On the northern side of Miraflores, near the municipal government building, Pinkberry, and Starbucks, a triangle-shaped park divides Avenida Arequipa into south-and northbound lanes transiting the compact, overbuilt neighborhood separating Lima proper from the beach. The park is named for President Kennedy (according to a plaque in the park).
On the bike tour a few days ago, our guide stopped here and pointed out the large number of cats lounging on the grass, stalking bugs in the precise flowerbeds, munching from plastic trays of food at the foot of trees. Guide Camerada explained in the ‘80’s the park was overrun with mice and rats – as an inexpensive solution, cats were installed as efficient pest control. Then, the cats became a problem; too many of them, poo everywhere, and so on.
Camerada told us the cats are now managed by the municipal government of Miraflores, which looks after their feeding, veterinary care, and general well-being. The vibe for humans visiting the park is remarkable. Because they don’t compete for food, the cats are mellow, happy to stretch out on the winding sidewalks, roll over for a tummy tickle, and occupy strangers’ laps for a quick nap.
E-mails are perfunctory things in my life. Summaries from the bank about payments made, reminders from creditors about payments due. Updates from blogs about new posts I need to read.
An email occasionally pokes its head above the rest – like fare alert about a cheap flight, or a “Hey, Redus! Remember Me?” from a former student.
Naturally, without the mundane there could not be the exceptional.
Monday, the Inbox held an exceptional message from my llave Jose Sanchez Urrego in Bogotá. Sr. Urrego and I have been exchanging emails since 4 January. He gave me $50 that day, token relief for disappeared luggage, and sent an email shortly after we met at the baggage claim office in El Dorado International Airport. Claim forms, information updates, and other communications have been going back and forth over the past 24 days. So an email from José hardly elicits excitement, or even curiosity.
Monday, two attachments – JPG files. Hmmm . . .
There it is. The lost bag. Unmistakable, the “Colorado Native” patch painstakingly sewn on the top (Thanks, Sis).
“Will it be delivered?” Ask for the moon, even though someone just gave you the stars.
“Mr. Redus, You must remove their luggage at the airport, since it must do custom.” Google Translate-ese for “Sorry, dude.”
“Where do I go? What information do I need?” I’ve come to appreciate preparation and information in my dealings with lost luggage.
“Mr. Redus, baggage office in airport lim.” Jose must have been on his way out the door.
So, I anticipated an entire day traveling to and from the airport and dealing with language issues, customs issues, and ephemeral dolor del culo. Best postpone planned activities; devote the mind and body to git ‘er done.
The next day, an email from Oficina Equpajes Lima:
“To inform you that we maintain in our cellar international Airport Customs Lima luggage, case number BOGLA26069. You can approach the office withdraw 212 on the 2nd floor of the Jorge Chavez International Airport from 8am to 5pm.”
An office number. Estupendo!
Arranged for taxis to and from the airport. Hostel books them for free – taxi service a bit sketchy here in Lima.
The same driver that met me on arrival in Lima is the driver for today. He asks about my “mochilla” (backpack) – “Hoy en diá, se encuentra” (Today it is found). I tell him, “I think you must be good luck for me. My first day in Lima, you are here. Today, my best day in Lima, you are here.”
The positive outcome of recovering my bag mitigates the bureaucratic negotiations in front of me.
Carlos, the driver, comes inside the terminal with me and lets me know where I can find him for the ride back to the hostel.
Upstairs, 2nd floor. Office 212 directly at the top of the stairs. An English-speaking person at the desk. A temporary pass to go through customs in reverse. An escort to the appropriate location. The escort explains to the customs officer. Another escort walks me through a wand-scan, then to a desk behind baggage claim. I can see the lonely bag on a carousel, waiting for me. A customs declaration form in English, an X-ray of the bag (all bags leaving customs are X-rayed). Out the door. There’s Carlos, who graciously takes the bag and carries it to his car.
Now I have choices to make.
I’ve been in South America for 4 weeks. I have accumulated enough clothing, shoes, underwear, rain gear, and toiletries to take me the rest of the way. Some crap has to go. Ironically, the bag I packed at home while imagining conditions and possibilities is about 5 kilos heavier than the replacement version.
