Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Missing Good Friday

Iglesia San Francisco

Semana Santa is the most religious week of the year and the city is ramping up for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The churches in the Centro Historico have masses throughout the day, there is sacred music in the churches and the theatres nightly, there are special exhibits in the churches and monasteries and museums, and a massive procession is planned for Good Friday. The 'cucuruchos' are penitents dressed in purple outfits with peaked caps, who join the 'veronicas', who are the women, also dressed in purple, who represent those who attended Christ during the march to his crucifixion. The procession will start at San Francisco Square at noon Friday and continue through the streets of the Centro Historico, recreating the last hours of Jesus's life, his crucifixion scheduled for 3 PM (which is apparently when it actually happened) and ending at the start of the Jewish sabbath at 6 PM.

San Fransisco Square

The mass we attended Sunday recounted (in excruciating detail) the final week of Christ's life, including his 'Last Supper' and the betrayals of Peter and Judas. Maya and I visited San Francisco Church for mass on Sunday and returned today to admire the church again (without the crowds), and then found ourselves at Iglesia de La Merced at another mass for 'Holy Wednesday'. Maya asked me to explain all the paintings in the church showing how the Virgin of the Merced had saved Quiteños time and time again. The ceremony felt surprisingly personal and accessible, especially when the young man struggled while reading the scriptures. Maya is patient during mass; I am sure she understands little. She is confused because at her school, it is Passover that has been celebrated all week. Maya asks me if it is acceptable to take communion, even if she is not baptized. She wants to know what the 'bread' tastes like, especially after she heard the story of the Last Supper and Jesus offering his body and his blood. I tried to explain the symbolism in the story, but I am not sure she has any idea of what I am talking about. She is fascinated by the ritual and the stories.

Shoe shopping in the Centro Historico

I had insisted on going to the Centro Historico today to see a new museum that I read had recently opened near San Fransisco Square. It is described as a gorgeous colonial home that has been entirely renovated, and housing an extensive collection of pre-columbian art. I had been reading about it for weeks, in the newspaper and the 'Vanguardia' magazine, and when I looked up a website about Quito happenings, it urged me daily to visit the new museum. Maya and I got onto an 'Ecovia' which suddenly stopped near Eloy Alfaro, and would not continue. We had to disembark onto the busy street and get on another Ecovia which was already full, but almost every passenger from the first bus crowded onto the second bus, pushing us all together in an intolerable sandwich. Maya could hardly breathe, and I think I will need Ibuprofen to settle down tonight. Our 'quick trip' to the city centre took over an hour, and I dragged Maya up hill after hill to the museum site. Of course, after all our efforts, we discovered that the new museum was not yet open, and when we peeked inside the door, workmen will still busy putting the place together. So much for the website about Quito happenings.

Since we had gone so far and saw that the churches were open and conducting masses, we decided to participate for the next few hours. We will be missing the Semana Santa celebrations later in the week. I have decided to leave Quito for a few days. It is Maya's vacation and originally she had been invited to Cuba to participate in a week of master classes with Russian dancers from the Kirov. I could not get a ticket to Cuba with a US passport, so I sent in paperwork for a Canadian passport at the end of February. Unfortunately, the passport did not arrive in time to organize the trip. So Maya was supposed to be away this whole week, but when it did not work out, I had not arranged any other activity. I finally made a few phonecalls this morning and have organized a visit to Cuyabeno, which is a part of the Oriente that we have yet to explore and is reputed to be stunningly beautiful. We will be canoeing most of the way, and camping along the side of the river, so it will be a very different experience for us. Eric will not be able to join us, because he will have 30 students with him at Yanayacu for the weekend.

We will be far away from civilization, without electricity or internet or cellphone coverage or access to the world we know. My camera will last a day or two before the battery runs out, so I will see with different eyes this time.

