Monthly Archives: June 2013

Inti Raymi … Cotacachi

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A pleasant half hour drive from the town site is the active Laguna de Cuicocha (Guinea Pig Lake) at the base of Cotacachi Volcano! …… steam bubbles to the surface at regular intervals from this active underwater volcano …….. the fresh air was superb after Quito’s polluted air!! I took the little tour boat for a half hour lookabout, savouring the moist fresh air and the lush green volcanic scenery. To my complete surprise, a small group of high schoolers on a field trip from Quito, broke out in song as we left the shore …. the theme song from Titanic in flawless, albeit Spanish accented, English!! What a delight and totally enhanced the boat experience!! Celine Dion would have been proud of the bunch πŸ™‚ …. good friendly fun group of kids … however, despite knowing all the words to the song, could not converse in English with me at all! …. lots of giggles and smiles though, mostly at my meager Spanish πŸ™‚ !! Maybe they were too shy … singing as a group is way easier for communication πŸ™‚ … I loved it …. the song is still one of my favourites and I tear up every time I hear it.

Clemenia and Eufemia from the hotel encouraged me to take in the annual indigenous celebration in the center of town today … called ‘Inti Raymi’ …. It is an ancestral celebration exclusive to the Otavalenos of this region and coincides with the crop harvest … I had been to Otavalo some weeks ago for their weekly animal market … there are hundreds of thousands of Otavalenos in this Northern Highlands region of the country … they are the most industrious and successful of the more than twenty different indigenous groups within Ecuador … In total, indigeneous people make up roughly 25 percent of Ecuador’s 14 million people. They pretty much dress as they have for hundreds of years in these rural towns of Ecuador ….. Only the hand embroidery on the ladies’ blouses may have become brighter with new colourful threading available and upon closer inspection, (ever the skeptic, I am snoopy that way :)) … some of the embroidery may be done on machines now rather than by hand. The women wear dark skirts with white embroidered blouses and black sandals …. the men, white pants, blue ponchos and white sandals ….

It was a quiet scene when I arrived in the town square shortly after breakfast, but within half an hour, a steady stream of male dancers, dressed up in rather strange cowboyish costumes, topped off with huge black hats, fill the main street. It is quite the explosion of color and sound for a normally quiet small town …… hundreds dancing down the main street …… more of a rhythmic marching stomp than a dance really, and accompanied by a repetitive chant …. this will apparently go on for several hours!!! … wives, sisters, daughters, mothers, girlfriends are all here, passing water, pop, juices to their men …. It would appear to me, after watching and walking about for the past three hours, that a frenzy is taking hold of the dancers …. it also occurs to me that something stronger than water and juices are being consumed!! At this point, I opt to take my leave and head back to Mirage for lunch ….

Unfortunately, as is the case with far too many indigenous people around the globe, much drinking of the homemade hooch variety is a sad reality …… in Ecuador it is ‘chicha’ …. a fermented corn liquor … police holding shields are scattered everywhere … they are needed for later this afternoon when fighting breaks out …. it apparently always does with all the drinking going on … (Last year three died and dozens were hospitalized during the festivities, hence the heavy police presence this year) ….. I noticed many glassy eyed, staggering, indigenous cowboys as I walked back, wildly swinging leather riding crops with hard metal based handles …. these will end up as fighting tools later in the afternoon. At one point, I was jostled about as I accidentally got in the way of the dancers … I was busy taking pictures and was not aware that the dancers had abruptly changed direction and before I knew it, I was jostled and wedged against a wall … causing me a minor moment of panic … drunk mobs are not something to reason with! TIme to vamoose and celebrate the remainder of Inti Raymi with a nice lunch and a massage back at the hotel πŸ™‚

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Back to Rural Life … Cotacachi!

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I bid hasta luego to Quito for five days and head north two hours to the ‘City of Peace’ … Cotacachi, home to just over 10,000 which includes a good number of gringos as the Ecuadorians call us, drawn here undoubtedly by the clean Andean air, beautiful scenery and general tranquil ambiance. The town is known for it’s leather work, judging by the number of shops lining the main street, selling belts, boots, shoes, luggage, coats …. just ‘leather’ everything!! Market day is Sunday and Saturday so will have to snoop out the shops before I head back to Quito … I join up with a small group of Americans arrive late Saturday and we are back with the children Monday morning.

