Thursday, December 27, 2012

Twenty-Nine Sheets To Go, Please

Pulp non-fiction.

So here I am, world traveler.

I've never been anywhere in my life, and I recently changed continents.

"So how's that going, then?"

Well, it's different.

I don't speak the language. "Sure," you say, "why would you? You're an ignorant dope." But I'm trying.

I had two years of Latin, and that should count for something. And two and a half years of German. Likewise, in the counting department. But it's not enough. So I'm studying Spanish. Which is what they speak here. In case you hadn't heard.

"Hear what? Oh, nevermind. Call me when you get smart. Bye."

OK. Alone again, with my thoughts.

And when you end up like this, all alone, with some thoughts, what do you think?

Well, you think a lot, that's true, but other than that you think paper and a pen. To write stuff down. And it's also good for studying a language and stuff.

Indispensable, nearly, so since I think a lot and am here kind of alone, and can't communicate, and have a Spanish class coming up soon, I thought I'd darn well better get some paper. (I have a pen already, so OK there.)

Off to the Mall del Rio, and guess what? They have a store there.

Which seems fitting, and. In that store, they have paper and pens, and pencils, and, oh, all kinds of stuff.

So I went there for paper.

And found some.

The best deal is a plastic-wrapped packed of about 25 sheets of plain white paper. The kind that used to be called "typing paper". Remember that?

That was the best I could do. Don't ask me what to do if you need a ream of paper. You may have to fly to...well, somewhere. A place where they make paper or something, but I had some in my hand, only 25 sheets maybe, but paper, and the price was 58 cents.

So maybe it was 29 sheets at two cents a sheet, but who's counting? I had it! In my hand! And stuff.

So the next step is pretty familiar: paying for it.

So I go and try to do that. Thinking I know how. And they use U.S. currency here, so I have that part figured out, and as far as buying in general, I'm not a professional or anything but I've been getting by for a long, long time.

First I take the paper, clearly marked, to the nearest checkout line that looks like a good bet.

This one had one person ahead of me, which in my book is a good bet. That's how I define it.

"Get in line, Dave," I tell myself, in English (not being any good in Spanish yet, and English seems to make a lot of sense in situations like this anyway). So I did that, I got in line, and it was good.

And then the person ahead of me finished, and that was good.

And then she came back out the way she went in, which was something else (I won't say "bad", but it was a kind of "not great", especially the climbing over me part).

But there must have been a reason. There often is a reason for things, and instead of continuing through the process, walking away, and making an exit from the store, she decided to do an about-face and climb over me and go back into the store. But hey.

That left me first in line, a place I can both understand and make use of.

I advanced.

I put my packet of 25 (or 29) sheets down, price-side up, and hoped for the best. (Meaning that I would be out of the store in around 30 seconds, or in the neighborhood of one second per sheet, which was acceptable.)

Ah, life these days.

I hadn't seen a touch-screen cash register before. Is high-tek and all.

I believe that the young woman in charge of its care and use scanned my packet of paper, but maybe not. I was already thinking about the nice walk home.

Anyway, something was not working. Maybe having the price of 58 cents on the package confused the equipment. The young woman had to pause for a few seconds and think about what to do, and then began to furiously (using both hands) poke at the touch screen, which in turn made various virtual screens flash and rearrange themselves, change colors, and do all sorts of fancy maneuvers, all with apparently no effect.

No good effect, I guess we should say.

I didn't see any good effects from my end, but then despite my decades of experience buying things, I am not a professional cash register wrangler.

I guess the young woman was unaware of this, and of my language deficiency, because after half a minute of poking her fingers at the screen so rapidly that I saw only a blur, she stopped.

And turned.

To me.

And said.


Which didn't help either of us.

So, back to the poking for her.

And then something happened. Don't ask what because I have no clue, but it was time for her to take money from me, and then she gave me some change, and then I left.

I have no idea if I paid for the paper or if she gave up and simply went through the motions to save face, and threw my money away, or spent it on beer, but I got the paper and the right amount of change, and now, back in my room, I keep a close watch on that paper. I don't want to use any of it, because.

You know what happens when you use things up.

You have to go.

And buy.


And I'm not ready for that yet.

So I'll hold off on the using-the-paper part, and see what happens next.