St. Augustin

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Too Quiet

Ethnographic Museum at Mitad del Mundo

My house is empty, quiet, far too quiet. Debra, Werner and Rebecca all took the same flight tonight to Atlanta, and then on to Salt Lake. Debra and Rebecca and Werner have filled up my life these past five weeks, and I will miss them. Eric is in Yanayacu, and not coming home tomorrow as planned. Maya and I are left to our own devices, and there are all sorts of possibilities ahead. This is her spring break, and all her friends are off to the beach, so she has told me she wants a vacation, even if she misses Easter celebrations.

We all went to 'Mitad del Mundo' today. We visited the original monument, which is NOT on the 'true' equator. It is located at the place where the original French scientific team determined the equator to be in the 1700's. They used their measurements to define the length of the metre. The monument is a thick tower with a sphere on top, and inside the structure, one ascends to the top in an elevator to view the arid landscape in all four directions. As one descends the stairs, there are exhibits about each of the major ethnic groups. Their location, language, traditions and attire are explained, and there are costumed models in traditional dress. I was once overwhelmed with trying to remember each of the indigenous groups, but I am starting to recognize the costumes and am able to relate the specific groups to the costumes, and their stories are becoming clearer. I have always enjoyed this museum and it is a good introduction as well as a finale to a visit to Ecuador.

Chachi Weaving

My true motive however, for this excursion is to ask Werner's opinion about some of the demonstrations at the Museo Intiñan, just 200 metres away from the original Mitad del Mundo, and apparently located at the more exact centre of the world, measured by GPS. It feels like a very hokey museum, and I am never sure how cynical to be when I dutifully listen to all the explanations. Part of the museum is an exhibit of the different cultures and ethnic groups, and I find that interesting. but not even the pouring rain could keep me away from the 'scientific' demonstrations.

Werner is a physicist by training and a scientist and a skeptic. The first demonstration shows that when water goes down a drain on the equator, it goes straight down, but when moved to the southern hemisphere, the water goes down the drain clockwise, and in the northern hemisphere counter clockwise, or I may have reversed this. This is due to the 'Coriolanis effect' and apparently tornadoes in the northern hemisphere behave in the same way, as do storms in the southern hemisphere. Werner appeared skeptical and tried to argue with our very sweet and accommodating tour guide, but I am not sure he explained why he did not believe the guide and the demonstration.

The second demonstration had to do with showing that we have less strength in the arms on the equator than to the north or south. This apparently has to do with gravity, there being less gravity on the bulge of the equator, but I am not sure how that makes you strong or weak. Werner was again skeptical; he believed that suggestion may have caused the change, or perhaps that after demonstrating the strength first on the southern hemisphere, the person would be tired and therefore weaker when on the second trial on the equator. The third questionable demonstration showed how when walking heel to toe on the equator line, one can feel the forces of gravity; perhaps on the equator, staying steady is more difficult, but I am not sure of that. We ran out of time and Werner kept asking questions and wondering about the scientific validity of the results. We truly did not get any answers and I am no clearer now than before.

Our taxi driver, Vladimir, showed up exactly on time, so that we could battle the afternoon traffic all the way to the Mariscal, where Rebecca and Debra both had last minute souvenir shopping to do. Maya translated and bargained for Rebecca in the Artesanal market, and it was soon clear that my presence was entirely unnecessary; Maya was entirely capable of taking care of Rebecca, so I wandered off and starting spending the money I had received from the bank today.

Driving on Street near Mitad del Mundo

This morning, I had taken the cheque I had received from 'Christian', the manager of Ecomontes, to the Banco International, just a block away from the apartment. I was quite certain than there would be some sort of obstacle to cashing the cheque, but armed with a passport and my censo, it was altogether too easy. I had Werner and Debra and Maya escort me back home, the wad of twenty dollar bills burning a hole in my purse. I arrived safely at the apartment without incident, but when I counted the money out to give Rebecca her half, I discovered that more than half of the bills were torn, taped together, scribbled on, or with parts of the bill missing. I walked right back to the bank and demanded newer bills, which is exactly what I got. I keep anticipating obstacles, and am ready to do battle, and am always surprised when all goes well.

