The Vilisar Times

The life and times of Ronald and Kathleen and our voyages aboard S/V Vilisar, a 34.5-foot wooden Wm-Atkin-designed sailing cutter launched in Victoria, BC, Canada, in 1974. Since we moved aboard in 2001 Vilisar has been to Alaska, British Columbia, California, Mexico, The Galapagos and mainland Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Manitoba Herald. Date: Thu, 15 Jun 2006 07:27:27 -0700

The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has>>intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration. The actions of President Bush are prompting the exodus among left-leaning citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray, and agree with Bill O'Reilly.

Canadian border farmers say it's not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal-rights activists and Unitarians crossing their fields at>>night. "I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer huddled in the barn," said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield, whose acreage borders North Dakota. The producer was cold, exhausted and hungry. "He asked me if I could spare a latte and some free-range chicken. When I said I didn't have any, he left. Didn't even get a chance to show him my screenplay, eh?" In an effort to stop the illegal aliens, Greenfield erected higher fences, but the liberals scaled them. So he tried installing speakers that blare Rush Limbaugh across the fields. "Not real effective," he said. "The liberals still got through, and Rush annoyed the cows so much they wouldn't give milk."

Officials are particularly concerned about smugglers who meet liberals near the Canadian border, pack them into Volvo station wagons, drive them across the border and leave them to fend for themselves. "A lot of these people are not prepared for rugged conditions," an Ontario border patrolman said. "I found one carload without a drop of drinking water. "They did have a nice little Napa Valley cabernet, though."

When liberals are caught, they're sent back across the border, often wailing loudly that they fear retribution from conservatives. Rumors have been circulating about the Bush administration establishing re-education camps in which liberals will be forced to drink domestic beer and watch NASCAR races.

In recent days, liberals have turned to sometimes-ingenious ways of crossing the border. Some have taken to posing as senior citizens on bus trips to buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs. After catching a half-dozen young vegans disguised in powdered wigs, Canadian immigration authorities began stopping buses and quizzing the supposed senior-citizen passengers on Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney hits to prove they were alive in the '50s. "If they can't identify the accordion player on The Lawrence Welk Show, we get suspicious about their age," an official said.

Canadian citizens have complained that the illegal immigrants are creating an organic-broccoli shortage and renting all the good Susan Sarandon movies. "I feel sorry for American liberals, but the Canadian economy just can't support them," an Ottawa resident said. "How many art-history majors does one country need?"

In an effort to ease tensions between the United States and Canada, Vice president Dick Cheney met with the Canadian ambassador and pledged that the administration would take steps to reassure liberals, a source close to Cheney said. We're going to have some Peter, Paul & Mary concerts. And we might put some endangered species on postage stamps. The President is determined to reach out," he said.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Otavalo, Ecuador, Friday, June 23, 2006

Spying Imbabura

This morning we wake up to bright blue skies and, although I do not exactly dash out of bed, I get myself up, dressed and climb to the roof terrace of Hostal Runa Pancha. Although there are small cotton-ball clouds drifting by and snagging themselves on the peak, Valcano Imbabura is clearly visible perhaps about fifteen miles away. The rocky cone on top is dusted with white snow. The little clouds hang for a moment and then drift off and dissipate until, perhaps five minutes later, another small puff of cloud forms around the peak for a minute or two.

The shoulders run off far to the right and left, the surface between the town and the cone being unwooded or fenced in as meadows. In the crevices lower down there is forest but otherwise we seem to be above the tree-line
here. Imbabura is over 4,560 metres above sea level (Otavalo itself is 2,556.) Finally there’s a volcano to be seen. I go downstairs again to wake the others to tell them.

Looking around; Local costumes

Otavalo is a prosperous-looking town of about 35,000. The local people are famous throughout Ecuador and even throughout the world as musicians. If you see men walking around in Europe playing Andean music in bars and wearing black woollen ponchos and their hair in a long pony tail, possibly braided, they come from Otavalo. Walking around in the late afternoon and evening we run across small groups of men practicing or teaching guitar, mandolin, flute, pan pipes or even a mouth-organ thingie with a keyboard attached. There are lots of instrument-makers around too. So the tradition is strong.

The clean streets are laid out in a grid and everything looks well kept. The people look somewhat different that farther south and the local costume is everywhere present. It is most original in the old ladies and men but many young women wear it as well. And it looks real comfortable and attractive.

Except for the long black hair and, perhaps, the black or white fedora hat, the men seem to have been quicker to adopt “western” garb, i.e. ubiquitous jeans, windcheater jacket and sneakers. But you still see older men, perhaps just in from the country, in white duck trousers to just above their ankles, canvas sandals (are they called padrillos?) that cover the forefoot and tie in a black lace around the ankle and with a woollen poncho through which the head sticks. Not infrequently the costume is masked by the terrific loads which many people seem to be carrying on the backs, mostly wrapped in a blanket but sometimes inside a wicker basket. It is also not uncommon to see one of the older women bend parallel to the ground with a huge, bulky parcel tied up in a cloth and perhaps held on with a rope or tump line.

The local costume for women is uniformly a white bodice with puffy mutton-chop sleeves with lace attached to below the elbow, a decorative sash belt, an ankle length wraparound skirt made probably originally from a blanket but now of almost any dark material and with a slit up one side to the hop exposing an underskirt if white or cream material, padrillos, a cloth headdress that hangs down the back until it gets to warm and then is piled up on top like a turban, and a blanket cum shawl around the shoulders. This blanket is in some cases for show but, for most, it is also the backpack-in-waiting. If a baby or a load has to be carried, unless some other bigger piece of textile is needed, the shawl will be used. Babies are tied tight with their heads sticking out near Mum’s shoulder and their feet hanging down straight. The blouses, by the way, are intricately embroidered or bejewelled. Every women or girl wears string after string of golden or at least gold-coloured beads and as much flashy jewellery as possible including gold teeth fillings.

A large number of the people we see on the streets are wearing these costumes in their daily life and not just the people selling textiles at the Plaza de Ponchos. We even see girls coming home from school and their school uniform is clearly this local costume. Delightful.

I mentioned that the town is prosperous. Clearly these Kituan speakers (different from Quechua spoken farther south, we are informed) have learned to mix traditional with modern. In that sense they remind me of the Bavarians, the Austrians and the Swiss who have local Trachten (costumes) that come out for special occasions and who have a modern version that they can wear to work.

We have arrived at the Summer Solstice and this weekend is to see a lot of all-night music and dancing. We have heard that it can be pretty hair-raising with so many drunken indigenous people. But a young man, who operates the internet café where there are about six or seven young guys playing guitars and other instruments in the corner, tells us that this is all overdrawn. This is a religious festival that he emphasises has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church, even though the latter have tried over the many centuries to link the solstice to the Festival of St. John the Baptist. It is native religious and very holy, from his, the young man’s, point-of-view.

On the night of the 22nd there is a ritual bathing at midnight at a waterfall far out of town. This is to unite the person with the universal. Tonight there is ritual feasting on bread, fruit and other foods. On Saturday there are special religious services.

Whether we shall witness these religious services is an open question. Certainly tonight, Friday, there is to be dancing, playing and singing in the market square and we intend to witness some of it.

I am only slowly recovering from my bout of diarrhoea. After five days without improvement I finally bought a five-day cure at the farmacia and hope it will soon effect. I am constantly dashing back to the hotel and feel quite weak from lack of nourishment and dehydrated from lack of fluids.

Last night we met an elderly ex-German from Stuttgart in a restaurant who has lived his adult life in Latin America as a horticulturalist. In Mexico we were always told that a week-long cure with coconut water was the ideal thing to clear up this sort of thing. He recommends drinking papaya juice, seeds skin and all and without much sugar. He swears it will clear it right up. I drank one and like it a lot but I can’t tell that it has done much. We’ll see how it works together with my pills.

Other than the market and the weekend festivities, Otavalo does not have a lot to see. We have looked inside the 17th or 18th century stone cathedral. Clearly Spanish in origin. It is strangely spare on the outside and inside, only the high altar being golden. The entrance doors are beautifully carved in stained wood in Quito Baroque style. But other than that, this Franciscan church is all somewhat crude countrified baroque.

While I am looking around, three women come in, light candles and begin to pray sotto voce before different side altars and an elderly man in a white fedora, padrillos, white trousers and a blue poncho kneels intensely before an effigy of the infant Jesus, a stature of such 19th century vulgarity that it might have been excommunicated but apparently holds some place in this man’s affections.

We visited the daily textile market on Thursday but take advantage of the sunny weather to be out and about. At the corner of the market is a wonderful bakery-café where they make excellent sandwiches and terrific rolls and croissants. We head back there this morning before Antonia embarks on her souvenir-buying expedition.

The market is a city block large and they exhibitors, nearly all in local costume are still setting up as late as 0900. I was dying for a camera with a zoom lens: the faces; the costumes; the colours; the patterns; the goods! It was wonderful to see. If you simply intend to look rather than buy – definitely so in our case- the constant badgering by the exhibitors can be a little annoying. But just walking away with a comment like, “Hoy non!” (“Not today!”) will bring the prices, already very low, down immediately by a third.

