Thursday, February 23, 2012
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
I went to the wi-fi place at Hacienda Cusin and ran into five frustrated American tourists. They'd just finished a three-week guided tour of Peru and Ecuador, including the Galapagos, and they decided to stay here an extra day after their group broke up. There are rose plantations nearby, and they went on a tour. The tour was entirely in Spanish, and they learned at the end that the fee for a 15-minute tour was $15 a person. They were short on cash and the people at the plantation locked them in until they could come up with the money! One of the men climbed the fence and made his way back to Cusin's Reception. He complained about their treatment, saying that neither Cusin nor the plantation had told them about the cost before the tour.
I thought about guided tours. We've been on some ourselves, and they have their advantages. Nearly everything is taken care of, and, if in a foreign country, guides on the tour speak the native language. On the other hand, reliance upon a guide can be detrimental once the group tour ends. The frustrated Americans hadn't had to pick up Spanish words as they became necessary. They hadn't had to figure anything out. Had it been me, after 18 days on my own here, my first question would have been "cuanto cuesta"? Probably spelled wrong, but I've used it and I understand when the other person tells me how much the cost will be. I've learned to ask first. Without a tour guide.
We took our last walk into San Pablo this afternoon. We were looking for a taxi to take us to a weaver's shop. No taxis. Carnivale this weekend. We figured we weren't supposed to see the weaver. I said, "I've spent enough money." We stepped into our favorite panaderia and bought two cookies. We told the young proprietor we're leaving tomorrow. He asked how long we have been here and we said 18 days. All in Spanish. His was good, mine not so much, but good enough. We found a tienda that was open and bought bagged milk and Trident gum. Milk in a bag or a box seems normal to us now. We said "buenos tardes" to the dozen or so people we passed, and they returned the greeting.
We've invited Venancia to join us for dinner tonight. She'll fix a soup using the chicken breasts we have left in the refrigerator, plus the giblets and broth from our chicken dinner on Saturday. We'll give her a $40 tip for 14 days of service to us out of the last 18 days. For washing our sheets and towels, vacuuming, cleaning up the kitchen, cooking our meals, correcting our Spanish and laying our evening fires.
San Pablo has been our third restful place this winter. We spent ten warm, sunny days on the Big Island of Hawaii in December. We'd been there before; the best part was the company, for three days, of our daughter and son-in-law. We spent 14 cool, sunny days in Sedona and three warm, sunny days in Tucson in January. We'd been to Sedona before; the best part was the seven short hikes we took. And discovering a place to spend two months next winter, in Tucson, was very good.
We've spent 18 mild days in San Pablo. We've never been here before. We don't speak the language. We don't have our cell phones. But we have explored every other day or so and grown to love the area. I read five books: The Time Traveler's Wife, the Memory Keeper's Daughter, Water for Elephants, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and Under The Dome. Art has read as many. We have slept listening to outdoor sounds and listened to a CD course on personal growth.
When we left Seattle on February 1 I was feeling discouraged by physical issues: the long, slow healing process of a back injury, difficulty seeing well enough to drive at night, and ear issues causing mild dizziness. I was feeling limited in the amount and kind of exercise I was getting and by the way my nighttime schedule was changing because of the driving issue. My concerns weighed on my mind.
In the last 18 days I've gotten just the right exercise - walking and hiking and maneuvering in the cobblestones in the streets and walkways. I've been home every night, reading or talking to Art. I haven't been in traffic, with the glare of headlghts, to bother my vision. I was given some exercises before we left home that have significantly helped my ears. I feel good now. I've had time to get away from myself! And now I'm looking forward to cataract surgery sometime in the next couple of months - and also to the longer light that's coming to the Pacific Northwest, and the resumption of my evening schedule.
Being in San Pablo has been exactly what I needed. I feel refreshed and ready to go home, taking my restored self along.
Saturday, February 18, 2012
The taxi driver spoke rapid, enthusiastic, incomprehensible Spanish. Something about no taxis could go to the park, so we would take his truck instead. He backed the taxi to the curb half a block away and escorted us to a pickup truck. I had a momentary flash of uneasiness as I watched us leave the grid, possibly be kidnapped and never heard from again. Just momentary, though, as I climbed into the back seat. The driver, Juan, took the back roads to the park, passing through villages we hadn't seen yet, then climbing hills on rutted or cobblestone roads. Narrow roads. With drop-offs. Talking on his cellphone. However, we did get to our destination. I realized that taxis would have a hard time with going in the back way. Juan told us he would wait for us and there would be no extra charge. He said most people aren't in the park for more than 45 minutes.
The condor park is a labor of love. Simple, with good habitats for the rescued birds, clean. An English-speaking proprietor - I'm thinking South African from his accent - introduced us to the place, and then we walked through a small museum and then the various habitats. At 11:30 a.m. the proprietor held a demonstration with about eight birds, including one eagle in a free-flight demonstration. The bird disappeared for 15 minutes and then returned to the man's gloved hand. I could tell the man loved the birds. And they all returned to him. My only regret is that all the signs and explanations were only in Spanish.