Eating Icecream at the Mercado

Monday, March 29, 2010

Never a Dull Moment

I worked on my 'denuncia' last night, and Rebecca put hers together this morning. We went to the Minsterio de Turismo armed with two folders, one with all the original documents and the other with copies. Our original itinerary, the amended itinerary, the invoice, the copied 'denuncias' from our visit to the Galapagos Tourist office, and our new expanded 'denuncias'.

When we had been confronted by Freddy at the tourism office in Puerto Ayora, things got out of hand very quickly, and while Freddy and Janeth and their lawyer were handling our denuncias and threatening the staff, one of the ministry employees led me upstairs and advised me to speak to 'Glammys' at the Tourism office in Quito. I was concerned that Freddy would make the 'denuncia' disappear, and I do believe that is what happened, because Glammys was supposed to have received the 'denuncia' and been advised about our case before we showed up today. Of course she had heard nothing, so I believe Freddy intimidated the women at the Tourism office in Galapagos.

Glammys was receptive and understanding and immediately requested that 'Christian' from Ecomontes Tours come to the office to discuss the complaints we had about our trip. He sent Chuck instead (Chuck sold us the tour). Christian has never answered my calls or called me back and has always referred me to Chuck, and although Glammys had demanded that Christian come to meet us, he stayed away. We demanded all our money back but of course Christian was resistant. I was concerned about Freddy, and of course he was illegal and had no right to be operating tours. Since he was not registered with the state, he was shut down immediately. I really do not know what that means. Rebecca and I both believe that there is a 'mafia' like organization at the docks and that Freddy is part of it. Glammys reassured me that Freddy would not be able to solicit from or provide services to tourists.

She threatened to shut Ecomontes Tours down if Christian did not satisfy us. When we returned at 4 PM, Christian again did not meet us. He sent a cheque for the land tour portion of our trip. Rebecca and I argued that we would not have bought the plane tickets if we knew that the land tour would be as horrible as it was, that the plane tickets were part of the 'tour' we paid for. Glammys did not feel it likely that we could go after the plane ticket price, since we had used the tickets to fly. Time was running out and it was exhausting to fight and fight, so I finally gave in and accepted the cheque for the land tour portion. I am not feeling entirely satisfied, but I did not know how to argue for the rest of the money.

Glammys was appreciative of our visit, and very accommodating. I plan to visit her again in a week or so and follow up on Freddy's status, and check on Christian too. I want to find out what happens in Galapagos and his operation.

We sandwiched in a visit to the centro historico for lunch at 'Hasta la Vuelta, Señor; the story is about a priest who caroused nightly until, as he was climbing over a crucifix, God talked to him and convinced him to stop going out nightly to visit the ladies. I tasted the fanesca again, which was thicker and richer than yesterday's version.

We decided to celebrate our visit to the Ministry of Tourism by having dinner at 'La Ronda', which was eerily quiet with few guests. We tried 'canelazo' tea, and chose to eat in the bottom of a restaurant with live music. The live music turned out to be taped, sometimes with karaoke, I ate a monster empanada de viento, which Deborah had ordered but did not touch. Maya was falling asleep in her chair most of the evening, while we listened to mediocre music. I liked being in la Ronda, and wish that Monday nights were not so quiet, so that Debra and Werner could take advantage of this delightful part of the centro historic.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Semana Santa

Folkloric Dancers

We visited the Centro Historico today. It was a good day for Rebecca's first exposure to the center for all sorts of reasons. On Sundays, many streets in historical part of the city are closed to motor vehicles. There are some streets that encourage bicycle traffic, but otherwise, the noise and the smell and the dangers from cars is not a concern. The city feels so much more peaceful, although there are many people who congregate on the squares and the place is very lively, with dancing and music and street theatre going on all over the old town. It is also the start of 'Semana Santa', or Holy Week, so the churches are open, there are museum exhibits everywhere, and a music festival of Sacred music.

