Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Well, I´m recovering. Slowly, but surely, two asprin every four hours, moving slowly. The bigger problem now is that the bruises are coming up, so I look even more like hell than before. All part of the recovery process, I guess.

I´m acclimating to the altitude, and not too badly either. Mostly just a bit of breathlessness if I rush through town for something, so if I just slow down (my knee tends to give out before my lungs anyway), I´m fine although I´m sleeping lots. That´s not actually a huge problem as Quito (the second largest city in Ecuador, pop quiz kiddies what`s the largest? Answer at end of message.) is not exactly the most happening nightlife city I´ve ever been in, and certainly a bit of a slowdown after the gogogogogogogo of Rio.

First things first. Thanksgiving. I did in fact have a turkey dinner, which wasn´t bad. Sadly, it also wasn´t good. But being American by birth, there are certain rites you participate in, and I guess turkey on Thanksgiving is one of them. The restaurant where I ate it is Yanqui owned, and every American in town seemed to be there, but of course none of them talking to each other, as everyone seemed a bit embarrassed to find themselves so desperate for something as mild as turkey and mashed spuds this close to the Equator. In the true spirit of international diplomacy, I ate dinner with a Swiss girl named Judith, who is very nice, and like most other nonAmericans does not grasp the concept of a holiday where you do not go to church, you do not exchange gifts, you just eat a lot of food, watch parades and football on telly, and then go Christmas shopping in the sales the next day. And the connection of just exactly how this ties into Puritans and shoes with buckles is quite lost in the translation.

The quest for guinea pig, a supposed Ecuadorian delicacy continues on. I did in fact find some in the supermarket last night, but not knowing for the life of me how to cook guinea pig, (does one roast? Saute lightly with herbs and spices? Make a sort of cassoulet?) I passed. I was hoping that I would find somewhere that had it, but I think its not really on the plate of the highly tourist area that all the hotels seem to be located in.

Quito is an interesting enough city, filled with Indians (should I say native Ecuadorians? Everyone here says Indians.) When you see the pictures of them in the books with the little hats, and shawls and bundled babes on their backs, there´s something at the back of the mind, or at least my mind that says that the photographer has gone to great lengths to find that person, dress them up and photograph them. This thought would be highly incorrect. Its exceptionally common dress here. I almost feel a bit out moded in my trou and shirt, although its cool enough from about 4 in the evening on for me to finally wear my Jane-knit CRI hat, which has its own sense of style. But getting back to the Indians. They´re everywhere, and apart from the dress you can`t really tell them from the rest of the population. I have noticed something obvious about the Ecuadorian people.

They are a lot shorter than I am.

I mean, I am a tall girlie anyway or anywhere you slice it. But here, I keep wanting to break out into choruses of Kirsty MacColl´s Us Amazonians. (Ok, I do frequently want to break out into Kirsty MacColl anyway. Tropical Brainstorm people - best CD in years. Buy it, buy it. Also contains the great line You can go to hell, I´m going to Brasil. But I digress.) Even Stephen, who I spent today with, noticed it immediately. Not noticed that I am tall, I think he knew that. But rather noticed that not only am I tall, but I am an object of quite obvious staring. This was also apparent last night at the supermarket. I was standing in line, waiting to buy my mango (my major mango weakness continues unabated), when a little girl with her parents was staring straight up at me with complete wonderment in her eyes. I giggled, and said to her "Es verdade! Yo es mucho grande!", which made her laugh, and then her parents asked me how tall I was, so I told them. The next follow on question threw me a little bit though. They wanted to know how much I weighed. When I said I didn´t know in kilos, they said that pounds was ok, so I told them. I have no idea whether or not this is a common discussion. But I felt a bit of a fatty having to fess up to my weight in a public supermarket with a bit of Garoto (most excellent Brasilian chocolates) as the only thing in my hand.

