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.

A gold church and a quiet library

My adventures today were very mild, as I am going out to dinner later and didn’t want to exhaust myself. So, I stuck to the Old Town area near the Plaza Grande.

Hot chocolate and a plate of tiny cheese empanadas on the Plaza – I had planned to write but instead ended up sitting with some tourists from Paris who didn’t want me to eat my breakfast alone. They were spending 5 weeks in Ecuador, must be nice! Then, I went to check out the tour of the Presidential Palace but found that I have to make a reservation (giving my passport number!) a day beforehand. This was easy to do over email and now I’m planning my visit to be tomorrow morning. It seems that the tour is accessible (more or less) and at one point if you are a wheelchair user you get ushered into the President’s private elevator. If I bump into President Moreno in his private elevator, I will tell him about Whirlwind Wheelchair International, an org that teams up to help create sustainable local wheelchair factories and maintenance (with disabled people at the helm).

Everywhere I go in Quito I get stopped by people politely asking me for information about my powerchair! My ability to discuss the chair in Spanish is slowly improving. The guards outside the Astronomical Observatory finally reaped the benefits of my practice as they told me about their family members who could really use a powerchair. I don’t think there are even powerchairs sold anywhere in Ecuador. I described the light weight cheap ones that can fold ( se puede plegar!) but the prices upset them (the cheapest I know about is around $1000). I wish it were not so hard – putting a motor on a wheelchair! It doesn’t have to be hellishly expensive!

Right next to the Plaza I found an accessible entrance to the Centro Cultural Metropolitano. The ground floor didn’t have a lot going on, and I couldn’t get into the library or its reading room, or the bathrooms, but there was an elevator to the 1st floor. Some great art exhibits there (and you can get the staff to unlock the actually accessible bathrooms which are for employees only, in theory). The building is pretty & there are historical plaques everywhere about the history of independence & a bit more about the French geodectic survey expedition.

My favorite art exhibit was called De vuelta centro del mundo by Antonio Bermúdez, with a lot of postcards of Chimborazo which he bought online exhibited next to the eBay order forms, packaging, and mail envelopes. I love that sort of thing!!! Of course, as a tourist myself I felt right at home in the display of 100 year old postcard kitsch and the strange diaspora of the Chimborazo postcards going all over the world and then getting bought & mailed around the world right back to Ecuador. Excuse me while I put a stamp on myself and jump into a mailbox! But seriously I thought of the long poem “Carta de viaje” by Elvira Hernández (that I translated, with footnotes longer than the poem almost) and felt very happy looking at the exhibit.

I could also get into some of the smaller sections of the library (though not the bigger, juicier looking main reading room + stacks) so I camped out in the social sciences, looking through an armload of books on the history of the petroleum industry in Ecuador. “ecuatoriano, defiende tu PETROLEO!” had the best title but “En la lucha por el crudo” had the best cover design. I then found some folklore books, which were great, and I’d like to go back another day to sit & read them. This also looks like a good place for me to sit and write and work on some things, since Quito doesn’t have much of a laptop using cafe sitting culture and I don’t want to be a complete boor.

Just one building down from the Centro Cultural, there is a side gate which guards will open for you and your wheels, into the giant golden baroque cathedral, or church, whatever it is, called Compañía de Jesus. Holy shit, it’s beautiful! It is covered in gold! Scary!!!!!! There is also a sort of… coffin monument thing with a statue of Quito’s first saint.

Lunch by myself in a super fancy restaurant, well, outside in its sidewalk seating anyway (I picked it for this feature since EVERY restaurant has steps — maybe the President will let me know the best places for lunch… hahahhaah… Surely he must know?!) It is called Purísima & the food was great, for the price of a sandwich and a coffee in San Francisco I had 3 courses and a fancy soda (seltzer + blackberry syrup, if mora = blackberry, anyway, it was good) I like the herb that was in this, it wasn’t celantro I don’t think but had a more funky flavor. The waiter said it was called something like aniyuyu though I cannot figure out what it really is. My soup had tiny potatoes, crunchy fried corn bits, quinoa, at least 3 kinds of lumps of tasty cheese of different textures, and a quail egg. Also served on super amazing china (from an enormous china soup tureen with gilt handles) and the tortillas were wrapped in silk. It was a little OVER THE TOP for my seat on the sidewalk! Wow!!

Wandered home again – Old men seem particularly amused when I grimly face a steep curb and then surmount it, bumping slowly like a tiny, purple haired tank. They get a twisted grin of disbelief on their faces and occasionally laugh outright if I go “beep beep.” (I have also been beeped at by them.) Young men on the other hand just rush to try to push me up the curb (which doesn’t work – i have to come at it a certain way – and then they observe the resulting tank action and we exchange polite compliments and thanks.)

I have skipped the ice cream today since lunch was AMAZING.

Day 2 in Quito

Today I wandered north through some parks, and then to some kind of marketplace for crafts which felt like 200 booths all selling the same exact stuff. I bought some tiny pouches and a stuffed guinea pig made of alpaca wool (for the cat). I ended up at a water park (where I had some delicious street food) and then the Jardín Botánico which was great but almost completely empty of people. I spent a while in the orchid house then at the bonsai exhibit, and then took the C1 Trolebus back to the Plaza Teatro near our hotel. That may not sound like a lot but for me it was a fairly intense experience since I have to pay a ridiculous amount of attention to the pavement. (An opportunity to feel smug triumph at every single street crossing.)

