Press conference and small adventure

Friday was the press conference EFF held to talk about their findings about Ola Bini’s situation. Here’s a blog post about it, In Ecuador, Political Actors Must Step Away From Ola Bini’s case, and video (English), EFF Press Conference On Arrested Security Researcher and Open Source Developer Ola Bini and Spanish.

After the conference we walked a while through La Mariscal but Danny was too tired to do much after his intense week of long work days, so after lunch we took a taxi back to our hotel.

I ended up letting some children in the tiny courtyard of our hotel play with my wheelchair. There were 4 in the family from the oldest 11 year old to their 3 year old sister. The parents came downstairs to a ridiculous scene as the kids took turns going round and round the courtyard. They invited me to go with them to a chocolate museum in the Centro Historico so I happily went along (leaving Danny still asleep). They were from Tennessee (well, NY and Boston but recently moved to Memphis) and named Danielle and Shu (Shoe?) but I cannot remember their last name (sadly since I would love to stay in touch with these nice people) and they travel with their 4 young children very intrepidly. They had just been on some kind of Amazon tour which they went to by small plane.

We went down Guayaquil merrily and once we got near Plaza Grande and the streets were closed off I let the kids stand on the back of my chair and on the footplate (if small enough for that) for some clown car hijinks.

The “chocolate museum” was pretty cheesy but fun with fake cacao trees, pods, info on growing and harvesting cacao, and so on, with plenty of things for small children to touch and mess with. For 5 bucks each we all sat around a table nicely set up with water and napkins and our museum guide Pamela led us to “experience” three small pieces of chocolate from different regions. We had to use all 5 senses – look at the glossiness, feel how smooth it is, listen to the crisp snap as we break the chocolate slab apart, smell it, and finally taste it and talk about what we taste. We also felt some cocoa butter and pounded cacao beans with a mortar and pestle, and each got a “free” large chocolate bar to take with us. Definitely fun to do with the chaos of a group of children (but then, I like chaos). I suggested they do this again at Halloween with their candy, making a fancy table setting and compare all the kinds of candy formally. Danielle was so into chocolate and apparently they go to a chocolate factory in every country they visit. Fun! We had hot chocolate and pastries afterwards in the museum/store/cafe where you could buy a small box of chocolate bars for 80 bucks (!!) or a panama hat for several hundred.

Note that if you mention a “panama hat” to anyone in Ecuador they will clue you in to the fact that they are REALLY Ecuadorean hats and have been designated an intangible cultural heritage of the world by the United Nations.

We had a look at the plaza grande and then headed back instead of going down Guayaquil we kept going down Chile which is a broad street closed off to cars with many vendors wandering around. As we went downhill towards Pichincha the atmosphere also went downhill. The oldest child informed his mother that the person who just bumped into her had also slid their hand into her jacket pocket! (She had nothing in the pocket.) The vendors were more aggressive as well and things felt quite rowdy. There were also hookers.

At the bottom of the hill I suggested we go back up to Guayaquil (endorsed by everyone as we the grownups all realized we were in over our heads). A kinda drunk guy came up and got right in the little three year old girl’s face (muñequita! que linda! que hermosa! etc) (The family did not speak Spanish btw) scaring her a bit. To get his attention off her I got back in his face and said laughing what about my hair, it’s pretty too, i’m not so bad! making him laugh and then we shook hands and my group swiftly crossed the street to get away from him. The oldest kid (who caught the pickpocket) seemed scared and asked if he was trying to kidnap his sister (!!) and what was he saying? I explained to the kids that the guy was admiring their sister’s blond hair and giving her compliments because blond hair is rare here, so I defused it a little by telling him my hair was prettier.

We were approached again by some guys smoking weed on a stoop who were yelling at me to spin around and just sort of generally giving us shit (in a jolly way though) I spun as suggested and invited him to come dance with me, which made all the other guys laugh. We then had some more witty exchanges after which we high fived each other. (My Tennessee friends wondering WTF). Well anyway we high tailed it back to Guayaquil where it is quiet and peaceful for tourists and everyone strolls eating their ice cream!! I felt ok that I can defuse mild street hijinks just as well here as at home. You can take it as threatening (usually unnecessary) or you can join it in camaraderie (can actually be fun).

On the way back I let the 2nd youngest kid ride on the back of my chair as he was tired but too big to be carried by his dad who was sporting the 3 year old on his shoulders. On the ice cream gauntlet part of Guayaquil, Danielle pointed out that “helado” must be the same as “gelato” which I had never realized! Like, congelar…. it makes perfect sense.