Anyway, Quito. I am staying in the new city, which is frankly dull. Lots of hotels, etc. BUt the old city is quite lovely. The first day I went to the top of the Basilica, which gives great views over the whole of the town, but is also a fine example of how things here are falling apart. Looks ok at first glance, but then on closer inspection there are broken panels in the stained glass, etc. There seems to be a bit of a philosophy of build it, and instead of repairing it as needed or even God forbid just maintaining it, build a new one somewhere else. This philosophy is a bit outmoded in the Old Town though, as it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site a few years back, so they´re putting more money into restoring it. This starts without question with the churches. The Cathedral (which is NOT the same as the Basilica) in the center of town, is supposedly the oldest church in South America. The guide I had was very good, explaining about how the art, etc reflects the considerable efforts that the missionaries put into converting the indians. This shows up in the art as it was used to tell stories, etc. For example, in the pictures of the nativity, there are not camels, there are llamas. And in other Middle Eastern scenes of Bible stories, there are volcanoes in the background, which may charitably be described as uncommon in most of the Holy Lands. Interesting. A lot of Inca symbolism was also imported into the church here, in order to convert the indians from so called heathenism. But eventually the touchy feely sensitivity of trying to warm people over with the look its not so different really approach completely fell away, and where there was a prior Inca temple to the moon, there now stands the biggest statue of the winged Virgin Mary you´ll ever see. Sort of the Ecuadorian version of the Corcovado Christ statue.

And again, as I commented in Salvador, the Fransiscans seem to have missed the internal memo about not handling money, etc. There is far more gold, silver and shine in the Church of St. Francis than there is in the Cathedral, and that is saying rather a lot. Of course, maybe it is NOT the Fransiscans, but rather maybe Reid has been having a bit of a laugh at my Catholic faction ignorance in funnelling me this bit of information in the first place. Research shall have to be commenced.

Today Stephen Allerton, an English chap staying at the hostel with me, not to be confused with Stephen Hurley, the English lawyer chap I´m picking up from the airport in two hours who I´ve been friends with for years, not to be confused with Stephen ´Harters´ Hartman, the English lawyer chap who´s been my closest confidant since first year of university and is currently climbing Mt. Cook in New Zealand, and I woke up early for a day trip out of QUito to the market town of Otavalo. This involved first, getting a bus, which was an adventure in itself. We did poorly on bus selection out of town, getting the one that stopped everywhere, took forever, and for some reason showed the same episode of Spanish dubbed Pokemon over and over and over. But its still a nice trip through the Andes, and I got to see my first volcano, which was pretty (it is dormant, but snow capped). Otavalo is a big market town on Saturdays, and you can buy pretty much anything. We got there too late for the majority of the live animal market, which was down to a few pigs and sheep by the time we got there, but there were tonnes of everything else you could conceive of. The only shame of it all though is that American culture has gone so far, and for no real purpose. The Indians knit sweaters, loads of sweaters, but I am confident in my assertion that the American flag and with USA across the arm is not a traditional Inca motif. I also discovered that my bargaining skills are a bit out of practice, but I soon warmed them back up. I only bought a couple of things, and most people were being reasonable in the bargaining. One woman did try to have a go though, but I walked away. Stephen, just out of India and Nepal, was a bit of a help at getting the old skills back. Mostly, its part of accepting that culturally this is what you do here, whereas a good English girl or American girl with English manners at least, would never try to bargain down the bill on anything.

You can literally buy almost anything at the Otavalo market. Its the big market for about 20 miles around, and from food to furniture to jewelry to llamas. But apart from that, there is very little there. Commerce center, but when the sun goes down the market ends. Stephen and I did do some practical shopping to prepare for tomorrow.

What is tomorrow you ask, besides Sunday? Oho! Tomorrow is the census here in Ecuador. Why does this take preparation? Surely someone in the household fills out a few forms and that is that. Oho! Try again. Would you like to phone a friend? For the census here, from 9 in the morning until 6 in the evening, not only is everything shut, but no one except census takers are allowed to leave the house. They come door to door, and count everyone. But once they leave, you still cannot leave the house as then maybe you could go somewhere and wind up being counted twice. So we have laid in a store of food and thought too late to lay in some booze for this too. Too late, as to ensure everyone is sober, it was forbidden to sell (and technically to drink!) alcohol from 9 this morning until 6 tomorrow,. Apparently the same thing happens before elections. Steve (Hurley this time) is in for some good cop bad cop theatre at the airport. Congrats! Good news! You can sleep in all you want tomorrow, rest up from your long flight, adjust to the altitude, etc etc. The bad news, you cannot leave the hostel til 6 in the evening. Would you like a banana?

Off to try to find some food. Since the no alcohol thing, most restaurants and stores in Quito are shut this evening. Oh, what a hot happening Saturday night here in Quito!