The many many human faces of Ecuador … and yes, I asked permission from everyone prior to taking a picture with the exception of my babies at the child Center 🙂 …. The ‘Tias’ assured me it was okay to do so ….
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!
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 🙂 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!
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 🙂 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 🙂
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 🙂 ….. should be fun next week, communicating with children who speak little or no English at all … my Spanish should start to improve considerably …….. Si!!
What an easygoing place for quiet reflection and meditation … I am holed up at the lovely Mansion Alcazar, yet another homey, lovingly restored old house in Ecuador, in yet another World Heritage Site city, Cuenca. I am surrounded by peaceful gardens, humming with hummingbirds and step out from the front door of this beyond charming 12 room Inn, into the cobbly streets and balconied apartments of old town Cuenca. There is a church seemingly around every bend, and I wander in, often sitting a spell in quiet contemplation if not exactly prayer 🙂 … some days, I go in to escape the rain which has not let up since I arrived Sunday night but it is not heavy rain and the downpour only lasts a few hours in the mornings … afternoons are usually clear and I explore the various museums, churches, coffee cafes and restaurants; Tiestos is my favourite …. the best food in town!
The Panama Hat Museum presented some interesting history and I decide on the spot, to buy a few hats from the museum shop! … For over a century, Ecuador has endured the world mistakenly crediting another country with it’s most famous export! The work involved in making these hats is quite arduous, from harvesting, to drying, to splitting the fronds … the prep work takes days, before the fine art of weaving can even begin! …. Cuenca happens to be the Center for the Panama hat trade. To an Ecuadorian, the hat is known simply as ‘sombrero de paja toquilla’ … (toquilla straw hat) or to hat connoisseurs, a Montecristi! The origin of the misnomer dates back to 1800’s when Spanish entrepreneurs began exporting these beautifully hand crafted hats via Panama. During the 19th century, workers on the Panama Canal wore these hats to protect themselves from the tropical sun ….. and when U.S. President Roosevelt wore one, well, all this helped equate the Ecuadorian hat with Panama. I shall rename my hat to honour the people who grow, harvest and weave them …. The Ecuador Hat!
Sad to leave this bucolic location and the many varied and interesting people I have met both in this little village of Zuleta, and the guests at the hacienda …. Fernando and his aunt Marcela, the amazing staff .. all of them! …. the local people from town and although no one spoke English, we communicated in very limited basic Spanish daily ….. I miss their smiles and friendly waves already … sometimes the best communication tools …. throughout the week there were two different American families … Hans from Switzerland … a road bum like me, he has taken six months off from life in Zurich “to live his life” as he aptly put it, exploring South America, Dick a global tourism consultant from the Netherlands, working with Fernando on the development of his various hacienda properties, Lucia from England, a journalist with London’s Financial Times is doing an article on Ecuador for the paper, a sweet Ecuadorian couple from Quito celebrating a 9th wedding anniversary, a large extended family of fellow Canadians from Vancouver and the Okanagan …… intrepid adventurers all! I have discovered over the years, it is not your usual tourist who ventures into the back roads of any country! The conversations around dinner are fascinating and I love how everyone willingly shares their lives, adventures and travels …..