I had a great time hanging out with this family and was happy to be social after my week of mostly adventuring by myself!

Cotopaxi Cabalgazo

On Friday I learned the word “cabalgazo” which means a trail ride on horseback. I had looked at a few websites for “day trips” from Quito and contacted a few of them to see if they were open to transporting me and my wheelchair. Bus tours: no. Private tours with a driver: yes! I went with one from Rebecca’s Adventure Tours because the information on the site seemed very clear and there was an agent to chat with via the website so I could ask wheelchair related questions. Turns out there was no problem, their driver was cool with packing my disassembled powerchair into the back of his SUV.

So, for around 200 bucks I got picked up from my hotel by a lovely tour guide (Thank you Eduardo!). We went on a 2 hour drive south of Quito to Cotopaxi, a national park around the Cotopaxi Volcano (20,000 feet!). We saw Chimborazo in the distance which was pretty exciting if you’ve read about it all your life and then see it for the first time in person.

Then, past the visitors’ center down a long gravel road to a small ranch and lodge within the park which I think climbers use for acclimatization, Tambopaxi. We stopped along the way for coffee and a bite to eat, then had another cafecito at the lodge while waiting for our vaquero guide, Edison. The view from the lodge was great – we sat there having our coffee with a view of wild horses and the Cotopaxi volcano itself lightly wreathed in mist. While I think I could have gotten into the lodge with my wheelchair (a somewhat rugged path, but ramped ) I opted to walk in because it was very close to the parking lot and I wouldn’t have to walk around very much. Note, also, the bathroom in the restaurant was very accessible!

Eduardo drove me down to the corral where I was fitted out with chaps, a helmet, and a poncho and Edison helped me get up on my horse Francés.

Before the ride (admire my amazing chaps!!!)

liz and horse

Francés the horse could tell I had no idea what I was doing but he seemed like the perfect sort of wise trail riding horse for beginners. I would describe him as phlegmatic, even as a philosopher, wisely following the other horses on the way outwards from the ranch, then eager to trot and get ahead on the way back towards his lunch. While he didn’t take any directions from me in the first part of the ride, by the second hour we had reached an understanding where I could get him to walk, trot, and go where I wanted, within reason, though to canter required some extra effort (whacking him on the ass)!!

Edison on the other hand was mounted on a more spirited and responsive horse clearly used to working with cattle, prancing around, turned on a dime, a super great horse. Eduardo was on a nice black horse; he is a much better rider than me but maybe not very fond of trotting. I am not used to riding “Western” or Spanish style very much as when I was a teenager I had riding lessons english style, with short stirrups, a different kind of saddle, and notably, the posting trot… which you can’t really do in a saddle with a giant pommel and your legs dangling in low stirrups. But, the saddle was very comfortable!

So, that’s the company and the horses — I’ll talk a bit about the ride! We started out across a very bare plain, an alpine meadow or páramo, scattered with pumice and clearly made of volcanic ash, not very many plants but a few wildflowers, mostly asters (yellow and other colors) and some purple flowers whose name was something like gentian (as in gentian violet). We saw tons of Andean Lapwings and some Plumbeous Tyrants (Eduardo had a bird book and binoculars and knows a lot about birding, geology, and history, really a pleasure to talk with!) and so many wild horses. Apparently the wild horses of Cotopaxi are famous for being an isolated population that are largely descended from horses of the original Spanish invaders. They would watch us carefully but didn’t seem spooked by our approach.

panorama of a plain with a rider ahead

The landscape was incredibly beautiful and peaceful. I imagined being a traveler in past times walking or riding over these meadows.

As we went over and around some rolling hills the land got greener, the vegetation more various, more like chaparral. We saw a bull standing by a low hill, and Edison galloped at it waving his hat and shouting to chase it off. Whew! I wish I had a video of this, but I was too focused on being ready to stay on my horse Francés in case the bull came at us and he took off running, so I didn’t even think of my cameraphone!

I asked Edison for help lengthening my stirrups because my knees were killing me. This was a helpful tip from my mom who is an experienced rider and owns a horse! It did help.