Which won't be going back to that store for more paper, not if I can learn to live a paperless life, it won't.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Eat Week Two

The day of eternal chewing.

The other place I went during Eat Week is called "El Nuevo Paraiso".

I have a review from a couple years ago, one that was published on a now-defunct web site, or I'd link to it. Anyway, it clued me a bit to the location, style, and conventions of the place.

Sort of.

It is another vegetarian joint.

I went there twice during Eat Week (Tuesday and Thursday).

El Nuevo Paraiso is all Ecuadorian. The TV is on, always turned up to 13, and me with the one ear and all, it's kind of a soundscape adventure.

Tuesday, on my first visit, I went in and stood staring like an idiot (something I'm actually good at) toward the menu, again a menu on a wall, with pictures.

From the pictures you can't tell anything, really. I can't. So, on to step two.

The woman at the "caja" ("box", or "cash register") came out of her cage right smartly when she realized I needed professional help.

She headed for me with a ruler in her hand, but she didn't whup me. Instead she started slapping the ruler at the various pictures, jabbering at me in Spanish. I think it was Spanish because that's what they talk around here when their mouths are open. It's like a tradition.

But with only the one partly-good ear and all, and the TV glowing red from the mass quantities of electrons flowing through the speaker, and the traffic noises, I couldn't really tell.

It could have been Tagalog. But probably not, you know. Probably Spanish, which I am not any good at yet. Which is why I said "jabbering". These days even English, which I've been immersed in for decades, is also jabbering. I'm losing it, ear-wise.

So to get her to stop slapping the pictures I finally said "Sí" at the last one she hit. Like I had caught on when she walloped the picture of my dreams.

She seemed relieved at that point. Relieved that she could stop slapping the wall and put her arm down and get on with things.

So that was phase one. Phase two involved ceviche.

I'd heard about their ceviche from the review I mentioned. I wanted to try that, being a ceviche virgin and all, so I asked for that too.

Result: more jabbering. Aimed in my general direction. I'd confused her.

This little old stupid gringo guy comes in and at first seems convinced to buy the stuff she's been slapping with her ruler, and then he orders ceviche instead.

No. Tambien. He wants both? Sí, he wants both.

Ah, even more crazy, this guy.

Since I was able to put $4.00 of actual money into her hand she decided that the deal had finally escalated into her pay grade, which is to take orders and get money, not to educate fools, so she calmed down about then. Somewhat.

And since I also mumbled "tengo hambre" (literally "I have hunger", or, more naturally, "I'm hungry"), she decided that I was not only crazy but probably creepy enough not to mess with any more, so after tucking the money away safely she wrote my order for two lunches on a piece of paper the size of a bubble gum wrapper and handed it to me.

Almost immediately, before I could figure out what to do next, someone else came along and took the scrap of paper, and then disappeared into the back.

OK, then.

About two minutes passed and then something happened.

The thing that happened is that a basket arrived, containing a knife, a fork, a spoon, and a napkin. And a bowl of cold soup, about six ounces worth (but separate, not in the basket). I decide to wait and see.

What I saw was nothing. For a few minutes. Then something else happened.

Which was that a plate of stuff arrived, just like the one the woman had been slapping with her ruler. It had rice, a slab of breaded and fried fake mystery meat, a bunch of vegetables, some more vegetables, and yet more other vegetable-like things.

So I began poking. Hmmm.

Then a big bowl of ceviche arrived, with another plate of rice.

I decided to start with the first bowl of soup, since it got to me first, and looked good.

Kind of pink, I think.


Just about the best thing I've had in Ecuador.

Room temperature, creamy-white-pinkish, with bits of floating herbs, and with thin onion strips too.

Spicy. Very spicy. I could have eaten about half a gallon, but stopped after consuming half the bowl, and shifted my attention to the plate.

Roughly at about this time I noticed that the guy at the next table seemed to be keeping an eye on me, so I began to wonder.

But usually it's best to act like you know what you're doing, so I tried that and went at the plate full of vegetables and artificial mystery meat.

Which was good.

All of it was good, but mostly pretty bland.

The vegetables seemed like steamed vegetables. Cooked, warm, wet, and crunchy. Not much more.

There was a lot of what looked like vegetable pearls in there, pale, smooth, wet, crunchy. In a steamed-vegetable way.

