure of the government, puts in writing only a handful of key rights, mostly things the government can't do, not things it should. It's a really interesting list they've got, although as a poor country, they have no way of living up to a lot of these aspirations. I like to imagine what the US would be like if its constitution included these things. We have the resources to make them happen, and perhaps if they were part of our constitution, we'd have to work on making our country really great, instead of wasting our resources stirring up hornet's nests around the world.

What are these rights and obligations I'm talking about? I'll try to translate a few that I found interesting for you.

One of the first things it says is that it is a "primordial obligation of the state to erradicate poverty and promote the economic, social, and cultural progress of its inhabitants."

It guarantees "the right to freely develop your personality," "the right to live in a healthy environment, ecologically balanced, and free of pollution," "the right to a quality of life that assures health, nutrition, drinkable water, sanitation, education, work, recreation, clothing, and other socially necessary services," and "the right to freely and responsibly make decisions about your sexual life."

The right to "habeus corpus" is clearly spelled out.

It promises to "equally support women as heads of households."

"Free and stable unions of men and women outside of marriage will enjoy the same rights and obligations as families created through matrimony."

"Public health programs will be free for all.... The State will organize a national system of health."

"The State will promote and stimulate culture, creativity, artistic work, and scientific investigation."

"Journalists' rights to professional secrets will be guaranteed."

"Publicity in any medium, which promotes violence, racism, sexism, religious or political intolerance, or that affects human dignity is prohibited."

"The government will promote and guarantee the equitable participation of men and women as candidates in the popular election process."

All of these are enough of a given here in this conservative, traditional country, for there to be sufficient consensus for them to be in the constitution, while in much more advanced America, we fight over many of these things, year after year. Interesting.

New Fruit (#3)

The GRANADILLA is yet another relative of the passion fruit, but like peaches, apricots, and plums, these are all absolutely distinct. The outside isn't so much a peel as a shell, thin and hard, but the fruit is incredibly light, like a whiffle ball, and inside is a thick layer of spongy white padding protecting the now-familiar gel-covered seeds.
These taste light too. It's sort of like eating a cloud. There are many types of clouds, yes. These are somewhere between fluffy white clouds and the San Francisco fog. Despite the crunch of the seeds, it tastes soft, sweet, and slightly creamy, with the faintest hints of melon and cucumber.

These tiny orange berries, called UVILLAS, are slimy, which makes sense, since it turns out they are close relatives of tomatillos, which also have a (slightly stickier) slime on them once you remove the lantern-like husk. These uvillas came packaged with the husks already removed. Although the name means "little grapes," their tang is much more citrusy, but they also have an unusual flavor which is reminiscent of a tomatillo, but much fruitier. I'm hoping they can be grown in the States. I'm imagining a bright orange version of salsa verde.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


This Sunday, Ecuador goes to the polls. After winning the presidency on a overhaul-the-system platform last November (I saw that campaign too, leaving the country the day before the election), Rafael Correa called a referendum on revising the constitution. As a result, they are now electing members to a Constitutional Assembly. I've spent the last week researching the subject night and day so I could give a presentation yesterday as my final project at school (thus the lack of blogging), so I'll give you more details later. For now, let me just show you the ballot. The first cool modern thing is that it has pictures of all the candidates.
That's just a small section of the ballot. In Pichincha, there are 34 parties running candidates--lists of 14 for provincial seats and 24 for national seats, adding up to 476 candidates to choose from. Nationwide, there are more than 4,000 people running for the 130-member Asamblea Constituyente.
Even with the pictures, there's no way you can keep all the names straight. Each party is assigned its own unchanging number, used in all their propaganda, and all the parties suggest you vote down the line for one "lista" by drawing a single line straight down an entire column. But you are also allowed to pick and choose candidates or half-lists.

Perhaps because voting is obligatory, with a few exceptions to make it a reasonable requirement, people are much more involved in the election than you'd see in the States. Or maybe it's because they're writing a new constitution, which seems particularly important. On the other hand, maybe that's not such a huge deal, given that it will be the country's 20th constitution since becoming a country in 1830. Regardless, there are bands of flag-waving party loyalists walking the streets, riding around in the backs of pick-up trucks, and handing out fliers on street corners. It's quite exciting, and knowing a bit about what's at stake--perhaps, sadly, more than most Ecuadorians--it's quite exciting. Having no particular opinion, it will just be interesting to see how it all turns out.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

