22 Jul

Ecuador Travelogue (part 5)

View from the top.

The Teleferico park was surrounded by a fence, and at one point, we came upon a sign warning us not to leave the park and that if we did so, we were on our own and there was nothing they could do to help us. In the relatively short distance, the cloud-covered peak of Ruco Pichincha was visible, and there was a trail that ran along the ridge tops toward Ruco Pichinicha. But as anyone who’s hiked in the mountains knows, what looks to be really close is actually about three hours away. Eileen and I walked toward Ruco Pichincha, but we were never planning on going all the way there, especially since it looked like it was going to rain at any moment.

Misspelled Warnings

Later that afternoon, we tracked down one of the policemen from my first English class, Cesar. He had worked up at the Teleferico park for four months and told us a couple of horror stories. Ruco Pichincha, he explained, has some pretty weird microclimate stuff going on, and when it’s surrounded by dark clouds, there’s often an electrical buildup. You’ve got to take anything metal out of your pockets and get out of there, he explained. Once, a family was hiking up on Ruco and they all got struck by lightning. The man’s legs were severed, and the woman was thrown off the peak. They had a boy with them who was also killed.

Cesar went on to explain that a couple of years ago, there was something even worse than lightning lurking in the heights of Pichincha: a rapist. He had a set of binoculars, apparently, and he’d watch for gringo tourists who were vulnerable. We heard some mixed reports from various people, but I think he killed at least one German woman. Cesar was part of an expedition that hiked toward Ruco Pichincha, trying to track the guy down. They didn’t get him that time, but eventually, they captured him, and since he had no teeth, he became known as “El Desdentado de Pichincha,” the Toothless Man of Pichincha. Que horror!

Cesar also told us about another former student of mine — a policeman — whom I’ll call Javi. Javi witnessed a robbery in progress and yelled at the thief, who took off running. Javi gave chase, and caught the guy, but he resisted. The two fell to the ground, and the thief pulled out a huge knife. Javi responded by pulling out his gun. He meant to shoot into the air but instead, he accidentally shot the guy and killed him. It was a clear case of self-defense, but that didn’t make it any easier for Javi to deal with. He got pretty depressed afterwards, and Cesar relayed how horrible Javi felt about it.

The police were in my first English class when I taught in Quito, and though police in general have a reputation of being womanizers and all-around jerks, many of my students were quiet, timid, gentle people. Cesar, “Javi,” and another one they called “El Gordo” (which means fat, but he wasn’t), were among my favorites. Really great guys.

For Cesar, and several others, joining the police force was not exactly a dream come true. Before going to the academy, Cesar was a tennis coach. He began with six students his first year, and by the end of the season, he had 50. He loved it, and he was good at it. But his mom pressured him into joining the police so he could make more money. And now here he is ten years later, still dreaming of returning to coaching.

We spoke to Cesar for a couple of hours that afternoon. I’d gone to the Turism Police headquarters three times, hoping to find some old students, but each time they told me to come back tomorrow or later that afternoon. For whatever reason, I kept missing them. But on my last visit to the headquarters, I asked specifically about Cesar, who, they told me, would be at the Ministry of Tourism all day.

We found the Ministry, and thus Cesar, without too much trouble, and then we hung out with him there until it got dark. That’s the night we went to Zazu, which left us with two more days in Quito.

21 Jul

Ecuador Travelogue (part 4)

By the way, Zazu was the only five-star restaurant we’ve ever been to, and it was stupendous. The sushi, on the other hand, was not as good as it was four years ago. But it gave us enough sustenance to get up relatively early on Saturday morning and take off for Otovalo.

Everyone we talked to said Otovalo was cercita – only an hour and a half away. Eileen thought she remembered it being longer than that; I had no idea. But the bus driver sided with Eileen in asserting that the trip was closer to 2 ½ hours. Throw in a little confusion over where to catch the bus and it really ended up being a 3 ½ or 4-hour saga.

I take solace in the fact that we bargain better than most other gringos, though. Hammocks that were selling for $18 at most places we got for $25 for 2! And Eileen got lots of earrings and scarves for some great prices. But the most memorable part of the trip came before we purchased the hammocks, when a familiar-looking gray-haired gringo walked by and I said to Eileen, “I think I know that guy.” He disappeared quickly, but 15 minutes later I figured out how I knew him. We rounded a corner and there before us, finishing up a purchase with a vendor, stood a former student of mine! That gray-haired gringo was his father, whom I remembered from our one and only meeting at parent-teacher conferences last fall.

On this visit to Ecuador, we allowed ourselves to spend money more like tourists. When we lived here, making a combined salary of $700 a month, we were hesitant to ever drop more than ten dollars in one sitting. (We only went to the Swiss Hotel on Friday nights, when the rolls were two for the price of one.) In fact, I vaguely remember debating whether or not to go to the butterfly museum in Mindo because we thought it was expensive ($6 per person!). But now we were okay with spending $10 for the Canopy Adventure and $8 for the ride up the Teleferico’s cable cars in Quito.

The Teleferico was built while we lived here; it was completed in June of 2005, I think. And while Eileen braved the huge crowds in the opening weeks, waiting in line for something like 3 hours, I never got the chance to go. So on Monday morning, we walked up La Gasca, toward the barrio known as Las Casas, where we could catch a free bus to the Teleferico park. There, we paid the $8 admission fee (for foreigners), and got into a cable car without wait. No line whatsoever. We had gone relatively early (8:30) on the advice of a former student of mine, and it was a pretty good move.

From the cable car looking down

At the top of the lift, there’s a small park with some dirt trails you can hike on. There’s also a church for some reason. The elevation was somewhere around 13500, and it took some effort to walk up steep hills. So I began joking that the church was called Our Lady of I Can’t Breathe. I came up with some good names (Nuestra Senora de la Falta del Oxigeno, Nuestra Dama de la Achachay, La Iglesia de Ayudame), but they were sacrilegious, Ecuadorian Spanish jokes, so I’ll spare you the full list. Trust me, though: they were funny. Really funny.
Nuestra Senora de la Gran Altura