This must have been more mote, the corn kernels they eat here. Roughly pea-sized but not pea-like otherwise, and not corn-like. Mote-like, I guess. New to me.

After a while I tried the ceviche, which was rich and full of mushrooms and things, and mostly (to me) not so flavorful. But maybe it's just me.

So after several hours of chewing I was around a quarter the way through my food. Even the ceviche had to be chewed.

Lots of chewing.

Lots and lots of chewing, of things that had little flavor (to me). Except that soup. The first bowl of soup.

Dawn began to break.

I began to wonder if that first bowl of exquisite soup might have in fact been a bowl of sauce.

The guy at the next table was still discreetly watching me. I thought. Perhaps hoping to discover the secret of craziness among gringos.

Meanwhile, I continued to eat. Like I've eaten all of this before and am willing to teach the world the right way, with crazy veteran confidence.

One part of my act was to take my small bowl of cold spicy soup and ladle it onto the tasteless vegetables. Lots of it. Which helped.

But then, driven by food lust, I made the mistake of eating the rest of said spicy soup with a spoon, leaving at least two thirds of my vegetables in their original, wet, taste-free state.

Too bad.

On the other hand, I do know how to pack it away, after countless years of gut stuffing. So I did that, but got really tired of chewing.

Unfortunately, the only way out of the place was through chewing.

So I did more of that.

Eventually it was all over except for licking my plate and the two bowls. I passed on that. For some reason.

Maybe I'll do it next time.

But well before I finished, one of the staff stopped by the table of Mr Other Guy for some reason. And when she left him she put his bowl of soup on my table.

The small bowl, of pinkish, cold soup, from his table.

I guessed this was either a taunt or a jest.

Maybe a salute.

Who can say?

Anyway, I was not about to finish his meal for him, so after a minute of continued chewing I gently pushed his bowl away from my plate and ignored it. I had serious chewing of my own to finish.

I guess the good news is that no one came after me with a stick. Or a ruler. Or a bowl of sauce. (Except as already related, above.) And Mr Other Guy left before I did, probably so he could go tell everyone his new stupid-crazy gringo story.

Four bucks worth of eats is a lot around here, if you go where Joe Ecuadorian goes.

Consequently I waddled the half mile back to my place, but not without one more encounter.

This one I regret. Oh, my, do I.

A lovely young woman (Maybe a third of my age, OK?), stopped me and seemed to ask for directions, in Spanish, that being what they do here, as I've already stated.

All I could do was apologize and say that I speak very little Spanish and then turn and wobble down the street, bumping into signposts and whatnot, due to a severe ballast imbalance achieved during lunch, while chewing.

Back at my room I dug out a map and figured out that the part I understood ("Simón Bolívar"), was a street in the direction opposite to the one the woman had been going.

If only I'd had my map.

I mean, just to be helpful.

I could have stumbled along in Spanish well enough to have figured out what she wanted, pointed to where we were, and to where she needed to go, and then I could have given her the map. And been a nice guy.

Crazy. Ugly. Stupid and all, but kind of nice in my own road-accident sort of way.

But no.

That didn't happen either.


Two days later I went back to "El Nuevo Paraiso", expecting perhaps an armed mob. Nope.

No flamethrowers. No one throwing rocks. No nothing, much.

It did require three people to take my order though.

Even though I chose the "Menú de Hoy" ("Daily Special", usually written as "Menú del Día") from the whiteboard out front.

With one ear, no Spanish, and the TV up around 13.5 (maybe 14), things get dicey, quick.

I had my $2.00 out (in dollar coins, which they like here), and was ready to pay and all, but hadn't heard anyone say anything that I could recognize.

One of the women was talking at me, and so was another one, and the third, she was talking and writing out "$1.80" on a scrap of paper. For my edification. Since even if I was so stupid as to not speak or even comprehend any known language, then surely I could still respond to "$1.80" if written out. Which here translates to "$1,80", but even I am bright enough to follow that.

No. My problem was not-paying-attention, plus hearing three people and a TV all talking at once. Into my one ear.


I finally caught on.

I handed over my money and things calmed down. No more ruler-slapping, at least that day.

