So, here it is, elegantissima city in Ecuador, as they like to proclaim. After the filth in the streets of Riobamba it certainly seems so at first glance. The centre is laid out in a now familiar grid beloved of the colonial Spanish. It certainly makes for easy navigation- two blocks up, three across.
They have been waiting four years for the completion of the tramway designed to run from the airport via the bus terminal into town and out again. The rolling stock was delivered in 2015. It might start in May this year! People can’t believe(accept?) the level of political and economic corruption, and just shrug their shoulders.
A recommendation for a restaurant in the main square leads to a fine dish of large succulent prawns with vegetables stir-fried. With a large Club beer and a tip it sets you back $12.50. And right next door Tutti Freddo has really good ice-cream. I make the mistake of ordering two bolos-$2.25- which is more like four scoops. Just as well it was good flavour and smooth texture.
The new Cathedral, 1893, is the second largest in South America. This may be the full extent of its noteworthiness. When full it can accommodate five thousand people. It’s high it’s wide the columns are thick. But it has none of the elegance of Haghia Sofia nor the simple elegance of the Mesquite in Cordova. You feel you are in Brobdignab. This ruined Adobe/cob house was not far away.
There’s a lovely flower market round the corner with vibrant colours in the confections they sell for people to give to the church.
I have booked a tour to Cajas national park tomorrow that will happen whatever the weather. She gives me a thick yellow plastic poncho! It has been raining all the time.
We are eight and I’m the oldest. Juri is wearing just a cloth jacket and a sweater. Everyone else is kitted up for cold and rain. He keeps saying ” it’s OK I am from Russia”. Learn later Aeroflot mislaid his bags in Washington three weeks ago and they are still missing!
The first hour’s walk around a lake is interesting for flora and a few birds and fairly flat, but pretty muddy. These are both gentians! Still boots better than wellies which the rest are wearing. The guide has been coming here since he was eleven. Halfway round there is a large deserted brick building. Some Germans set up a brewery fifty years ago but the only thing going for it was the good water, so it folded.
The next part is higher and much more exposed. Strong wind blowing and underfoot lots of black boggy sections threatening to suck off the wellies. We pass through a polylepis forest that is ghostly. It’s two hours of battling through and round rugged bare landscape that in sunshine would be very much different. And at 4200 metres you are catching your breath on the steep bits. Half way round the heel comes away on my right boot. I can tie it up but rain is getting in. The glued up left boot is fine -the industrial glue from Quito has worked. We all make it to the end and down the road apiece for good thick soup and grilled trout.
It’s very quiet round the table, some weary trekkers.
Supper with a gynaecologist from Portland breaks the pattern of solo eating in a good way. The downside is going to a”well-regarded” Italian called Mangiare benne(sic). Non e non, non e Vero. When in Ecuador…….
Crazy music going on in the main square, Latin versions of 1960s type footstompers, great gusto and volume, inducing couples to dance a neat shuffling dance.
The trip next day to Ingapirca is as bad as the Cajas was good. The guide is brash loud and speaks with a heavy American slurred accent. We take four hours to cover 45 kilometres thanks to gratuitous stops at roadside cafes( payback?) and market so he can buy fish for his supper. It did furnish a couple of interesting pics though. Mini Pink fur apple. The second was a bit naughty
At the site the guide’s information is erratic and inconsistent, the very worst type of bullshitter.
A visit the next day to a Museo de Culturas Aboriginales has enormous quantities of pre-Incan ceramics going back to 1500 bce. It brings home how much Luis Gonzales didn’t know. A large group of 15 year old students are being sadly bored to tears by an overly- detailed presentation by teachers. There is a lot of giggling over some sub-Kama Sutra clay modelled intimate figures.
The final day becomes frustrating when museums supposed to be open aren’t. Time on my hands combines with an increasingly uncomfortable stomach. The last thing I need before a long coach journey. I do manage to buy some dried broad beans to plant in March. Banking on them liking the lower altitude.
The man in the hotel has been unfailingly polite and helpful. The room was spacious and the central courtyard area old-fashioned elegant albeit a little bit rundown. WiFi is generally pretty good here in Ecuador, occasionally a patchy signal. But always the underlying sense of struggling to make things work, to step up from a subsistence living.
A frequent theme is that despite compulsory voting most people don’t care and a free chicken will buy their vote. The outcome of the referendum in February will determine if they revert to the old corrupt Correa or look for a new way.
These are rather downbeat thoughts for the end of my stay in Ecuador. It’s a fascinating and immensely varied country. The people have been polite and enquiring and helpful, from city folk to weather-beaten women working the land. It would be terrible if they went the way of Venezuela.
The coach to Chiclayo is once a day and full. People trying to buy tickets half an hour before leaving are turned away. Strange that you leave a long significant journey to chance and a 24 hour wait.
At least the seats are comfortable and the young German girl next to me is not large. She’s rather sweet though how she manages without wearing her glasses is a mystery.
A long day’s journey into a Peruvian night beckons.