You can see these Andean products everywhere around the world now. They include brightly woven cottons, alpaca wool blankets and clothing, knitted garments, carved wooden items, jewellery, etc., etc., etc. We bought one or two small items like a belt-holder for the cellphone, a little purse and a money belt in bright colours, not spending more than a few dollars. Antonia bought me a brightly-coloured woven band for my sombrero as a belated Father’s Day present.

It is Toni who goes back later with Kathleen in tow to do her souvenir shopping. She winds up spending less than twelve dollars and saving probably about five or six on the opening bids to buy little gifts for all her friends and family back home.

Kathleen and I discuss a nice piece of colourful cloth as a hanging inside Vilisar’s cabin to brighten the place up. It will have to wait now for more money to come in. Woven cases for throw pillows would be good too. As a matter of fact, I could decorate a big house with the variety of stuff here!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Baños, Ecuador, Wednesday, June 21, 2006

We arrived here last Friday. Since then the sun has made only very brief appearances, and rain showers have not been uncommon. If from our quarters at Hostal Santa Cruz you walk through the town to just past the bus terminal, you come to a new-looking two-lane bridge – it is in fact an emergency bridge in case there is an eruption of the Tungarahua volcano – you can apparently see the volcano above the town from about halfway across. This assumes that the skies are clear. They have not been. The bridge crosses a really steep and deep gorge with an Andean river roaring down it and one bridal-veil waterfall after another pouring into it from above.

Kathleen and Antonia took a local bus to Agua Verde to visit Pailon de Diablo, one of the most beautiful waterfalls. You can walk right beside the waterfall with the mist blowing in your face and there is a tropical botanical garden, a suspension bridge and a cable car as well. Visiting it involved a one-kilometre climb down and back up to the bus but they report that it was well worth it.

I decided not to go since I had been laid low by traveler’s diarrhea and was not inclined to get very far from the hotel’s facilities. Since natural remedies have not worked well, I finally went to a farmacia and got something to deal with it. William just decided he wanted to loaf around the hotel and watch World Cup football matches.

The common room at Santa Cruz was packed for the Ecuador-Germany game with everyone except a young German named Florian from Dinkelsbuehl and me rooting for Ecuador. “There was no joy in Mudville” when Germany won 3-0. I cannot imagine the “joy” if Ecuador had actually won! They saw Germany as their main challenge. Nevertheless, both teams are advancing to the next level so, in a way, the game was a little pointless.

Living on a volcano

Baños lives literally on a volcano. Tungarahua is active and there is a constant threat of eruption. In fact, several times in recent years, the whole town has been evacuated, one time for three months. The townspeople were more than a little miffed when there was no eruption and, upon returning, found that many of their houses and businesses had been burgled.

The peak was first ascended by three German climbers at the turn of the 19th to the 20th Century. A few years later it was scaled again and it was already quite a bit higher. As a tourist you cannot actually get up to the crater: it would not be advisable anyway since the gasses are poisonous and there is a lot of volcanic ash. We are on the cusp of the dry season so perhaps there is chance to see Tungarahua later in the summer. At present it is pretty dodgy.

This does nothing to inhibit the touting of evening trips to the “eruption “. For three or four dollars a head, you are driven up to Bellavista, where we climbed earlier in our stay. If it’s clear should have a great night-view. But so far every night has been cloudy and not seldom rainy.

Baños is a real tourist town. The streets are lined with restaurants and hotels and tour operators. You can ride horses to see the glacier or even undertake 2-4 day trips. There is river rafting and “canyoning” (i.e. rapelling down cliff faces), bungee jumping from bridges or hiking tours up the mountains. There are lots of noisy 4-wheelers and mud bikes to be rented. For the less athletically inclined, there are the thermal baths and, of course, one could also attend one of the many daily masses for pilgrims at the Iglesia de la Virgen de Agua Santa. These seem to be well attended so I guess the Roman Catholic Church is still going strong in Ecuador.

We check each day to see if we are getting any work but so far nothing. We plan, if the state of my lower intestines permits, to bus it to Quito today, Wednesday, and then catch another bus to Otavalo. Not only is there the famous weekly textile market on Saturday, but there is also this week the festival of San Juan Buatista (St. John the Baptist), an important indigenous event. It’s either that or an indigenous festival in nearby Cotacachi. We have decided to travel up there today to make sure we can get accommodation.

Otavalo, Ecuador, Thursday, June 22, 2006

We get a slow start for our departure from Baños. I am still weak from my three-day bout of traveler’s diarrhea, the skies remain overcast, there a World-Cup game on between Mexico and Portugal that keeps us sitting by the open fire burning in the common room at Hostal Santa Cruz. Finally, we get our bags packed and, after Kathleen has made a trip to the ATM, the bill settled and we trudge off through the town to the bus depot.

There it is the usual noisy scene of barkers hawking their bus line. Quite experienced now, we select the next bus heading towards Quito, buy our tickets, watch while the dour conductor puts our baggage into the compartment under the bus and we climb on board. There are lots of seats and we spread out, but suspect that the bus will fill up along the route. They always seem to.

As the bus pulls out of the station and starts its grind up the hill to the bridge across the gorge, as it then starts the first of its long grind up the 1,000 metres to Quito some three hours away, I squirm in my seat to see if I can catch a glimpse of Tungarahua. Nope. No dice. It shall remain a mystery to us until we return. We notice along the way that the really big peaks attract clouds, the active volcanoes perhaps even more so, whereas, in between large peaks, we get sunshine. There is definitely a rainshadow around these mountains. This however does nothing to hinder the view lower down across the wide Avenida de Volcanos. The valleys at first are more narrow and very, very deep. Later, after Ambato, we are up quite high already and the valleys are much broader. Unlike the Rockies, however, which are wild and contain nearly no cities at all (the cities are either on the coast or on the high prairie), here there are settlements everywhere and there are fields and meadows from the valley floor to very high up the slopes.

There are lots of plastic-covered greenhouses too; at one point later in the day we come quite close to them and I can see that they are growing roses inside. Most of them have a sign outside advertising “Israeliriega”, which I come to realise is an Israeli system for computer-fine-tuning of irrigation. Ecuador is a major producer of roses, tulips and other cut flowers, the climate here producing some of the best in the world. The flowers are sent daily around the world and Ecuador even sells flowers in Holland. I am hoping to get a visit to one of these operations from my acquaintance in Quito, Mario. The Israeli system drip-feeds water to the flowers based upon a number of automated measurements.

The bus fills to overflowing, making frequent stops in remote places. We bunch together to give our seats to mothers or grandmothers with babies. Several older women board the bus with baskets or even metal pails. They are wearing the typical Andes fedora hat and a shawl pinned around their shoulders. Their features are strongly “indigenous”. The passengers are all quiet and well-behaved; there is no pushing or shoving despite the crowded conditions.

Eventually we reach the outskirts of Quito again and passengers start disembarking. A while later we see the Panecillo, the city’s guardian angel, and five minutes later we are back at the main terminal. There is some holdup at the security gates getting in, and the conductor tosses the remaining passengers off amongst the lined-up busses and the exhaust fumes. We march in through the bus gate and no one stops us.

We are at the third-floor level of the terminal. This and the one below seem to be filled with little restaurants and cafes. After a brief discussion amongst ourselves, we decide to have a quiet almuerzos before finding a bus to Otavalo. We pick the first likely one and receive the best-tasting, the best-looking, the largest and the cheapest three-course lunch we have had to date. $1.20 each. William had been thinking about hamburgers. But, as it says in our guidebook, you don’t come all this way to eat McDonalds. Even William is happy.

We spend another ten dollars to get us on an executive bus to Otavalo. It too fills up somewhat but it is never really full and we keep our individual seats for the two-hour ride. There is a lot of uphill driving and curving around mountain gorges again: this is Ecuador and the Andes after all. The TV screens are showing a dubbed American movie about an Orca taking revenge for some misdeed to his mate while outside the lowering sun warms the mountains and turns the huge puffy clouds into baroque paintings.

It is after dark before we arrive in Otavalo. The bus is going on an hour or so north to Tulcan on the border to Columbia and does not actually go into the terminal at Otavalo. We are let out with our baggage on the main bypass and the conductor points to the right and says, “Centro!”

It takes a little time to become oriented, not least because map-reading is difficult by street light. But there are lots of people around and the shops are still open. We pop into a computer parts store and get some directions to one or two cheap hostals. After one or two tries in small hotels that look very nice but charge $10 a night per person, we land at the Hostal Runa Pacha, not as nice but all right. Ecuadorian hotels charge by the person instead of by the room, which is the worst deal for everyone, it seems. The two guys at the desk, both with the long ponytails typical of this town, are asking $6 a night per person. We try to negotiate them down to $5 but they do not budge even when we tell them we shall stay five nights. However, when we say that it is too expensive and we shall look elsewhere, they say uno sono, “Cinco!” (“Five!”) We wind up with two rooms with baños privados.