End of Summer

Today is the autumnal equinox, which has a somewhat different meaning here in Ecuador. Because we're on the equator, the length of day and night doesn't vary, so it's not the day when night and day are the same length, as it's thought of in the US. On the equinox, the Earth moves in its orbit so that the northern hemisphere tips away from the Sun, and the southern towards the Sun. Thus, the sun crosses the equator, and passes directly overhead, so a vertical pole casts no shadow. It's "the day the Sun kisses the Earth."
Quito has a large pole at the center of the Plaza del Intiwatana in Parque Itchimbía, which is laid out with lines pointing to the sunrises and sunsets of the solstices, as well as north, south, east, and west. I scoped it out yesterday, when it was mostly cloudy, and took some pictures of the sun nearly overhead:
Unfortunately, the Sun was completely obscured by clouds at noon today. Even hidden from sight, I could feel its heat radiating straight down. I knew I had the day right, because there was a gathering of fifty or so people celebrating the Sun's passage overhead and learning about the indigenous beliefs.
Bolivar Romero gave a talk and led some traditional rituals to mark the equinox.
Pre-colombian Ecuador was sun-worshiping, and their understanding or Earth and Sun was apparently rife with male and female coding. The pole pointing to the Sun is male; the circle on the Earth is female. The basin is female, the water that fills it is male. Men shoot arrows and give orders. Women are open receptacles. His explanation was a little more nuanced than that, but still pretty disturbing, especially after staying up late last night debating just these issues. Fortunately he did throw in a few lines about this not meaning that women couldn't also be direct, or that men couldn't be receivers.

About 20 minutes later, while reporters were talking Mr. Romero, the sun did peak out letting you see how short people's shadows were.
I also tried to get a shot of sun directly above me, reflected in the water, despite the cloudiness. Since water is a horizontal mirror, the only time the sun can be obscured by your head is when it's directly overhead.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

New Fruit (#2)

I picked these two fruit out of the produce section because they were next to each other, and it turns out they are related.

Sort of looks like a comfortable little cucumber on the outside, but inside, it's full of pulp covered seeds sort of like a pomegranate, but less explosive and more mushy. Kind of fun to scoop out, becuase the pulp is totally separate from the skin, attached by three lines of little cords. When you scoop, all the seedy pulp comes out cleanly and easily. It tastes pretty sour, kind of like blackberries, maybe a hint of mulberry, but definitely no raspberryness to it. I think, seeds strained, it would go well with banana in a smoothie.

It turns out that this baseball-sized yellow fruit is passion fruit. Essentially the same arrangement of encapsulated seeds inside as the taxo, but a lot more of them. Much juicier and incredibly fragrant. Sweeter than the taxo, but still with a nice tartness that comes from pulp. The juice that pools in the bottom isn't sour at all. It has the familiar taste from fruit drinks that have passion fruit in them, but it's much more vivid in person. As I eat it, the aroma seems to move around between multiple notes. Absolutely tropical. I think I'll be eating a lot more of these.

Incompatible Humor

Most of the Americans I meet are from California, and a lot of them are from the Bay Area. While I was hanging out on the school trip to Mindo, I was joking around with a couple fellow San Franciscans, and was telling them the quintessential Northern California moment witnessed by Kristin.

In a San Francisco ice-cream shop, there was a little girl waiting in line with her mother, and also a police officer. Being a friendly neighborhood police man, the cop asked the girl what kind of ice cream she was going to get. She replied, "Green tea," and asked, "what kind are your getting?" "Vanilla soy," the cop responded.

They thought this was pretty humorous, and the quadralingual French guy sitting nearby wanted to know what was so funny. I knew it wouldn't make sense without knowing America and California pretty well, but he insisted, and of course he didn't understand. His question: "But what is 'soy'?" I tried to explain, thinking it was just a translation problem, but after about five minutes, it became absolutely clear that he had no idea what soy was, had never heard of a soy bean. Pretty unfathomable to me, having grown up in Ohio where they grow soy beans, and having lived in San Francisco, where they eat the tofu, soy milk, and edamame that comes from them. But I guess that's the difference between France and the USA.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

New Fruit (#1)

Growing up in Ohio, we had four kinds of juice: orange, grape, apple, and pineapple-grapefruit, in descending order of frequency. Add a banana, a strawberry, and a peach, and it's pretty much everything you were likely to find in the dish of plastic fruit or the chiquita girl's hat, representing the complete bounty of nature's sweet side. Yes, at some point kiwis arrived, and mangos are no longer bell peppers, but when you walk into an Ecuadorian grocery store or encounter the menu at a jugo and batido stand, you are met with an intimidating level of variety. There are so many fruits here that I've simply never seen before.

