Travels with John Smith
Chapter 57 year 9 (2019-2020)
London, Canada and Ecuador
-cool places in London
-back in Canada
-finding a place to live
-stuff in a truck from BC
-boxes, painting and settling
-planning a trip for Chinese NY
-Xmas with family
-1st hearing about the virus in Wuhan
-masks or not?
-Boutique hotel in Quito
-Old town Unesco site
-Eating chicken with the locals
-A volcano where people live and crops grow
-neighbourhood watch during the riots
-middle of the world
-experiments on the equator
-Amazonian and Indigenous customs
-‘The Queen of Water’ true story
-guinea pigs and deadlier animals
-chocolate and the making of it
-the plaza and it’s going on
-5:00 AM at the bus station
-12 hours plus on a bus
-Manta, the beach
-Christian’s seafood heaven
-flying is faster
Travels with John Smith
Chapter 57 year 9 (2019-2020)
London, Canada, Ecuador
We are eating a full English breakfast in a cafe near the apartment we are staying in, in Earl’s court. We have been in London for a few days and we done lots of my favourite things. We have walked around Kensington and Hyde Park with my son Bogart, we’ve hung out in Portobello market where we watched a guy balance on a tight rope with one foot, we’ve met with friends on the rooftop restaurant of John Lewis, where friend’s of Bogart are the chefs. We had a picnic with some more friends in Holland Park and met for dinner with other friends in Chiswick and Barnes. John and I hung out at Southbank and had tea at the Tate Modern Gallery and Bogart showed us around Walthamstow and Waltham Forest where we saw some gorgeous little cottages and went to a super cool bar/restaurant with thousands of neon signs and lights. We met some lovely friends of Bogarts and saw lots of old friends and missed others who were away when we were there. London is and will always be in my heart.
We spend a couple days in Toronto, staying with friends, Mark and Ross and hanging out with sister Bonnie. They take us to some of the cool places in Toronto and now we are back in Saskatchewan.
We look for an apartment to rent but most of the ones we see are too small to house the stuff that will arrive from China and the stuff that has been in a locker in BC and what we left here in Saskatchewan.
We find a house to rent, thanks to sister Wendy, that is lovely and the right size but in need of some TLC and renovation so we do a deal. We go to BC to see Elizabeth, (John’s daughter), her husband Joel and adorable granddaughter Faith. We have a short visit and rent a truck to haul everything that has been in a locker for 8 years, back to Saskatchewan. It takes us 3 days to drive through the beautiful rocky mountains and back across the lovely prairies that are now our home.
The boxes arrive from China in perfect condition. Everything is in one place. We get to work, John doing most of the painting and handyman stuff, me mostly cleaning, unpacking, organizing and decorating, with some help from sister Michelle. It is nice to be close to our families and we spend time with them but also start to settle in to the idea of living here again. The last time I lived in Saskatoon was in the 1970’s!
The travel bug is still with us so we start to look at South America. We have friends that live in Peru that I have mentioned before. We worked and were friends with Steve and his wife Nancy in Wuhan and then visited them when they lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand. They moved to Peru a few years ago and he writes for an online magazine that talks about different places to retire. We decide to check it out and to combine it with a visit. We always wanted to go to Ecuador too and we find a flight to Peru that goes through Quito. We start planning, working on a budget and deciding what we will see in those two places, after asking Steve for advice. We will go at the same time as Chinese New Year (old habits die hard).
It’s almost Xmas and John has gone to see Elizabeth and family in BC. My family arrive from different parts of Canada and I have a visit with them before going back to the UK to spend Xmas with Bogart. It’s the first time Bogart and I have spent Xmas together for many years. It’s always wonderful to hang out with him.
It’s January and we have been following the news about a virus that started in Wuhan, China in December. We are in contact with lots of people there and we are worried about it’s spread because the Chinese New Year will be starting soon. We know most of China will be travelling around the country and many people, especially all the foreigners that live and work there, will be travelling to different countries around the world.
People start to die from the virus and it gets more worrying. Most of our foreign teacher friends leave for their holidays in other countries. About a week before we leave for Ecuador, we hear about the 1st case in the US. Other countries in South East Asia start to report cases and 2 days later China imposes a strict lockdown on the city of Wuhan. We start to see lots of negative press and comments about Wuhan on Facebook and the internet. I make a video of pictures of Wuhan to show people who have never been there that it is a colourful, fun place, not the horrible, dark place they portray on the news.