Ecuadorian low-price hotels tend to have welded steel-frame bedsteads and terrible mattresses. Up till now the mattresses have been so hard that it was like sleeping on the ground or sleeping on Vilisar. Once or twice I was tempted to use the old Boy-Scout trick of scooping out hip and shoulder holes! This time the mattress is plenty soft and Kathleen and I both sink toward the middle during the night. The fitted sheet over the mattress comes off at all corners and by morning the bed looks like a major battle has been fought. The bathroom is as big as the bedroom and totally tiled. Like most hostals we have visited so far there are no towel racks and no soap dishes, even though, when you move in, they give you little packages of wrapped soap, towels and a roll of bog paper. But there is hot water and I am glad to have made it the whole way without a pit stop.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Baños, Ecuador, Sunday, June 18, 2006

If you have ever spent a wet and cool summer-vacation week sitting on the edge of your bed-&-breakfast accommodation in the Austrian Alps, you can sort of get the feeling of being in Baños, Ecuador, at the end of the rainy season. It’s not actually that it rains the whole day here in this attractive spa town in central Ecuador. But, here, three hours by bus from and 1,000 metres lower than Quito, here, nestled in a deep mountain valley with water pouring down the steep cliffs, here in a modest town full of hostals and thermal baths, it seems to be raining a lot.

On Friday we waved down a taxi outside New Bask backpacker hostal in La Mariscal and drive south to the main bus terminal, a rather grim and “under-built” edifice. The terminal is both regulated and unregulated. The taxi fare was a set $3, but when we arrived outside the terminal the driver asked, though we were not exactly clear what he was driving at, if we wanted to get out where the busses were exiting the terminal or be driven to the building itself. For the latter the fare was an extra dollar, which he had to pay to get his vehicle inside. Apparently, we were to learn later, you can actually stand outside the terminal and flag down almost any long-distance bus. We must have stopped a dozen times before we were actually out of sprawling Quito itself. And the first stop was actually just outside the gates. Taxis and, I suppose, foot passengers have to pay to get into the terminal and passengers have to pay again just to get onto the platform.

The long, thin terminal building is lined right and left on the outside with bus slots and inside with wickets announcing (in alphabetical order) destinations like Riobamba, Gualaquil, Cuenca, Otavalo and, we were happy to see, Baños. In fact there are several wickets for each major town, each wicket representing a different bus line. In a rather confused gaggle and clutching our baggage tightly as we warned to do by everyone who knew we were going to be travelling by bus against thieves and pickpockets, we head for the ticket seller who is vociferously hawking his tickets to Baños through his plastic grating. We have learned to ask for “uno adulto, dos niños y uno mejores” (one adult, two children and one senior) whenever we have to buy tickets for anything: sometimes they baulk at the idea that Antonia and William are still children (after all they are already a lot taller than most Ecuadorian adultos), but they readily accept that Kathleen is an adult and that I am a “post-adult”, tercera edad “third-era” (Ecuadorian euphemism for “old farts”), mejores or senior. I have decided not to take this personally since the seniors’ discount is usually bigger than the children’s.

With more warnings about hanging on tightly to our belongings and about not putting them up on the overhead racks, we wait on the platform for Bus #20 on Platform #21 (go figure). We ask around and get no end of help from bus drivers, conductors and even other passengers. Everybody warns us in Spanish, broken English and/or sign language to hang onto our things. Eventually we climb aboard our somewhat aged blue bus with the big “Baños” sign in the window. A TV is on at the front of the bus showing the World Cup game between Holland and Serbia-Montenegro. (How do you know you have arrived in Latin America? No matter where you are there is always a TV on and you always get served Nescafe.) Our baggage has been stowed in the luggage compartment below us by some young man with slicked-back hair and wearing an Ecuador futbol tricot. In other words, he is combed and dressed at present like every other Ecuadorian male of his age and fifty percent of the Ecuadorian women. One of the drivers told me that, if we take the baggage inside, we are responsible for it, but, if we stow it in the luggage racks below, the bus line is responsible. I am not sure this gives me all the comfort I should desire, but we gave it to the young man to stow below. The manner of stowing has made me especially nervous since I observed that the compartment has no lock on it. So I sit, as recommended in guidebooks, near a window that will allow me to watch what happens to the baggage compartment whenever we stop.

When it finally leaves the terminal, there are only about a half-dozen other passengers. We spread out. The young man in the yellow, blue and red tricot stays with the bus by walking alongside. As we exit in the long string of other busses through the gates of the terminal grounds there is what appears to be the first unofficial stop. The young man is calling out “Baños! Baños! Baños! Baños!” rapid-fire to the assembled people who are standing on the curb, the scruffy grass verge or sitting on their bolsas ( “bags”, literally in some cases). Within a couple of minutes the bus is nearly full. I have forgotten than all Ecuadorian busses, local or long-distance, carry conductors.

The trip to Baños takes about three hours and descends steadily through a continuous mountain valley. Central Ecuador runs north-south down this Avenida de Volqanos. This is one of the most active volcano areas in the world, a testimonial to the pressures of the Pacific tectonic plate which, centimetre by centimetre over eons, presses against and under the South American continent and pushes up the land mass to create the Andes. There is lots of cloud about so we cannot see any of the active volcanoes like Cotapaxi clearly, though, at one point, we did see a bit of snow-covered mountainside. The view across the high and fertile valleys and up to the meadows rising quite high up the slopes is stupendous. All very “grand” and, unlike, say, the Rockies, covered with signs of agriculture and therefore of human habitation. The Rockies are heavily wooden or of bare rock and are basically unpopulated.

The bus keeps stopping at intersections or roundabouts to pick up new passengers and, by the time we have cleared Quito’s suburbs, the bus is full. We jockey for position with busses from other lines for the people waiting at the stops until we are full. After that we keep going, jockeying for position against the 18-wheeler freighters.

Nearly the whole trip is through grazing land and truck gardens. The former are populated with Holstein cows, the latter covered with plastic greenhouses. I ask later if flower growing is important to Baños and am told by someone that that takes place closer to Quito. I am not sure why. I learned from my Quito acquaintance, Mario Klein, who runs a rose-growing and exporting business, that roses can readily be grown there as long as they are protected from the wind (therefore the plastic coverings). Grapes, on the other hand, need a winter resting period, so wine-growing is left mainly to Chile.

At Ambato, the fourth or fifth largest city in Ecuador and a half an hour short of Baños, most of the passengers disembark. We continue descending on the now two-lane highway until we eventually drop rapidly into a river valley, cross an arched bridge and arrive in Baños. All our baggage is still there and Mr. Ecuadorian Futbol-Fan hands them out to us. I guess he was keeping an eye on it the whole time.

Our guidebook (2001) tells us that Hostal Café Hood on the main square charges $1 per person per night, the cheapest in town. We find it, a gaily- painted storefront. But he charges $5 a night and has no rooms with a bath for us. We trudge off to Hostal Santa Cruz for which we had several recommendations from backpackers in Quito. In fact it is just we want. Easygoing atmosphere, two quiet and nicely painted though spartanly-furnished adjoining rooms with a nicely-tiled common shower cum WC.

We drop our things and head out for almuerzos, a cheap set lunch. This is a real tourist town and there are plenty of eateries of every price. We looked into a French restaurant to find that main courses were only about $5 a plate (e.g. steak dinners). This was more than we could afford and we continued till we found a chicken roasting place. Toni’s soup had a chicken foot for flavouring; the rest of us got neck pieces. The main plate, as usual, has lots of rice and a nice piece of beef or a chicken leg. (Why Ecuadorian beef is tender and Mexican beef as tough as shoe leather remains an unanswered question.)

I have checked if the hostal has a filter-coffee machine in its little kitchen for guests (it does). We therefore visit the well-stocked supermarket on the main square opposite the mercado (closed for the day) and buy ground coffee, a can of evaporated milk and cookies, essential provisions for us. We skip bread since there are bakeries all around the hotel where we can get fresh buns the next day.

At the supermarket we also run into George and Jan from our neighbouring boat back in Bahia de Caráquez. They give us a few tips on what to see and how and we stop to gab.

We are in bed in good time, the mattress at least as hard as back in New Bask but no TV room below us to keep us awake all night.

Climbing to cross

On Saturday I get up around 0800 and go over to the main hotel building to get the coffee on and dart around the corner to buy warm and delicious fresh blaetterteig rolls. While waiting for the others eventually to arrive, I talk to the many Canadian university students who are on an outing organised by a student organisation in Ontario. They have been living with families in Ecuador, some with suburban families and some with rural and/or in indigenous families. They have some funny things to tell about their volunteer activities. Aingarin, for example, of Sri Lankan heritage and a natural sciences/pre-med student at Queens University, Kingston, tells about the typhous/tetanous/polio inoculation campaign he helped with amongst rural indigenous peoples. The medical teams travelled directly to the places where the women and children were working, told them it was government policy, had them bare their bottoms and gave them the jabs right there on the spot. The men have to pay for the shots but women and children get them free. I joked that, in ten years, he will have become incorporated into indigenous mythology as the bearded stranger with the needle that passed through the land sticking women in the bum and likely the reason why all the children thereafter have an oriental cast to their features.

