Heyo! I’m Elijah! I’m a soldier, a software engineer, a traveler, and the first college graduate in my (ginormous) family. My blog has a lot of different themes, and you can filter through for the ones that interest you.
When I travel, I love to look at city centers, take public modes of transportation, sit at cafes while researching about the location, visit natural sites, and talk to people about their lives.
In the US Army, I am a member of the Maryland National Guard, in the Field Artillery. I was one of those ROTC kids in college and now I have a part-time role in the military and a full-time role in the software industry.
As a first generation college student, I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity I could. I started in politics (and you can see a lot of my views in the subtext of the posts) but took my first coding class in my first semester in college and switched immediately. In college, I joined the Army, worked as the mascot of the university, and got covid three times. I’m a big believer in the rise of class throughout our limited time on this earth. You can read a lot about my personal finances here.
Please leave comments or direct message me!
The Galapagos Islands
Isla Baltra, Ecuador
Here is the last leg of the journey through Ecuador, once again written from the comfort of the airport. The Galapagos Islands are wildly different from each other in every way (I guess Charles Darwin already figured that out but humor me). If you fly through Isla Baltra like I did, you’ll probably end up paying close to what I did ($135) to get to your hostel in Puerto Ayora (and even more if you’re staying on another island). I never did research beforehand (as I tend to do) so I didn’t know about the $100 foreigner tax, the $20 it took to tell them I wasn’t bringing anything with me, the $5 for a bus to a port, the $1 to cross the port, and the $5 for the other bus to Puerto Ayora. Also the $4 it took to take out this much cash from the ATM. But once in Puerto Ayora, you may actually be rewarded for not doing research beforehand.
When you get to the touristy town of Puerto Ayora, you’re met immediately by shops, restaurants, and everyone trying to get you to do a last minute tour. Good thing they didn’t expect me to book something beforehand! I talked to a gentleman across the street from my hostel and negotiated tours of Isla Pinzón and Isla Isabela for chances to see flamingos, giant tortoises, sharks, octopuses, penguins, crabs, blue-footed boobies, huge seals, and very colorful fish. You really can’t believe the biodiversity of this incredible archipelago. They warn you that you may not see every animal, but I’m a lucky guy so I took my chances and got to see all of them. The funny part was that there was only a single penguin and a single flamingo (the Polish group nearby joked that the tour agencies chained the birds to their spots so tourists could see one).
On the tour of Isla Pinzón, it was just me and a group of Ecuadorians (one of whom spoke English but everyone had the patience to repeat themselves in Spanish to talk to me). We snorkeled and swam with sharks, seals, turtles, and fish and they taught me some important phrases in Spanish. One such phrase was the play on words “el amor de mi visa” (love of my visa [not life: “vida”]) since the American passport is so sought-after. We had so much fun!
Later on, I went to a cafe and talked with the owner and her friend for a while. They told me to come back later to say hi. They helped me with my nerves of getting back to the airport (there’s so many steps, if one goes wrong will I have to walk?) and I got to share all of the crazy animals that I saw on my tours. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for people who have the patience to listen to my Spanish or French and still try to talk to me.
One last thing before I leave, but the Galapagos Islands are known to divers as being a particularly amazing place to dive. I never did any diving, but my Polish friends informed me that as far as their pictures and videos went, it was one of their least favorite places to dive. They’d been to Cozumel, Thailand, across the Caribbean, Australia, and Europe and loved each destination more than the Galapagos. Regardless, it’s a magical place where the tortoises easily live 150 years and can extend their necks like giraffes, so definitely still a place to visit!
Now I’m heading back through Guayaquil, Quito, and Atlanta to get back to Maryland to begin my journey in the National Guard. With all of the layovers, I’ll be traveling for 30 hours. The adventure continues!
Here I am again in an Ecuadorian airport thinking back to the incredible experiences that got me here. Guayaquil is an incredible city in so many ways and probably holds a higher space in my memories than Quito did. For reference, Guayaquil and Quito are the two largest Ecuadorian cities (I’ve seen conflicting sources saying each is larger so I’ll leave it at that) with two very different styles. Quito is a mountainous town on the equator so the climate is temperate while Guayaquil is a coastal city with a giant boardwalk and a thriving downtown.
