Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ecuador Part II

Photos taken from the 7th floor restaurant and bar of Hotel Quito are limited sight compared to how much the city sparkles in the night. It is the best possible scenario with the equipment available especially since we didn’t get our cameras down from the airplane’s overhead bin. Eyes and mouth wide open are the best ways to experience a panoramic moment. After that, tell the story!

It had been recommended to accept a “free drink” receipt from the front desk as we checked in. When we asked for chamomile tea at the bar, they looked at us curiously. Nevertheless, it was a good way to ease into the next event on the day’s calendar. Sleep. We slept the sleep of those who have been in traveling mode for more than 36 hours. Hard, heavy and twitchy. It was nice to unfold and be free of other people’s elbows.

Breakfast was in the restaurant, as well. The misty mountain view beyond the massive windows nearly stunned me out of an appetite. Don’t worry, I ate from the fruit buffet, enjoyed scrambled eggs and bacon, and tried the much touted Guanabana juice.

My head throbbed with every effort, whether walking, climbing stairs or getting up from a chair, from the altitude difference of about 9,000 feet (where I live the altitude is approx. 200 ft above sea level). The man who sat beside me in the airplane the night before advised me to do everything slowly on this trip. I let the throb in my head remind me to take his advice.

At breakfast, we met up with a tour put together by American Writers and Artists International (AWAI). Sure enough, Photography instructor, Rich Wagner, sat at one of the breakfast tables handing out our luggage name tags. We were to meet him and the rest of the group in the hotel foyer in 20 minutes. So much for slow.

It seems I’m always the one staying at a nice hotel when there is no time to enjoy its amenities. From the foyer, we admired a full-sized pool, gardens and roads worth exploring. The gift shop was not open late at night or early in the morning. Brightly woven bags, carved wood and leather goods taunted us from within the shop windows. A bouquet of roses, bigger than I had ever seen, graced the center of the reception area. The price tag for the night was under $50.

To use the restroom after checkout and before boarding the bus, one had to take a spiral staircase down one level. I don’t recommend trying to run down or up a spiral staircase at a high altitude if you’re not used to it. Talk about hot-flashes!

A man sold scarves near the bus and a snazzy person from the group had already purchased a few for her bus-day travel outfit. She looked great. “Two for five,” she said, moving to the back of the bus as people admired her scarves. “It’s a good price.” We had been advised to wait until we visited the smaller villages to buy, so we absorbed our jealousy. Come to find out, she had been pretty savvy to get them in the city.

Just after the last of the group laboriously climbed the bus steps, a man with a London accent leapt onto the bus in his “outback” hat and khakis. He had finished a conversation on his cell phone with, “Yeah, Steve, and take off that slinky lingerie,” turned to Phil and I and said, “Steve and I are friends.” It was going to be an interesting trip, especially after we learned John would be our interpreter on the trip.

In only a few moments, John, the interpreter, broke the ice with silly jokes, spoke instructions to the bus driver in Spanish and began preparing us for what we would see on the bus ride to Cotacachi, our destination and spring-board city for learning “suitcase Spanish,” better photography, and some of the culture of Ecuador. For the questions on the way, he either had a clever answer or a twinkle in his eye. We were all pleased to note that he had lived in Ecuador a dozen years or so and was a family man, married to a local Ecuadorian artist with two young children soon to start school. We kept him busy answering our questions and urging the driver to stop for toilet stops. The “Steve” he had been talking to would be our, also British, Spanish teacher and rather mellow fellow with a bad cold.

We stopped at the equator, which, of course Ecuador is named for. We stopped again for biscochos, a dryish bread (a little less crusty than biscotti) that when dipped in caramel sauce turns into a delicious treat, and coffee. Two potty and candy stops, and all the time between we were surrounded by the layered greens of the Andes and their snow-covered volcanoes dotted with the bright houses of small farms.

At the equator, Phil retrieved the G.P.S. he brought for just this occasion, and, sure enough, it registered all zeros in every degree. Even the local Ecuadorians got a kick out of seeing that.

Surprise, surprise (an inside joke for my W and W friends) our bus couldn’t take us straight to the hotel because the streets were closed for a parade! Horse men and women strutted their [foaming at the mouth] horses, mariachi bands danced and sang with their guitar playing clowns. There was plenty of fresh watermelon, carameled apples and cotton candy for sale. The parade took place outside of our hotel and principally in front of the great cathedral at the town square. It was a lively way to advertise the upcoming rodeo at the edge of town to commence in an hour.

No sooner had we arrived (late, according to Lori, our coordinator and the program’s brain child), than we were already in a hurry to go to something else. We were urged to take our cameras as this was an event the group before us didn’t get to see. We would be required to bring photos for review to the first class. Our group of 19 stuck out like white camera trigger fingers among beautiful coffee-colored others. We found each other in the crowd by our monstrous lenses. The locals were tolerant if not downright welcoming and gracious to us.

Have you ever seen a rodeo? A bull fight? This was the wildest and craziest rodeo I’ve ever seen. If only I could share the sound of the oohs and aahs and frequent laughter above the pen. We were delighted by the matador and his tiny legion of little boy matadors-in-training, the abandoned capes, the baby bull, the bull-with-the-broken-horn, the running and wall climbing to get away from the bull, the women and the baby pig against the bull…it was wild!

You wouldn’t believe how many gigabytes each of the group had absorbed before we had even started our classes. Reliving the rodeo at the next morning’s photo review was a hoot.

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