Most of Maya's friends have gone to the beach, which is the popular thing to do this week. I am interested in the celebrations for holy week, and today is Palm Sunday, so I was eager to participate in the activities of the day, in the place where they were likely to happen. We did not get to the Centro Historico early enough for the morning parade. Eric and Mel were packing up to go to Yanayacu with their newly constructed microscope. They left with birdcages filling up the truck, ready to catch the birds (plain tailed wrens) in mist nets and starting their experiments. We met for coffee at El Español in Quicentro (Maya chose to eat munchkins from Dunkin Donuts, which are much larger than the ones back home), and Eric gave us a ride to as close to the Plaza Grande as possible.

I was amazed at the crowds of people in the square. Huge groups of spectators crowded around the street performers, laughing and clapping and enjoying the shows. The crowds were six people thick, so it was impossible to hear or see anything. Maya loves listening to the street performers, and seems to understand far more than I would expect. There were also two groups of political observers, one for Correa and the other against. I have heard that the government pays the pro-Correa fans to vocally support the president. In addition, there are always one or two evangelical preachers, talking about Jesus and the scriptures. I think we were being told not to participate in the church (Catholic) activities this week, but I did not understand why.

Chorongo and Drum

I heard music from the Archbishop's Palace, where a folkloric show was going on. We listened to a group of Andean musicians, who were remarkably talented, changing instruments constantly, from recorder-like flutes, to the pan flutes of various lengths and thicknesses, to the small guitar with twelve strings, and drums and guitars. Sometimes one musician would be holding his small guitar with one or more panpipes and a recorder and switching with every measure. I recognized not just Andean music, but also typical Ecuadorian music, which I recognize from Independence week, when all the bands and the chivas were playing the same tunes.

Later, dancers from Cañar, Pichincha, and Saraguro performed their traditional folkloric dances. The costumes were amazingly colourful, and the young dancers were enthusiastic, and I liked that I am beginning to recognize the dances and the traditions.

I am not sure how long we watched the dancing, but we were starving before it was over. We walked across the Plaza Grande, and past the Government Palace, the Cathedral., La Sagraria, La Compañia, and up to San Fransisco Square , which was setting up for the Sacred Music Festival tonight. We ate on the square at 'Tianguez', where I know the food is good, and will not make Rebecca ill. I tried the 'Fanseca', the traditional food that is made only this week of Semana Santa, in Ecuador. It is a rich soup with a mix of twelve grains such as chochos, abas, lentils, peas, corn, (like the twelve disciples of Christ) along with cod, figleaf gourd, pumpkin, and fava beans. It is garnished with a hardboiled egg, fried plantains, herbs, parsley and often empanadas. Dessert was figs and cheese. Rebecca had Cebiche and Maya huge bowl of spaghetti.

People were pouring in and out of San Fransisco Church with palm leaves in their arms. One could buy the palms mixed with rosemary and other leaves right in front of the church, and many were holding their palm arrangement to be blessed in the church. I was amazed to see the church open, since it has been under renovation for years. I did remember hearing that they would open by April, and while we ate, I saw mass after mass happening in the church. We entered for mass, without our palm fronds, and listened to the whole story of the last week of Christ's life. I am always astounded at the sense of faith at these ceremonies. Everyone is sitting in pews or standing alongside the benches. More and more people poured in while the mass was going on, and we participated as well as we could. It was a profoundly moving service, and the priests performed the rituals over and over again. The mass is the same as the Catholic mass everywhere, but the music was lively and the priests energizing, and the crowds clearly very devoted and faithful.Street Theatre

After Mass

Iglesia San Fransisco

Palm Sunday Mass

Our walk through the centro to get to the Ecovia was interrupted by all sorts of street shows, both music and theatre, and it was suddenly past 6, and my plans to return to the Musica Sacra show on San Fransisco were not going to happen. Maya and Rebecca were happy to relax on a seat in the bus, and were both ready for bed when we arrived home. It is hard to get moving once inside the apartment, but it feels good to be home and catching up on so much that I ignored and didn't do last week.

