Tuesday, 12 October 2010

A week in Ecuador (5) (posted a day late)

The attempted coup d’état in Ecuador and the subsequent imposition of Martial Law meant that I had but two days for “touristy” stuff.  I chose to take Gray Line tours on Monday 4th and Tuesday 5th October to see a bit of Quito and of Ecuadorian countryside.

My first tour was to the Centro Historical and then to the Equatorial line.

The Centro is a total gem.  It is a well preserved and maintained Spanish Colonial centre –  (it is in fact a UNESCO “World Heritage” site).  At its heart is the main square with the Cathedral, the Presidential Palace, and the City Hall. I longed to wander around the Centro but I had to keep pace with the Gray Line tour which simply took us to four Churches --  blah!

The Presidential Palace was still ringed with troops.  I noted that one of them was reading a newspaper, and two others were chatting on their mobile ‘phones!

That same tour took us (three tourists and a guide) up to the Equatorial line.  It’s a hokey site. But who could resist being there and having a photo’ op, with one foot in the northern hemisphere, and the other in the south.

The other two tourists were Eric a RISDA [Rhode Island School of Design and Art] graduate who now produces TV commercials in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Pascal – a Lebanese-Australian Radiologist from Sydney, NSW. We joined each other for lunch at the Equatorial site and had a lively and informative conversation. 

What else would you expect when an Anglo-American priest, an American video producer, and an Australian radiologist find themselves to be thrown together on a tour in Ecuador! 

On Tuesday 5th October the Gray Line tour took me some 90 km north of Quito passing through gorgeous and verdant mountain countryside.   Alongside tourists from Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Australia, I visited the lovely town of Otavalo. 

In Otavalo members of the local Quichua (indigenous) population sell some entirely gorgeous and handmade blankets, sweaters, hats, skirts etc.

I walked up the hill from the artisanal market to Otavalo’s simple but elegant main square.  There I witnessed a funeral procession out of the main Church.  An open-door hearse was followed first by a small but lively band, then by the coffin – held as it was on the shoulders of four burly young men -  and finally by a huge crowd of  mourners.

I liked what I saw.  This public display of grief seemed to me to be earthier, and more realistic than the antiseptic and sterile burial customs which have become the norm in the U.S.A. and in the U.K.

(N.B.   When I die, for God’s sake do not “celebrate my life” as has become the often deceitful norm.  Please instead mourn my death, and be honest about my sins - and about the grace of God in Jesus Christ).

Leaving Otavalo we were taken to a hamlet in which a Quichua musician makes musical pipes from an Ecuadorian form of bamboo.  This musician made a set of “pan pipes” before our very eyes.  

Then we enjoyed a mini-concert.  The father played guitar; one son a banjo; and another son playing a drum with one hand, and pipes with the other.  They riffed a couple of pieces for us, showing clear delight in each others’ musicianship.

What was advertised as an eight hour tour stretched into eleven hours.  We lost half an hour because one tourist was half an hour late getting back to the ‘bus after lunch.  Then the journey home was tediously slow because of a fierce thunderstorm which caused our driver to use great caution especially on the down slopes of a very mountainous highway. These delays got us back to Quito just in time for the evening “rush hour” during which the main streets of the city are chock-a-block with traffic.

I had a bit of supper and went to bed very early as I had to get a 4:00 a.m. hotel ‘bus to the airport next morning.  I arrived at the airport in good time.  There I was greeted by scenes of chaos because American Airlines had cancelled its 6:25 a.m. flight to Miami.  Thus I had another 24 hours in Quito and eventually flew home on Delta via Atlanta.

Quito, with its 2 ½ million residents, is situated in a long valley high up in the Andes.  The city is more than 25 miles long, north to south, and about 4 miles wide east to west.  It has a good public transportation system with a north to south trolley’ bus line which links to a host of ‘buses which travel east or west.  These ‘buses belch great clouds of noxious diesel exhaust, causing grim air pollution.  The city is also well served by a myriad of taxi-cabs which are very inexpensive (e.g. a five mile ride for $3). The official national currency is the U.S. dollar.

The city is teeming with young people – leading me to believe that there will be a population explosion ere long.

Mobile ‘phones are ubiquitous.

Quito has more Universities per capita than any other south-American city.  It is a lively, bustling and friendly city.  I am glad to have been there, most especially because I was able to be with the Morck family at this important time in their lives.



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