Thursday, June 28, 2012

Touring in the Middle of the World

Hello Friends and Readers!

We've had a couple of busy days seeing many sites in and around Quito, which we learned comes from an indigenous, pre-Incan word 'Ki-Tu", which means middle of the world. The people here thousands of years ago knew that they were in the middle of the world based on the stars! The full name is "San Francisco de Quito" which translates to "St. Francis of the Middle of the World". I guess that makes San Francisco, California the St. Francis of the North!

Monday, we headed back to Otavalo to witness some celebrations for Inti Raymi, which is a summer solstice and harvest festival celebrated by different groups from Ecuador to Peru. We woke up very early (6:30... okay, I know it's not that early, but it was very early for us!) and took a cab to the northernmost bus station, Terminal Carcalen. We then grabbed a bus to Otavalo and the ride was uneventful; they even showed a movie about the Mayans, but the dubbing was terrible! All the voices were down by the same guy with no emotion... but I digress. We arrived in Otavalo around 10 AM and started toward the center of the city when we happened upon a parade of locals and school children, all dressed up, playing music, singing and dancing, carrying trestles with fruit hanging from them. After watching the parade, we continued towards the center of town for some coffee and empanadas. We wandered about town looking for the alleged Melcocha Fair (melcocha is sort of like taffy), but could not find it. We eventually found ourselves at a park witnessing some dancing and music and many families picnicking and enjoying the holiday. Seeing all that food made us hungry ourselves, so we headed to our favorite Chifa and enjoyed a Chinese lunch! The reason we knew today was a good day for the celebrations was because a friend from UCLA, Jessie, is doing her dissertation field work in Otavalo. (You can read about her experiences learning and living with a local family here.) Around 2 PM we took a bus towards her part of town and met Jessie and the family she is living with, including Patricio who is also her teacher. Patricio is the last flutist in his community and is very knowledgable about his culture and history and was an excellent guide for the afternoon. We got to see their home, which includes a kitchen, where live cuy (guinea pigs) are kept for food, a large bread oven, and a room with looms where they make traditional textiles. Jessie gifted us an amazing piece with a picture of two llamas, for which we are very grateful! We then went in search of the band of musicians who were playing house to house, sort of like Christmas caroling, and receiving food and drink in return. Many of the participants were in costumes, but unlike Halloween, where costumes are meant to frighten, these costumes are meant to make fun and show people/things that the people like or would like to be; perhaps a little like Purim. (The holiday is also a harvest festival and the families hang fruits and bread from a trestle, sort of like Sukkot!) Matt and I joined in a little dancing and a little drinking before heading over to the Capilla at Patricio's suggestion. The Capilla is a church that the Spanish built over a former sacred site (old news). As we walked towards the Capilla, he told us about how many different groups celebrated, from the different costumes they wear in different groups all over the Northern Highlands, to the Incan groups in Peru. In fact, he told us, Inti Raymi as a sun celebration is something they inherited from the Incas; before, his community worshipped the moon and the river/water. He also told us how rain and rainbows have different meanings or omens depending on where they are situated in relation to their community. I found it interesting how this community had survived so many different conquerors and how they have adapted traditions into their own and survived (sound like another ethno-religious group I know?). In front of the Capilla, there was more dancing and music making as well as stalls with games, selling food, and finally, the much anticipated melcocha! We were waiting for the group of musicians to arrive and go into the Capilla for dancing, but like many people in Ecuador, they were very late in arriving. Unfortunately, the last bus returning to Quito was at 7 PM, and to top it off, Matt wasn't feeling very well (perhaps something in the many fried donuts we had or who knows), so we caught a cab back to the bus station and were on a bus at 6 PM. We did see the procession heading towards the Capilla on our way, though! We arrived back in Quito at 8, again no trouble on the bus, and came home exhausted from a wonderful day.

Tuesday, the tourism continued. We slept a little later, but were still out of the house before noon. We took the Ecovia tram up towards Parque la Carolina to check out some gardens and museums. On Andrey's suggestion, we got of at Benalcalzar and walked down a street called Portugal that is home to some nice shops and coffee shops. Much to my delight, there was a Bagel shop! I had just been telling my mother how I craved a good bagel with lox and it felt like someone must have been listening! I was so delighted to have a freshly toasted sesame bagel with cream cheese and lox, tomato and onion. I believe we will be heading back at least once more before leaving Quito! After a delightful brunch, we continued to the park. Our first stop was the Vivarium, which had several nice enclosures for snakes and other reptiles from all over the world. We saw several venomous snakes with large triangle shaped heads. Next, we headed to the Botanical Gardens, which had plants from all the regions in Ecuador. We saw many beautiful orchids, trees, and medicinal plants. There was also a local cat who decided to be our tour guide and followed us all over the park. The highlight was definitely the area with carnivorous plants!! Our last stop was at the Museum of Natural Science. This small museum had an interesting collection of shells, corals, insects, and taxidermic animals from Ecuador.

Wednesday, we were up early again to the Mitad del Mundo, middle of the world. Even though we will be visiting the site with our parents this weekend, we wanted to make sure to hit up the museums in the area. After visiting the monument on the Equator (which is actually about 300 meters off the mark!) we went to the Museo Solar Intinan, which had some history of the area and Ecuador followed by some science demonstrations on the ACTUAL equator line, measure by GPS. Apparently, every "second" of latitude accounts for 32 meters, and this line is the center of the center of 0 00'00". My favorite was a demonstration of the Coriolis effect, which is the water swirling counterclockwise north of the equator, clockwise south of the equator, and NO SWIRL on the equator! We also tried to balance an egg and saw how gravity effects our equilibrium. It was a lot of fun, our tour guide was very knowledgable and kind. He spoke English, but we took the Spanish tour. (Towards the beginning of the tour, he asked if we were from Chile and upon discovering we were "Estadounidenses", remarked what good Spanish we spoke! This is actually the second time we've been asked if were are Chileno!) At the end, Matt got a stamp on his passport (mine was back at the apartment, darn!) and I got a certificate from the Mitad del Mundo! We ate lunch near the Mitad del Mundo then headed back. We accidentally got on a bus that was not going back to the MetroBus station, but took us a lot closer to the center, so we eventually were able to switch busses with the help of a newspaper vendor and made it home safe!

Today, we took it easy, sleeping in and making French Toast with some brioche from a local bakery. Tomorrow, Andrey has asked that we show him some "Jewish Food", so we will be making Latkes! I've already made my own applesauce and we bought potatoes and onions, so we are ready! In just 2 days, my mom and step-dad (Belinda aka la Jefe and Mike aka Miguelito), Matt's parents (Saralyn aka Mopsita and Allan aka Zorro), and our friends, a mom and daughter pair, Ollie and Barb (no spanish names...yet!), will be arriving in Quito. We will spend Sunday touring Quito and then its off to the Galapagos for a cruise! Check back next week for GUEST POSTS from our parents and travel buddies!

I want to apologize for the lack of pictures - the ping time on the internet here is very slow and it can take up to an hour to upload just 10 pictures. We will try to get some up, soon!

Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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