We also meet Lorenzo, an ex-cruiser from California who has been retired here for the last year and one half. We make contact with Tara, a student at Windsor University, who wants to hike up to La Cruz, the large lit-up cross halfway up the side of the volcano above the town. She does not want to do it alone so we volunteer to go too. It is a pretty steep climb of about an hour on a stony and muddy path across and up the side of the mountain to about cloud level. It is probably about 300 metres over the town and all along the way we have great views. Occasionally the sun shines through, but most of the time it is cloudy or even a bit rainy.

Along the way we meet children and men who come bounding down the mountain trail headed for the town. We also meet Carlos Sanchez, who lives in town but also has a mountain hut near the volcano. He observes and makes regular reports to “volquanistos” i.e. volcano scientists in the U.S.A. and acts as a guide sometimes for tourists. He speaks rapidly in Spanish but so clearly articulated that it is easy to hear each word, although not always so easy to know the meanings. It makes us want to improve our Spanish.

We also, small world, meet Scott, a Calgarian, who is moving down to a sailboat (S/V Selah, Edmonton) belonging to friends from Alberta that we met before we left for Quito. They are all sailing to Peru and Chile and farther south perhaps.

At la Cruz it is windy and wet. We are sweated and thirsty and head for one of the two little cafes up there. There we order lemony herbal tea, which the lady makes from leaves she picks from the plants at the edge of the café, and “canelasso”. This latter is water, a cane-sugar-based schnapps, and cinnamon sticks served hot in a big cup. It’s a real pick-me-up after a climb. We also meet three English hikers. One of the young men was raised in Chile and he says his accent sticks out a mile here in Ecuador. He also explains that canela means cinnamon as spice (uno canelo is a cinnamon tree). If we add an “itto” or “itta” to a word it becomes a diminutive, e.g. Chiquita, little, little-one. If we add “asso” or “assa” it turns the idea into something really big. So a canelasso is a big drink of something big.

As with most itinerants we exchange names and stories and adventures before starting down the trail. We might have climbed some more to reach Runtun village. But I reckon I shall have had enough by the time I reach the bottom and take a pass. Downhill “climbing”, I find, is really hard on the knees, thigh and calf muscles. We aim to go to the thermal baths in the evening but I know I am going to be stiff anyway. Sure enough, my right knee feels very wonky by the time we get down.

Nothing daunted, we look for a place to get something to eat and end up eating quite good roast beef “sanduches” or a hamburguesa in the town for about a dollar or slightly more each. We really have to squeeze down our costs now or we shall be impecunious again. It costs us $20 a day to stay someplace for the four of us. We no longer do set breakfasts but make our own coffee and buy buns at the local bakery shop and fruit at the market or supermercado. Organised tours such as horseback riding and river rafting, which all the students seem to be able to afford to do without much problem, is beyond us. One hopes that Kathleen’s clients will pay soon and that I shall get a translation or two to do. Fortunately, translating (if you can get it) pays better better than proofreading. But they pay at about the same speed as the tectonic plates create the Andes.

We may have to go down to the boat simply for cost reasons. Alternatively, we can volunteer someplace where it is free in exchange for work. Today, Sunday, we are taking it easy. William has a head cold (as it seems do several of the local staff). He gets extra vitamins and last night we went to the hot baths.

Springing to bathe

Baños is famous for its natural thermal baths. It is one of the reasons that it has been a pilgrimage centre even under the Incas. The hot water springs from the volcanic mountains at the town’s back door. We head for the most famous of them, La Virgen de Agua, shortly before 1600. We are thwarted however by the fact that they are about to close for two hours while they drain the pool and refill it. At 1800 we are back with our towels and bathing suits.

A bridal-veil falls drops the three-hundred metres from la Cruz to just next to the baths. It is dark and the baths are lit up with floodlights. We see steam rising from them as we approach in the now heavy rain.

Inside, the place is packed with Ecuadorians of all ages and young backpackers. Not the ice-cold pool, of course. The really-hot bath (it is round, approximately fifteen feet across, about three feet deep and of a sulphurous colour), however, is so full that you can only stand or squat down. It reminds me of a painting by Hironymus Bosch (spelling?) of sufferers in hell standing in boiling water. It is nice and hot though and, along with the aspirin I took for my bum knee, it makes me feel quite mellow.

The place is really overrun, however, and, given that, not so much fun. There are no lounging chairs or seats or resting rooms where you can cool down and relax. Kids are darting around and the pools are over-crowded. After forty-five minutes of hot water I decide to get out. Standing at the edge of the pool I feel a little dizzy.

I recall to the kids about the time when I was nine or ten when we drove across the (North American) continent to Banff, Alberta, so my father could attend a GM dealers’ convention. That was 1951 and I recall the trip vividly. Banff has natural hot springs too and my Dad took my brothers and me there for an outing. I distinctly remember signs telling observers not to throw snowballs into the pool. Do I recall that there was a ladies-only pool with a sign saying, “Gentlemen are asked not to overlook the Ladies Pool”? Maybe it was someplace else. We had a great time anyway and stayed in for a couple of hours. In the dressing room later, my Dad nearly passed out and had to sit down and place his head between his legs, to the amazement of his little boys, who thought Dad was invincible. We had none of us read the sign saying we should limit our stay in the 115º F. water to maximum twenty minutes. Mum had to drive us down the mountain road in the Buick and Dad fell into bed to sleep when we got to the motel. I was ready to head back to the hostal and a glass of wine a game of canasta.

This morning (Sunday) everyone is slow to get going. I get up to make coffee and buy buns and enjoy talking to the students over in the lobby of the hostal and to Lorenzo, who is also recovering from a cold. Eventually I return to the room to write up my blog. Maybe we shall get our act together and do something later today.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, June 15, 2006

Test Photograph

This is another attempt to get photographs on this blogsite. We don't have a camera at present so these will have to be older pictures until we get a new waterproof!) camera. Enjoy!

This picture is of a booby that hitchhiked with Vilisar for a couple of days on the way to The galapagos

Futbol Mondiale 2006

It’s late morning. The whole of La Mariscal is cheering and tooting car horns for the 3:0 win by Ecuador over Costa Rico in the World Soccer Championships in Germany. I have had enough football for a while and decided that, after picking up some money from the ATM at the Banco de Guayaquil at Amazones and Colón, we would drop by Mango Tree Café, now our favourite cafe, and get just a cup of good coffee.

This has become part of our plan, too, to keep our day-to-day costs down: we had taken to eating a late breakfast and an early dinner, i.e. only two meals a day. When you are four people, eating out, even in Ecuador, where things are cheap by comparison, can become expensive. Instead of a full breakfast somewhere, therefore, that will end up costing four of us about $17 with taxes and tips, I now eat fruit and a P&J sandwich in our room and only look for a good cup of coffee outside.

Good coffee, I note in passing, is hard to come by in Ecuador. They may grow it here and in Columbia and Bolivia, but most people drink Nescafé. If it is upscale you will get it from a coffee dispenser behind the counter just like we had in our offices in Germany. More likely you will get a cup of lukewarm water or milk and a jar of Nescafé set in front of you. It’s a hot-- well, warm drink that tastes vaguely of coffee. But it is definitely not coffee. Mango Tree Café or The Magic Bean Café, on the other hand, have espresso machines and steam the milk if you want café con leche.

Despite the hour (0840), the bank is deserted and the streets are nearly empty of cars and pedestrians. Everyone is somewhere watching the game. Every pub and café is packed and the noise of rapid-fire football commentary in Spanish is everywhere in the air. (The Ecuadorian announcers describe the game as if it were being broadcast on radio, i.e. as if you cannot see anything for yourself. I assume therefore that the same commentary does in fact go to radio listeners.)

On the way back from the bank we spot a tiny panaderia cum cafeteria along the street and decide to try it out. Of course, they have not one but two TVs tuned to the Ecuador game. But we assume it might be cheaper than Mango Tree, and we decide to get a bun and a coffee there by way of trying it out for the future. The game is good and soon we are hooked. But the twenty-somethings watching the game are even more entertaining. Two young women there, for example, become so excited when Ecuador is closing on the Costa Rican goalie that they begin to shriek, jumping up and down, even knocking their chairs over backwards. Everyone in there but us is wearing a yellow Ecuador football tricot. Whenever a goal is actually scored, they and everyone else in there begins cheering hysterically, jumping up and down the while. The din is terrific in that tiny place. The people are so happy for their country and keep shouting, “Ecua! Ecuador!” At one point, one of the girls asks me where I am from. When I say Canada and Germany, they don’t know how to react: Germany is the next big, big hurtle for Ecuador’s Mondiale hopes. They have to been Germany to get to the next level. The game is on the 20th. With the game over, the people continue cheering and now pour out into the streets where the horns of the flagged cars start cruising up and down and the people join in a display of mass friendship and national unity. The people of this little country are so proud of their team and its presence at the world championships. They have now won both of their games at this level (versus Costa Rica and Poland).

