Bootleg Barbies, an Inauguration, a March Against Monsanto and the Coolest Floor in the World – RTW Week #18
Quito, Ecuador – If there’s been one constant on my extended jaunt around the world, it’s been this: I’m finding myself easily distracted. As travel goes, that’s hardly a terrible thing. My curiosity is pulling me in various directions, tossing me into a multitude of tangents. I’m rekindling old passions that thankfully were only temporarily lost while discovering entirely new ones. It’s all been very liberating, something everyone should have the opportunity to live and experience.
I only bring up that tangent because I was planning to post this on Monday, the first of what I hope will be a weekly feature here: an overview of some of the highlights (and lowlights) of my previous seven days on the road, posted in a loose journal form that will give readers an idea of what I’ve been up to while forcing me to organize thoughts and notes into a somewhat cohesive form.
But since I’m more than a day late, this first one will cover eight days, with future reviews to be published each Monday. I’d love to hear your thoughts as this idea, and the blog itself, continue to evolve.
This past week, the 18th into my RTW trip, I witnessed an historic inauguration of Latin America’s most popular president, saw stacks of barely legal shark fins and crossed the equator for the first time. I snapped more than 1,200 photos, experienced some wonderful food, and most importantly, met and made some new friends. You know who you are. Thanks for your graciousness, insight and warm hospitality. Onward.
Monday, May 20 – Manta, Ecuador
I decide to stay close to home –in this case the uninspired Hotel Las Gaviotas— and go for an early morning stroll along Tarqui Beach to check out the day’s fresh catch informal market. What I find are piles of neatly sliced shark fins from the ‘legal illegal’ catch. Walking with camera in hand, I’m not made to feel very welcome so I don’t linger too long. But I do manage to snap enough photos for a somewhat interesting 76-second slide show. I decide that staying in Manta for just two nights was a good idea.
It’s too cloudy and overcast for a memorable sunset, but the dozens of pelicans that roosted yesterday in the trees along the small park across the street from the hotel converge again anyway, making my last Manta sunset memorable after all.
Tuesday, May 21 – Manta, Bahia de Caraquez and Jama, Ecuador
It’s trip Day #120, four months exactly since I took off on my RTW. I celebrate with a second cup of bad coffee with breakfast and a really bad slasher film on my morning bus to Porto Viejo. The air conditioning is cranked so high that the cold keeps my mind off of how filthy the bus is. The day’s second bus gets me to Bahia de Caraquez by about one o’clock well before another bad movie concludes.
I finally meet artist Lisa Brunetti, who blogs at PlayaMart. After an excellent seafood lunch, we enjoy a guided tour of the local archeological museum that houses a nice collection of pre-Columbian artifacts from the Jama-Coaque period that date back five hundred to a thousand years. We then go to a local elementary school to visit Miguelito, a Galapagos tortoise, who dates back 103 years, and end the tour with a visit to the giant cross cum lookout point for some terrific views of the city and coast.
The day ends in Jama where a strong and steady rain lulls me to sleep.
Wednesday, May 22 – Jama, Ecuador
Street breakfast! The day starts along a muddy curbside near the town’s central square with a cheese empanada and fine Ecuadorian coffee courtesy of Lisa’s French press, which would wind up being carried around town and countryside for most of the next two days. A visit to Jama’s municipal museum follows and then a tour of Lisa’s house and studio, home to what is simply the coolest floor in the world. The house sits on the last bend of the Jama River, a haven for more than eighty varieties of birds. It’s a serenely beautiful setting.
After lunch we make a trip to La Mocora, a small settlement in the hills about 45 minutes from Jama to visit Doña Gloria and her grandchildren, the family Lisa’s friend Silvana stayed with when she lived in the village for a year running an organic farming project in the village. We’re met with genuine kindness and hospitality, and treated to freshly-pressed tortillas –baked in a ceramic oven— and homegrown and roasted coffee. The setting is idyllic and I don’t want to leave.
We make a new friend, Esmelin, whose home is decorated with stacks of local pre-Colombian artifacts and bootleg Barbie dolls that hang from the walls. He will forever go by the nickname ‘Guy With the Star’.
Thursday, May 23 – Jama, Ecuador
For the first time since late January, I’m back in the northern hemisphere. The equator sits about 35 minutes north of Jama where a no frills sign, visible only to the northbound lane, informs that the planet’s dividing line was just crossed. We spend a few minutes snapping photos as howler monkeys exchange shrieks from distant jungle hills at opposite ends of the road.
On the return we stop in the small, picturesque seaside community of La Division where a local construction firm is destroying the beach by illegally hauling away tons of sand for use in local roads.
We spent most of the afternoon and early evening at the Exclusivo, a restaurant owned and operated by Silvana’s family, visiting with locals and snapping photos of beautiful children.
Silvana and I depart for Quito on the 10pm bus; following a police check in Pedernales shortly after 11, we’re officially off.
Friday, May 24 – Quito, Ecuador
After a bumpy ride along a windy road, my neck and back are profoundly sore when we arrive in Quito at about 03:45. The main terminal is large, modern and cold. I make a wisecrack remark about the air conditioning.
“I don’t think it’s air conditioning,” Silvana says. She was right of course.
I kill time until about 5 am by people-watching, staring blankly at the floor and dozing. At one point I’m awakened when a deaf woman hands her small baby to Silvana while she goes to use the restroom. “I hope she comes back,” Silvana says. Apparently, there are times when mothers don’t return. This one does.
The taxi ride to my hostel, located about a kilometer away from the Plaza de la Independencia, or Plaza Grande, was a fairly long one, through streets that became increasingly narrow and empty as the historical center, A UNESCO World Heritage Site, approached. I arrive too early for my room to be ready, but the owner makes up one of the beds for me in the room two men just checked out of. I thank him and fall into a deep, chilly sleep; my body doesn’t move until just before 10.
It’s inauguration day. Rafael Correa, the massively popular president, will be sworn in for his third and final term, and the city’s expecting a massive influx of people. I watch him and his motorcade pass by on my way to the Plaza de la Independencia where I later watch dignitaries and Heads of State from ninety countries arrive at the Presidential Palace AKA Carondelet Palace for lunch.
Saturday, May 25 – Quito, Ecuador
March Against Monsanto events take place in 436 cities in 52 countries, Quito among them. I spend the morning photographing and video taping about 400 energetic locals who don’t care much about the biotech multinational who among other things, introduced Agent Orange to the world more than fifty years ago.
Sunday, May 26 – Quito, Ecuador
It’s rainy most of the day, providing a good opportunity to hang out in the belfry and clock tower of the Basílica del Voto Nacional and at the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo. The former is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas whose upper portions feature great views of the city and the latter a former military hospital wonderfully transformed into a multi-use art venue. I spend nearly five hours watching art films and experimental video, among them Werner Herzog’s 1992 film “Lessons of Darkness”.
Monday, May 27 – Quito, Ecuador
After a massive desayuno Costeño I head towards the Plaza de la Independencia where another crowd is gathered, this time for the weekly changing of the guard ceremony with Correa presiding. Clouds and rain follow me through the afternoon, first when I go to purchase my Thursday evening bus ticket for Popayan, Colombia, and then again when I make my way to the Museum of Natural Sciences and the Jardín Botánico. I make a new friend but I don’t know what he is. Anyone know?