Thursday, January 14, 2010

Quitu Means Middle of the World

Las Palmeras Inn, Otavalo

Courtyard of Las Palmeras

Dancing the Night Away at Las Palmeras

Eric and Maya Dancing

Andean Musicians at Las Palmeras

In fact, Quitu means exactly that in their language. How did the Quitu-Cara know that they lived on the equator? There is a very wacky museum at the equator called IntiƱan, just next to the original 'Mitad del Mundo' monument, the latter of which does not in fact lie exactly at the equator; the scientists who measured the first line made an error, and now with GPS we can figure out exactly where the equator is. The museum depicts bits and pieces about the Huaorani, the Schuar (there are shrunken heads) and the prior Andean inhabitants. They also demonstrate all sorts of odd experiments pertaining to the equator, including the loss of strength at the equator, the way water runs out of the plug counter clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere. I am not sure any of the demonstrations have validity, but they are entertaining and the students appeared to enjoy themselves. Maya had been to the museum with her school and participated in all the activities. Our time at the equator was the last part of our very long day.

Maya at the Equator

We left Las Palmeras early, the sun was shining brightly and the views of the mountains and volcanoes all around was stunning. This valley is so very beautiful. Our morning excursions were exact opposites types of human bahviour. We visited a foundation started by a Japanese woman who came to Ecuador as a tourist and then came back to start her own organic farm and work to encourage better energy consumption and instituting ways of 'giving back' to the environment. Her organization started as the 'Sloth' Club, and she described sloths as animals who hang from a secropia tree and come down to poop once a week at the bottom of the tree to 'give back' nutrients to the tree it lives in. She wants humans to think of using their environment and 'giving back' something in return. She also encouraged a slower life, with less focus on consumption and material possessions and more attention to family and togetherness. She has had some success in Japan, including a 15 second stoppage of electricity in Tokyo. The students were intrigued. She had composting toilets which she demonstated for us, as well as solar panels, and a washing machine powered by a bicycle. She described herself as a weak person who could not live a simple life in Japan where there is so much advertising encouraging us to consume and have ever more and better material things in our lives.By living in the highlands of Ecuador, she is less influenced by propaganda and advertising and the need for MORE MORE MORE.I have to agree that this year has been an opportunity for me to live with less, and I have learned that it is not difficult to accustom myself to living more simply, but of course, for me it is only for a year; I expect to return to my usual lifestyle in a year. I wonder how much this experience will change me. Certainly living with limited energy availability has resulted in greater awareness of the finite amount of fossil fuels and the need for alternative energy sources. That it is the lack of rain that has resulted in empty hydroelectric dams and subsequent 'apagones' has been quite the eye opener. Global warming and its consequences has become very real during our stay in Ecuador.

Visiting the Organic Farm Kurikindi

Our visit to the rose plantation was in direct contrast to all the Japanese woman at Kirikundi had described. It was a large operation with signs all over warning about toxins, yet the manager told us that no toxins were used ( I did not believe him). I have not heard good things about the way that the rose plantations treat the local people. They often feel enslaved, and are exposed to teratogenic toxins. Because there is limited employment available, for many people working at the rose plantations is the only way to survive, so they tolerate dangerous working conditions because there are no other options. This rose plantation was very basic, not as sophisticated as others I have seen. I enjoy buying my 24 roses for one dollar in Quito, which apparently are the roses that have failed the test and are deemed not good enough to export to the US or Russia, but I may hesitate when I think of buying more.

Growing Roses

Rejected Roses

Roses Ready for Export

When we arrived at Molino San Juan for lunch approximately half of the group was ill and taking their Cipro. Our 'vaca loca' skeleton from last year was still sitting in the courtyard! The food was not good at all this year, or perhaps was not appetizing because so many of the students were ill. The bus driver bought a cuy to share with the students, along with biscochos and oja cheese, which is a specialty of Cayambe.

Molino San Juan

Our Vaca Loca Still in the Courtyard at Molino San Juan

Eric and I insisted that we travel back to Quito on a different road (there are two options to get from Quito to Otavalo and we took one road on our way up), but when I woke up from my nap I discovered that Jose had chosen to take the same road back. There is a particular equatorial monument that predates all the others and consists simply of a line in the ground and a small globe which can be climbed on. I like it because it is small and unassuming and photo opportunities are entertaining. I was frustrated with Jose because this is not the first time that guides have asked me what I want and then ignored me altogether and arbitrarily done what they planned all along, as if I would not notice. My sense is that Jose wants to please so says yes all the time, but then does exactly as he has on his agenda anyway. So why ask me?

Pause 'Hooping'

It was a long day, so it was not easy to concentrate on Dr. Shapiro's lecture on poverty, except to acknowledge that poverty is awful whether in Baltimore or Ecuador, and that it is a problem so overwhelming that it is difficult to feel hopeful about eradicating it.

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