[060815; 1841 UTC,
[Bahía de Caráquez, Manabí, Ecuador
S 00 degrees 36.61 / W 080 degrees 25.26’]
Carina continues to bob at anchor at Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador while we are actively working on projects. As we spend more time here, we are more and more amazed at the pluck and ambition of these people who, when they can find work, earn $120 - $150 per month!
Recently, we took some time from our chores to slip away from Bahía for a week to explore upland Ecuador and the trip just made us yearn for more exploration of South America. Also driving our desire to go on this trip was the fact that friends, Bruce (of 5th Element), and his friend Olenka, a Bahía-born Ecuadoriana, were planning a trip and were encouraging us to join them. This was a wonderful opportunity to share the discovery of Ecuador with a native who'd never seen these areas of her own country, but also to have accompanying us, a friendly, smart, educated, Spanish teacher.
We traveled aboard an "ejecutivo" Reina del Camino (9 hours, $9) bus bound from the lowlands of coastal Bahía to the high mountain páramo of Quito, Ecuador's capital. Our journey, in search of native crafts, culture and spectacular high Andean scenery, began with many hours traveling through rolling former forest land now turned into sprawling banana plantations. These plantations appear disheveled, with enormous dying banana leaves slowly peeling away from the main plant. Nearly ripe, heavy clusters of fruit were, for some reason, carefully covered in ugly white plastic garbage bags. Along the roadside sat car-sized mounds of bananas & plantains ready for transport to market along with beans and corn drying directly on the pavement in the hot sun.
After a stop for almuerzo (lunch) at a truck stop-type fast food joint in the drab, steamy, agricultural town of Santo Domingo, the bus began to climb on incredible twisting mountain roads (sometimes dirt for miles). In some of the outlying villages we noticed men and woman twisting (with bare hands) brightly colored taffy which was attached to iron hooks in doorways. Chancho (whole pigs roasted to a peach color and hung out by roadside stands for display) also began to appear. Many restaurants displayed large hand lettered signs advertising other local specialties such as trucha (trout) or cuy (guinea pig), a South American "delicacy". (Some of the local cuisine we wanted to try; on others we'll take a pass!)
As we traveled, we tried to take in all of the sights by watching out the window but often regretted this when we saw how often the bus passed tractor trailer trucks and other loooonnnng vehicles - often on hairpin curves. Some downhill bound trucks were pulled off the sides of the road where the drivers poured water on smoking brakes and tires. We even experienced vertigo while peering over the edge of the road into abysses. Every couple of miles we would pass a cross on the side of the road, marking the sites of fatal accidents. The deceased man's name - and they always seemed to be men - and the dates of birth and death were painted in black on the white markers. Every so often, graffiti spray-painted on exposed rock faces declared "Causa Justa" (Just Cause) which we believe is a political party (elections are in October). Occasionally, a dreary hovel that had been cobbled together with rocks and trash would appear through the cold mist. Nearby, families of expressionless men, women and children, seemingly clad in all the cloths they owned, sat on rocks and watched the traffic flow by. We passed numerous majestic waterfalls cascading down from the precipitous heights.
Quito, Ecuador's second largest city after Guayaquil in the coastal south, is tucked lengthwise into a narrow Andean valley at 9,400 feet above sea level and is home to 1.4 million people. Squat and architecturally-challenged concrete block dwellings appeared, from a distance, as so many gray tiles, seemingly spilling out of the hillsides in fan-shaped clusters. We arrived and were immediately overwhelmed with every sort of vendor trying to sell food, knockoff CDs and DVDs, taxi rides, etc. Asking directions in the crowd as the daylight began to fade, we were told it was only five blocks and an easy walk to our hostal (Spanish spelling) in the Mariscal Sucre section of town. As it turned out, most directions we received in Quito suggested, erroneously, that our destination was only four or five blocks away. We decided using the services of a taxi would be prudent ($2). Arriving at our hostal we were shown to jail-cell like rooms in the attic and quickly decided we'd only stay one night here. After a disappointing cena (supper) in an Italian restaurant, we dropped into an altitude-adjustment, headachy, dry-mouthed sleep on a typically rock hard bed.