People ask if we are still going to leave on vacation and we decide that even though this feels like a serious thing, we will go, since there are no reported cases in Peru yet and we can’t cancel without losing most of what we have already paid for.
We take a flight to Toronto and when we get on the flight, both the flight attendants have masks on. I ask if we are meant to wear them too and she says it’s up to us, that they have a couple of extra ones for us but not to say anything to the other passengers as they don’t have enough for everyone. They will only give them to those who ask. We arrive in Toronto and notice some of the staff in the airport are wearing masks but when we get on the flight to Ecuador, no one is wearing them.
Our hotel is in the old quarter in Quito and is what is called a boutique hotel. From the street, there is a large wooden door that opens to a long hallway with stone brick tiles, leading to an courtyard that has a sitting area with pillars that hold up the 2nd floor balcony, that overlooks the area and is where the rooms are.
There is a large glass ceiling which brings lots of natural light to the gorgeous life sized religious statues and paintings hanging there. Our room is not ready yet so we are told to go wait in another courtyard, which is a similar lay out but this one has lots of tropical plants, a coffee bar in one corner and a book exchange library, full of books. We make our way to the room and it is delightful too, with wall to wall oak furniture as well as a table and chairs with a chess set outside each room on the terrace that overlooks the courtyard.
We go for a walk around the centre and John says it is a city of hills. It is about 3,000 metres (about 9,000 feet) above sea level and is apparently the 2nd highest capital city in the world. We can see a gigantic white angel statue, from almost any point of our walk, watching over the city from the top of the highest hill. Like most old cities, the streets are cobblestone, narrow and winding and every corner we turn reveals a new church or building or tall wall with more treasures inside. The houses on the hillside are brightly coloured; pink, yellow, green, etc. and most of the buildings in the centre are stone or white. It is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site because of it’s colonial architecture, shops and squares.
We are passing a small cafe that has pictures of roasted chicken and fries on the outside and we realize we are hungry. We have to step down to get into it and it’s like a cave, with only 4 tables, one of which is occupied by 3 old men who look like locals. There are bright orange drinks in front of them and their meals look copious and tasty. There are lots more drawings of pictures of food on the wall, which is good because there are no English menus and no one in the place speaks English. I am delighted as this means we have stumbled on to an authentic local place. We point at the picture of chicken. The waitress places the orange drinks in front of us too so I get John to try it to make sure it’s not alcohol. A thick soup with pieces of vegetables in it arrives and we are full after that but then comes the roasted chicken, rice, a boiled potato, half an avocado, a bit of salad and tomato. It’s quite good and we finish as much as possible. We ask how much we owe, using sign language and it’s about 6 dollars for both of us!
We are sitting in the Breakfast room on top of the hotel, looking out at the lovely view, over the rooftops, the bell tower of a church and the side of the hill with the angel on the top of it. We have decided to do a day trip, which will include going to a volcano and to the actual equator.
There is an active volcano about 10 kilometres away, on the West side of the city that last erupted in 1999 and covered the city with ash. The one we are going to see is 17 kilometres North of Quito and it is only one of two volcanic craters in the world that is lived in and the only one that is actually farmed.
We are standing high above the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve. It looks like a green, lush valley. Our guide says we are lucky because it is often covered in fog here and we wouldn’t be able to see it at all but today is bright and clear. He says the land is very fertile because it’s volcanic soil and it certainly looks like anything might grow there.
On the way here, we passed a village that was like a suburb of Quito and our guide said that’s where he lives. He told us about the riots that happened here in Ecuador in October, due to the government wanting to cut subsidies on fuel and the knock on effect it had. He says there were people looking to abuse or profit from the time of unrest that would go into communities and steal whatever they could. He said the people who were doing this were coming from Venezuela, the people who lost everything and because they have nothing, they are dangerous, with nothing to lose. We don’t know if that part was true or was his belief because of the large numbers of people trying to escape from the violence in Venezuela, coming to Ecuador and the effect that might have on the economy and on his life. He says his community formed a kind of neighbourhood watch committee and they took turns guarding at night as it was a dangerous time. He says this was only happening while there were riots here, which have now been resolved.
