Saturday, December 17, 2005

22 July 1989 -- Riobamba, Ecuador

Dear Spence,

Today I'm in Riobamba, a city in the Andes Mtns. This is a market day, but I didn't really come for the market -- it's just that I have to go somewhere, since I'm stuck in this Republico de Bananas for maybe 12 or 13 more days (I wanted to stay maybe five or six extra days.) Oh well, I'll make the best of it. (and this really isn't a banana republic. I was just having a bad attitude when i wrote that sentence.)

I'm getting over a cold. It's cold in my hotel. (I don't think there's any heat in this country -- well, you don't really need it in most places -- it's almost like spring here all year long.) There are only 2 seasons in Ecuador -- wet and dry. Fortunately, this is the dry season. I'd hate to be on some of the roads I've been on if it were raining.

Just went to the market. People have spread things all over the streets -- in addition, there are a couple of markets under big roofs. People are selling anything imaginable. (Of course, I'm sure you'll get to see similar markets in Korea.) Things I saw: frozen fish, fresh fish, dried fish, 50 different kinds of potatoes, fruits you've never seen before, baked pigs (including head), baked guinea pigs (minus the fur -- including the head). I saw about ten of them on a rotisserie -- each speared individually. (note, tried some later, tastes kinda like chicken.)

There are hundreds (at least) of highlands Indians in their traditional garb -- almost all wear a hat, and different groups usually wear different hats.

The people here are so tiny! Kellee and Catherine would be giants here.

What else did I see at the market? Bulk bags of flour, corn, beans, rice, etc. People stack their tomatoes and mandarinos in pyramids. A stack of 6 or 7 tomatoes or mandarinos is about 12 cents. The tomatoes look yummy -- very red and rip, but you should peel them before you eat them because you don't know what was used for fertilizer. There are lots of leeks, chilies, spices, salt, bars of laundry soap, plastic housegoods, etc. -- all very colorful.

What I saw at the Museum of Religious Art:

1. Baby Jesus doll house and tea party.

2. Baby Jesus doll house with Glinda the good witch.

3. Another baby Jesus doll house with little tin soldiers -- the soldiers are wearing blue pants, red shirts, black hats with blue feathers. Green uniforms with yellow shirts, black and yellow hat with black crest. Turkish (?) soldiers? Colonial Siglos XVIII-XIX. Urna (means glass case in Spanish).

4. Baby Jesus tearing his heart out. Grim! All right, he's not tearing his heart out -- he's opening up his chest with his fingers and you can see inside where his heart is. When I first saw this, it looked like he was tearing his heart out. This was an undated statue -- perhaps 18th century.

OK--I suppose i should explain all of that. #1, 2, & 3 were called "Urnas" -- meaning glass case. In each was a diapered baby Jesus near the back, in the center of the case. On the surrounding tiers were various objects -- tin soldiers fighting (I took a surreptitious picture of that for you.)

One display had (among other things) 2 or three figures whose costume, hair and crown, and faces resembled Glinda the good witch from the Wizard of Oz movie. One had (among other things, about 8 miniature tea sets. I called that one "Baby Jesus's Tea Party". When our group went to the Banco Central Museum in Quito, we saw one painting which I dubbed, "Our Lady of the Christmas Tree." Like every other painting was "Our Lady of this or that", and in this one, she was clothed in a green triangular tent dress that had what looked to be ornaments and a halo or two. I mean, it really looked like a Christmas tree.

I'm sitting in the entryway courtyard of the museum. By far the most aesthetically pleasing place I've seen in Riobamba (except for the churches and the restaurant I ate in last night). The courtyard floor, however, is puzzling. It's an appealing mosaic of stone and concrete blocks, trimmed with what appears to be some sort of vertebrae. (cattle? sheep? llama?) Puzzling. I'm just taking refuge before I go out on the streets again. Like the public bathrooms seem to be on every other corner, and if you don't step carefully, you may hit some vomit. I feel relatively safe here -- I just keep my bag close by my side and I've hardly been bothered or anything. I'm not certain if Latin American men understand women traveling alone -- I've gotten some strange looks and comments -- but then, hey-- to an Ecuadorian, I probably look strange.

When I got here, I figured that I'd lessen my chances of getting intestinally ill by not eating very much. Then I got ill for 24 hours anyway and lost everything in my system, and then I didn't feel like eating anyway. The people I stay with in Guayaquil leave stuff (meat and fish and soup) out on the stove all of the time, so i tell them that I've already eaten if they're serving something I've seen left out. Now I eat breakfast (bread w/butter, fresh & delicious juice, and cafe con leche -- a cup of hot milk in which you add instant (or concentrated liquid) coffee and sugar. Then I may have a snack of fruit or break, and then I don't eat until dinner. The altitude may be affecting my appetite -- I don't seem to have one. Or hell, maybe I have hepatitis, or amoebic dysentery, or malaria. The incubation period for malaria is 2 weeks and it's almost been 2 weeks since Marilyn, Emily and I were devoured by mosquitoes along the Guayas River. Great, that's all I need. Stuck in Ecuador with malaria.

Looking out the doorway of this courtyard, I can see the corner with the street names "Argentinos" and "Juan Larea". Underneath Argentinos is a smaller street sign (Longitudinal 7) and under Larea is (transversal 5) Neat! It's nice to know exactly where you are -- remember, no matter where you go, there you are!


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