Richard, Global’s contact in Quito drives me to this paradise on the outskirts of Cotacachi, Mirage Garden Resort and Spa, now in it’s 28th year of business …. A small garden setting that feels like a village of it’s own … I am the sole guest!! There are twenty some rooms scattered about on roughly two or three acres of land … an oldish Inn in a charming setting … the resident peacocks peek through the window, several varieties of hummingbirds flitter nearby, as I enjoy my breakfast … very cool! I may forever be spoiled to ever even contemplate staying in larger hotels … These converted old homes and haciendas, bed and breakfast inns are where it is at to set the stage to learn about the culture of a country.

Richard was a delight as a driving companion and fortunately for me, very interested, fully engaged and knowledgeable about the politics of his country. I added much to my information base as we chatted and drove along through the always stunning Andean countryside. By all accounts, President, Rafael Correa Delgado has done much good during his six years in power. He has basically revolutionized the government of his country ….. everyone now has health coverage, old age pensions, free schooling and uniforms for all children, less corruption by far (just a few weeks ago, he closed down a credit union accused of money laundering ….. the top people in charge of this bank are currently in jail, awaiting trial) …. he is, without a doubt, a socialist … loved by the poor, tolerated by the middle class, reviled by the rich …… what else is new :)?? He is a bit of an arrogant authoritarian, but perhaps not the worst quality to have in a leader of a developing nation … I weigh all the information I gather and feel his good deeds balance out the negative characteristics … I had watched him give an acceptance speech (in Spanish, of course) on TV, a few days after my arrival in Ecuador … He had just won another term on May 24 … very charismatic, handsome and seemingly authentically genuine about wanting to do good for his country (a former professor of economics …. perhaps we in the western world should start hiring profs instead of lawyers to run our show)…. just a cursory first impression. Everyone, regardless of whether they like him or not, agree that he is good for the country for now …

Arriving at Mirage was like stepping into serenity … I literally have the place to myself … indulged in an awesome Ecuadorian style shamanistic healing ritual and massage yesterday …. it was other worldly in it’s entirety!! Cotacachi is magical! I had enjoyed a morning walk in the hillsides earlier …. I am totally in my happy place here in this pastoral rural setting ….

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Week one done … The American Family flies home!

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An exhausting week of painting and child care came to an end … I was distracted regularly by news of the flooding disaster striking my city and province …. the worst disaster in our history, as it turned out!! I could not help feeling I should be back home helping with the extensive recovery work …. It will take years to rebuild Calgary, High River, Canmore, Kananaskis, Bragg Creek and other areas …. but a commitment is a commitment and so I remain. My family and our homes are all untouched by the flooding which helped with my decision to remain here but so many others are in need of help … it feels so surreal to be away at such a time …. sigh, my heart is torn … back to Ecuador …..

Fundac President Elvita and her team of ‘Tias’ put on a performance of indigenous song and dance for our group as a thank you for our work this week. Varinda choreographed our own contribution … The Hokey Pokey and The Chicken Dance, which had the children, the Tias and even us, laughing at our exaggerated antics …. a good day all in all …. the painting is complete, thanks in large part to Ken our organizer and painter extraordinaire, right down to detailed touch ups and trims, the children well loved, well held by Blair, Jake and I, well fed, well played with (the soccer balls we purchased for the Centres came to good use!!), thanks to the young men in our group … yes, mission accomplished for week one with Global Volunteers!

Our farewell dinner at the Hermosa rooftop restaurant in old town Quito was superb! The circular view, spectacular! …. hundreds of twinkling city lights, well lit cathedrals, the royal palace, all helped create a stunning back drop for our evening dining pleasure! Good fun time was had by all …. Ciao, Americans!

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Family Day Celebrations

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Maggie Bjorklund, our vivacious young Global host and leader, (holding large wooden spoon in pictures below) has been guiding us along as we meander through the ins and outs of local life in Quito, Ecuador. She is a wealth of knowledge, having lived here for ten years. Maggie speaks fluent Spanish, so helpful for our group, given so few speak English in Ecuador. The ‘Tias’ (Aunties) who run the child centres speak no English whatsoever … Maggie is always on hand for translations and is also teaching us Spanish during the morning commute to Calderon ..