We are standing in the middle of the world, on the equator. Our guide says there are 2 places that claim to be the middle of the world. He says the more famous one, called ‘ Mitad del Mundo’, which translates as ‘Middle of the World’ was where they thought it was, until they invented the GPS and found it was a little off.
So he brought us to The Intinan Museum, where instead of “Just a monument”(our guides description of the other place), there’s a red line painted on the ground and a sign saying you are at, “00° 00’ 00’’, ‘“the real equator line calculated with G.P.S”.
Being here is like being at a Science museum as they do a few experiments they say only work at the actual equator. One of these things is walking the equatorial line with your eyes closed. Another , trying to balance an egg on the head of a nail. John manages to do this and they give him a certificate to prove he did. They also do a demonstration of the Coriolis Effect, which involves water going down a drain in different directions, depending on which side of the equator you are on. They also put an official stamp in your passport here, to say you were on the equator.
There is a replica of an Inca village here, where we learn a lot about Ecuador’s Amazonian and indigenous people, their traditions and customs. One of the things they had in the hut they lived in, was a large cage with several live guinea pigs. This was and still is a delicacy or treat like a Sunday roast and having them is considered livestock.
I have mentioned before that I like to read books that take place in the places we are visiting and I am reading a book called ‘The Queen of Water’ by Laura Resau. It is based on a true story about a girl who grows up in a farming village, then while she is still a child she works as a servant to a mestizo family. Most Ecuadorians identify or consider themselves to be mestizo, which means they are mixed Indigenous and European descent. She tells how she is treated like a slave, and about the differences of her Quechua origins and language and the Mestizo culture which she adapts to survive. Reading this book helps me to understand some of the culture we see around us. One of the things she talks about in the book is eating guinea pigs so I wasn’t quite so uncomfortable at the idea of consuming the cute little furry beings when we saw this on a few menus and saw them in the cages at the museum.
There is another area at the museum, with displays of animals you can find in an Amazon jungle like different kinds of snakes, tarantulas and deadly fish. In this section there is also a display of a shrunken head, which is something some of the tribes did to their enemies, to trap the spirit of the dead.
There is another area where learn about chocolate. We learn that archeologists discovered containers with cocoa in Ecuador dating back to 3,300 B.C. Later, the Spanish brought it back to Europe but it was too bitter for them so they started adding sugar.
They are showing us the process of processing chocolate beans. The red beans are dug out of of the soft white coating that surrounds them inside a large yellow pod the size of a football. They are fermented, the outer shell is removed, then they are roasted and the beans become the deep brown colour we associate with dark chocolate. Then they are ground or crushed into a powder and either set in chocolate bars or used for hot chocolate. The highest quality chocolate comes from the Arriba bean and they say it is smooth and not bitter. The way they talk about chocolate is the same way people talk about wine, that the places where is grown affects the flavour, the tasting process and the selling of it, after tasting some of the different kinds of chocolate they have in the place.
We are back in the centre, in a large green square called the Plaza de la Independenca. People are sitting on benches talking and feeding the birds. Palm trees and beautiful colonial buildings surround the square, with archways containing a row of old fashioned shoeshine chairs, shops and restaurants. Indigenous women with braids, black hats and traditional clothing move around the groups of people, selling fruit or later in the evening toys that light up or fly. Down the street there are 2 older guys who look like locals, playing classical guitars in front of the biggest church and a film crew is filming them. Further down the street from them, is a guy sitting beside a portable, small stage, controlling several puppets with strings at once.
It is 5:00 am and we are at the bus depot. Our hotel told us the buses leave for Manta at 6:00 and we should be early to make sure we get a ticket. The place is almost empty and there are 2 aisles of booths where they sell tickets to different places but they are all closed. We try to ask various people what time everything opens but no one gets what we are saying. We walk along looking until we find the ones that go to Manta and the seaside and there seem to be three. A railway guard comes to try and help and with our extremely limited Spanish, we understand we are at the right place but they won’t open until much later. We can see that each company’s buses leave at a different times and we wanted to book the ‘1st class’ buses that we heard are like airplanes with their service, etc. but the ones that look the best in the pictures, don’t leave until the afternoon. The one that leaves the earliest looks ok but not what I would call 1st class. There is no where to sit here in the station and the ground is cold and dirty cement but after standing for some time, we sit on the ground as close as we can to the booths. My tummy is a little dodgy and the washroom is not great so I am hoping there is one on the bus.