What I had ordered was:

  • Entrada: Col morada con de mayonesa (Cabbage with mayonnaise)
  • Sopa: Mote con frejol (Mote with beans)
  • Segundo: Tallarin chino con llapingacho (Chinese macaroni with llapingacho)
  • Juego: Colada (Literally, "wash", but essentially the "colada" in "piƱa colada", I think)
  • And a bowl of sauce came with it (Joy!)

About col morada con de mayonesa: I've never had cabbage like this before. Amazing. I don't know if the mayonesa was mayonnaise or twice-refined axle grease, but I want more. Sort of almost warm, not room temperature, which slight warmth made it so friendly.

The soup (Mote con frejol) was fine and smooth. Like bean soup containing imaginary corn. Imaginary mote corn. Not corny or crunchy or lumpy or anything bad. Fine and smooth.

The "Chinese macaroni" looked like spaghetti to me. Long and noodly. Noodly. I liked that.

The llapingacho was a potatoey and yammy something. Yellowish inside, with a nice crust around the outside. There were rice and vegetables too.

The juice looked synthetic. Not sure about it.

Something like lemonade mix with artificial cinnamon in it. Something like what you'd get if you ground Dentyne gum into a powder and mixed a lot of it into cloudy pink sugary water.

Then again it may have been dilute fruit juice. It had some kind of pulp at the bottom, and was not chilled. I didn't want it but thought it would be disrespectful to leave it either untouched or half-drunk so I drank it all.

No unexpected side effects to report.

Bowl of sauce.


This time, instead of asking for a straw, or drinking it straight from the bowl, I dished out the whole of it onto the rice and vegetables.

Smart move.

It perked up everything.

Made the whole meal amazing (except for the juice problem, of course).

Tangy. Spicy. Almost peppery. I still want a half gallon of that sauce straight some day. All to myself. Even if it kills me.

There are worse ways to go (all the other ways).

So, a really fine, filling meal for $1.80.

I'll be going back every now and then as long as they keep serving sauce and don't come at me with sticks and knives.

Or maybe even if they do. Hey.

Week one...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Eat Week.

OK, last week in review.

I ate at different places. I decided, whatever the pain, I've got to try things.

When I say I ate at different places, what I mean is two different places, bouncing back and forth, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at one, and Tuesday and Thursday at the other.

When I say "pain" I mean mostly total, abject embarrassment with language. Embarrassment for me, and for everyone within earshot.

Luckily few here carry guns, so there was little actual shooting.

One place I tried was "Good Affinity", about a half-hour walk away, near "Gringo Gulch" where a lot of the pale people live in tall brick buildings.

Good Affinity was recommended by the first person I met here, while eating at "el Tunel". Good Affinity is a Taiwanese vegetarian place.

Vegetables are good.

I've been eating mostly bread, or scrambled eggs, toast, and bread, or tiny dabs of vegetables surrounded by rice and thin slices of various meats, supplemented by bread, for six weeks.

A lot of bread.

I thought, "Vegetables, I could use them." Besides, the two places I tried last week were highly recommended.

It's a bit odd to struggle in Spanish up against a couple of Chinese guys, though they were very nice about it all, and probably thought the same about me (oddness, not the Chinese part).

I look more like an aging but still crazed U-boat captain. Sort of. In my fantasy life. Some of the time.

The Good Affinity folks no doubt get many dim-witted gringos stumbling in. I always apologize a lot. I'm getting good at that, even in Spanish. It's my specialty.

So - the short version: I made it through my first lunch.

What I did after the second pass was to copy the menu into my notebook and take it home for analysis. The copying was easy because the menu is short and on the wall, with pictures.

I get pictures. After only a bit of study.

On my third visit I did well, sort of, considering.

There was no line behind me (so I didn't delay anyone), and I kind of knew the routine, and due to having done my homework, I was able to ask for "brécol" (broccoli) as one of my options.

You get rice plus four other options, and you can point if all else fails. I'm still largely in failure mode, "Failure" being my middle name and all, though I can say "broccoli" pretty well, and I wanted it anyway.

Excuse me. I meant to say "brécol". I sincerely apologize.

To you, your associates, your relatives, to the fine people of this country, to the President, and to the flag, Sir or Madam as the case may be.

You can just call me "F".

On my second visit I ordered "Menú de Día Combo" ("Daily Special", or "Special of the Day"), which I've had all three times, sort of, but I refused the juice, wanting to keep the price down a bit.