A man I admire and respect once told me, “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” I feel like I have arrived at one of those secret destinations.
Two options to get from the hostel to the airport for Monday’s 6 AM flight to Lima – 35 miles in a cab, around $50. Bus, public transport, $2.25. Hmmmm.
It’s Sunday, so much more tranquil, less crowded on the streets, on the buses, on the sidewalks. A community market is busy, Sunday morning shoppers angling for good deals on anything. An airport bus ride in Quito delivers amusement park thrills.
Along the Ruta Viva, the bus driver challenges Newton’s second law, repeatedly. Around The bus has a floor-mounted transmission shifter, wrapped in what might be a shag carpet, brown in color. I typed, “Is that Chewbacca” into Google Translate, just in case I needed it later. Something about leaving a place after spending two weeks there makes everything look different. We cross a bridge connecting the two sides of a steep, narrow gorge. The map names it Chiche. I call it whew.
I had precise directions from the hotel in Tababela, a small rural town about 5 miles from the airport – an early flight tomorrow, 6 AM, and I thought it would be less stressful to be closer for the pre-sunrise departure. I purposely went one stop too far on the bus so I could walk and enjoy the weather and countryside around Mariscal Sucre airport. Two wide roads go in and out of the airport. Jumbo jets and private planes occasionally land or take off – the airport is in a high valley called the Oyamano plain, about 8100 feet above sea level. Relatively new (2013), the area surrounding the facilities is undeveloped; no hotels, gas stations, restaurants. Not many cars or buses on either the coming or going roads.
The bus driver and fare collector freaked out a little when I debussed one stop before the terminal. I just kept repeating “Tabelabela” and pointing away from the destination; Tabelabela, of course, is NOT the name of the town. Now I realize I added to the bus employees’ incredulity by calling out the name of a non-existent town.
For the first time in several days I could smell the freshness in the air and hear country sounds like barking dogs and crowing roosters, and singing birds. The road into and out of the airport , the Conector Alpachaca, is adjacent (500 m) to one of the largest airports in South America, but there are long stretches of rural quiet as I traipse to Tababela, 6 km to the south.
A man and a woman in an SUV stopped and asked, “Adonde?” or “Where are you going?”
Keep in mind I’m toting all of my replacement crap, packed in a replacement Osprey Transporter bag, on a road that hardly ever sees pedestrians. I’m heading away from the airport, dressed in de rigueur cheap-ass cargo shorts, a cheap-ass T-shirt (I’ve had the shirt two weeks; it is already showing holes and signs of wear), and Keen sandals, no socks. With the 65-liter bag strapped to my back I must have looked like a new arrival to Ecuador, preparing to walk the 60 km to Quito.
Window down, “Adonde?”
“Tababela.” At least I knew, and I pronounced it correctly.
The man driving gestured to the back seat. “Venga.”
“Muchas gracias, pero quiero caminar.” As though I had been speaking Spanish for years.
The man and the woman understood instantly, nodding. This was not a crazy man lost in the suburbs of Quito.
I interjected a phrase rehearsed for days. “Otro día hermoso en Quito.” Another beautiful day in Quito.
Quito Airport Suites in Tababela is an exceptional value for budget travelers., but is a great travel experience for anyone. After a month of urban hostels, the quiet, calm location is delightful. Little services make a big difference; huge showers, satellite TV, a soccer pitch on the grounds, and 24-hour taxis to the airport. I ordered Garlic Shrimp from a menu full of similar choices.
30 minutes later, a knock on the door of my room and dinner is served.
So, the little trip to Tababela meant I could sleep an extra hour, have a great meal while watching “Young Frankenstein” dubbed in Spanish, and get a ride to the airport for $2.50 – the fare is usually $5.00, but another guest joined me, and we split the fare.
At peace, creative, and uncertain what any day will bring.
Neighborhoods like La Ronda, in the Centro Histórico de Quito, are best experienced on foot. La Ronda has endured the cycle of life many times over the past several hundreds of years, and the current stage of growth and increased interest can best be savored by wandering the narrow streets, twisting and turning, climbing and descending las colinas escarpadas, the declivitous hills.
