Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Farewell to Colorful Quito

20 October 2015

We've been making our plans to head out of Quito and see more of Ecuador, and of course that requires a trip to the Ministry of Tourism for brochures and maps and all.  Then some time online, checking what's available, what is recommended by other travellers, where to stay, where to end up.

Not that we have much of a plan.  Just wander through this part of the Andes, get to the coast, spend some time on the beaches which are supposed to be spectacular.  And then decided where next.

Great plan, isn't it?

As much as we've been enjoying Quito, especially since discovering coca leaf tea, it'll be nice to get back to warm weather.

I've included a few dramatic photos of the weather.  Every afternoon, sometimes as early as noon but some days as late as 4 or 5 PM, dark clouds roll in over the mountains.  They obscure the tops, fill in the valleys, and eventually cover the sky.  And then the rain begins.  Do you see the vague lines in the second photo?  That's rain.  Heavy heavy rain.  The temperatures drop precipitously, people scurry for shelter, and we add another sweater.  The rain isn't every day, but I'd say maybe 60-75% of our days here have had rainy afternoons.  

Daytime highs might be anywhere from the mid 60s to the low 70s F (15 to 21 C) - but at night, temps drop to the 40s (maybe 5-7 C) - COLD!  Our beds have a wool blanket under the sheet, to help keep sleeping bodies warm; and then two wool blankets and a quilt on top of that.  I wrap all those blankets around myself to make a cocoon, because it really is that cold.  (I don't want any cold air seeping in around the edges.)  No one seems to have heat in their homes, or in traditional hotels.  People just wear more clothes when it's cold out (or inside, as the case may be).

So we go out in the late morning, do some exploring, walk around, people watch, and try new places for lunch or dinner.  Most of the time it doesn't rain until 3 or 4 PM, so we have time to walk home.  But we've gotten caught in the rain, although not too often.  Usually we can keep an eye on the clouds - when they get really dark and are halfway overhead, it's time to head back to the hotel.

One of the things we both find fascinating is the proliferation of graffiti.  It seems to be everywhere!  Much of the graffiti is tagging, just names or things like "Jose ama Maria" or something.

But there are also political graffiti slogans all over.  Richard can read these much more easily than I can, since my Spanish is fairly minimal (and mostly menu- or direction-oriented).  So there will be graffiti saying "Down with Capitalism" or "Strong women unite" or "No more class war."  

There's one particular alley near our hotel that is just covered with graffiti, making it a colorful blur of indistinguishable letters and names, some being more artistic and calligraphic than others.

But then there's the occasional picture or sketch, and we have no idea what is being said, what the story is behind the image.

My favorite, of course, is the cat.  NO idea what he's about.  We don't know if he represents someone who is named The Cat, or if he's a political symbol - I'm thinking maybe "belling the cat," as in curtailing the powers of the government?  As I said, we don't know, we just have fun speculating.  Since Quito is the capital, we tend to suspect that there's some political statement involved.

We've explored several of the main squares or plazas in Quito, and finally found the Central Market.  This is the food market, although they do have wonderful flowers as well.  There are all kinds of food stalls with cooked meals, which smelled and looked pretty good, even if we couldn't figure out what some of the foods were.  However, the cooked food stalls were intermixed with the usual market foods.  So you might be thinking about chicken and rice, right next to a stand or two of dead plucked chickens.  The market isn't for the squeamish.  And, well, we ended up walking to a cafĂ© we knew rather than eating next to the dead animals ready to be cooked.  

We haven't met very many cats, but this lovely cat was hanging out in his shop, and was happy to be pet.  He was so happy, he even licked my hand a few times.

We happened upon two men loading a truck with decorative toy drums.  I'm guessing they were made in the nearby building, and were being loaded for delivery to a store.  Or perhaps a large children's party.

It was fascinating to watch these two men try to stack the toy drums in the back of a pickup, while parked on a hill.  I can only imagine what it looked like while they were driving!

I'm still intrigued by the variety of traditional clothing, especially for women.  It seems as if there are different styles for different ethnic groups, though I don't really know which group might be which.

One group of women has lovely embroidered blouses that are really dresses, often with with lace sleeves or necklines.  A long dark wrap skirt is worn with this, making the underdress look more like just a blouse.  Then an alpaca shawl is added, sometimes just sort of wrapped diagonally across the torso.  These women are less likely to wear the wool fedora, and more likely to just have their hair in a long braid.

The other group of women wear short knife-pleated skirts, knee socks or tights, and almost always a cardigan sweater.  The wool fedora tops the ensemble, always with a little feather in the band.  Sometimes a shawl or scarf is added, sometimes not.  And the skirt is sometimes a solid color, but sometimes has a pattern.  My favorite was the woman wearing a dark skirt that had a design of kittens playing with a ball of yarn, somehow printed in or on the velvet.

We watched people on the weekend, in the park near our hotel.  There's a tiny pond with a circular canal; people rent either rowboats or paddleboats, and cruise the little canal and pond.  It's a nice family outing for a weekend, but also really funny to watch.  Some people go in one direction, others circle in the opposite direction.  Some people paddle or row slowly, others more quickly.  So there are bottlenecks, boat traffic jams, the occasional bumps and crashes, and of course our favorite, the people who row their boats backwards.  No, not that the rower is backwards, which is the way I was taught.  No, people who row their boats with the flat square stern going forward into the water, and the pointed prow facing backwards.  Ummmm, not the most efficient use of the boat.  We tried to get some people to turn around, and they tried, but they couldn't quite master the prow-first technique.  It really was funny.

Okay, last thing - these breads are called "guaguas" (singular is guagua,  pronounced GWA-gwa).  These special breads are shaped and decorated vaguely like babies, and are filled with different kinds of sweet flavors or jams.  

Guagua de pan is the traditional name, meaning bread babies.  The guaguas are for 2 November, Dia de los Difunto - the Day of the Deceased.  (Yes, the day after the Catholic All Saints Day.)  This is vaguely similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead, although the customs vary around Ecuador.  Basically, people take food and flowers, and visit their deceased relatives in the cemeteries, honoring their memories.  While somber, it is also not exactly sad.  And while there are Catholic elements to this national holiday, there are also traditions that vary from one indigenous group to another.

We don't know where we'll be on 2 November, but will definitely try to see what's going on, wherever we might be.

In the meanwhile, I'll collect photos of the guaguas de pan!

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