Silly me. I apologize.

After I'd sat down there was a small episode of hand waving and chattering between the two Chinese guys who were on deck that day.

The one who had put my food together, and the other one, the one who had offered me juice, well they had an exchange of words, and hand signals.

Guy One then caught my attention and kept saying something about "jugo", and motioned me to come and get some. I finally figured out that I had paid for it and they wanted to make sure I got it.

I think.

Anyway, I got a glass of juice and they didn't charge me for it or chase me down the street after I left, so I'm guessing it was included.

This was nice of them.

Undue kindness toward idiots may not pay off in the after life, assuming there is one, but idiots come to appreciate it when it arrives unbidden, with a smile. And of course it is always undeserved.

Especially by me.

And thirst quenching.

On the third day I simply ordered "Un Menú de Día Combo, por favor," pointing like a semi-pro, acting only half-stupid, and then I tried living dangerously by asking "Y tambien, dos rollos primavera, por favor". (I.e., please toss the idiot two spring rolls as well.)

It was my lucky day.

Two spring rolls had already been fried up, for someone else apparently, and were sitting on a plate behind the sneeze guard, ready to go home with me after some pleasant chewing, so I didn't have to wait.

To sum up, the place is not elegant nor the food stupendous. But it is good. Good eats.

And they are kind to idiots.

Which is hard work, the being kind to idiots part, and I appreciate it

The "Menú de Día Combo" is soup (first course), "segundo" (second course, consisting of a plate with the mandatory rice plus other options which you select to keep the rice from feeling lonely), and then there is a large glass of juice to sluice your gullet with.

For juice the second two times I got tomate (the not-tomato juice, which is a bit like orange juice, and not red but yellow).

The total cost for the "Menú de Día Combo" is $2.50.

Spring rolls are 70 cents each, so my lunchtime total was $3.90.

Kind of a splurge compared to el Tunel at $2.25, but the spring rolls are crisp and greasy and the calories feel good as they become one with me.

My kinda eats.

The other Menú de Día options are "segundo y jugo" ($2.25, no soup), or "solo segundo" ($2.00, no soup or juice). Not bad.

It's a nice walk out to Good Affinity and the bank branch I've been going to is across the street, so I can get cash and eat. Which is better than eating and getting gas.

Especially because of the cost of lunch, and for the crisp bills that the ATM give me.

The cash this ATM ejects is fresh off the press. I've never seen such new money before.

It is clean, unwrinkled, flawless, and nearly still warm from the oven.

So far it's passed review everywhere I've spent it. And they pay attention around here.

Some places, including the SuperMaxi grocery chain, seriously inspect your money, holding it up to the light, sticking it under an ultraviolet lamp, feeling its texture, doing a fingernail scratch test. For even a $5 bill.

No one has yet sniffed my money, but I'm expecting to see that. Maybe tomorrow. Who can say?

The other place I went to is called "El Nuevo Paraiso".

We'll visit it another day. OK?

Monday, December 3, 2012


Watching a big-league game way up close.

So after getting a reprieve from "Legal" at Immigration on the bundles of apostilled documents that were inadvertently invalidated during photocopying by the removal of one staple each, I had only two things left to do.

One was to finish my application letter in which I probably said all the right things. It's like a why-I-am-really-a-good-person-and-should-be-allowed-to-stay-here sort of thing. And ten to one no one ever reads these anyway.

The other task was to get color copies of two pages of my passport notarized.

Notarizing things is a big deal.

Here's a summary of what it means.

  • someone with a rubber stamp looks at some never-seen-before documents
  • that someone inks a rubber stamp and hammers the document with it
  • that someone then signs on a line left by the rubber stamp
  • this signifies that said someone believes the documents are genuine

A person I met recently tipped me off to a notary place close by, about a block from where I'm staying.

Since I'd finished early for the day at Immigration and was feeling pretty good about not being thrown into chains and stuffed into a crate to be dumped at sea for having my seals broken, I went over there.

The time was 11 a.m. The place was packed.

It is upstairs, behind an anonymous ground-floor door with a word painted on the building's wall above the doorway.

The word is "Notario". I figured it out on my own.

Upstairs it looks like a converted warehouse.

The wooden floor is rough and bare of paint or even stain. The place is inelegant, like its only improvement has been the addition of interior walls. Nothing else.