The following day, after an enormous breakfast including fabulous coffee (and the best bagels we've had since we left the USA three years ago), we had a chance encounter with friends who turned us onto a better hostal nearby. We moved our stuff there and hopped a city bus towards Mitad del Mundo (midddle of the world), site of a park and monument where the French 1736 expedition, led by Charles-Marie de La Condamine, determined the location of the equator in Ecuador. With the advent of modern navigation instruments, the French were proven wrong, as the actual equator is about 270 meters farther north. Philip observed that after years of criss-crossing South America trying to pinpoint the equator using the most modern equipment then available, the French could have saved a lot of time and energy by simply asking the location of the equator of any one of the indigenous people riding by on their burros . Over 1,000 years ago the indigenous people had pinpointed the location of the actual equator (as confirmed today by gps satellite navigation systems). They built places of sun worship along the axes of the solstices and equinoxes., Still, the park and monument sit on the original French site and tourists come and stand on "the equator" and take photos, just as we did.
While at the park we went in search of a (seemingly well hidden) sister park, the Museo Solar Inti Nan, on the true equator. Friends had reported fun demonstrations that exhibited the differential forces on each side of the equator, of indigenous life, of a traditional solar chronometer, etc. We were unable to find this site but were intrigued by a presentation by a privately funded archeological effort that is identifying sacred sites based upon the path of the sun at solstices and equinoxes. This group of impassioned young people is seeking funding to identify and excavate methodically sites which are being ignored by the Ecuadorian government or simply destroyed with development. The lines of position of the solstices and equinoxes which were mapped by the local indigenous people over 1,000 years ago, form the eight-pointed star that is so prevalent in the religion, artwork and worship of the Incas, as well as the Mayans, Egyptians and other ancient civilizations. This star or the angles it suggests still appear in indigenous weavings and artwork today.
Back in Quito, after being lured onto the wrong bus by an aggressive "ayudante" (the guys who "sell" you on their bus and later take your money), we walked around the upscale New Town part of Quito, quickly tiring of city life. Knowing that the prettiest part of Quito was still to be seen in sixteenth century Old Town, we decided to delay our escape to the rural towns until the afternoon of the next day. The following morning we started hiking towards Old Town in the brisk (almost see your breath) morning air and quickly decided a trole ("trah lee") was in order. The trolleys of Quito are really electric buses in dedicated lanes which run the length of the 17 kilometer city and can get you at least close to your destination all for 20 centavos (or 20 cents, USD). USD is the currency of Ecuador. (As an aside, if you've ever wondered what ever happened to the Sacagawea dollar coin that was issued in the US some time ago, wonder no more. They are more common in Ecuador than are paper dollars.)
Old Town was like stepping into Europe complete with spacious cathedrals, plazas and palaces. The exception is that there are fewer open air cafes than we remember from Europe. Still, the atmosphere is old neighborhood and everyone strolls about in their best clothes taking photos on steps and at monuments to war heroes. We definitely did not see enough of Old Town Quito.