It is 7:30 and we are on a bus, ready to go.. The people selling the tickets came about 20 minutes before the bus was meant to leave. They said it should take about 9 hours to get to Manta. Am now wondering if this is a good idea as we will miss one of our few days at the seaside.
We have been on the bus for 12 hours and we are not there yet. We are completely done with this bus ride. Coming out of Quito, the ride was wild. Coming down from the mountains, we were hanging on for our lives, aware that one slip and we go off the edge of a steep cliff. I was afraid to go to the washroom at that point but when we got to the bottom of the mountains and the road was a little easier to navigate, I got up to go to the toilet on the bus. The 1st time I tried the door, it was locked. After trying a few times, I asked the ‘stewardess’ and she said No one is allowed to use that toilet, that I had to wait until they arrived at the next planned stop. It was another hour before they stopped and after that what seemed to be every 3 or 4 hours. We got excited when we saw the ocean, but that was hours ago. They are now sick of us asking when we will arrive as the answer is always “soon”.
We are watching the sunset go down over the beach, from a steak restaurant terrace, eating one of the most delicious steaks I’ve had in a very long time. Our hotel is a block away and we are happy we are almost across from the beach, which we will explore tomorrow.
It is morning and we are walking along an almost empty beach checking out the best place to sit. It is warm but cloudy and windy. We collect some pretty shells and sea glass as we walk and place them on a large rock on the shore. There is an extremely detailed sand castle with the words Manta on the front further up near the restaurants on the beach. It’s lunchtime and the restaurants are out touting for business, usually in quite an aggressive way. Most of the menus offer seafood so it’s hard to choose but there is one that has pictures of delicious looking prawns and the owner is standing out front. He doesn’t do the hard sell, just starts talking to us and we get into a great conversation with him, hitting it off immediately. His English is very good and he reminds me of someone but I can’t put my finger on it.
His name is Christian and he sits talking with us after we order our food and we find out he is from Chili but married a girl from Ecuador. While he is there, we figure it out! He looks like Henry, our former student and guitar wizard. He is definitely friendly in the same way Henry is so maybe that’s we we feel like we know him already.
Big, fresh juicy prawns arrive in a spicy creamy sauce accompanied by rice, fresh tomatoes, avocado and a deep fried plantain.We also get a Peruvian soup called Ceviche which is made from fresh raw fish cured in fresh lime, with a coriander, chili and onion sauce that goes with it. Both dishes are out of this world delicious.
We spend a couple days doing nothing but hanging out at the hotel pool and the beach, eating again at our new friend Christian’s place and it’s time to go back to Quito.
We have decided to book a flight back to Quito, where we will be for a few days before we leave for Peru. It takes 47 minutes to fly back to Quito. This time we are staying in a more modern part of the city, in a modern hotel.
There is a huge park right across the road from the hotel with all sorts of entertainment for families so we walk around and then go for a late lunch in a mall nearby. We both eat a salmon dish in a big food court and a heavy desert in another place. John is happy we are in a modern hotel because tonight the Super Bowl is on TV.
It is the middle of the night and I am awakened by the sound of John getting sick in the washroom. I am guessing it is food poisoning, because of the timing of it but who knows? We were on a plane and with the news of Covid 19 spreading across the globe, I am feeling paranoid about it, even though there are no cases in Ecuador yet. He is sick all through the night. It occurs to us that it might be altitude sickness. The fact that we flew back to approx. 3,000m from sea level, added on to poor food choices.
We only have one day left and we decide to go on a bus trip to the top of the hill to see the angel from up close. We drive through the centre of the Old town and then up a winding road and we are close to the edge of it many times on the way up.
The angel is actually the Virgin Mary with wings and is huge up close. By the time we get to the top, John is not feeling well again and I’m not feeling great either. The view of Quito from up here is spectacular though. There is a path where some people walk all the way up and we get into a conversation with some tourists who did. I am out of breath and feeling nausea just sitting here. Maybe there is something to this altitude sickness.
Tomorrow we go to Lima, where it is about 154 meters (505 feet) so we should be ok there.