Thursday, February 7, 2008

Covered in Ash

Miscellaneous thoughts and observations from Ecuador

Quito ~ At restaurants, people will get bowls of popcorn as a snack, so you have coffee and popcorn. There's tons of cops and security guards everywhere, carrying guns. They are not threatening and no one seems to pay any attention to them. Even a coffee bar may have an armed security guard.

Ecuador smells different than Canada. We think it might be a combination of beans and lime. It´s spicy. The reason we say it´s beans and lime is that we got a snack on a bus with beans, roasted corn kernels and a slice of lime and our hands ended up smelling like the general smell of Ecuador. We stayed in Quito for four days and it wasn't until the 4th day that we didn't get lost going back to our hostel. The weather is colder than we thought, about 20 degrees for about 4 hours during mid day but going down to 10 at night. That will change as we travel around the country though. We already noticed here in Cuenca that it is quite a bit warmer.

On all buses, city and long distance, there is a pilot (driver) and a conductor person who shouts out where we are going to the people on the street, collects fares and facilitates the vendors coming onto and off the bus. Lots of vendors get on the bus selling CDs, drinks, hot and cold snacks, and sometimes just begging for money. Canadians
would be aghast at the lack of emission
control. We're not sure if it is the quality of the fuel or just poor maintenance, but it seems that every vehicle belches out smoke. Diesel seems to be the worst.

Quito to Riobamba ~ Along the road everywhere you see cows, burros, sheep and pigs
leashed to stakes, as well as grouped in fields. There seems to be lots of feral dogs. We saw several dead dogs along the road and one dead cow. When we arrived in Riobamba and as we were travelling in the bus there were hoards of people riding in the back of pickup trucks spraying
and throwing water at the bus and
at people walking on the street. It was the last day of Carnival and that's what they do apparently. In Riobamba we got off lucky and were only sprayed once.

We stayed in a delightful old Hotel, immaculately clean. While Quito was shabby, Riobamba was less so but still shabby. Upon waking up in the morning and going out we noticed people wearing face masks and there was fine ash everywhere. It looked like cement dust. The Tungurahua volcano had errupted at 11 pm Tuesday night. We tossed the coin about going to Banos which is at the foot of the volcano or Riobamba. I guess we were lucky the coin fell the right way! We found out this morning that 2 villages at the base of the volcano have been evacuated and Banos has been placed on a red alert - no tourists allowed!

Up to this point it seems that all the buildings are made of concrete block most of it not painted. It is obvious there is very little money in the country and in the poorer centers of the city. A lot of buildings are unfinished and the appearance is that many people are basically living in hovels.

The indigenous population have only in the last decade or so begun to get fair treatment. Incidentally the indigenous people seem to be so TINY! and many of them wear the traditional costume with the felt hat, the leggings and skirts. We noticed that there´s a lot of manual labour in the fields and it seems to be exclusively the indigenous people that are doing it.

Riobamba to Cuenca ~ From La Tomba, about 40 k north of Cuenca to the City, everything seemed to get tidier and cleaner and the buildings were well kept, painted and it was obvious there was more money around. Cuenca is delightful. It´s clean and thoroughly charming. The roads are narrow and all one way and made of cobble stone. The feeling is European Brian says. Cuenca is famous for its centuries old Spanish colonial architecture. The roads in the countryside are great, except when they're not. You'll be on a four lane black top and suddenly there you are on a dirt road with wash outs on the side of a mountain looking down for miles. We have found out that the area from Quito to Cuenca is actually in a valley between two mountain ranges but you´re still at 3000 m elevation. We´re planning on staying in Cuenca for four days.

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