Saturday, we took a mid day break from the painting to join in on the Centre’s yearly, Family Day Celebrations. There was singing, dancing, fun contests of all sorts, a mariachi band, a full grilled luncheon for the children and their parents …. lots of celebrating and good times for everyone. Our group of fifteen formed part of the audience πŸ™‚ but we also joined in for some salsa dancing. Great day …. hard to get back to work painting after that, but paint we did, until the job was done!

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Hometown Disaster Mingles With Volunteer Post

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I have been so busy these past five days with the volunteer posting that I have barely made it to a wifi zone to check emails. My little hotel in Quito does have wifi, but frustratingly intermittent and when I finally did get coverage, to discover the havoc that Mother Nature has wrecked on Calgary, I was left almost winded with shock! Unbelievably devastating for my home town. My husband, son and brother-in-law all seem to have survived and our homes and business sites are intact, but many thousands were not so fortunate. It will take a monumental effort to clean up our wee city on the Bow, which at the moment, is a raging torrent of water flow! I cannot comprehend how much is involved to bring our city back to some form of normalcy. My blog posting has taken a bit of a hiatus due to my inability to even form a sentence at the end of days … totally exhausted and my head hits the pillow shortly after dinner ….

The American family of 14 arrived safe, sound and travel weary last Wednesday … all from Manhattan and Boston areas … as high powered, and competitive a family as I have ever met!! …. they left me reeling. They are here only for a week and man, did they get moving with our first assignment …. the painting of the Fundac funded Child Centre. With military precision, one was voted foreman, assigning all tasks, observing what we were best at, shifting us around as needed and away we flew! After three and a half days, the work is almost complete!!! Brian could have used this team of hard workers on the hotel!! Maybe I will suggest they head to Calgary for the flood clean up …. they would have it done within a week!!

This is the 15th trip they have done together as a family, but their first volunteer posting together …. Apparently, the idea for the family excursions started as a celebration for whichever child of the family was graduating from high school that year. The graduate got to chose the destination country for the celebration. This years marks their last child to graduate (four siblings, spouses and offspring) … They are thinking up ways to handle from here on in … I imagine, given this family’s ‘can do’ attitude, they will have that sewn up in no time!

The children at the Centre are lovely … I have fallen in love with them all … no surprise there :). Since we have finished our first task of painting the Centre, I imagine next week we will be working more with the children. A few pictures to share of our first days … Firstly our small familyish hotel, Sol de Quito, around the Centre, mostly of painting but did catch Steve, Matt and Colin having a bit of a rest πŸ™‚ walking to lunch as a group down a dusty road, children napping in the afternoon (several to a bed!!) and some random shots. I am a ‘good’ tired these days πŸ™‚

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La Nariz del Diablo

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Nariz del Diablo, known in English as The Devil’s Nose, is a rather touristic (as it turned out, much to my disappointment) train ride up a steep 765m mountain cliff of solid rock … built in the 1900’s and starts it’s hour and a half return ride from the tiny town of Alausi … not anywhere near as thrilling as the literature reports but a stunning scenic experience nonetheless … this country continues to surprise, it is just so beautiful! … stopped at the Inca ruins at Ingapirca on the way back to Cuenca … It is Ecuador’s mini Macchu Piccu and best preserved archaeological site, set in open fields with grazing Ilamas and the rather charming little town of Ingapirca in the background. The site was originally used as an observatory by the indigenous Canari people of the area. Had a nice lunch at the Posada in town with an Argentine couple and my English speaking guide for the day, Adrian … again, a delightful surprise as his English was excellent! We had a great conversation on the two hour drive to the train …. and again, I learned much about life in Ecuador … hard to do unless one really gets to know a country’s people. It is very difficult to get by without semi fluent Spanish or have someone available for translation. Only the hotel staff speak English at all and even among those, not all of them by any stretch …. sometimes the random stranger on the street surprises and might understand a bit, but they are far and few between … Tourism is still very new to this country, hence why English is so rare …. I wish I had researched and taken some Spanish classes in Calgary prior to coming ….. I am too accustomed to the Mexican culture where tourism has existed for decades, allowing the locals to understand and speak English quite well ….. oh well, live and learn errr…. rather, do the research, which just happens to be a weakness of mine πŸ™‚ ….. should be fun next week, communicating with children who speak little or no English at all … my Spanish should start to improve considerably …….. Si!!

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