Sunday, March 14, 2010

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

I arrived last night after a wonderful flight (two wonderful flights actually).  On the first one, i had three seats to myself and had Direct TV, so i watched Spongebob and an awesomely bad movie called ¨Mega Shark v the Giant Squid¨.
I arrived at about 10:30 and caught a taxi to my hotel, the Hotel de San Francisco in the Centro Historico of Quito.  I like my hotel.  It is in a converted historic house with all of the rooms looking out onto a courtyard filled with plants.
Hotel Courtyard
My room is simple, but is comfortable and clean and has hot water and a free breakfast - for $20  a night, what else could you want?
I had a brief sleep then awoke, ready to tackle Quito.
I am pleased to report that i do not seem to be suffering from any symptoms of altitude sickness (Quito is at 2850 m, in the Andes). I feel a bit tired, but other than that i am ok.
Sunday is a lousy place to arrive anywhere, as everything is closed....except the churches.  Fortunately, i like visiting churches and most of them let me in even though they were in the middle of their Sunday masses.  The churches are beautiful and similar to what you would see in Europe, although they are a bit more colorful and a bit rougher around the edges.  Out side all of the churches (all over the place, actually) are tiny shrivelled women and dirty children selling religious pictures, candles, bits of wood and shoelaces. I am pleased that most of the older women dress in the traditional Ecuadorian style with traditional hats, braided hair, ponchos, and heavy skirts. 
I am not going to name every place i went to, so i´ll just say that i wandered through broken cobble stone streets dirty alleyways and pristine squares.  Much of the historic centre is pretty run down and dirty (but in a charming way) - stray dogs running around, children playing in the street, garbage and shabby storefronts, but other parts of it have been lovingly restored or maintained and those areas are quite exquisite.  The Plaza Grande in wonderful. It is fulled with flowering trees and benches and in framed by a cathedral and the national palace.  The square was filled with people whiling away their sundays after church.  It was also filled with tiny, desperate boys, maybe 4 or 5 years old, begging to shine your shoes.  If they had cockney accents they would be right out of Oliver Twist.
Plaza Grande
I sat in the Plaza Grande and smoked a cigar while wearing my new Panama Hat! That´s right, i bought a hat. Sure, it makes me look like a tourist, but i don´t care. It was $10 and i like it. I feel like Skye Masterson. 
Things here are ridiculously inexpensive. I think you would struggle to try to spend $20 a day. I bought a coffee for 30 cents and three bananas for a dime.
I didn´t get to look in many shops today because they were closed due to the whole Catholic thing, but there were plenty of people hawing their wares on the street. (Hence the hat.)
I went to a museum showing contemporary Ecuadorian photography, which was quite good, and i took a delightful tour of a historic home which had beautiful furnishings but dreadful art.
i went to a market where women were selling produce and grains and meat. I bought some fruit i have never had before. It looked like a prickly pear, but tasted more like a dragon fruit. It was good. I saw merchants selling all manner of hideousness - guinea pigs, testicles, (well, where i can go from there?). There wasn´´t a lot for me to eat other than the fruit. I think it would be difficult to live here and be a vegetarian. There are some international restaurants, but they are in the new part of town. So i am eating fruit and bread.
So after all of my wandering i caught 2 different buses which took my to La Mitad Del Mundo - The Equator. The bus ride was a bit difficult as no one here speaks English (not even at my hotel) and my Spanish is pretty much limited to what i learned on Sesame Street. But i found my way. The ride took about an hour and a half and cost 40cents.
Equator in mist
It costs $2 to go to the equator and visit the monument. It is pretty cool, actually. I mean, the whole thing is touristy, but it is still the equator and it is hard to dismiss that. I had my photo take standing on the equator with one foot in each hemisphere. It´s mandatory. If you try to leave Ecuador without showing that photo to immigration they shoot you on the spot.
On sundays at the equator they have live music. It was great, there is a stage and a little square ringed with restaurants and shops. People were dancing. I had dinner at a cozy little eatery, the first i had seen all day with anything meatless. I had a dinner of corn on the cob, boiled lima beans and boiled potatoes. No spices, no butter, just plain. It was the best thing i have ever eaten, and i don´t even like corn on the cob. The lima beans were outstanding. (Maybe i am suffering from altitude sickness after all.)
Tomorrow i am going to fly to Coca and then journey about 3 hours by canoe and foot into the Amazon Jungle, where i will be staying along the Rio Napo. I can´t wait.
Sorry if this is kind of long and general, but i did a lot today and i have limited time on the computer. I will close with a few random observations:
-The weather was beautifully warm today and is cool this evening.
-There are lots of dogs - tough looking street dogs. They don´t look like they would bite you, but they might mug you.
-The men are super annoying with their constant come-ons and cat calls.
-Everyone here is tiny. I feel like an 8 foot tall albino by comparison.
I have no idea if the main building of the place where i am staying has a computer. They only have electricity for part of the day, so i kind of doubt it.  If you have not heard from me by Monday night, then i am ¨off the grid´ and i will blog about my jungle adventure on Thursday evening.
Adios, all.

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