Sightseeing around Quito

We have been active in investigating Quito’s attractions now that Antonia and William are here. In an earlier blog, I wrote a few days ago about visiting the St. Augustine Church and the Cathedral as well as Independence Square. Now the four of us take Tuesday to visit the Church and the Museum of St. Augustine (Augustinian Order of monks), La Merced Church and San Francisco Churches (Franciscans) and the Museo de Ciudad (City Museum). The churches are free. I want very much to visit the Society of Jesus Church (known locally as La Compaña). Although we have been told that the museums are all free on Tuesdays, only the City Museum actually adheres to this policy, it seems and they seemed a little surprised that we would ask them about it. However, Kathleen is the only one to pay the full adult price: the kids and I all get generously-reduced rates. In each case the museums were by no means heavily frequented while we were there and we had our own guides, which greatly enhanced our visits.

In the Augustin Museum’s golden chapel, where either Ecuador’s Declaration of Independence or its Constitution was signed in 1809 (the Cathedral makes the same claim, I seem to recall), and where some of the heroes of that movement are buried, we crawl down a narrow ladder through a one-metre by one-metre hole in the floor - somewhat creepy - into the crypt that opened up to one side into a whitewashed chapel about the size of our boat. On either side the wall have little arches. They were cemented closed, but are labelled with the names of the remains interred there. By contrast with Italian churches, where you are just as likely to encounter bones stacked up to the ceiling, once down the ladder here, the chapel is clean and white and well-lit.

Many of the Order’s treasures are in the museum instead of in the church where the climate unfortunately plays havoc with them. Our guide insists, however, that the climate is much drier and less dirty here in Quito than, say, in Guayaquil where salt and humidity are much more intensely present. She is also very good at pointing out significant style differences amongst the various epochs of local history and the differences between Spanish and local art. While the basic baroque and rococo styles are similar, locally they made much more frequent use of flowers and grapes or other fruits and less use of putti and angels, for example. Earlier Christs, Marias or St. Augustines were carved cedar and then painted. They came from either the Quito School or from Peru and Bolivia, where there were also thriving schools of artists. As Colonial Latin America became richer and richer on silver, gold, textiles and agricultural products in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, the demand for religious sculptures outran supply. Later figures were basically tailors’ dummies with painted wooden heads and hands. The bodies were covered with richly embroidered robes only. Baroque and rococo figures showed more flesh (legs, arms, necks and heads) and had glass eyes. By the 19th Century, the figures were completely cloaked (like what nuns wear) and often had their eyes either painted or closed in a stunned or ecstatic look, depending how you see them.

One day, while William chooses to take a day off from sightseeing, Kathleen Antonia and I take a bus trip out to Calderon, a small town to the northeast, where a tradition of marzipan figures introduced by a Belgian monk centuries ago is continued to this day. Of course, marzipan (almond paste) is no longer used, only flour, glue and water. We hang around in one workshop where young women are painting figures in the back of the store. None of the figures are large and most are small, tiny even. They use a toothpick, for example, to paint the facial features of some Christmas nativity scenes that fit into a walnut shell. Antonia satisfies her souvenir and Mitbringsel needs for a few dollars and Kathleen and I buy an 8-inch high representation of an indigenous woman in colourful garb to hang on the bulkhead of Vilisar’s main cabin. We intend as well to get some colourful textile hangings in Otavalo in a few weeks.

Yesterday after breakfast, we all catch a taxi up to the lower station of the Teleférico, the Swiss-built cable-car that travels part-way up Mount Pichincha, Quito’s Hausberg and an active volcano. The city centre is about 2800 metres high; the Bergstation is 5100 metros de altura. We had been told that we could either walk from there to the peak in a five or six-hour march or hire horses for $2 each and ride up. Maybe on the weekends there are horses, but there are none today. We decide that storming the peak is not quite our thing and settle for a walk partway up the mountain. We are above the tree-line and everything is covered with lush grass which gets rain almost every afternoon. Like the mountains we saw coming up in the bus from the coast, there are paths and roads cut across the mountains.

The view down over Quito from the cable car is fabulous. The air in the morning is clear and the city, strung out north-south for miles is clearly visible. In the distance to the northeast a snow-covered mountain peeks out from its headdress of white, billowy cloud. It is the active volcano Cayamba, about fifty miles away, one of several including Pichingcha.

Bizarrely, on the way down in the quiet and fast Gondola, we get a call on the cellphone from Kathleen’s sister in Los Angeles, California; bizarre because here we are hanging in midair in the Andes of South America and talking with smoggy old LA.

Today is a quiet day of hanging around town, drinking coffee, writing up our blogs, checking emails and the like. William is watching football at Hostal New Bask, hanging out with the backpackers. Kathleen has been really busy in recent days with her proofreading. I wait in vain for some translating work.

After breakfast at one café, we move back over to Mango Tree to write and chat. It’s a good place to meet people. We run into Jenial (spelling?) from California, who has been a big help at steering us to good eating spots and, as it turns out, to rural volunteer opportunities that we have been giving some thought to recently. I also meet Sebastian, a Frenchman and a PhD in anthropology, who lived for his doctoral thesis with a warlike tribe in Papua- New Guinea. (He says Mandant on the north coast is like paradise but to avoid Port Moresby on the south like the plague because it is very dangerous, dirty and ugly). His family has hotels and he is building a five-bungalow up-market hotel in Oriente Province near the Amazon. I also meet an Australian named Jacob who has been around South America for quite a while.

Between breakfast (and the Ecuador-Costa Rica game), I drop into the office of Volunteer Abroad Canada to enquire. It turns out that this is a commercial enterprise based in Canada. Their main clients are well-heeled parents of university students who want their children to have an overseas and volunteering experience but do not want to just let them wander off by themselves. The parents pay around $3,000 for the children to volunteer. VAC baby-sits, i.e. picks them up at the airport, has dorms for them, gets them Spanish tuition and places them at one of the projects they are linked with. The “marketing” is done by Travel Cuts, a travel agency in Canada. I would have to deal directly with Travel Cuts or the head office in Canada and pay a lot to work through VAC.

In fact, volunteering is not so easy. You would think that, if you are volunteering and perhaps even paying your own way to Ecuador, you would at least receive room and board. Not so. There are very few volunteer opportunities where you do not have to pay also for your room and board. In Ecuador, for example, it is normally about US$ 250 and upwards. The volunteer work can be quite varied but most of it appears to be teaching English to children, though there are also projects involving building latrines or organic farming.

Through Jenial, we learned of two volunteer opportunities that do not expect us to pay cash. One is in the Oriente Province and is called Yarini Lodge. It is 60 miles up a tropical tributary of the Amazon. The other we knew about already because they have a storefront office in Bahia de Caráquez. It is a tropical organic farm called Rio Machacho. In Canoa, about fifteen miles from Bahia, volunteers live in tree houses and work around the farm or village teaching English. Jenial was really enthusiastic about Rio Machacho. It would mean travelling back down to Bahia de Caráquez, which of course has cost implications and would mean bringing the kids back up to Quito to fly out again (William flies a few weeks before Antonia.) But we could check on the boat and perhaps do the bottom painting.

All will depend upon Kathleen’s schedule for conducting workshops. The first one will likely take place in Quito two weeks from now and last probably fourteen days. Trying to work other things into this programme is problematical. But things generally work out. Watch and pray!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, June 08, 2006

This will be our third night in Quito. The little Hostal Belmonte, named after the most famous of all bullfighters, is in fact directly next to the bullfighting ring. The hotel turns out to be quiet, cheap and clean. But it is a little too primitive for us, and we are worried as well about our safety on the streets here in the Old Town. For some reason the Belmonte is largely empty; this seems a little weird. Maybe the more recent guidebooks have left it off their lists. We are just a few streets away from the historical centre of the city so it does seem a pity to move.

Nevertheless, with Antonia and William arriving Friday from the U.S.A., we decide we ought to move up to New Town. That area too has its problems, but it is generally safer and offers more of the services we need. We travel up-town yesterday to the South American Explorers Club on Jorge Washington Street. They have a listing of private apartments. Within a couple of hours we have looked at two nearby, and Kathleen has booked us into a backpackers’ hotel at a reasonable price (We were paying $3 per person at Belmonte, and will now pay $4 for each of four of us.) The whole quarter – Mariscal, I think it is called - is thick with such hotels, most of them converted villas and you see lots of backpacking young people. Many seem to be from Europe. There are dozens of restaurants and pubs and tens of internet cafes and tour operators.

Both Kathleen and I have been suffering from mild altitude sickness. This includes shortness of breath and ongoing dull headache as if one had been shut up inside a stuffy room with a lot of singers. In fact, it’s the same phenomenon, I suppose: a shortage of oxygen. Climbing Quito’s steep streets turns our legs to jelly and leaves us puffing and winded. We wake up in the morning totally dried out and with a headache. This evening (Thursday) is the first time that we both feel as if we are coping a bit.