Juan was snoozing in his pickup when we got back to the parking lot. Our drive home was partly on the Pan American Highway since he needed to stop for gas. There's a festival going on in Otavalo this weekend, so the traffic was heavy and the traffic light was out. I suspect that's why we went the back roads on the way to the park. We paid Juan $8 for the ride to the park, and $10 for the ride home because of the length of time he'd waited for us while we walked the park and viewed the demonstration.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Monday, February 13, 2012
We could take a taxi from our front door for $8 to $10 each way, or we could take the bus from the San Pablo plaza to Otovalo and then transfer to the Cotacachi bus for $1 each way. We took the bus. It took nearly an hour to go the 23 miles between here and there, but the buses were a visual feast. On the San Pablo to Otovalo leg we saw couples with babies, women headed to market and men to work. Three quarters of them were indigenous, dressed traditionally; the rest were mestizo (mixed indigenous and European from several centuries ago). Between Otovalo and Cotacachi there were few indigenous, mostly mestizo in Western dress and several English and Italian speakers. And the scenery is unmatched anywhere I have traveled in the world.
We walked the "leather street" and I found my new laptop case. Leather, with the right dimensions and pockets, I paid $68 in the second shop I visited. Then I stopped looking, because I didn't want to know what else I might have chosen, or what different prices I might have paid. The street reminded me of Italy. These weren't little native shops; they had sophisticated window displays and their display areas were artfully done. It was clear to me that more than a few non-Ecuadorians live in this place and are influencing the growth and culture of Cotacachi. We had lunch in a place that could have been in Italy or Mexico, and thought our spaghetti with shrimp was excellent and inexpensive, I found myself thinking almost wistfully about the local flavor of San Pablo and even Otovalo.
Of course we stand out on the buses; I have gray hair and am wearing a large-brimmed hat, while everyone else has black hair and wears traditional headgear or nothing. Still, they are courteous to us. We feel comfortable in their midst.
And now that we're back at Casa Quinde, I'm thinking about wandering over to the garden to pick some vegetables for dinner - or maybe walking to a tienda for an ice cream sandwich.
It's feeling like home here, but we're leaving a week from tomorrow. Already?
You should hear my Spanish! It's terrible. But my vocabulary increases every day. Somehow I'm making myself understood.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Though the Sierra (Andes highlands) is a popular tourist destination, we're not running into throngs of Americans as we do when we travel in Europe. Today, at the Saturday market in Otovalo, we may have seen 40 people not from this area. At a cafe we talked with a couple from Fairbanks who are traveling independently. And at the Hacienda Cusin we saw a tour group of perhaps 15 people arrive yesterday. Maybe we would see more in Quito or one of the other big cities. But so far, not too many here.
In our walks in the town of San Pablo and Otovalo, we watch the people. They look content. Women carry their babies on their backs. Couples walk together; sometimes the woman is traditionally dressed and the man is wearing jeans and a jacket. Many of the men wear their hair long, in braids down their back. Teenage girls walk arm in arm; teenage boys walk with their arms slung around each other's shoulders. Mothers nurse their babies while walking on the street. All of it seems quite natural, but different from where we live.
We have run into a few beggars; they're mostly old women. No cardboard signs on offramps here! We sometimes give a dollar to the beggar, as it is clear they are in need.
Most of the people we've met do not speak any English. Our new friend Virginia is a bit more fluent than we are, so outings with her are easier for us than otherwise. I have been able to make myself understood, though, when necessary.
Where we are, we haven't run into true poverty. Homes may be simple. Many people have a single light bulb in their homes and no hot water. But the living conditions look clean.
I get no sense of Estados Unidos wanna-be's. And though this area participates in tourism, they would survive without it. I don't get the same feeling as I do in, say Puerta Vallarta, that we're being pandered to or taken advantage of. The people here are friendly and living their lives.
From the reading I've done, the Ecuadorian government has had a number of changes in the last ten years, with some corruption. I think that's pretty typical of Latin America throughout its history, though. And other places in the world!
Our housekeeper, Venancia, has a second grade education. She's been fortunate to find work mostly with foreigners, who treat her well. I have heard that some Ecuadorians who have servants treat them very badly; it's part of the social structure that has been in place here for generations.
We have most of the comforts of home where we are staying. There's no central heat, but the year-round temperatures range from lows of 50 at night to highs in the 60s, so the fireplace serves us fine. Every five days or so we order a five-gallon jug of water. We have to be careful to clean vegetables. And we have to pay attention on what we're running low on, because if it's not available in San Pablo, we have to plan for a bus or a taxi to Otovalo (15 minutes by taxi) or Ibarra (45 minutes). For example, right now we're low on milk and eggs. That's a five-minute walk into the village. But we also need meat - all we have left is a two-pound tube of ground beef - and meat that's safe for us to eat is not available in San Pablo. We've got a trip to Ibarra planned for Wednesday with Virginia. If we are careful we can make it until then. Still, the convenience factor is something we're noticing as a difference.
Most days it has been sunny in the morning, but it's been quite cloudy and we've had a couple of rainy days since we got here. Apparently this winter is unusually cool and wet. And this morning there was snow on the peak of Imbabura - quite uncommon, I hear.
Saturday, February 11, 2012
The Otavalo Saturday market was a walk away. I bought a hat and bread and sweetbreads and some Fair Trade woven items.
Here's my pictorial essay for the day.