So, the mission, which I've decided to accept, is to try as many of these exotic fruits (which are vegan, unless you blend them with milk in a batido) as possible. And, I'm going to document the effort, for the sake of posterity, and all of you who will soon be freezing and drinking cocoa instead of smoothies. (Have I mentioned that it's common to have cocoa AND juice for breakfast? That along with bread, cheese or jelly, and eggs, is desayuno simple. Desayuno completo, I gather, consists of chicken and rice.)

So, let's begin:

First, and probably most important in Ecuador, after ordinary things like strawberries, blackberries, pineapples, and oranges, is the TOMATE DE ARBOL:
It's not a tomato, but is slightly tomato-like in color, form, and flavor. It's a fruit that grows in a tree. When talking about juice you drop the arbol part and call it jugo de tomate, because nobody would be crazy enough to make juice out of actual tomatoes here. (I'm with 'em on that.) Here's what it looks like inside:
My first teacher here wrote me up some directions on eating all kinds of fruit, but I lost them. I remember that for most, you were supposed to peel them, and turn them into juice. I bought a basic vegetable peeler, but it isn't so helpful. While getting to know them, I'm skipping the juicing, and I'm assuming that, unless they're really easy to extract, you eat the seeds. So what's it like to eat a tomate de arbol?

It's soft but not mushy, plenty of sweetness but with tartness in equal measure, though not super-sweet or excessively sour. The flesh has a hint of tomato, definitely a bit vegetably, but the seeds have their own soft sweet flavor. Definitely could host vodka, perhaps as the base of a less hearty, happier version of a bloody mary.

OK, on to the NARANJILLA:
The name means little orange, but it's not a citrus fruit, and doesn't peel like one. Jugo de naranjilla is also really common.
It has a tart, slightly citrusy taste, but with a strong savory bite, like basil, which goes well with the firm flesh and slimy seeds reminiscent of a roma tomato.

Finally for tonight, PEPINO:
Small and firm, they're nothing like a pepper. Apparently some people find a similarity with melons and call them tree melons. The seeds are centrally located and easily removed.
It does have the texture of canteloupe, and a sweet, melony flavor, but with something that reminds me of sitting in the back yard late on a summer afternoon--the smell of snapping green beans next to a freshly mown lawn. It's pleasant, if a little odd coming from a fruit.

More after my next trip to the market.


Across the street from the small language school I attend, there's a large high school. Actually, it's two schools: one meets in the morning, the other in the afternoon. The thing that struck me when I first saw the morning classes dismissed as the afternoon classes arrived, was that everyone was wearing either blue or red uniforms, something unfathomable in the culture of California where these are the colors of rival gangs. Many California schools prohibit the colors. Our school last year discussed, with big protests from me, having uniforms to prevent kids from wearing blue or red. It vividly demonstrates how arbitrary cultural symbols like color are. The meaning of uniforms, in general, however, seem more universal: unity, exclusion, conformity, uniformity, subordination.

Monday, September 17, 2007



I've got a bunch of stuff I want to write about, but before I get to that, you probably want to see my pictures from "the poor man's Galapagos"--Isla de la Plata, one-and-a-half hours and $50 off the coast of Ecuador. I took a long bus ride (which I'll tell you more about in another post) out to Puerto Lopez, a small fishing town, now full of motorcycle taxis, as it tries to figure out how to be a tourist town. (How about a little less motorcycle noise at night?) I spent one day hiking around the "Tropical Dry Forest" of Machililla National Park. Who knew there was such a thing! It's a now scarce ecosystem at low elevation along the ecuatorial coast. This time of year, the deciduous trees have lost all their leaves for the dry season, while the water off shore is coming up from Antarctica. Large tree-like cacti poke above the low trees overlooking the Pacific. In the wet season, when warm waters push down from Mexico, it turns green. But this time of year is when seabirds--and humpback whales--are here to breed. To see the whales, boobies, and frigate birds, I took a really bouncy hour-and-a-half boat ride out to Isla de la Plata to hike around its hills and cliffs with a guide. As you hear about the Galapagos Islands, the animals weren't afraid of people, meaning I got some really great photos. If a pair of boobies decided to build a nest in the path, the people had to walk around. We also got to snorkel for about 10 minutes before heading back, making me really think I need to learn to scuba dive. So, another really cool weekend!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New Digs

I've been in my new place, located at 0˚12'55.9"S, 78˚29'47.8"W, 9350' above sea level, for a week. It's an actual one-bedroom apartment, not just a studio, though it's pretty modest compared to what you'd find in the U.S. Four bare lightbulbs light the place. The sinks only have cold water--but the shower is hot. There's no fridge and the counter-top stove hooks up to a gas tank that sits on the floor. And the full-size mattress is resting on a single-size frame, so the mattress flares up a bit on the sides. There's the noise of families and people climbing stairs, definitely a busy city apartment building. But at $120 a month, I couldn't be happier. There are some pictures on flickr for you to look at.