Kathleen has been busy doing proofreading for her court reporters and, having sent out a notice that she is available, is suddenly swamped with work. This is good for our bank account, but she is tied to the laptop or to an internet café. Of course, the pressure is building on her to get things out on time. At just this moment the flash memory on which we both rely for our virtual business activities decides to malfunction so we shall probably have to get a new one. This will be the third one that we have burned out. (We finally find somebody who “repairs” it by simply reformatting it.)

So, I am free to look at the city’s definite attractions though it is less fun doing so alone. This morning, before sightseeing, we head off together towards Independence Square to find breakfast coffee before Kathleen heads back to the grindstone. We have our first look at this historical centre after yesterday morning looking inside the Basilica Voto Nacional (National Devotion), a strikingly large and strategically placed gothic church on the edge of Old Town Quito. After coffee this morning (which included real fresh coffee instead of the usual coffee essence dripped into warm milk/water that you usually get at cafeterias here) we spend twenty minutes inside San Augustin convent church, one of the heavy gilt church with lots of trompe d’l’oeil painting.

Independence Square has been the centre of Ecuador for thousands of years. Each succeeding conqueror has built on it. At present it is colonial Spanish. With the strong American influence in the country maybe it will one day soon become a covered mall. It is very elegant and charming with the Government Palace on one side, a long two-story white colonial building on another, the Bishop’s Palace and the cathedral opposite. Opposite the Government Palace is another two-story building, City Hall, that has been designed at least to fit in. A tall monument to the heroes of the revolution in 1809 graces the centre of the square and a very large magnolia grandeflora, one of my favourite trees, spreads shade from its glossy, green leaves and lemony scent from its blossoms.

In addition to lots of street vendors (they apparently are not allowed to set up on the pavement, but they can stroll around calling out their wares, mainly souvenirs, shoelaces, snack foods, ice cream, etc.) and singers, like the vendors, (mostly indigenous people but many of the musicians blind folk), here in the centro, there are lots of policemen around, most of them walking (strutting) in pairs. They wear shiny riding boots with spurs and riding breeches and carry silver swords with ornate filigree baskets. They also sport bullet-proof vests, which is a little incongruous.

I walk around the plaza to soak up the atmosphere. As I am getting ready to enter the Cathedral, on one side of Independence Square, I get into conversation with Mario K. He speaks fluent English and, although from Quito, lived for years in Manhattan. I am of course sceptical at first and wonder if there is some sort of angle. But there is no “pitch” and he helps me find a monthly cultural programme at the main Tourist Office, introduces me to coca tea as a means of combating altitude sickness, provides me with lots of information and lore about Quito and shows me through two gold-encrusted baroque churches (Iglesia de la Merced and San Francisco, the Franciscan church). He also offers to help us find a cheaper or more convenient apartment and to get much cheaper-than-normal spectacles, which I need desperately. There is no pressure and he leaves me his number and email address.

The central role in the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America’s development since the Conquistadores is made plain by the concentration of elaborate churches at Quito’s historical centre. The Augustinians, the Franciscans, the Jesuits, etc. etc. have all had monasteries within a few streets of each other and each of the orders have built large and gold-encrusted baroque edifices. Besides the usual statues of Jesus or Mary, the former rather gruesomely bloody, the latter with faces meant to be beatific, perhaps, but for our modern taste simply stunned-looking or even mentally deficient, there are frequently large oil paintings in highly ornate carved frames telling the story of Ecuador (from the conquerors’ point-of-view, naturally) and its relationship to God, Jesus and Mary and to various madonnas and martyrs.

The liberal and national political groundswell that swept the Europeanised world at the time of the American and French Revolutions in the VIIIth Century reached even Ecuador. Under Venezuelen leadership (Simon Bolivar, Martes and Sucre, for example), a Greater Columbia was the goal made up of the Spanish territories in Ecuador, Columbia, Bolivia, and Venezuela. Sucre led the fight in this region and his name is on everything including, until “dollarisation” a few years ago, the money. Spain was at the time severely weakened because she had been occupied by Napolean. The machinations of all this are too complex for this piece. But suffice it to say that Greater Columbia failed to materialise but independence from Spain did.

The struggle between “liberals” and “conservatives”, however, brings us back to the influence of the church. As in nearly every modern country, the Jesuits had been expelled and their wealth confiscated. Unlike most European countries, however the Jesuits were welcomed back into Ecuador at an early stage by the conservative politicians, rich landowners all and descendants of the Spanish grandees, who retained power after the independence from Spain. Nothing changed for the indigenous or the mestizos. One ruling class was simply replaced by a local ruling class.

Coming back to the position of the Church, one of the major issues between conservatives and liberals was the attitude to the church and to religion. Liberals were tolerant of religious practice but did not want to force people into the church. They were early proponents to the separation of church and state. Moreno, the first Ecuadorian president, introduced laws giving the Roman Catholic Church exclusivity in religious matters even to the point of saying that all Ecuadorians must be Roman Catholics and anyone who was not was not Ecuadorians. Less to do with Protestantism, this edict, of course, immediately excluded all the native peoples. A frustrated extremist from the liberal side assassinated Moreno with a machete, allowing him to become a martyr to the conservative cause. Before one shakes one’s head at all this, it would be wise to remember the struggles even in countries like Canada (RC dominance in Quebec; Orange prominence in Ontario; the Manitoba School Act, etc.). Moreno even invited the Jesuits back in, which did not happen in other countries until decades later. In Germany, for example, it did not occur until the 1950’s.

The wealth of the churches also reflects how much wealth was available in this part of South America. Most of the silver and gold, however, came from Peru and Bolivia: there were towns in Bolivia where the paving stones and the horses’ hooves were made out of silver. Ecuador concentrated on agriculture. The wealth was concentrated in the hands of the owners of estancias and haciendas. It was they who donated a lot of money to the churches and monasteries. The Church, if not the clergy, accepted the money from the rich on one hand, converted the poor and native peoples and provided a balm for their misery. While some priests and sisters tried to convince the rulers to alleviate the peonage (in Mexico, for example, many leaders of the revolution were priests who had become angered by the dictatorship of the wealthy and the misery of the people), the Church has certainly been highly compromised in the political life of Latin America.

[As an aside, I noted elsewhere that evangelical sects are finding a foothold in Ecuador. I was surprised by how many missionaries there are in the country. Of course, they are nearly all Americans. When we went to pick up the kids from the airport, they were coming in by the plane-load. They focus on the Amer-Indo population, and the rising bourgeoisie (artisans, small businessmen, etc.)]

Given all this history and the architecture associated with it, the city centre is definitely a lot more interesting that New Town where we are moving on Friday. But, we can always get into Old Town fairly quickly on the EcoVia or the Trole (trolley-bus lines). Anyone who has been to Amsterdam or almost any other European city will recognize these: they have dedicated lanes in the middle of the street for the trolley-busses (also used by emergency vehicles); the stops are spaced farther apart to speed up the movement of people. These two lines are a much more economical alternative to subways. Subways are perhaps too expensive to build in such a mountainous location, not to mention earthquakes. Most of the electrified busses are from Volvo or Mercedes Benz.

Choir projects

In late afternoon it clouds up to rain. Mario tells me this daily rain is a little out of place now that we are in the dry season. It should be sunnier. Kathleen and I wait at Hostal Belmonte for the arrival of Cesar Santos, the director of the Association of Ecuadorian Choirs. Cesar’s English, he says, is not good, so he is also bringing Consuelo Cevallo, a singer in one of the choirs and a fluent English – and, as it turns out, German - speaker. (She attended high school at the German School in Quito, not because she has German ancestry but because her parents considered that it would provide an excellent education). With rain pouring down in the street outside, we sit in the dark common room at the hotel for an hour or so to get acquainted and discuss the projects they have in mind. When the rain slackens we adjourn to a cafeteria (café) in the nearby Guayaquil Street. They are both delightful people, and we have a great discussion and not a few laughs.

Basically they have four projects that they would like Kathleen to work on. One is with about 15 or 20 student conductors in Quito at the university where Cesar teaches (I forget now which one it is). Many of them already conduct choirs, but they have never received formal training. The conservatory does not offer conducting as a skill. It is thought that it would be worth doing a two-week workshop of two or three hours daily now, during the Spring Semester, and a second workshop when the Fall Semester begins in September. The conductors themselves would make up a training choir in front of which each student would get to practise. All of this would be in addition to their normal workload but Cesar believes that it will be well attended. It would likely be held between 1800-2000 on weeknights or in the afternoon.

A second project is in Riobambo, a large town (pop. 140,000) at the foot of the famous Chamborazo (6,000 metres and South America’s highest mountain). It is also the capital of Chimborazo Province. There Cesar has started a choir made up at present of about twenty young people and young adults. They need coaching in vocal technique, repertoire, etc. and, after a two or three-week intensive daily training, would perform a concert. In Cotacachi, north of Quito, there is a Normal School. The students, basically themselves of high-school age, are training to become teachers and will eventually be teaching music and leading school choirs. Conducting is not included in their normal syllabus so this would be an added skill. In between Quito and Riobambo is Latacunga where a young vocal group singing mainly popular music needs vocal training. Kathleen is excited about the projects though there is still a lot to get organised. The Association will handle organisational aspects, and she just needs to show up and teach.