La Sagraria Doors

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Night on the Town

View of Quito From Itchimbia to the West

It is always wonderful to come home. Maya is happy and excited to see me and Eric has been in a frenzy cleaning up the apartment, so that I wouldn't be too upset about him filling the house with crickets for neurophysiology experiments while I am gone. I do not what to imagine what is was like when I am away, I am simply delighted that I feel so welcome after my week vacation.

Rebecca is exhausted, and nursing blisters on her feet and bruises all over, and has to adjust to the altitude again, so I decided to take it easy today. I was unable to sleep after a couple cappuccinos while waiting for our delayed flight from Guayaquil to Quito, so I finished four loads of wash during the midnight hours. I had used all the clothes I had brought to the Galapagos, and everything was dirty and smelly and in immediate need of disinfection!

Maya and her Violin

Maya had an orchestra concert at the 'Condamine' School, which is the local French school. I had tried to get Maya into the school when we moved here, but she did not speak French and at nine, they believe it is too late to start. There was a huge bazaar/fund raiser going on, and Rebecca and I came to listen to the group play. The audience was not too attentive, not at all like a concert hall, and I think the previous acapella group singing 'Billy Jean' from Michael Jackson was more accessible for them. The school was on 'Japon' and 'Naciones Unidas', which is walking distance to the house. I had no idea it was so close, so we took a cab to get there, but were able to walk home. There was alot of activity on Shyris near the park (Carolina) where the 'Festival of Machismo' was being celebrated along with a 'counter-fiesta' for women fighting violence against women, the banners claiming that 'Machismo IS Violence Toward Women'. There were dozens of policemen patrolling the area, but very few spectators or interested participants.

Rebecca has expressed interest in pre-Columbian art and culture, so I took her to the Museo of the Banco Central to show her the archeological finds. The museum always interests and intrigues me and I found myself acting out the role of tour guide, which appears to suit me quite well. The Artesanal Market is just a few blocks away, so that was our next destination. Maya, Rebecca and I found ourselves quite delighted with shopping and bargaining and purchasing souvenirs. It was apt that we went directly from the museo to the market, having seen so many of the motifs and styles common to both places. Maya likes to shop, and wants to buy everything she sees, but her most prized purchase was an alabaster turtle from Galapagos, which I could easily have bought just a few days ago in the Galapagos! When we got home, Maya dutifully built a lego home for her turtle, with pool and eating areas!

Artesanal Musicians

Helados in the Mercado

Eric met us in time for dinner at 'Mosaico', a restaurant near Itchimbia, with an expansive view of the city from its upstairs balcony. We were able to find a table with a great view and watched the city turn pink as the sun set. The food was not great, but the views amazing and the company a delight.

Friday, March 26, 2010


I have decided that I absolutely love Guayaquil. Of course, I have not been robbed yet and everyone I have encountered has been kind and helpful. The 'hostal' was comfortable and a little funky. The bathroom was behind a glass enclosure, which during the day obscured the actions of the bathroom user, but when it was dark, the glass was see-though and all was visible. Rebecca and I shared the double bed. We piled up the duvet between us and slept well, despite our room being right on the Malecon, with cars booming by all night. The drapes would not close entirely, so I was up with the sunrise, wishing I had slept a little longer. On the other hand, watching the city wake up was entertaining. We had our breakfast on the balcony overlooking the Malecon and the river, and ate granola with yoghurt and fruit and watched the cars whizzing by.

