Debilitating sickness and marathon bus rides provide me with far too much idle time

I realize that I have not been giving my entries titles, but these random and tangential thoughts can only be appropriately named,

“Debilitating sickness and marathon bus rides provide me with far too much idle time.”

This is a somewhat lengthy title, but my other blog entries can attest to my long-winded prose. 🙂

We missed our bus last Monday because we had the wrong departure time. We ended up leaving that evening instead. However, given lemons I made lemonade and was able to use that time to put some pictures into a Facebook album. We arrived in Quito early Tuesday morning to a much colder temperature than we left only a month before. It is good that we are heading south because the winter season is setting in. We stayed at the same hostel, Vibes, but the “vibes” 😉 were quite different than last time. Plus it was a Tuesday and those are pretty quiet. We left the next morning for Latacunga where I wanted to get one last hike in Ecuador. We stayed at the Hostal Tiana, which was really nice though even colder than Quito. The next morning we caught a bus to Chugchilàn, the middle village along the Quilotoa loop. This loop is a haphazard mountain road (or nearby trekking path) around Quilotoa Lake, a volcano caldera. It is supposed to be absolutely breathtaking and I wanted to see it before we left. The only problem is that we essentially went from sea level to over 3,000 meters in less than 24 hours. The result, we both gained an acute case of altitude sickness. So, though I would love to tell you all about the amazing hikes along the Quilotoa loop, all I can really tell you is that I had a really comfortable bed at the Cloud Forest hostel, the staff were really nice, and it was cold. Otherwise, I really did not accomplish much else. Someone suggested that we must have had a stomach bug, but now back at sea level I feel almost as good as new. Yes, we determined that staying at altitude was not serving in our best interests, so we are now in Guayaquil waiting at the terminal for our bus tonight to Màncora, Peru. Despite everything, it was nice to have one last trip into the mountain scenery. So now in Guayaquil, where our trip began only two and one half months ago, the Ecuadorian chapter comes to a close. One country down and seven to go.

Ok, now onto the random thoughts that led me to title this entry. Mostly these thoughts are on my observations of the Quechua people that we saw in the Quilotoa area. Quechuas are the native ethnic people of Ecuador, and Quechua is their primary language. I have mostly encountered them as individuals or in small groups and almost always as them being vendors of some product. They always seemed so quiet and reserved. This trip, however, was my first opportunity to observe them on thier own turf. Aaron and I took one of only two daily buses which traverses the loop. This gave me plenty of time to people watch. The men are difficult to discern from other Ecuadorian men (Though I cannot say that I have seen any of them in the male Ecuadorian uniform. That is, with pants zipper down, shirt pulled up over the belly, and a steady stream of hissing noises at passing women), but the women have a very distinct apparel that defines them. It is a very practical dress and yet at the same time obscure. The combination of clothing choices seems bizarre, and yet they have added their own individuality and femininity to the style as an expression of their culture. The typical attire is a velvet skirt of approximately knee length, stockings or tall socks, leather shoes with a slight heal, hair gathered at the back of the neck with the ends loose and often with a knitted cover wrapped around the length of the hair, and a felt, 1800`s German lederhosen-style or yodeling hat, frequently with a lone peacock feather stuck into the band. On top there is a wider variety, but a majority wear a cardigan-type sweater and/or a knitted blanket over the shoulders with a fabric sash wrap which serves to carry possessions, children, or other large bundles against their backs. I also saw a wide range of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. I saw girls as young as ten up to grandmotherly women adorned in this way. This combination inspired certain assumptions about their way of life, but then they prove you incorrect. For example, I got the impression that they live somewhat isolated from the mainstream of cities and technology, but then a women will pull out a cell phone and start chatting away and you will still see signs for internet cafes in the villages. Also, as our bus was getting ready to pull away from the terminal and everyone was hurrying to file into their seats, a small crew of food vendors suddenly showed up and everyone started buying food like this was a normal way to grab a meal. When we left Chugchilàn yesterday the same thing happened. These people have perfected the way to buy good food, cheaply, by purchasing from vendors. This gave me the impression that they are used to eating all hand-prepared foods, but then you watch the intensity with which all ages will produce the packaged treats I would associate with a children´s snack bar. I saw ice cream bars, plastic Squeeze juice bottles, suckers, and more. Another assumption is that these people are isolated from each other, living on individual farms spread out over the area. This is true, these people have mastered some pretty astounding vertical agricultural feats, but strangers they are not. While at the terminal I thought I would see the interactions of strangers, but instead witnessed the eager atmosphere of old friends meeting to exchange news and gossip after a day at the market. They were incredibly animated and happy. The women have these brilliant smiles that flash across their faces in an instant like that is the resting position of their mouths. Combined with their attire, I would quite enamored by these people. While in route to Chugchilàn, there was a steady stream of people getting on and off as their farm or village came into sight. There was a constant shuffling around of seats as well. Something I thought interesting is that when other tourists finally got onto the bus (Aaron and I were the only ones until the last hour or so of the ride), people seemed to shuffle as far from the tourists as possible. People combined seats and shifted so that they would not have to share a double seat with one of the hikers. Maybe they are just wary of these strangers that constantly come into their villages and traipse around. I am not really sure what to make of this. Especially when you contrast this behavior with the boldness of the children. These children have no fear of foreigners to the extent that they blatantly ignore personal space. For example, Friday a large group of children stayed at our hostel. There had been a children´s festival in Sigchos, a neighboring village, and some where clearly staying in the area. While Aaron and I were packing yesterday some of these children discovered a gap in the curtain to our room and as many as could squeeze into the space began staring at us and chattering away as though we were zoo animals. I was quite taken aback by this. More so after we discovered that they had latched the bolt lock on the outside of our door and we could not get out. Despite at least five people within hearing and eye sight, it took several minutes of yelling out our window before someone finally let us out. Though I have actually noticed this boldness all throughout Ecuador. When I am working at a computer in an internet cafe, children had frequently taken to blatantly standing at my side and watching my activities. Oh the intriguing behaviors we humans possess.

On a final note, we are saying “goodbye” to Ecuador. The last two and one half months have been amazing. I have truly come to cherish this country. With only one year to travel, we cannot possible spend two months in each, and yet Ecuador is one of the smallest countries we will be visiting. However, I am glad we took our time with this first one. We have refreshed our Spanish, gained our travel legs, and now have a better plan of action for tackling the next seven countries. Plus, it is probably smarted to spend longer in the cheaper countries. I will miss Ecuador and all its idiosyncrasies. Chapter one completed on our South American Adventure.

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