Unfortunately, like all big cities, Quito has many disadvantaged or homeless children. In Old Town near the Iglesia de San Francisco (church of Saint Francis), we were accosted by four young, scruffy shoeshine boys while trying to take a brief respite on the stairs leading to the church . One boy wanted to understand what we were doing while applying sunscreen and quickly asked for a dollop, which he proceeded to spread ineffectively across his dark face, leaving white blotchy patches. His friends quickly wanted to join in. Asking us "¿de donde viene?" (From where have you come?), Olenka talked with these boys in her fluent Spanish and told them of the Bahía and our boats.. Never having seen the ocean, these boys were anxious for an invitation to visit! After photos and a bit more chat, we gave each child some of our change that we hoped would assuage their hunger at least for that day. Less than an hour later, while crossing the majestic Plaza de Independencia, we were again approached by a little shoeshine boy who could not have been taller than 3' or older than about 5 years. With a little hat and tattered clothing, he looked up at us with deep brown eyes shaded by lush long straight eyelashes and asked to shine our shoes. We didn't need our sandals or toes shined but Leslie got down on the ground and began speaking to him; Olenka helped. Shyly and cautiously he told us his name in a voice so soft you couldn't understand but he smiled brightly when Philip looked down and slyly revealed a big bright 50 centavo coin hidden in his hand. Before we left him, Olenka gently took his shoulder and looked him in the eye and said in Spanish, "May you see and have good things in your life". The slowly rising genuine smile that came from that sweet, intelligent and innocent little boy made it tough to walk away without scooping him up and taking him home with us.
Quito also has its share of the well to do, who flock to its upscale malls and the newest attraction, the TeleferiQo. Sitting on the western edge of town at the base of the Cerro Cruz and Volcán Guagua Pichincha (4,794 m), this amusement park and mall features a gondola ride to 4,100 m, where more espresso stands, gift shops and small restaurants give way to foot paths that allow you to wander into the parámo and keep climbing. We sat tucked into the mountainside in the tufts of tough grasses (ichi, we believe it's called) and gazed at 4,700 m Rucu Pichincha and watched a kestrel soaring at our elevation while hunting small game in the grasses on the steep mountainsides below us.
From Quito, we traveled about three hours north to the market town of Otavalo, which sits under spectacular Vulcan Imbibura. Leaving high, dry Quito on the Panamerican highway, we wound up and down rural, dry, high-desert mountains that slowly changed to lush green fields rising from valleys high up the slopes of volcanoes; this land very reminiscent of Guatemala. Prominent in rural Ecuador are large expanses of greenhouses, primarily dedicated to floriculture, focused on the profitable rose for export. Otavalo is well known for its market which dates back to pre-Inca times. Late Friday night and very early Saturday morning, the local indigenous people erected pole structures and covered them with plastic tarps in order to protect their wares from the harsh sun or occasional rain storm. Men, women and children alike carry incredible loads of their wares on their backs using straps that lead around the tops of their heads to steady the loads. Seen from the back, all you can see is a large, heavy and square-shaped load seemingly supported by two tiny legs. Our Lonely Planet guide states: "Traditional attire is worn on normal workdays in homes, villages and fields - what you see them wearing is not just for tourists". The women wear beautifully-embroidered light frilly blouses, long black wool wrap skirts, and when cold, wraps of wool tied crosswise across their chests and folds of dark wool cloth perched on their heads. Women also show their wealth with multiple strands of golden necklaces and long strands of tiny red coral beads around their wrists and arms. Otavaleño men appear distinguished and proud with their long ponytails, black felt hats, blue - grey wool capes, calf-length white pants and white cloth sandals . ( We've posted some photos on our website).
At Otavalo's market, we shopped amongst the incredible examples of traditional weaving and other fine crafts. We also purchased a zampoña, an Andean type of pan flute that gives the local music its typical mystical and distinctive sound. The evening before, we had eaten at a small restaurant and were mesmerized by an impromptu performance by the local group Supay. Carlos, the zampoña player was especially gifted in his abilities. We stayed for hours and bought one of their CDs so we could continue to enjoy their music back on Carina. Tackling the zampoña in our hotel rooms, we quickly acquired a respect for the pulmonary might of these musicians who can fill a room with the bright airy notes that we could not hope to duplicate with our oxygen-deprived lungs.