At one end, to the left, is an archive of old notarized documents (if I'm guessing right - it could as well be an archive of deceased and mummified notaries).

Along the main wall are two barred doors. Over to the right is "Copias", which is where I realized I saw the line that morning. But it was enough to scare me off at the time.

Another gringo came in as I was exiting, after having decided that it was hopeless.

He went in anyway. Later he said that he'd gotten his work done in 15 minutes. I'm glad he didn't listen to me. No one should ever listen to me. I always do things the hard way.

I decided to try after lunch, when there might be fewer people in line.

Around here "after lunch" has a meaning. The meaning is after 3 p.m., give or take half an hour. Lunch for a lot of people runs from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., and then you have to throw in tooth-picking, fingernail-polishing, idleness, and noodling time.

So I finished my own lunch and tidied up things in my room and by then it was 2:20 p.m.

At first I decided that it was too late in the day to bother.

Then I decided that I ought to go and see anyway. Maybe I'd get lucky. Or something.

Possibly something.

Luck. There were half a dozen people there this time.

Only half a dozen people.

So I decided that since I was there I had to give it a shot. By now the time was 2:30.

After 10 minutes or so the people ahead of me began to knot up around one of the barred doors. I joined them.

This door also had something about a notary written on top. I think. It seemed hopeful. Like a not-lost cause. Maybe.

Suddenly the inner door opened, the bars unlocked, and some of the people went in.

At almost the same time the door to its left opened and some of the people went in there.

I did too. Fewer people went in the second door, which gave me a better chance.

But a woman inside jabbered harshly and the guy ahead of me turned around, went out, and went in through the first door, with most of the others.

I did too. The woman looked mean. I didn't need mean. Not at this stage.

In the not-mean office we sat on chairs.

There was one woman in this office and four desks. Let's say that Betty was the woman's name.

In a chair in front of Betty's desk sat a large fat man. Every now and then she talked to him and he answered, but mostly she poked at a computer with some of her fingers.

After a lot of this poking and querying Betty got up and fed a single sheet of paper into a laser printer. Then she turned it over and did the same to the other side.

Then she returned to her desk and poked at the computer some more.

Eventually, after several decades of this, and many intrusions by many people who came right in and went up to Betty and began long conversations, she began pounding on documents with rubber stamps.

For someone not impressed by ceremonies, I have to say I was impressed by this one.

Betty has a helluva swing. Give her a bat and she'd beat every major-league batting record into sumbission.

Betty had at least four rubber stamps. She hit uncountable documents at least four times with each stamp. I think.

I wondered what happens when she runs her ink pads dry. I guessed that the office shuts down for a week or so until the ink-pad guy comes around with fresh barrel of stamp pad ink.

But maybe not. Given the lunch hours here it could take a month. Everyone could go on vacation to relieve the stress of long lunch hours and waiting in lines.

"Finally," I thought after the pounding of rubber stamps began to taper off, "she's wrapping it up. Now the rest of us can have a shot."

No. Not like that.

The fat guy got up and joined the rest of us, quietly sitting on his own visitor chair. Things got dim for a while. My mind went into the slowest slow motion possible. Let's say torpor. Torpor was about it. Think torpor.

Betty may have been on the phone for a while, but I'm not sure. It was a time warp. Mostly Betty poked at the computer.

She seemed to like that part. She was good at poking.

I remember not looking at my watch. I didn't want to.

My watch would only have told me that I was very likely to die on my chair, after which the mice would eat my remains and go poop them out on the street, whereupon I would be forgotten forever (even by the mice).

So then. More people came and went.

Mostly these people seemed to be after some kind of favor. Betty talked to each of them in turn and her answers always seemed to be essays ending in "no".

Betty never looked at the half-dozen of us who had been sitting there forever. We were only landscape. Wallpaper. Dead flies.

Suddenly (if I can say that after several eternities), an old man tore into the office.

He was mostly bald with a fringe of white hair on the sides, and wore a gray suit. Sort of a silvery-gray suit, which is slightly uncommon here. Most suits are darker. Some are brown. Lots are very dark gray, or black. Few are silver.

The man (let's call him Mr Notario) must have been in his 80s. He went to the big desk at the back of the office, behind Betty's bookshelves, and sat.