One-way streets, width between sidewalks no more than eight feet. Sidewalks two-and-a half feet wide, crowded with tourists, ambling abuelos, fruit-selling campesinos and groups of schoolchildren visiting one of the nearby museums or historic sites.
While enjoying one of my last perambulations in Quito, I discovered a cool, unique tienda just off of Guayaquil. An open door, a story-telling sign in Español y Ingles, and a name – Vulgomaestre Diseño Etnourbano got me to walk inside.
Carlos got me to buy a camiseta.
Carlos asked, “Do you speak Spanish?” I replied, Pequeño. Habla usted Ingles?” He replied, “Pequeño.”
This is the point where many conversations stop. In this instance, Carlos began to explain the uniquity and philosophy behind Vulgomaestre, in short Spanish and English phrases, along with many visual aids. Three designers, urban and ethnic influences, silk-screened printing, 100% algodón shirts. Lots of stickers and other items along the walls. I was hooked. I mean, you gotta love talking with someone who doesn’t speak much of your language, who knows you don’t speak much of their language, but who dives right in and communicates anyway.
After I chose a shirt – a design called UIO PRECOLOMBIAN, Carlos asked to take a photo of me holding the shirt. I asked to do the same of him.
Every Vulgomaestre T-shirt comes boxed in a poster. Carlos calls it origami. Here’s what happens when the box gets back to the hostel:
Magical realism, or . . .?
See Vulgomaestre Diseño Entourbano on Facebook AND at the link below:
I first met Brendan and Colin twenty-six years ago today. Since then we have shared innumerable amazing experiences, a credit to their generosity and willingness to open their meaningful proficiencies to me.
Thanks to them, I have enjoyed extreme sub-terranean and alti-terranean adventures, events mostly fulgurous, occasionally errant, but always vivid.
Brendan taught me to savor the quiet thrill one may enjoy during a night-time expedition through an abandoned hospital in east Texas, where his respect for once useful objects and relevant places left behind became apparent, compounding the number of reasons he deserves admiration.
Colin taught me that one’s appreciation of nature and wilderness is enhanced, not occluded by demanding conditions. On a cross-country ski and snowshoe expedition, in several feet of fresh snow, his infectious unabated enthusiasm for everything outdoors imparted a unique, enviable focus on values that matter.
I hope both of them enjoy this homemade gift on the occasion of their 26th birthday. Here’s hoping this gift finds its rightful place on their list of reminiscences that begin with the phrase, “Remember that time when Tio . . .”
First, imagine the plaza pictured below filled with hundreds and hundreds of people. School kids on field trips, families, vendors selling helado, dogs, tourists, and so on.
The steps in front of this cathedral are overrun with students from a military academy, and are easy to notice because of their bright yellow jackets emblazoned with “Collegio Militar Eloy Alfaro.”
This MP3 file is a practice recording or the speech a gringo makes to the estudiantes taking a lunch break on the steps of the cathedral:
I trimmed out the teacher bits, like when I paused and repeated my greeting in order to get a response (engage the audience!).
Many Thanks to this random group of students on a field trip to the Catedral Metropolitana de Quito. After today they may not wear their bright yellow jackets in public anymore.
In the 1960’s in America, television was THE technological innovation. Elementary schools used the heavy, antenna-dependent boxes to connect students with the space race and World Series games (Mr. Makowski went rogue, I guess).
At that time, foreign language instruction in public schools was also an innovation. At Gust elementary school, several classes would file into the auditorium at a given time a couple of days a week to receive instruction in Español via television broadcasts on Channel 6, KRMA, a nascent version of PBS. One instructor, hundreds of students. The man on the TV, dark and bilingual, patiently commanded student engagement with phrases like escuchen, and repiten as he informed us how to find the library (apparently people in Spanish-speaking countries were always looking for libraries) and helped us practice the names of fruits, naranja and manzana. Today I’m wondering why the TV instructor never taught us about guanabana or pitaya.
Anyway, along with Gracias and Por Favor, expressions travellers should assimilate in every applicable language, these are phrases I use every day, several times a day:
Lo siento, siento
I’m sorry, sorry. Even if I don’t mean it, using this phrase makes me feel better about being inept.