Out of Town

So besides moving from Hostel Revolution to an apartment last week, I've spent the last two weekend out of town on some pretty crazy, if entirely planned, adventures.


First, some other students at my Spanish school arranged a day tour to Cotopaxi, the 2nd highest volcano in Ecuador--19,347 ft. The great thing was that it was a bicycle tour. They drove us up higher than 15,000 feet, where there were snow drifts and it was extremely windy and just above freezing, and we rode down the mountain and across miles of national park. As we approached the mountain, the weather looked terrible. I didn't think we'd be able to see 20 feet in front of us, much less the peak of the volcano, but as we got around the west side, it cleared up, and though I needed every layer of clothing I'd brought with me to South America, it was a spectacular and fun ride. We saw wild horses, wide open "páramo" (sort of a cross between desert and tundra), and even a condor.


Then this weekend, the school led a trip to Mindo, on the other side of Volcan Pichincha, which is at lower elevation in the cloud forest. We took a hike to a waterfall where the idea was to jump off a 40-foot cliff, but it was drizzling by the time we got there, so I skipped that thrill. The next day, some of us went on the "canopy tour," which consisted of riding 10 zip lines through the forest, and over the tree tops. On some, you could go with one of the guides so you could do it upsidedown, or belly-down like Superman. I flew like Superman 150 feet above the ground on the last and longest line which was a quarter mile long from one side of the valley to the other. As if that weren't enough, we also went white water tubing before lunch, and of course, since this is South America, we had to ride standing in the railed back of a pickup truck. There wasn't quite enough room, so I stood on the bumper. On top of all that, the town was having its festival, so there was night-time dancing in the streets, and afternoon horse races through the center of town.

Click the photos to see some of the best images from each trip. Of course, there are even more pics on my flickr.

Monday, September 10, 2007


In contrast to my closet back home, which always seemed to contain scores of shirts, so matter how many times I weeded them out, this is my wardrobe here in South America. I carefully picked everything so whatever combination I wore, I would match. After a week in my new apartment, I've got everything unpacked from the backpack. Now that I have some more space, I must resist buying new clothes. Really though, I'm enjoying the simplicity, and the weather seems to cooperate with a simple wardrobe. Still, this doesn't look like it could be my closet.

More Stereotypes

Ají is the ubiquitous hot stuff here in Ecuador. Sometimes it comes with more vinegar, making it Asian style, thus requiring the use of a racist caricature on the label.

Status Update

Hey all, I´m still here and doing well. I´m waiting for internet to get hooked up in my new apartment, so I haven´t taken time to write about and post pictures of my recent adventures, which include earthquakes, volcanos, and flying like Superman. Soon, very soon.

UPDATE: My internet is connected! I'm in the process of uploading tons of cool pictures while ODing on web surfing.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Lacking Maps

In the past 39 days, I haven't gotten around to actually leaving the city of Quito. This seems a bit odd to the rest of the travelers I've met in the hostel. Some of them have spent a couple weeks worth of time here, but almost everyone comes and goes. Either they're using this place as a base of operations, or they're just passing through--and quite a few people think they're passing through, but end up coming back repeatedly. For instance, the British couple I've been sharing a room with, Becky and Dirk, thought they'd only spend a week in Ecuador before heading down to Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, but they've ended up staying three weeks with no definite plans of when they'll leave.

With more time (and less money per day), I've decided to get to know this place well. I want to know my way around, to be able to get places without thinking. After living in San Francisco for three years, I feel like I know my way around there pretty well, but of course there are lots of streets I've never been on. Quito is a lot bigger than San Francisco proper, so while I'm getting pretty comfortable with a core area near the center, I've only taken a couple of forays by bus into the sprawling North and South.

