Saturday, August 8, 2009


Today was a perfect day to ascend the Teleferico. The sky was clear and I could see Cotopaxi to the south, and Pichincha to the west was not covered in clouds. I was surprised that Isabel decided to join us; Erika always tells me that she does not like to go out, and this is the second time she has decided to join us. I think she is most delighted with Maya and is convinced that if she spends more time with her, Maya will be fluent in Spanish in no time. It was sunny and warm when we arrived at the base of the mountain, which is already over 9000 feet, and we chose the express line so we could buzz past the waiting throngs to enter our own personal cable car. Each car accommodated only six people, and the ascent was steep and rapid, with the expanse of the city below us. Quito is spread out along a narrow valley from north to south, with mountains encircling it. I was disappointed not to see any of the volcanoes; Cotopaxi in the south, Cayambe in the north and Antisana to the east. The clouds were descending as we were ascending and when we disembarked, it was cold and windy and became colder with each moment. 'Mama', 'Papa', and 'GuaGua' (baby) Pichincha were clearly visible, but as we climbed to the top of the lookout, the clouds thickened and we were soon shrouded in dense fog. The city was visible, and looked sunny and warm below us.

I keep expecting to feel the altitude, but even walking a few thousand feet above Quito, I am still comfortable. There is oxygen available in the coffee shop, but seems entirely unnecessary. It is the cold that is the limiting factor, and it feels colder and colder minute by minute. isabel and Maya sit facing the view of the city and practice Spanish, while I climb further and find horses to rent, a small church, and a clearing with an Andean house spewing smoke out of the ceiling. The clouds keep thickening and we stay longer than I expected.

As we descend, the city looks brighter and brighter, and the new and old airports are visible, as is the colonial centre and the dancing Virgin of the Panecillo. There is an amusement park to the right as we circle back to the parking lot, and I am surprised that Maya does not insist on a visit, so I wonder if she notices or has grown too old to be interested or has decided to ignore it too.

A child has her pants down and is peeing along the side of the road and I wonder if that is something I would see in Baltimore or whether people here are more comfortable with bodily functions. When Maya tells me she has to go to the bathroom as we are driving on the freeway to New York, I always ask her if it is urgent enough to stop and do it by the side of the road and she always chooses to wait until we find a roadside establishment. I am not sure she would have ever stopped by the side of the road to take care of business.

It is hot in the sunshine as we walk to the car. I try to focus on the air, wondering if I can feel more oxygen available to me, but there does not seem to be a difference. Is it because I have been here before that the altitude does not seem to be a problem? Is my hemoglobin accustomed to the altitude because of the years in Salt Lake City and the Alps and several prior visits?

When we arrive home, we have time for a quick bite before Erika takes Maya and I out to look at appartments. The first one is new and modern but looks out on a construction site. The landlord assures me that the building will be completed by December, but I cannot imagine looking at men working and cement every day. The second apartment is ragged and the low ceilings are oppressive, but the views of Pichincha and the valleys to the north and the south are spectacular. We look at a house as well, but I want a view now, and believe that we may find both a suitable space AND a view.

Maya had a moment of tears and despair this afternoon. She misses her dog Elmer and her friends and her house and Eric. I can just hold her and reassure her and hope that she will find friends and comfort here.

I noticed that there are dogs everywhere and they are all barking all the time. my impression is that each house has one or more dogs. The houses are hidden behind stucco walls, and looking down a street with long high walls on either side suggests all sorts of secrets and mysteries. The streets look nondescript, there are no clues as to who live behind these walls, except for the dogs barking and straining on the balconies and rooftops to be heard.

We stop at a local fruit and vegetable market to restock. There are three women in traditional dress preparing the beans we ate the other night. I ask if they are Otavalenos, but Isabel tells me there are from nearby, that the Otavalenos do not sell fruit. But they are from the country and the produce is clean and organic and grown without pesticides, so it is much preferable to the supermarket fare.

At the house, Fidel cleans our room. Last time we were here, it was a woman who came daily to clean. Erika tells me they have known Fidel for fifteen years, and that he has worked for them off and on. The woman had a child and wanted to bring her child to work with her ,but that would be too distracting and she would not do her work, so Fidel was rehired. He is clearly indigenous, and shuffles around quietly and tries to be unobtrusive. He is polite and we share 'holas' when we see each other, but I am a little uncomfortable with his meekness. Isabel and Erika assure me that labour is cheap in Ecuador and it is likely that I will hire someone to take care of my house as well. That sounds both wonderful and somewhat unsettling.

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