After that we got into some stony meadows with little streams flowing through (which we forded) and then came to a deep canyon. Our trail went right along the edge of the canyon so my very tame trail ride had some moments of tension (for me anyway!) looking down and thinking how Danny told me to please not die while on my trail ride. I was glad of my chaps because we went through some prickly, tall plants. The canyon was beautiful, you could see the river rushing at the bottom, and layers of volcanic ash, pumice, and what I think you might call “ejecta”, boulders that came flying out of the stratovolcano like bombs! To the north, Rumiñahui, a smaller volcano, to the west, this river canyon, and to the south, Cotopaxi towering above us topped with snow.

cotopaxi volcano with snow on top

Crossing some of the streams was also a little exciting as Francés, with a mind of his own, would give a little hop to get out of the stream when he could have easily just walked over it – but no. Then later when Edison and Eduardo on their horses did a little dramatic jump over a narrow gully, Francés refused it, I brought him around again hoping my leaning slightly forward would encourage him to jump, and then he deflated my ego completely by stepping calmly over the 1.5 foot gully at a walk. I felt like a dumbass — it was hilarious.

view of meadow from horseback

Coming back around in a wide circle through this beautiful valley, the path was more rocky and rugged in places, but by this time I was more confident at sticking on the back of my horse as he scrambled up hillside trails and did his weird little top of the hill hop, as if he wanted to get the hard parts over with as fast as possible. We passed a big hill and cliff face that looked like granite. Eduardo and I competed lightly to show off our enjoyably dilettantish geologic knowledge. Luckily for me when you say geology related words like “magma” or “stratovolcano” or “basalt” in a spanish accent it mostly works.

By this time I was so sore! Wow! it was OK but I was aware of the difficulties of going at a trot. I ventured a joke…. “Que gran aventura…. Ay que gran aventura, PARA MIS NALGAS” which finally got a laugh from my companions.

We cantered a bit and it was really fun! But also exhausting! I was feeling the altitude, not like a headache or anything but just, my heart was pounding and I felt very tired after just a little trot or canter.

Humorously, when I got back to the hotel, I realized my Fitbit thought I had walked and run up 98 flights of stairs over the 2 hours of our trail ride! I got a lot of little congratulatory notifications and virtual awards for climbing, which by rights should belong to Francés.

Dismounting, I definitely needed help, because my legs just wouldn’t move! They felt like cooked noodles! Who cares, right, I can barely walk anyway! After a few minutes hugging MOTHER EARTH ***** OMG HURRAH I AM NO LONGER ON A HORSE ***** ¡¡¡¡¡AY, GRACIAS PACHAMAMA!!!!! GRACIAS AL DIOS Y AL VIRGEN DEL APOCA-FUCKING-LIPSIS!! I CAN’T FEEL MY LEGS!

liz smiling hugely

OK so finally I manage to get up, take off the chaps (I wish I had those amazing chaps – so comfortable, and with a pocket big enough to hold my coffee mug) and get into Eduardo’s SUV and then back to the lodge for delicious potato soup (Locro de Papa) and some more coffee. Eduardo and I showed each other pictures of our families and looked at his bird book and then drove back to Quito. Oh he also nicely got out my chair and helped me assemble it for a stop at the Visitor Center on the way home, so I could buy some alpaca scarves and a sweater and poncho for gifts for my family, which I appreciated – while I am getting around Quito just fine, I can’t go into most of the shops so I really wanted help with souvenir buying in a place with an accessible entrance! (I can’t even buy postcards – I’m waiting for Danny to help with that!)

Well, that was my adventure. Parts of me are STILL FEELING THE ADVENTURE, let me tell you. MOSTLY MY BUTT.

An enormous blast of things from museums

On Wednesday I had a tour of the Presidential Museum in the Palacio Carondelet. To go on this tour you need to schedule a day in advance, providing your name and passport number over phone or email. Not difficult, but you can’t just drop in to take the tour. It’s well worth it – the museum was great, especially if you like old religious paintings.

When I got to the entrance where my 9:30am group was gathering, the tour guide and the guard stationed at the entrance had to call someone to find the key to a lift that went up a long flight of stairs to the front porch of the Palacio. After they got the key and figured out how to turn on the lift, they spent some time figuring out how to make it work. They finally got the lift to come almost all the way down to where I was, but then the last stage of making a small lip of the platform extend about 6 inches down proved to be impossible. So, for maybe 15 or 20 minutes we all watched the flustered guide and the man with the key to the lift push the same few buttons over and over, in vain. Finally I asked where the President enters the building and asked if they could take me there. The guard took me to the other side of the porch where — amazing— there was a long, smooth, perfect, gently sloping stone ramp. Why they have the lift in the first place, I don’t know! It’s a little silly! The ramp is much better.

