Friday, September 30, 2005

Quito, Ecuador Part 2

Quito looks like it has seen better days, and it has. Its peak was at least 200 years ago, during the colonional period (mid 1500s to early 1800s), the period during which its most impressive buildings were constructed. The old town, where most of the colonial buildings are, is a maze of narrow, cobbled streets lined with old houses and stores, all run-down but elegantly European, like an old Mercedes with plenty of miles on the clock.


Plaza de Independencia/La Basilica del Voto Nacional

The buildings in the new town look like they were constructed in the 60s or 70s, which was not a good period for architecture. In other parts of Quito, buildings are either half-rundown or half-built but showing no signs of being completed. For most people, building a house takes three years, construction only proceeding when money is available. And in a country where the average annual income is around $1200 US, money doesn't come by so easily. Unless you have relatives living overseas in countries like the USA or Spain who can send money back to Ecuador, of course. Which is one of the reasons why many Ecuadorians attempt the border crossing from Mexico to the US in search of work. They say that 80% make it. Or even better, work as security in Iraq. Apparently around 70 Ecuadorians are working in Iraq for private security firms, and when you can earn in a week much more than the average Ecuadorian earns in a year then you can understand that it may just be worth the risk.


Cobbled street in the old town/ I think they saw my face

But back to Quito, although the capital of Ecuador and its second largest city after Guayaquil, it doesn't display much obvious affluence, nor is there as much poverty as I imagined before I arrived. Home to just over a million people, spread along a long, 30km corridor only 5km wide, in the Andes, it is not crowded. You cannot help but notice that Quito is quite dirty, mainly due to the pollution caused by the traffic. Every morning, I imagine that the walk to school takes one day off my life due to the fumes I inhale. But it's worth it, I like it here. The people are friendly, the atmosphere relaxed, the weather mild, and the food pretty good (but more of that later).


A market in the old town


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Cotopaxi

Having finally aclimatised to life at 2800 metres, the time was right to move onto higher things. And that higher thing was Cotopaxi, a 5800 metre snow-capped volcano about two hours south of Quito. Well, to be honest, I didn´t exactly make it to 5800 metres, that will come later when fitness and lungs permit. My lungs got a pretty good workout just on the two hour walk on Friday along the road up to the refuge, located at around 4000 metes on the south face of Cotopaxi. Arriving at the refuge at dark, I was dizzy from the combination of exertion and altitude, learning quickly that walking fast was perhaps not in my best interests yet. I also learnt the value of gloves with the freezing wind making it very difficult to take photos.


On the road to Cotopaxi, with a rainbow to lead the way.

The next morning we embarked on the hike along the tundra-like landscape, passing wild horses and llama along the way, towards the cone-shaped Cotopaxi. The sun was as hot as the wind was cold, and the thin air made it difficult to walk faster than a medium pace. When we reached the snowline at about 4500 metres, the snow was already melting, so when our guides told us it was too dangerous to continue, I was more than happy to start the (much faster) descent to the refuge and enjoy a bowl of hot soup.

Monday, September 12, 2005

El fútbol

Name one Ecuadorian footballer. Hint: Aston Villa, right back. Ok, Ulysses De la Cruz. They may not be famous for football, but here in Ecuador, as you might imagine from a South Amercian country, the people love their football. And with Ecuador on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup in Germany next thanks to their win against South American footballing minnows Bolivia a week or so ago (both of Ecuador´s goals being scored by ex-Southampton superstar Agustin ´tin´ Delgado), the locals are getting excited.

I went to my first football game in Ecuador last week, a game between home town favorites Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito and the visiting The Strongest de Bolivia (yes, that is their real name) in the Copa Sudamericana (the South American version of the UEFA Cup) at an almost packed Ponciano Stadium. The nazis in security were pretty thorough in checking spectators entering the stadium and by the end of the game I realised why. With Liga having about 95% of possession and inventing new ways not to score, The Strongest scored 3 goals and proved that they really were, the strongest. The indignity of losing to a Bolivian team didn´t sit well with the home fans and soon they were lighting flares, paper, anything and throwing plastic bottles filled with water, paper, anything at the soldiers and police guarding the field in case anyone got through the 10 metre high wire fences surrounding the field. Since the people sitting behind me were also throwing things, I was thankful for the hard work the good people in security did making sure that glass bottles, weapons, anything that could be used as a weapon weren´t brought into the stadium. And in a heart-warming finale, the players from Liga walked over (but not too close) and gave their fans a warm applause who in turn gave their team a warm applause. As one of the banners around the stadium read: Liga, you are my life.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The host family

What does it feel like to be a 29 year old living with a host family? Not very strange unless you consider that your host "mother" and "father" are only a few years older than you and have two kids aged 9 and 3. They are a professional host family and have done this many times before, but still they make an effort to ask me questions and put up with my slow responses. It is a little frustrating not being able to communicate fully but also incentive to study harder and memorise all those conjugations, irregular verbs, prepositions, verb tenses. Is the noun masculine? Is it feminine?

I´ve never been the smoothest with kids. What do you say to them? They certainly don´t talk about football. I watched Barbie - Swan Lake the movie with the 3 year old boy this afternoon. Should his parents be worried? Should my parents be worried?

Monday, September 05, 2005

Quito, Ecuador Part 1

Quito

Altitude: 2820 metres
Distance from equator: 25km
Population: 1.2 million
Average temperature (day): 26 C
Average temperature (night): 7 C