Another noticeable difference between the cities is a feeling of safety in the center of town. I was told by many people in Quito to stay inside after dark and always watch my belongings. On the contrary, I felt happy to walk around Guayaquil’s center of town (alone, albeit as a male). The craziest contrast to my experience is that at the time of my visit, the U.S. state department advised against my visit to Guayaquil and had nothing to say about Quito. Oh well!
After strolling the Malecón 2000 boardwalk, riding on the Aerovia to Duran and back, and reading with iguanas walking around, I had the opportunity to talk to an Ecuadorian yesterday who told me a lot about the politics and culture of her country. Although not nearly as tumultuous as neighboring Peru, Ecuador’s politics are full of stories of corruption, intimidation, and even murder. However, everything I know is from the lens of a single Ecuadorian so I’ll leave it at that.
The food I’ve had has been really incredible, super cheap, and surprisingly filling as I usually don’t even finish my plates. Some great dishes here are ceviche, corviche, bolón (I’m told I ate one at a bad shop), tigrillo (particularly amazing), empanadas, and crab (a special treat for a Marylander to see). I actually had so many shrimp dishes that I’m trying to remember if there was a day in Ecuador that I didn’t have shrimp. Not sure! But anyone who enjoys food destinations would love Ecuador.
Although I haven’t visited Baños and Cuenca (and won’t for this trip), I can say Guayaquil was my favorite city in Ecuador. All I have left before my return to the United States (to include my first National Guard drill weekend and my move to Philadelphia for my first job post-graduation) is to explore the Galapagos Islands! Here we go!
As I’m sitting in the Quito airport looking back at the past three days of adventure, I can say that Quito is a truly colorful and vibrant city with tons of people who had the patience to listen to my rusty Spanish skills! It’s really been an adventure in this city even if I haven’t been able to experience what a weekend would look like for people here. Before I head to Guayaquil on the second leg of my journey through Ecuador, I’d like to share a few details and stories.
First, they drink instant coffee here! I’m personally not into instant coffee much (and admittedly I didn’t know that Ecuador doesn’t produce nearly as much coffee as its neighbors to the north and south) but I enjoyed the act of stirring the powder into a steaming cup of milk. Actually, I was looking it up and this cafe posted a little about why instant coffee is so popular in Ecuador. Pretty cool!
Next, one of my best friends told me that Cotopaxi was his favorite part of Quito, so I was really excited to see it. However, I wanted to use the buses to get there because adventure. After a while I was afraid we were getting too close to Latacunga on the bus and I might have passed the national park entrance. Luckily there was an Instituto Cotopaxi that a few people were stopping at. I figured it’s probably a museum and entrance. After walking around for a while, I realized it was in fact a high school. Whoops! Embarrassed, I took the next bus into Latacunga (only 18 kilometers away, definitely passed the national park…), got some ceviche and a walk in, and got back on the exact same bus that took me south. Altogether, I’m pretty impressed with the buses of the Quito city and metropolitan areas— I never waited more than five minutes between getting to a bus station and being on the road (maybe a coincidence but after five or six buses I’m convinced).
Lastly, I stayed in a hostel in the historical center of the city, only three blocks away from the presidential palace, Carondelet. I’m not sure where I would have read about this, but I’m putting it out there: every Tuesday at noon there’s a ceremonial changing of the guards at the palace, where the grand plaza is filled with police and military of what felt like ten different uniforms. During the ceremony, the vice president came out with a top general (an officer told me that he thinks that the president was in Ecuador that day) so I got to see all of that! Also there was a national police mass around the corner where two police officers carried puppets. You can see what I mean in the picture in this post, but when I looked up what it could be about, all I saw was this true tale of when Ecuadorian police used puppets to calm down a crowd ahead of a World Cup qualifier. If it works, it works!
Now I’m heading south to the main port of the country, Guayaquil. I look forward to telling you more about that!
Stops in Mississippi and Alabama
Today I drove from Shreveport to Birmingham, making a stop in Jackson, Mississippi, for a quick visit to the state capital (I keep a collection) and the civil rights museum. The museum was very deep. The part that caught me off guard was the section dedicated to the lynchings. You walk around fake trees and when you move to certain locations, a loudspeaker shouts an angry southern phrase that makes you shake in your shoes (“Do you know who you’re talking to?” “I didn’t hear a ma’am in that sentence!” “You come here right now!”). It was genuinely frightening. The museum did a great job.