I am not sure whether we are just so relieved to be treated with decency and respect that we are over enthusiastic about our experience here. In truth what we saw today was both inspiring and devastating. The good part was seeing what the charity, Children International, actually does with the donations it receives. I am often cynical when I hear or see an advertisement about 'saving children' in a third world country and expect that someone is pocketing the money and not distributing it to the supposed beneficiaries. I learned today that in fact, the children, at least those involved in this organization, are truly taken care of. We visited the main office and then one of the five sites directed to providing medical and dental care, and gifts, scholarships, activities, and direction for the young people involved.

The area we visited was called 'La Colina Florida', and when we arrived at the neighbourhood there were long lines of mothers and children waiting to receive a gift of jeans for all those children involved who had birthdays in January, February or March. They all appeared pleased with the quality of the jeans. We met the two dentists and the pair of doctors taking care of the children, and checked out the medications provided. We were informed that there are many parasites and worm infections and mosquito borne diseases which required treatment in the tropical climate, and that was a priority at the clinic.

Ducks for Lunch!

Many mothers of children in the program work as volunteers at the centre, and there was a roomful organizing the gift giving. We met the parents of Chriss, the seven year old child that Rebecca sponsors. He does not get money directly, but the $350 a year that Rebecca sends is used to fund the centre and the clinics and the gifts. We went to Chriss's house and sat in his living room. His house was made of cement with a corrugated tin roof and a small space between roof and walls. It was neat and clean, with a sheet separating the kitchen and the one bedroom. There was no running water. Water trucks came by daily to fill huge tanks which were kept on the roof or in the small yard near the houses. There was no sewage system, but each home had electricity and a television and everyone had cellphones. The dirt roads were full of huge troughs where cars had driven after the rain. There were no sidewalks. Some houses were cinder block, some cement (Chriss's father was a construction worker), some wood walls and sugar cane stalks and corrugated metal or whatever was useable to encircle the home. There was garbage everywhere, and it appeared that no waste disposal system was in place. It was shocking that all around the Children International Centre, garbage piled up and was not removed.

Chriss's family raised ducks, and cooked a duck for us and served us duck with rice and tomato and onion salad and 'Fioravanti', which is Eric's favourite drink, but so sweet it is undrinkable for me. Chriss was shy and said little.

Jose, Chris, and Rebecca

We then drove to the home of 'Jose', who was Rebecca's former sponsored child. He lived on a paved street, but still there was no sewage or drainage system and no running water. He joined us on a drive to a mall, where Chriss chose a remote control 'Toy Story' car and figures and Jose could not find anything he wanted. It was awkward, knowing how limited the lives of these people were, to watch them choose $50 toys. I wonder how the parents of Chriss felt, in that they could not provide such things for Chriss, and perhaps $50 could feed them for a week or two (Rebecca was not allowed to give them money directly, but later, through the program, left them $50 for groceries). Jose appeared to feel pressured to buy something, anything, and he clearly wanted nothing in the shops we visited. It turned out that since Jose was no longer part of the program, he was allowed to receive the money.

We all had ice cream and sat together in the food court with little to say to one another. I did not feel quite right in the situation, but reminded myself that I was there to support Rebecca, so that is what I did. We returned to the centre and then drove to Chriss' and Jose's homes to drop them off.

Our bags were at the 'Children International'offices, which were across from the Mormon temple, which was shockingly modern and opulent and out of place with the garbage on the street. I recognized the angel 'Moroni' at the top of the church, and the mini 'Temple Square' between church and office building. The Mormons are the fasted growing religion (cult?) in the world, and they have a significant presence here.

Entering the clean crisp modern airport was a jarring contrast to the slums of Guayaquil. The people were dressed well and walked with presence and confidence and appeared to have nothing in common with the crowds we had seen during the day. Our flight was delayed several hours, so I sat with a coffee and cruised the internet and tried to absorb the contrasts of the day. Rebecca was thrilled with what she had seen, reassured about what was being done with the money she had been contributing for over 20 years. I felt shocked and sad and very aware that the average income in Eucador is less than $300 a month for a family of four.