Once we were inside everything went smoothly – the first part of the museum has some information about the history of Quito alongside gifts from heads of state to the Presidents of Ecuador. Things like a gold clock that shows the time in every other OPEC(OPEP) nation. The rest of the exhibits were religious paintings with particular focus on various incarnations of the Virgin Mary. Virgen de las Flores, del Terremoto, del Volcán, and especially del Apocalípsis, which seems to be Quito’s favorite — the Virgin floating or stepping on the dragon of the Apocalypse along with a lot of other fascinating symbolism in each painting. I took so many pictures!

While we were on the tour we could hear drums, chants, and someone speaking through a megaphone from the plaza. It was amazing how well the sound carried all through the Palace. ON the way out, I listened and watched for a while. The protestors’ hashtag was #VaPorTiTrabajadorPetrolero. It’s always good to see protests happening and then look up what their issues are later!

I was reminded of a story I was told about some protestors in the same Plaza, before my trip, by my friend Kevin,

Re: President in Bathrobe. This was about 2002?

Beck and I were in Equador and we were staying for a few days in a monastery that had been converted to a hotel. It was around the corner from the presidential palace.

Beck and I were coming home late one night and were walking through the courtyard in front of the palace. There were three old guys with a bullhorn yelling something over and over again. The lights turn on at the front of the palace and the president and two guards come walking over to the guys with the bullhorn. We also walk over because interesting.

Someone else who walked over spoke english and gave us the rundown of the conversation:

the protestors were retired military and were annoyed they hadn’t gotten a benefit they were supposed to get. The president explained, okay we can work on this but it is 2am and I need to sleep. Here’s my card, call this number tomorrow and someone will book time on my schedule so we can talk during the daytime. The three old guys thought this was reasonable. Everyone shook hands and the president said to Beck and I “I hope you like Equador”.

Then he turned around, the guards followed him into his building and the lights turned off.

Good story.

After that I wandered towards the Museo de la Ciudad. This was very accessible, with a somewhat steep but not impossible ramp to a separate entrance next to the main entrance just beyond the Arco de la Reina. A big yellow arch, you can’t miss it if you’re heading down Venezuela towards the hill with the huge statue. The museum is free if you’re disabled.

This museum is just great! Its exhibits lead you through the history of Quito over time. It’s also super accessible with an elevator to the 2nd floor exhibits and then another small (unlocked, working) lift to a second wing of the museum. There were especially great dioramas including one of a battle between the Spanish and the indigenous people with little figurines of conquistadores making shocked faces as they are speared through the heart. It doesn’t get much better than this.

tiny detailed figurine of conquistador speared by an indian

The wall of beautiful dolls all dressed in different traditional costume was incredible with information I couldn’t find on the internet anywhere and this was followed up by dolls for hippies, skaters, and punks to represent new cultures from city life of the 20th century.

dolls showing traditional costumes of various people

Here’s my favorite painting from the Presidential Museum, called Triunfo del Rosario en el Mundo, by Manuel de Samaniego y Jaramillo. I’ll just link to my Flickr photo of it so you can zoom in and follow along. I first had a good look at the guy holding the planet on his back surrounded by a dragon who I guess is like the devil or the serpent of the apocalypse or something. Laser beams are shooting into the serpent’s head and into the earth. Following them upwards…. the laser beams are actually the blood of Jesus which he is actively squirting out of his side through a rosary and a crown. Wow! Wild! There are also representatives of various peoples of the world looking prayerful and a nun with the most smug facial expression ever, as if she was thinking “You were gonna leave me out but NO… here I am! Holding a bloody, glowing heart!” There is also a healthy smattering of floating heads. There is a LOT going on in this painting!

When it sounds super casual that I’m getting around town, please keep in mind that the pavement is cobblestones or bricks, curb cuts are either non existent or tenuous and may lead directly into traffic coming in the wrong direction (You have to just hand signal and make an unspoken agreement with the drivers!) You might go down a sidewalk only to have to turn around and go back another way because light posts are blocking your way, and there are also hills. So, if you are a fellow wheelchair user, either be a great athlete and very robust, or a very intrepid powerchair user with as narrow of a chair as possible.

I had a rest in the afternoon to prepare for Friday’s adventure — horseback riding on a volcano.