Traveling a few kilometers north of Otavalo we were fortunate to experience an annual festival for San Pedro and San Paolo in the small village of Peguche. We arrived by taxi to find a large paved plaza in front of the modest Catholic church with bleachers and food stands selling chancho (pork), caldo (soup, usually chicken) and helados (ice cream). A handsome family with a man, wife and three teenage girls, dressed smartly in traditional dress, sat alone on the bleachers and encouraged us, in Spanish, to find a good spot before the fiesta became crowded. This was good advice, as before long the bleachers were filled and people stood ten deep around the plaza. Most of the people spoke in Quechua, one of the ancient and melodious languages of the Andean people. Tightly packed and jostled by the comings and goings of fiesta goers, we shared in communal cups of chicha, a fermented maiz drink (a rather bland, sweet taste) which was served from plastic beach buckets. We also sampled a warming mixture of large green beans and cream-colored turnip-like finger-sized potatoes, served with a healthy dollop of salt and a thick meat gravy. The festivities began with a bang - or a series of bangs - as a line of enormous firecrackers were sequentially exploded down the street leading into town. The brass band began to play a repetitive beat (that would seemingly repeat a thousand times over the course of the afternoon) as a procession of dancers costumed as monks, soldiers, clowns, conquistadors, pink-faced Caucasians, etc. circled the plaza. Dancers would come and go with each (cerveza, pop and chicha) break but consistent among them was a deity called "El Coraza" (the armor) who was attended by two - six maidens and one mini maiden in traditional garb, and two clowns with whips which they brandished in order to accentuate their crowd "control".
From Otavalo we traveled to Quito and changed to a bus bound for Lago Agrio in "Amazonia" that would take us across the pass under Volcán Antisana and drop us at Papallacta, a cloud forest town of hot springs. One of only a few ways to cross the Andes to the eastern slopes, the "highway" degenerated to dirt and snow dotted the windows which also fogged with our warm breath. Passing wild pampas grass and wet llamas, the cold clouds thickened during their slow ascent up the steep grassy mountains. The mountains trap moisture which accumulates in clouds and falls to streams and rivers and eventually, supplies all of Ecuador with fresh water. Getting off the bus just beyond some hideous overhead modern aqueducts in rural Papallacta we found ourselves beside our campy, cold, cold hostal, La Choza de Don Wilson. A short wander in the damp cold through town revealed bubbling hot spring puddles along side the dirt road, a modest hot springs resort and other, seemingly better cared for hostals. Later we visited the upscale Termas de Papallacta, a resort that offers rooms at $120 per night! The resort has hot springs which are directed into various pools; the closer to the towering, 15,000 foot mountainsides, the hotter the water. Beside one of the hottest pools was an ice-cold clear mountain stream that challenged even the heartiest to plunge in completely. After a night of shivering in a bed of three alpaca blankets, a sheet and comforter, Olenka, with her tropical blood, firmly stated she was cold and wanted to leave! We all agreed.
Back in the Bahía we arrived in time to catch "the kids" (as we call them), of the Yamaha racing sailboat, Selah II. They are four, Canadian twenty-somethings (Joel, Tarra, Mike and Scott), stuffed into a 32' boat with the ambitious goal of sailing from Bahía de Caraquez, Ecuador to Puerto Montt, Chile which is located at a latitude of 42 degrees south. (Keep in mind that one degree of latitude represents 60 nautical miles, and a nautical mile is 6,076 feet.) This sailing trip, the equivalent of sailing from Ecuador to Oregon, will take anywhere from 45 to 60 days in seas and (now winter) weather that can prove quite nasty in the high southern latitudes. Sleeping on two settees and two pilot berths, all in an area about the size of your average (small) closet, Selah II's V berth is filled with sails and camping and technical climbing equipment while their quarter berth is filled with water jugs. Sitting very low on her waterline, Selah II motored over the bar of the Rio Chone with only inches to spare, set their sails in very light wind and headed south amongst the radioed well-wishes from the other cruisers in the anchorage. So far so good...but we all are like anxious parents, looking forward to each faint radio transmission as they travel farther into stormy weather.
Sus amigos del velero, Carina
Philip and Leslie with el gato gordito, Jake
Bahía de Caráquez, Manabí, Ecuador