No entiendo, entiendo
I don’t understand, I understand. Naturally, I use the former more than the latter.
No se, lo sé, you sé
I don’t know, I know, I know. I use these very often, sometimes just to give me a chance to think about how to respond.
Do you know it? Informal. I generally use this with cab drivers after I’ve given a destination.
Estoy un turista
I am a tourist. Most often used when cashiers ask for a postal code, neighborhood, telephone number, et cetera. Yep, that point-of-sale data-mining is going on in South America as well.
Me gusta (current city) mucho
Responding to a common question – obvious, right?
Eres el mejor
You are the best. I call this the “kiss-ass special” or “beso-culo especial.” I add this phrase to “gracias” whenever someone goes beyond what I expected.
I don’t have it. Cashiers in most large stores will ask about your address much like cashiers in the US will ask for a zip code – this response seems to be very effective and does not require any more explanation (so far).
¿Quién soltó los perros? Guau, guau, guau, guau.
That’s right, “Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof, woof, woof.” I use this on those occasions whan a person persistently annoys me on the street – the louder, the better. This is still a valid question. It’s been 16 years and we still don’t know.
The Mitad del Mundo Monument gets a lot of attention on travel sites and blogs around the Web. Much of the discussion seems to focus on how obviously and awfully touristy the commemorative museum built astride “the equator” is.
For this intrepid traveler, having read tales of pirate rituals, such as ear-piercings and other equatorial baptisms, a little crass commercialism could not deter a visit to this symbolic place about 20 km north of downtown Quito.
Two things made the day memorable for me. First, I only spent $1.05 to get to the Mitad. Public transportation all the way, baby! Though it took about 90 minutes one way, my instinct for the inexpensive was well-satisfied.
Second, based on my research, I already knew that placement of “the equator” here by a French expedition, in the 18th-century was distorted because of what proved to be erroneous assumptions about the shape of the planet Wikipedia calls the positioning of “the equator” the “Monument’s Geographical Imprecision.” Whether by miscalculation or by geological errata, it seems the “true equator” is actually 240 meters north of the monument. So, armed with a GPS app, I took a walk.
I headed north from the monument, following the main drag on its east side. Because the road curves sharply to the west just beyond the main entrance to the Mitad del Mundo, I headed right on Calle Museo Solar, eyeing the GPS app as the seconds (sexagesimically speaking) counted down toward zero. I headed north again at the first opportunity, following an alley full of barking dogs, curious children, and laundry drying on lines stretched between the concrete-block homes. One niñita asked me Que busca; what are you looking for? Try explaining GPS and 18th-century math to a little girl who doesn’t speak your language. Anyway, her house was in the way of my progress to zero – I needed to go another 30 seconds north.
One more block to the east and left on a street named “Pje F” in Google Maps, and I reached zero, zero, zero on the GPS. Here’s what the TRUE equator looks like at about 78 degrees west longitude:
OK, so I’ll confess – I checked out the Alberto Mena Caamaño Museum because I had to pee. Public buildings are usually reliable sources for clean, free restrooms, and this day I was one cup over the line. The museum is located in the historic center of Quito, which indicates winding streets, tiny stores, narrow sidewalks, and few places to have a slash.
Sometimes, even after 63 years, I underestimate my bladder capacity OR overestimate the amount of time it will take to reach that capacity. Then I start thinking whether adult diapers would be worth a try, or fondly remember street urinals in Amsterdam:
But this post is not about the state of urination in Quito.
On the day I visited the Metropolitan Cultural Center, the heart of the oldest part of Quito, where buildings 450+ years are preserved, restored and repurposed, even though my mind was appropriately preoccupied by bladder control, one of the most memorable sights I captured was this one:
Now, this image on the Web is rather insignificant, even though it could be viewed millions of time by millions of people. Outside the entrance to the museum, this image is at least 20 feet tall. Tens of thousands of people walk by every week silently wondering, “Why” and “Dude – Speedos, really? Even in my urine-addled state, I empathized with the guy. All he wanted was a few days on the beach.