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studied Spanish in Mexico and then in Austin, Texas (at Berlitz) I
was trying to decide on my next step. I was all set to book a trip
alone to the Yucatan when my friend David told me he was going to
Ecuador for five weeks to climb volcanoes and work on his Spanish.
So I scrapped my plan for Mexico and decided to join David.
flights was a bit of an adventure because the really cheap flight
involved a stop in Bogotá, Colombia. Rationally I figured that it
was probably safe despite the fact that the FARC had recently
expanded its activities to the capital city. Equally rationally I
figured that the actual physical safety level was less important
than perceptions of the safety level -- specifically my mom's
perceptions. So, with that decided, I chose the slightly more
expensive flight that went through Guayaquil, Ecuador.
I met up with David
at our temporary home, the L'Auberge hostel. It was owned by French
people and run by a team of quite responsible and friendly
Ecuadorians. At $5 a night it was a serious bargain. Breakfast was
cheap; dinner was pretty good; laundry was left and returned at the
front desk; and there was even a pool table! Only two downsides.
Downside #1: my room was a classic third-world death trap, on the
fourth floor of an amusingly ramshackle structure atop a series of
very rickety flights of stairs. The closest thing to an emergency
exit was my window onto that four-story drop straight to asphalt.
But I accepted that risk and even adjusted to the serious traffic
noise. Downside #2: the globalista freak-shows that were our fellow
guests. Endlessly rambling on about helping the Ecuadorian people by
attempting to shut down all economic development in the country.
Happily cheering on Ecuador's failed statism. Oh well, we managed to
put up with that as well.
Quito is divided into
an old city and a newer sector. The old city has some of the better
known tourist sites (i.e., the cathedrals), but it is quite unsafe
for tourists. The newer sector is where the tourists congregate in
cheap hostels, restaurants, dance schools and language schools.
David had located a very good Spanish teacher named Irina. She was
working at one of the language schools during the day but tutoring
for the Israeli embassy at night. So in addition to providing
excellent tutelage, she gave us some interesting on gossip on the
embassy including tidbits about how the new ambassador had
confronted the local Israeli and Jewish communities with the fact
that he was not Jewish, but Druze.
Irina also took us out salsa dancing one Friday night at her
favorite Cuban place.
gotten settled in Quito we started to explore outside the city. Our
first trip took us out to the Otavalo market, which is a great place
to buy craft goods. The Otavalan community is a prime mover in the
international Andean guys with pan pipes industry. When you walk
through the Fourth Street Promenade in Santa Monica, or down Sixth
Avenue in New York, or ... wherever else!, and see those guys
playing that echo-y music and selling Andean crafts and CDs, there's
a very good chance they're from Otavalo. Ever thought to yourself
that all of those Andean handicrafts look like they come from the
same factory somewhere? The Otavalans probably make those goods.
Anyhow, the quality is high, the price is right, what's not to love?
We bought blankets, panama hats, rugs, and other goodies.
|La Mitad del Mundo
||Our second trip began with a stop at La
Mitad del Mundo -- the equator! First things first we grabbed the
obligatory equator-straddling photographs:
And then we did the smart-ass version:
Next we wanted to do make some empirical
observations of the coriolis
effect, which causes the vortex in toilet flushes to spin in
different directions on different sides of the equator. Would it
still work within mere feet of the equator? So we dropped by the
twin public toilets sitting right across from each other along the
equator. Here's the view of clockwise swirling in the south:
And anti-clockwise in the north! On the Internet
there are some coriolis
effect-deniers (OK, they're everywhere: like here
but our experiment worked perfectly. I'm a coriolis effect-believer!
equator we caught the bus, headed down the road a bit, and then
walked up to Pululahua. This long-extinct volcano has a massive
crater that is now filled with small farms and lots of interesting
greenery. These two pictures give you a sense for what it's like to
look down from the rim:
And a bit of moi:
Then we hiked a steep
trail down into the crater, past some local mountain bikers, past
small fields of corn, down this road:
It's really amazing
to descend into this crater because the surrounding terrain is
extremely dry. From desert terrain you drop instantaneously into
lush greenery. (And then you stop and take a picture of David):