Of course, there are visa questions for us to be looked into and we need to consider how we want to handle our future sailing plans. If we wanted to sail to Panama and Central America for the winter sailing season, we should have to leave Bahia de Caráquez by end-September. If we wait longer, we shall be facing strong headwinds the whole way. West to the Marquesas and French Polynesia is also an option but only in April or May next year after the SE Trade Winds have set in. We can stay in Ecuador only for six months on our tourist visa, although we could perhaps get a special voluntario visa if we wanted to stay until the spring. Otherwise we shall have to leave the country for six months by November. But all this can be worked out as we go along. The project timing will be firmed up in the next few days.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, 07 June 2006

In the last few days before leaving Bahia de Caráquez for Quito, Kathleen has been picking up proofreading work. Thank goodness! That should help our financial plight. She goes off with the laptop, first to the internet café and then to Puerto Amistad where she can plug into 110 volt power and get on with her work. I putter about the boat getting Vilisar ready to be left at anchor while we head inland.

We are up at the crack of dawn on Tuesday (yesterday) to make Spam or PB&J sandwiches for the bus trip, and to get the dinghy up onto the deck, cleaned and stowed. Unbelievable how weedy and grungy the bottom of the dinghy is after only two weeks in the water! I shall definitely have to get something rigged soon to haul it out of the water using a sail halyard when the boat is not in use.

At 0815 Susan from S/V Wooden Shoe puts over in her rubber dinghy to take us ashore. She had been expecting her relatives and visitors the night before but they never show up. She is now antsy to get going to the Galapagos on Wednesday (today).

I bought the one-way tickets ($9 each) for Quito yesterday. As it turned out there are only about six of us aboard, all tourists (two American girls, sisters; a Belgian couple and us. Other passengers join later but there is always lots of room to spread out.)

The first third of the trip to Quito is through the coastal plain. At first we have great views across the River-Chone estuary and can clearly see the many artificially-constructed shrimp basins. Everything is very green, lots of banana plantations, cocoa trees, and fields full of cotton or rice, the hillsides covered in rows of corn stocks looking dry and clearly waiting for the heads to ripen. You can see why, after petroleum (30 percent of exports), bananas make up the second largest export product (26 percent). Twenty percent all farms grow them. (The third largest export item used to be shrimp. The farms were hit by a virus a few years ago and I am not sure how far they have recovered.)

Farmland in Ecuador is very inequitably divided despite land reforms in the 1960’s and 70’s. Three-quarters of all farms work less than 10 percent of the arable land. The big landlords are kings. Tiny farms (under two hectares, for example) – and there are lots of them - cannot support a family of four, providing at least one reason for the exodus to the big cities of Guayaquil and Quito. Desperate as life is in the barrios there, emigration is still a reasonable decision to avoid unemployment and perhaps starvation on the land. Small farms also cannot afford capital investment in equipment (irrigation, tractors, etc.) Certainly, at no time during the whole trip do we ever see mechanical agricultural equipment though I do see irrigation systems in operation at one point. We also see figures out in the fields doing stoop labour of some sort, setting out plants perhaps.

The housing along the highway is the typical coastal stilt-huts with plaited or woven walls and cut-out windows, some of them with shutters. I wonder if the people live on platforms to be above the water, if and when it rises, snakes and other roving things. There are definitely concrete-block houses along the road. But the poor people live in platform houses. It’s cheap to build an uses local products. Some have thatched rooves and some have corrugated sheet metal coverings. It isn’t till we reach the higher ranching country that we began to see the occasional very large ‘trophy’ houses of more modern construction. Somebody has money. We also see signs indicating large haciendas or estancias.

The bus sways around the curvy two-lane highway. It is worse than being on a boat at times, and Kathleen begins to feel a little nauseous. Fortunately she gets over it after an hour or so and a nap because, once we leave Santo Domingo de los Colorados behind us, we really get into mountain driving.

Prior to Santo Domingo ranching and feed-lots have already taken over from fruit plantations. There are rolling green hills of lush grass and herds of brahma cattle grazing. The roadside villages provide tradesmen services out of what are basically huts: welding, electrical repairs, car and truck repair. Every second shop seems to be selling plantains and/or bananas. Here and there in villages beans of some sort are set out to dry in the overcast daylight. Are they coffee beans? Or maybe cocoa? Green plantains are piled high in front of some tiendas.

After paying a toll, the bus starts up the two-lane paved road into the mountains bound for Quito some five or six hours away. We follow a river (Chone?) which is increasingly a cataract, dashing down over stones between steep walls of greenery. The road is not heavily travelled. But it consists mainly of freighters heading up and down from the coast. The bus is not much faster than they are, but the driver clearly thinks he is. He aggressively passes the trucks. We are occasionally passed ourselves by pickup trucks or the odd car or van. But the bus line, Reina del Camino (‘Queen of the Road’) clearly takes its title seriously. Puffing great clouds of black smoke out from under the window where I sit, the driver gives gas and skinnies past the eighteen wheelers. Some truck drivers accept the challenge: I see one freighter pass another on the outside of a blind curve. Had anyone been coming toward him downhill, the downhill guy would have been forced off into the gorge. I decide not to worry. Clearly this guy has been doing this job for a while.

We go snaking around the gorges until, at times we can look back and down for ten miles and see our highway behind us. We have to rise nearly two miles to reach Quito (2,800 – 3500 metres high). Horses and occasionally cattle graze along the verges of the road. At one point, as we enter the clouds at around ‘Kilometre 20’, I glimpse an Andes lady in a woollen cape and a fedora hat sitting in the grass watching the traffic go by in the mist. She is holding a leash with a llama at the end of it.

The scenery along the road is spectacular and the gorges hundreds of metres deep and steep. We top out through the clouds and into weak sunshine. The roads have been wet and glistening for hours and continue so. Raindrops streak the side windows of the bus. As we pay our exit toll, we have a horizontal perspective across rolling mountain valleys to distant peaks. No sign yet of volcanoes or snow-covered mountains but this could be because it is cloudy. Are we in the outskirts of Quito, the 1.5 million city strung out over many mountain valleys? Perhaps. We are still an hour short of our scheduled arrival. The density of buildings continues to increase. Must be Quito.

The traffic also thickens. Lots of busses and trucks, all spouting black diesel smoke. Most of the trucks are European makes: Scania, Volvo, Mercedes. But there are Norteamericano brands too. I see lots of Western Star trucks from Kelowna British Columbia.

When boarding we told the driver’s assistant that we wanted out in downtown Quito –actually, as it turns out, the New Town - rather than at the bus terminal. We do not have a hotel reservation. On the bus we got to know Peter and Elke from Antwerp. He is a mid-twenties film director and is interested in the cruising life. They have only a few weeks before they have to go back to work. We team up to find accommodation in the city. Good old Kathleen! She actually reads the guide books and when we get off the bus, we head into one of the many, many ‘Cabinas’ (telephone centres) you find all over Ecuador. She calls up Hostal Belmonte at the edge of the Old Town; we all jump in a cab and ride over there.

They have rooms for us all at $3 per person. Belmonte looks perhaps better from the outside on the little side street than it does from the inside. It is basically a backpacker inn. Very basic but cheap and clean. (According to Peter, it is much better, ie cleaner, than some they have seen at $5 a head). We get a room facing the quiet street with three small double beds, a single naked bulb in the centre of the ceiling, a small ‘arborite’ table and a single power outlet of indecipherable age. The toilet and shower is down the hall. The weather outside is not cold but it is damp, the clouds have closed in, and we none of have any desire to look any farther even though we wonder why there are not more guests there. The beds are not luxurious but they are at least more comfortable than Vilisar’s and the bedding is clean.

We meet Jose, the 19-year-old smiling clerk. He walks us around to show us the internet café, a bakery, and a few eating places that are cheap. Chifas (ie Chinese) are always cheap and there is a great little bakery at the corner for the morning, a frittateria (fries up various dishes at the counter tat you take to your table). There is also an Ecuadorian restaurant that is cheap. Jose seems determined to keep us company. We meet Peter and Elke at the internet café and agree to eat together at 1900 next door at the Chifa. (Jose sticks to us like honey, smiling and agreeable and helping us with our Spanish. That doesn’t actually mean he speaks slower or more clearly, but he does correct us in a nice way.) The lady at the farmacia where we make a brief stop warns us to be careful on the streets at night, and keep our valuables inside our coats. ‘The Columbians’, she says are all over the place and will steal or mug us. This confirms what we have read about the Old Town in all the guidebooks. Old Town has become rather dangerous and one should not be walking around alone at night. Maybe Jose if trying to protect us. Maybe we shall move up to the New Town when the kids arrive.