Finding your way around Quito is especially challenging because there is a lack of decent maps. The ones you find in guide books only cover limited areas, leave off street names--making them useless when you're lost--, and only mark the locations of selected tourist-friendly restaurants and hotels. Although every third vehicle on the road is a bus, there is no such thing as a bus map. You have to look at the name cards mounted in the front window to know where a bus goes, but this, of course, presupposes you know the names of all the neighborhoods, which aren't shown on tourist maps. There are good diagrams of the three Bus Rapid Transit lines in the stations, but no map seems to be available that shows all their stops with names, certainly not one up-to-date enough to show more than just the one original line. I have seen a pretty comprehensive map that shows the name of every street, important buildings, neighborhoods, even every location of several retail chains, but it's at least six feet long, a bit big to fold up and put in your pocket. (When I move next week and have my own wall to hang it on, I'll probably get one.) There's even less online. Although Google Earth has good aerial photography of Quito, they have no streets or place names. Searching for "Quito map", "map of Quito", or "mapa de Quito" turns up nothing but overly simple, narrow, and low-resolution graphics.

This is in sharp contrast with San Francisco, where each individual building is shown in Google Maps, where you can see the current location of every street car and bus, where every apartment for rent has its own pin, where, as the iPhone ad demonstrates, you can type in "seafood" and your zipcode, and every restaurant within walking distance that serves fish, from The Old Clam House to Moki Sushi pops up with address, telephone number, and website. It took time to learn San Francisco, but I was never at a loss for where to buy kitty litter, see a movie, or take a yoga lesson. And if you forget where something is, as I often did, you just look it up again.

On one hand, I crave that access to total information about a place. When I worked in West Portal, I'd get on the streetcar and, just before it went into the tunnel, I'd use my phone to see whether I'd be able to catch 24-Divisadero bus or a J-Church streetcar sooner so I could decide which stop to get off at. The biggest fault I see in the iPhone is that it doesn't have a GPS. Maybe by the time I get back to the US...

On the other hand there's something enjoyable about the challenge of doing without all that easy access. I'm enjoying wandering around, xeroxed map in my pocket, seeing how one place connects to another. When I first got here, I was quite annoyed that I couldn't find the Mercado Central for days. How could the central city's main public food market not be on any map? But now that I've found it, there's no way I could forget where it was. When I really need to find something, I have to ask for directions, something even taxi drivers do here. And my little notebook is full of notes on places I've stumbled upon, that I didn't need at the time, but imagined I'd want to remember the location of later:

Hotel San Francisco de Quito: Sucre Oe3-17 y Guayaquil
English Book Center: 12 de Oct. y Caamaño
Cafe Libro: Leonidas Plaza N23-56 y Wilson
La TrasTienda Concert Cafe: Av Toledo y Lerida
Cheap Backpacks: Flores y Mejia
Huge Belt Store: Chile Oe1-26
Fybeca Drug Store that lets you browse through basic "over-the-counter" drugs: 12 de Dic. y Colon.

With the help of the not-entirely-adequate paper maps as well as pen and paper, I'm constructing, in my head, a map of this city. While I sort of wish Google were paying me to put this place on their maps, the mental map I'm constructing suits my own peculiar needs. I'm learning where the hills are, how to avoid breathing too much bus exhaust, and where to find little old indigenous ladies sitting on the street selling strawberries and blackberries. Already I know Quito better than the dozens of other cities I've visited. Only Mount Vernon, Athens, Columbus, and San Francisco take up more room in my brain.

Sometimes getting around is a real challenge. When I went to a meeting in the far north of the city, I really had to wing it. The woman I'd spoken with wasn't good with directions. I managed to find the neighborhood, Carcelén, on a really crude map online, and waited at one street, then another, till I saw a bus headed to it. Unlike San Francisco, Quito has a strict new house-numbering system that tells you how many blocks you are from the center of town. I rode the bus for an hour and half till I reached block N80, then wandered around for half an hour asking people where the high school was. In a country where the average person only makes it through sixth grade, nobody had ever heard of the place. I finally went in the post office, and she called the phone number that I couldn't get to work on my mobile. She told me directions, but advised me that it'd be simplest to hail a taxi. The cab made it quick, but he needed my help to find the place.

How much easier it would have been with a printout from MapQuest! But then again, how much more boring. More importantly, I know I can get where I need to go. I can find my way around. I suspect that this will is a dying skill. Already I hear about people who don't know how to get around without their car navigation systems. How much different will our understanding of places be when we know them only through on-demand three-dimensional interactive maps? And what will we do when there's a natural disaster, the power goes out, and there aren't even any paper maps to be found?

Even though, as a computer and map geek, I love the advances in computerized mapping, and even though I'm in no way exploring uncharted lands, I'm enjoying stepping back for a while and finding my way around a place that Google hasn't found yet.

(While we´re talking about maps, you might enjoy listening to an episode of This American Life: "You Are Here", especially act one, about a guy who hitchhiked across the Sahara!)