When I continued into Alabama, I was pleasantly surprised by Birmingham. Walking around, I saw lots of bars and clubs in the main downtown area. It was still early (only 6-8pm) but there were already plenty of people making their way around the area. I gave up finding a barbeque place and settled on a joint that had really good spicy miso ramen. I made a friend outside while I was waiting. He had lived in the city for the last decade since he went to college nearby.
Something interesting my friend taught me was that the suburban part of Birmingham is referred to as “over the mountain” since there are mountains that separate the (largely black) city from the (largely white) suburbs. According to the Brookings Institute, Birmingham is one of the cities with the most quantifiable white flight.
The last place I wanted to go to was the botanical garden, but it was already dark when I got to Birmingham so I ended up not going. Regardless, here are some pictures of it that I didn’t take!
The Adventure Continues
Today I graduated from the Field Artillery BOLC course to officially be branch certified. Whereas it did take a lot of effort, I am not one to congratulate myself — I’ve been to every graduation of mine but I only stay for a few pictures and then leave as quickly as possible. But that’s enough about how hard it is to feel accomplished about anything I do — because the adventure continues today!
I drove from Lawton to Shreveport, Louisiana today, making it into the city only a half hour past sunset. It would be a fair question to ask why I’m staying in Shreveport: the only interesting things you can find online are that it was the state capital for two years (during the civil war when the other capitals were captured), it had a booming oil industry for a while, it is the site of the state fair, and lastly it was used in a World War II war game in which General Patton helped secure the victory. I guess you can also say that it has a strong gaming industry but I hate gambling more than anything — two casinos in Oklahoma is enough for my lifetime.
Well I asked myself the same question and couldn’t think of a good reason other than its crossroad of Interstate-20 and the Red River. So I went walking around at night. Who knew that their most murderous year (to date) was 2021! What I saw were really wide sidewalks, a total of twenty people outside (on a Thursday night in January, I’ll give you that) over the course of two hours, a cute (but sadly underwhelming) park honoring different Asian cultures, and two restaurants that had live music. Obviously I bought the most Louisiana sounding dinner I could have: a cajun hotdog, etouffee fries, and a beignet.
Verdict: If you’re in the north of Louisiana it’s a good place to stop but if you have the chance to go south, I think you’ll find better culture. As always, my visits are limited and I’d love to hear about what I missed in the comments!
I’m finishing up my time in Oklahoma this week by drinking with friends at night and sitting alone in a cafe during the day. It’s pretty reflective of my five months at Fort Sill, learning how to be an officer in the Field Artillery.
You see, there are a number of ways to become an officer in the Army (West Point, ROTC, being a doctor, etc) but you won’t have a specialty (Infantry, Intelligence, Finance, Nurse Corps, etc) until you complete the next phase: BOLC. For the Field Artillery, we go to Oklahoma for five months and learn all about howitzers and communicating among the many forces that have to work together to shape a battlefield. It’s intense at times, slow at others. As the Army says: hurry up and wait.
Our culminating training event ended on Friday, so our only responsibility left is the paperwork to leave and then we graduate. For my Active Duty friends, they will be heading to Korea, Germany, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Colorado, etc. They have very exciting weeks ahead of them as they start the responsibility of being an officer. For the few of us in the National Guard (belonging to the different states, mine is Maryland), we get to go home to our civilian jobs. The guard’s commitment is one weekend each month plus a two week training that occurs over the summer. That’s how I can still work in software.
My job at Capital One in Philadelphia starts on the thirteenth of February. It is the Technology Development Program that they host to get recent college graduates inducted into the industry and company. It’s a really exciting opportunity and I’m so happy to be moving to Philadelphia next month. I’ll talk more about each later.
I’m starting this blog today because this is the turning point in my career. The time when I am finishing my initial training in Oklahoma as an officer, driving back to the east coast in my 2006 Honda Civic, flying to Ecuador for a week on a solo trip, going to my first National Guard weekend, moving to Philadelphia, and starting my first job in software. Wahoo!