“For me the essence of travel is seeing how other people live around the world; to gain understanding and dispel fear of otherness.” Natasha von Geldern
Ecuador–Quito and Otavalo
Before I tell you about my last few days on the S. America trip, I want to speak again of the volatile political situation in Ecuador. I mentioned in the Cuenca post that the upper classes are furious about some of the more socialist policies of the Correa government. In addition to the inheritance tax proposals, the institution of an income tax has generated the ire of some middle and even working class folks. The opposition is using the same street tactics used by the working class to topple 7 presidents in the 10 years prior to Correa’s election. The government says that the ruling class and some in the military are colluding with the U.S. to stage a coup in Ecuador. After having lived through U.S. coups and attempted coups in so many So. American, Central American, African, Middle Eastern, Carribean (etc.) countries, I don’t doubt the claims.
Correa remains highly popular among the poor, and easily won an unprecedented 3rd term, though his support is centered in the rural areas rather than cities. I am very impressed that Correa has been bold enough to take on the entrenched forces of historically powerful and corrupt families, wealthy landowners, military leaders, and corporations.
Here’s a good summary of the positive changes made under Correa:
However, there is spreading dissatisfaction. I myself would be protesting Correa (and leftist Morales in Bolivia) for his rampant oil extraction policies in the Amazon, despite my support his other policies. It seems these leaders have forgotten Pacha Mama in the rush to improve living standards.
Quito is yet another architectural wonder with beautiful colonial buildings in the old town.
The central Cathedral is amazing as well:
But as usual, I centered on the people. The sex workers, for example, are legal, not hassled by cops, and the going rate for tourists is $20. Their downtown location is adjacent to the Cultural Plaza with theaters, etc.
They have no union but were interested to know of unionized sex workers in the U.S. One woman I had a long chat with says it would be great to organize her colleagues to better their conditions. Then, getting back to business, she asked me how I could resist all these beautiful girls. As in the market place where merchants commonly direct you to another seller of you don’t want their products, she urged me to check out some of her friends.
In a huge park high above the city, there was a grand showroom with a dog show, and people dancing/exercising together. Ecuadorans love their humming birds!
I went to the touristy “Middle of the World” (the equator) north of Quito one day, though the actual location of the equator is in a different spot known for thousands of years by indigenous tribes! I enjoyed the museum, which pictured 50 different models of ecologically sane developments in various parts of the world.
Otavalo has one of the largest, most popular markets in So. America on Saturdays. The town and its streets were turned into one giant, colorful, indigenous market. I had a great time chatting, bargaining, and eating in the central market. Note the colors of the very real fruit the woman below is selling, along with her matching shoes! Here are a few of the many pics I took, using my cell phone “stealth” technique:
The highlight of Quito, though, was meeting my friend Oscar while listening to some guys playing guitar and singing in the main plaza (Old Town) one afternoon.
Oscar and I hung out together visiting the city, shopping, eating, listening to music, and making our own. Oscar spoke good English to me (he’s a very bright guy to pick it up so well without working in the tourist industry or traveling) and I spoke Spanish to him, and we could talk about anything and everything. He has 2 kids and has been divorced for 7 years. At one point Oscar said he knows many people in Quito, where he’s lived his whole life. But he has “only five real friends”, and I was really moved when he said that I was one of them!
We spent a last evening in his buddy’s cafe joking, singing, and drinking a bottle of liquor.
Oscar sang me a special, sad ballad with tears in his eyes: “When a Friend Must Go” about the empty space left in one’s heart. The last day we went to the central museum, and a concert before he took me to the bus heading to the airport.
It doesn’t seem that Oscar has had intimate relationships since his marriage broke up, or at least he didn’t speak of it. Before our last bus ride together, I told my lonely, shy friend that I expected that within a year he’d be in a new relationship…and suggested he be bold, confident and keep me informed. He agreed to do so. We got on the bus and were standing next to an attractive woman his age, and I started up a discussion. When 2 seats opened up, he invited her to sit down with him while I stayed with my backpack. The two had a lively chat for 20 minutes until she had to get off. When I asked if he got her number, Oscar smiled and nodded.
Check out these wonderful pictures of Quito, it’s surrounding volcanoes, and beautiful people! Quito Photos
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“Travel opens your mind as few other things do. It is its own form of hypnotism, and I am forever under its spell.” ― Libba Bray