Suspense filled the parts of my mind which had not died.

The time was now 3:18 p.m., but it may have been 3:18 p.m. on a different day, in another year, in a separate reality. Or century.

I was hallucinating by then, so who can say?

With Mr Notario was a young man, bearded, with long unruly hair. I'd say he looked like Che Guevara without looking like Che Guevara. The beard and hair did. Let's call him Che anyway. Just for fun.

So now you have the images.

Then, things happened. All at once. All of us in the office were suddenly all being served. Communally.

I've never been juggled before, but being juggled would feel like that.

I had my two color pages rubber-banded and rolled up inside some waste paper for protection, and suddenly Betty, who had paid no attention to any of us, at all, was on top of me.

I fumbled with the rubber band and with my notebook, trying to look up the explanatory sentences I'd prepared, and while she did listen to me mumble and mangle the language she seemed to know why I was there and just kept saying "Su passaporte." ("Your passport.")

And of course I couldn't get it out of my pocket.

But she waited anyway.

Betty gave my passport and the copies to Che, whom I watched carefully. The passport was the one thing I couldn't afford to lose so I stood there while he eyeballed everything over and over.

Then he found the two extra sheets I was using to protect the actual color copies and he wanted to look at them too, even though by then I was tugging at them, trying to pull them out of his grip. He finally gave up and we were off.

He began hammering at the two actual color copies with his rubber stamp. I kept my eyes on the passport. It came through unharmed.

When I got my passport back (rumored street value: $2000 or about 4-months' income for the average person) I didn't care too much what happened next - the passport was safe. But something happened anyway.

Che went to his second desk in the back with the copies, and there he diddled with something, and then took the now-stamped copies over to Mr Notario sitting in his suit behind his half-acre desk.

Everyone else was behind me, swirling, jabbering. Like bumper car day at the amusement park.

Che motioned me over to Mr Notario's desk and I stood there not knowing what was happening, but Mr Notario motioned me to sit so I sat.

He didn't look at me or say anything.

He was scribbling.

What he was scribbling I didn't know, but he did it with all his might. His whole body went into scribbling.

I bet he could go a full 16 rounds against the world champ and come out fresh and smiling, is how strong and dedicated he looked with his scribbling, Mr Notario did. Age is no limit to a champeen scribbler.

Then the phone rang. Betty had transferred a call to Mr Notario.

She came to the back of the office and stood in a corner in the shadows and watched Mr Notario while he talked.

He wasn't just a scribbler. Mr Notario could really talk. Even I could tell.

I couldn't understand him but I can recognize a talker. He was a talker.

I looked at Betty in the shadows, wedged into a corner, but couldn't see her face. She didn't move. She only watched Mr Notario talk.

Something was going down. This conversation was not polite.

Toward the end of the call Mr Notario said two words which I can't recall, but whose meaning was clear. Maybe I remembered enough Latin to understand, but there was no doubt about the meaning.

What he was saying was "Shut up and listen to what I'm telling you." I got that. No doubt about it. He said it with his voice and with all of his lips, and with his full authority as a notario.

Eventually one or both parties got tired, the call ended, and Mr Notario got to my documents.

He scribbled.

He scribbled some more. And some more. And that was just the first document.

He started over on the second document.

Then at some point he was done.

He handed the documents back to me with an invoice attached by paper clip, and there was Che again.

Time to pay, and Che was my man.

Each notary fee was $1. For two documents that was $2, plus 24 cents tax. So $2.24 total. I gave Che $2.25 and he went to hunt for a penny. He found one and brought it to me. Good man, this Che.

Then I left. The circus was still running at full tilt inside the office. People were swirling, whizzing in every direction, jabbering, bouncing off the walls.

When Mr Notario handed me my papers I thanked him in Spanish. He gravely nodded his head once and then forgot I had ever existed.

He went back scribbling, with his head down, putting his shoulder into it.

Total elapsed time in the office: about an hour and 15 minutes.

When I got back to my room I looked at my two documents. There was nothing written on them except Mr Notario's signature, which took him a full 20 seconds to write out. He really put his soul into it though. When he signed something you could hear the pen scream from across the room.

But the documents were good. They were properly notarized.

Immigration accepted them, so I guess that part is over.

I probably left out some things, but you get the idea. It was a day.