First things first:
I don´t have parasites!
The vicious bout with intestinal problems was thankfully shortlived, and I satisified my parasite-related curiousity with a quick and astonishingly cheap visit to a local laboratory. Instead of going to a doctor, filling out tons of paperwork, and paying way too much, all one has to do in Cuenca is bring a small sample to the lab and hand over $3.50. A part of me was secretly hoping that I did have something living inside me, as it would both give me something interesting to write about, and something to blame for my feeling crappy. I had concocted this image: upon taking the anti-parasitie elixir, my denizens would die a slow, dramatic death, and I would be suddenly imbued with superpowers, or at least slightly-improved powers, no longer hindered by malicious invaders. But, alas, my poo was deemed rather nondescript (I have the printout to prove it), so my grand vision has been dashed, and I can´t blame occasional malaise on some faceless enemy. I can, however, get lots of rest, drink lots of water, eat good food, and do my best to avoid ingesting fecal matter. I have a new habit:
going to the dentist!
I´ve already been three times! In the interest of doing worthwhile things before I leave Cuenca, I´ve decided to throw some money into a little self-improvement. Last Christmas, my folks were amazingly kind enough to gift me a root canal, which I really appreciated. I didn´t appreciate, however, the off-handed news from the dentist that I would also need something called a crown on this already traumatized tooth, or it could easily and without warning shatter into tiny, expensive pieces. I suppose it would be much too sensible to offer a root canal/crown package deal, and finish the job while I was already conveniently in the operating chair, drooling enthusiastically. I already knew I needed a couple of cavities filled, and wandering around crown-less seems irresponsible, so it was an obvious decision. And, by having the work done here, I´ll be saving approximately one million dollars.
I had three cavities filled today, fairly quickly, and for free! They know I´ll be back on Monday to get my crown and pay up--the Doc´s already shaved my tooth down to a nub, so I reckon he figures I won´t take flight without getting that taken care of. After so many suspicious stares on the street, it feels nice to be trusted. Dr. Zumba is a quiet, efficiency-minded person, without being unfriendly. He was about to delve into my gaping mouth when I thought I´d break the ice with a ¨good morning!¨ His response was polite, but that was the end of the chat. Perhaps he has doubts about my ability to converse, as on my first visit, in a bit of a daze, I had failed to respond to his gentle urgings of ¨cierre.. cierre.¨ Before I could refocus my attention from all the hands in my mouth to simple spanish verbs, he resorted to a softly-accented ¨close.¨ Stifling the urge to manually remove his hand from my mouth and insist that I can understand him, I closed my eyes and refocused my efforts on not choking on my own saliva, as Dr. Zumba quietly commanded, ¨close... open... close...¨ Speaking of taking orders:
I´m taking a salsa class!
Under the tutelage of a brilliant, mildly flamboyant instructor from Cuba, I´m taking a shot at unraveling the secrets of salsa. I met my instructor, Dani, on that wonderful night at La Mesa, along with his boyfriend, Juan, and the gorgeous Colombiana, Josna. After five visits to the dance academy, I have made a startling discovery: I have hips. As a lanky, white man, I´ve long been under the impression that I´m inherently lacking in certain areas, namely hips and booty. And swing dancers, at least in my experience, don´t concentrate too much on hip-swaying and booty-shaking. But as I get more comfortable with the salsa rhythm, I find myself moving in ways that have previously been reserved for behind-closed-doors special times. And this is where much of the beauty of salsa lies--the flamboyancy, the fluidity of movement, the liberation of oppressed hips.
Dani is a very in-control teacher, and does not allow half-assed effort. He sees that I can, and insists that I do. My first few sessions with Dani were aerobics-style, and at times even a bit militaristic, as he assessed what I could already do, and wasted no time in pushing me to go further. If my arms weren´t being team players: ¨C´mon! C´mon! Esooo.¨ If my hips were lacking luster: ¨I want more style! More style!¨ When my steps began bordering on automatic, robotic: ¨C´mon, I want you to feel the music!¨
After a few days of steady progress, I was feeling pretty damn good. I showed up at the academy on Saturday morning surprised, but unconcerned, to find a small group of people. Dani was in the midst of administering a grueling workout to a fellow dancer, barking orders, pacing around like a drill sergeant. Realizing this intensity would almost certainly spill over into our session, a tiny cloud of apprehension began forming in my already slightly foggy brain. As we began, Dani´s demeanor was as predicted, and the group of people that had been milling about now sat with glazed expressions, boredly transfixed on the lanky gringo who has the gall to think he can learn salsa. My performance is subpar--my body sluggish--and I quickly regret opting for that final, superfluous Friday night beer. As the struggle continued, I found myself resenting the onlookers, at one point exhorting them to get up and dance along, to do anything besides sit there and stare as all the style and grace I´d accumulated pathetically seeped out of me. I reached my low point, grimly nodded in acknowledgment, and promptly mentally sprinted in the other direction. What was I going to do, give up? No, I was going to chuckle at how foolish I felt, and revel in the absurdity of it all, of the idea of being in a dance academy on a Saturday morning in Cuenca, Ecuador, prancing around while curious locals marveled at the spectacle. How fantastic! Raising my chin, I met my own gaze in the vast mirror, and forced a goofy grin. With Dani´s commands echoing in my ears, I plodded onward, feeling incredibly fortunate to be so damned ridiculous.