After two beers and a big meal I am ready for bed. We switch the bare bulb out by 2130.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Friday, 02 June 2006

Leslie and Phillip of S/V Carina organize two taxis to take a party of us to Manta on Wednesday (yesterday. Since there are no immigration offices here in Bahia de Caráquez, after registering with the Capitania de Puerto here, we are required to travel to Manta, a large port about 60 miles away down the coast, to register. So far no one has ever mentioned clearing customs in Ecuador; maybe that’s part of what the Port Captain did but there were certainly no questions about what we might be importing – including the boat.)

The going rate around here, we were told by other boaters, is $30; the taxi is yours for the day and the driver will take you around Manta on any errands you have. For some reason these taxis, which had been ordered through Puerto Amistad, cost $35. We threw the numbers together and paid $10 a head since there were seven of us going (Leslie and Phillip, Hope and Rich from S/V Ceilidh and Susan from S/V Wooden Shoe. Hope and Rich are from Northern California and they have been sailing with Carina from Panama, arriving a few days later. Carina came in with us a week earlier. Susan is a concert cellist, originally from Michigan but latterly of San Diego. She has been in Bahia for a while.)

We piled into one car with Susan. The road to Manta leads through rolling countryside covered with lots of greenery. The topsoil, however, is very thin. Though we never actually glimpse the sea again after leaving Bahia until we reach Manta itself, we are driving the coast road and these hills are basically sand dunes created by the tectonic plates pushing eastwards from the Galapagos. There might be a little more topsoil in the narrow valleys but otherwise only a few inches. The valleys, however, are mostly cultivated. Maize seems to be the main crop, surprising to me since corn demands a fair amount of nutrients. We also saw plenty of banana and coconut groves and fields with melons. Coconuts and melons were being sold at stands along the way too.

The highway itself is a broad, two-lane affair but, at the end of the wet season, very potholed and badly in need of patching. Traffic is scant so the driver was continually swinging out into the opposite lane to avoid rough spots. Like the traffic bumps in the villages, these hindrances are viewed by drivers as an excellent spot to get the drop on slower vehicles, mainly trucks running in size up to dump trucks (no 18-wheelers): frequently there would be two or three yellow cabs strung out across the highway and endeavouring to get ahead of each other. It was like a Le Mans start each time. There is a fair amount of light tooting of horns but nobody gets steamed up.

Houses along the road are frequently raised platforms. This is especially so the closer we are to the water and may be a hand-me-down architecture for fishermen and coast dwellers. The platforms are generally plywood or lumber but sometimes concrete. The roof might be either palm fronds or corrugated metal. The walls are usually woven palm matting with a window or two and a door. A ladder, often rough-hewn, leads up to the veranda part of the platform; on one of them I saw a little girl of about two years climbing.

Below the house the land is cleared all around except for some palm trees or flowering shrubs like jacaranda or frangipani. (There is no hint of gardening or horticulture here, just stray plants. But there are lots of flowering bushes all along the way.) In the cleared areas you see pigs rubbing their sides against a tree or some farm implements. What I do not see are derelict cars, trucks or farm equipment. No rusted-out hulks. We actually see some people working in fields of what might have been melons. Basically hand and stoop labour.

The soft tarmac highway goes up and down through the sandy hills. Occasionally we come to a village. There are a few tiendas and some tiny outdoor workshops, in one I see a man squatting down doing some welding on the floor. The skies are cloudy but the day is, like every day, in the mid 20’s Celsius. Occasionally we see people sitting outside. In one town there is a large church on the slope overlooking the town and we stop to take a look inside on the way back from Manta. Nothing particularly striking except it is clearly of classical European design but modern wall paintings inside around the nave. An airy building and, like all the Roman Catholic churches we have seen here, in good condition. Not sure if they have been repaired following damage during the earthquake. The inevitable square in front of the church is also tidy and clean.

I am surprised to see so many evangelical churches in Bahia and Manta. American missionaries are very active throughout South America, including Ecuador: Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovahs Witnesses, and Mormons. You see lots of storefront churches and, though we have not yet met any, long-term cruisers here say there are lots of missionaries here. No doubt their success is due on the one hand to the distance and perhaps distain of the RC clergy for the little guy. It might also have to do with Protestant Weltanschauung in the aspiring petite bourgeoisie as was also the case in post-renaissance Europe. It was, after all, the small craftsmen and merchants in towns like Frankfurt who were the most avid adherents of Martin Luther’s teachings. His ideas about the priesthood of the believers and the predestined-select dovetailed neatly with their sense of self-help and success in this world as harbingers of their access to heavenly bounty in the next. Burgeoning Latin America has parallels, surely, to Elizabethan England or post-Reformation Germany. The question is how it will all work out historically: will wealth be redistributed more equitably in Latin America? Will the disenfranchised be brought into the political process? Will repression and dictatorship be the norm? England was highly centralised but relatively tolerant of dissenters. Germany and Central Europe generally was not. It took centuries to break the power of aristocracies: even the history of 20th Century Europe with its 100 million dead can be read as a chapter of post-Reformation history. But I digress.

Traffic begins to thicken only slightly as we hit the outskirts of Manta. On our right is a large bay full of fishing boats. Manta, population about 160,000 and situated at the mouth of the Manta River, is Ecuador’s second largest port and a major a centre for shrimp fishing. In fact, it has been a fishing centre since Inca times. There are said to have been some 500 tuna boats here though I cannot say I saw that many. There is also a U.S. military base somewhere here, one of a chain being built in Ecuador. (I wonder why.) A mild stink hangs over the city, either of the mud flats with the tide out or just a general smell. After rural Bahia, there is also a pall of exhaust fumes here that is unpleasant. The street vistas are generally workaday and without any charm. This is a working city and not a tourist destination, I should reckon.

We drive first to Migración, one office in a collection of government offices in a busy commercial street. The uniformed policeman at the entrance to the compound directs us somewhat sullenly through his gatehouse, across a parking courtyard and up concrete stairs to the first floor of the rear building. There is a waiting room with three large and out-of-place but comfortable sofas. We are called in to a young and cheerful lady in uniform who processes our paperwork. She asks for our Zarpe (this question is becoming standard) but also accepts willingly that Canadian boats don’t have them. No problem. For $20 we each receive a 90-day visa. We hear from others that it is not difficult to renew these for another 90 days. (Still no question of customs clearances.) It is only at the end of the process that Susan observes with horror that I have visited Migración wearing shorts! Others have been sent back to Bahia because of this slight to official dignity.

While the other four cruisers start their processing, Susan and us leave to go to an auto parts store that Susan needs to visit. We then make several stops looking for teardrop anodes (sacrificial zincs) for our boat. The ones below the waterline are surely overdue for replacement and we shall do this when we go up on the grid in a month or two. But no luck! The only ones we see are for much larger fishing boats. The staff members in the shops are friendly and even walk us around to shops where we might be able to purchase them.

The next stop is a supermarket. A slice of the U.S.A. It is not huge but is immaculate and well-stocked. It is part of a small “mall”. I make a beeline for an internet café to check if we have any work: we are checking each day now since we have told our sources that we are available. God knows we could use the money!

We ask about a place where we can get almuerzos tipicos, the cheap set-lunches of Ecuador. We are directed to another modern little gaggle of buildings known the hill. There is a “Kentucky Fired Chicken” and an “American Deli”. We settle unwillingly on the second since there are no other eating possibilities but these two. We order the set lunch for $1.25. It is all right but nothing special. When the bill is presented the whole thing comes to nearly twelve dollars. We feel we have been duped since there is a blackboard announcing the almuerzos and the waiter told us it cost $1.25. After a lot of discussion with the waiter and the manager, we finally compromise, leaving a ten-dollar bill on the table and walking out.

We load the groceries in the boot of the taxi. Pablo, our driver, stands the whole time near the car and keeps an eye out for out comings and goings. Susan is sailing to The Galapagos soon with five of her family coming in from the States so she has plenty. Our few bags seem paltry by comparison. Certainly, however, the prices here in Manta are much cheaper than in Bahia and we pay for the trip in part by our savings. We might have saved even more had we had any more cash.

On the way out of town we stop at another (covered) shopping mall. This is even more American than the last one: wandering up and down inside we see everything from ACE Hardware to Payless Shoes. Our immediate goal is ACE Hardware where we hope to be able to buy gallon jugs of mineral spirits. We use mineral spirits wherever we can get them in our petroleum lamps. It burns cleaner and is a lot cheaper than kerosene. They don’t seem to carry it here as they did in La Paz. Soon we are back in the car and on our way back to Bahia, glad to be away from the stink and bustle of the city.

Cellular telephone: +593+8+548-2730

Not really sure whether being attached by an electronic umbilical cord is a good thing or not, we once have a cellular telephone. Certainly this will be good to have for work (proofreading and translating) since agencies like need to know quickly if you can do the job so they can negotiate with their clients. Since none of the various older phones we seem to have collected over the years work here, we actually bought a cellphone, the cheapest one they had, for $40. It came with $3 worth of minutes, uses prepaid cards and is cost-free for incoming calls, even international ones. The phone will also handle text messages.

So here is the number:

+593 (Ecuador) + 8 (Bahia code) + 548-2730.