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!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

20 Julio 1989: Quito, Ecuador

(This part of the journal is taken from letters written to Spencer. I have tastefully edited out all of the mushy stuff.)

Well, I may be stuck in Ecuador for an extra week or two! We were finished with the Galapagos on the 18th. Everyone else in our group was heading back to the States on the 19th. Some left earlier and they were able to make reservations 3 or 4 days before they wanted to leave. I left myself at least a week and a half, but the airline is full until August 4th, and I'm on the waiting list for that! Fortunately, it's very cheap to live here - $5 a night for a rather nice hotel, clean with hot water. Other not-so-nice places are about a dollar a night in case I have to go into starvation mode. A large plate of arroz con pollo is about 68 cents, and it's enough to last you for two meals. Mineral water is 6 cents, a cola is 8 cents. I'm at a Pizza Hut, of all places, right now, and everything was less than $1.50 (but it didn't taste anything like an American pizza, since they use local cheeses and ingredients.) The worst thing is the taxis. You really must watch out for them. The one who picked me up at the airport here was really outrageous, and I didn't feel like getting the fare reduced much even though I'm pretty proficient at that. "No tengo mucho dinero!" "Vamos a Policia!"

A man in the Pizza Hut just gave a little child selling lottery tickets a slice of pizza. (The same man also had one of the little boys shine his shoes, much to the chagrin of the Pizza Hut management.) Ecuador is nominally socialist, but free enterprise is thriving here. I've never seen so many people sell so many things. One of our waitresses is dressed in traditional Indian garb: black skirt, beautiful lacy white blouse with red embroidery, strands of gold bead around her neck, and long black hair in a braid down her back. (The gold beads are glass Christmas tree strands from Czechoslovakia.)

I've spent the past 2 days wandering up and down the (quite steep and hilly) streets of Quito, and then I'll duck into one of the churches and catch mass. It's not that I'm so religious, but the 20 minute break is refreshing and it's a nice way to view the churches. Not all of the gold in the New World made it back to Spain. One church, La Compania, is supposed to have been gilded on the inside with 7 tons of gold. It certainly looks like it -- almost every inch seems to be covered in gold leaf.

Can you believe that I was in Quito and went to the Pizza Hut?! (I don't even go to it in the states.) At least I didn't go to Kentucky Fried Pollo! There's a theater next door. That Police something movie with Leslie Nielsen is playing Should i go see that or go to La Casa de Cultura? I wonder if the movie loses anything in Spanish? Well, if I'm going to La Casa, I should do it now, because most museums close between 12 and 3. (p.s. I eventually went to the movie and it was in English with Spanish subtitles.)

14 - 18 July -- Galapagos

This was written in Quito a day or so after the Galapagos trip.

Well, my Galapagos journal didn't get too far off the ground. it's not that we didn't have time to write, but whenever I tried to read or write I'd get motion sickness -- not too bad, but enough to avoid those activities while I was on the ship -- and when we were on the islands we were too busy hiking around and looking at stuff to write about it.

Things started out a bit rocky. You load all of your luggage, cameras, etc. and yourself on little boats called "pangas" which take you to the ship which will then take you around to most of the isles. As my panga was unloading, we looked back towards the shore just in time to see a panga overturn! All of the people on the boat were rescued, but when they got to the ship, we found out that they'd lost most of their luggage. We turned the deck into a drying station -- clothes, cameras, binoculars, etc., and everyone donated clothing for our poor comrades. There was a mother and (grown) son whose luggage had been lost in Quito, so they had to buy new clothing there (a bit hard, since they are pretty tall), and now they've lost everything again. This is a bit selfish, but I'm so glad I didn't lose you, my little journal, at the bottom of the ocean!

I had a most fantastic time and I was happy with our accommodations, even though some members of our party were knocking it -- good grief, we weren't paying for first class. We got a pretty good deal for this, especially when you consider that the airfare to the Galapagos and back to Guayaquil is $375! (this is in the late 1980's, too.)

Highlights of Galapagos - seeing the sea lions and their pups lounge on the beaches and rocks. One very young (less than 1 month old) pup chased an iguana across the sand -- it was so funny! (This was at Rabida?) Earlier, the pup came up to our group and did cute sea lion things. We saw so many sea lions that some of us were sick of "cute" by the end of the trip. I also liked the marine iguanas (we didn't see too many land iguanas.) You would look at some rocks and all of a sudden you would see an iguana and then soon you'd realize that the entire rock was covered with iguanas! I didn't go snorkeling because I still had the cold from the beach trip, but those who went said that it was terrific -- the sea lions would play with you and you could see schools of technicolor fish.

One day we saw a herd (school?) (a LOT!) of dolphins. They were far away at first, but then they came quite close to the boat. The crew said that they love to play in the wake of the boat. I know I'm anthropomorphizing (sp?) but they really look like they're smiling and having fun. Of course, the sea lians and the marine iguanas seem to me to be smiling also.. We saw some teeny penguins -- I'm afraid that my photos will just show their white bellies against the rocks.

Birds: Pink flamingos -- they are really white, but turn pink by eating some sort of teeny pink shrimp-like crustacean. i really loved watching them fly, and they had the most magnificent landing with their long legs. it seemed like they just start walking on the water when they land. We say frigate birds with bright red throats, and of course there were the blue-footed boobies with the fluffiest white babies. Too much cute again! One woman in the other group stepped too close to a booby nesting on an egg and got scratched or bitten or something. Flightless cormorants, lots of finches, etc. This was truly sensory overload of nature.

I should have been writing each afternoon and evening. We'd to to one island inthe morning, have lunch about 1:00 on board and reach another island about 3:30 or 4:00 where we'd hike around until dusk. We ran into a few other groups -- in fact, one group accidently took our snorkeling gear and flip-flop shoes that were left near their gear. Fortunately, we got back to the landing site just as they were leaving and they and they haded everything back. The young man who ran their panga just loaded up everything that was in sight.

We spent a short afternoon in Puerta Ayorha (sp?) looking at giant (and some not so giant) tortoises. We walked into town past the T-shirt shops. I was looking for books but could only find T-shirts, post cards, etc. Coming back onto our ship that evening was very harrowing! At one moment the panga and the gangplank would be even, and then at the next moment, the panga would drop down ten feet! Then a big wave would swell up and w would be level with the gangplank again. You had to stand on teh edge of the panga until the guides said, "JUMP!" and then you'd hope that the boat and the plank would stay level until you got on the plank. When it was my turn, i jumped, but then the boat dropped and I had one leg on the plank and one in mid air! It's a wonder we didn't have any amputations.

We did a lot of hiking each day on everything from lava beds to sand mountains. Most of the time the temperature was perfect -- there were only a couple of times when the sun was too bright and it was too hot.