I ended up going down Guayaquil again around 4pm – past the gauntlet of young women offering ice cream and the stream of every single person walking by holding an ice cream cone. I had just bought a pastry as big as my face at random from a street vendor and it turned out to be full of pineapple which is my favorite so I was spared the pressure to have ice cream too. Everyone holding the ice cream or one of the huge pastries would give a little nod of shared satisfaction with the afternoon. I had wondered yesterday if the “stroll around the plaza eating pastries” custom was just on Sundays but no it seems to be every day. It’s great.

Past the Plaza Grande going down Venezuela, I noticed a huge long ramp winding down to La Ronda which is supposed to be a cool street to visit. So, I took the ramp but it ended in a plaza with no way to get out except from a bunch of stairs. Back up the ramp! And then I was in such luck because coming out of Plaza Grande was a fabulous parade.

Marching bands, dancers in costumes, women holding candles in what was probably a religious way, little kids in fancy dresses, etc. A good parade! I especially liked the grotesque comedy dancing police.

I am scoping out cafes and restaurants and shops where I can get in (not many!!) Found a level entrance grocery (Tía of Central Quito) and a pharmacy (for cold meds and kleenex for Danny). Most shops have a steep step up or down to get in and I cannot leave my powerchair in the street so, no go. My best bet for cafes is anywhere that has outdoor seating on a plaza. The restaurants near Teatro Bolivar look pretty good so I might head there today. I have seen nowhere with people doing laptop things in a public place San Francisco cafe style (sadly, since that’s what I feel like doing right now)

I have to tell the story of using the Trolebus. Google Maps is not super helpful though it does show the stops. Maybe there is a local app for the trolleys (Trolebus, Ecovia, and Metro lines though each of those has sub-routes I don’t understand yet.) These are just regular large buses, the long kind with flexible sections in between cars, but you board from a glassed in platform, paying up front at a little booth. It’s like, 15 or 25 cents or something, very cheap. Some platforms have an exit side and an entrance side, and the exit side has those revolving iron things that won’t let a wheelchair through so you have to exit out the entrance (potentially assisted by a guard). The entrance is a turnstile but you can fold one of the turnstile prongs down to get your wheelchair past it. The bus itself at least on this first ride did not pull up very close to the platform so I had a huge gap to go over. Fortunately I have huge tires and i thought it looked JUST possible so I gunned it and jumped the gap. People around me conferred and one guy offered to help which i accepted and so by the time I was positioned to make my death defying LEAP about 4 people’s hands were on the chair just in case. (Very kind actually!) The bus was crowded but no worse than San Francisco at rush hour (nicer, really). And the same young studenty-looking man and his girlfriend made sure to let me know the right stop to get off at and helped clear the decks for my dramatic backwards exit. Was any of this wise? MAYBE NOT. Tune in maybe tomorrow when I will attempt to ride the bus again to some random destination!

On the way back to my hotel around 5:30 I stopped to get the last bit of sun in San Blas Plaza and maybe catch a pokemon (I am sending Ecuador Pokégifts to everyone!) A little kid maybe 5 or 6 years old was riding his bike around the plaza & he came up to me to ask about my chair. I explained the controls to go faster or slower on one side, the battery life, and the joystick (I said “palanca” because i have no idea what the right word is, and that seems to suffice) And then he patted my lap and said “can i drive” and unceremoniously climbed up into my lap. That was unexpected and slightly weird but also a lot of fun — I like small children. I worried what his attendant grownups would think but no one swooped down on us. He drove us around and around the plaza with us both giggling until I said I had to go. “Es muy divertido!” he said as we shook hands and exchanged names. My theory is that maybe he has a relative who is a wheelchair user and, well, no boundaries because he is 5 years old and very brave and confident.

Meanwhile Danny and his colleagues are meeting up with people in support of Ola Bini who as near as I can tell was bizarrely scapegoated just for being the sort of nerd who likes crypto and uses Linux and Tor. Hello… that would be like, nearly every open source engineer I work with…. People misunderstand hacker culture so badly.

Roaming around Quito

I forayed out this morning not sure what the city would be like. I took Ave. Guayaquil into Old Town and the first thing that struck me was being harangued by people on the street to take some ice cream. The little ice cream shops have soft serve machines facing right onto the sidewalk, and the young women staffing them prepare a couple of ice cream cones (held in a napkin) and offer them to people walking by or people in cars. (50 cents.) A lot of people strolling around in Old Town had ice cream cones. Cannot fail to mention the vendors walking around wiht a sort of ice cream castle on a tray, cones stuck into the top of the castle, who would stop and scoop you out some of the castle. I think it is meringue not actual frozen stuff. Another variant on the soft serve was what looked like fruit sorbet being made by hand in a giant copper bowl.

The sidewalks were cobbly and narrow in places and curb cuts weren’t consistent but I could manage OK. I think because it was Sunday the streets were mostly shut down so I could just go in the street anyway. Every little plaza was nice to sit in & had its own street vendors who sing or chant with varying degrees of skill. Sometimes just a guy looking super desperate with a single package of socks trying to sell you a pair of socks for a dollar. Families were strolling around probably after church, indulging their children, eating snacks, listening to street musicians. It was really idyllic!

Most shops have a step to get in (though, really, most shops were shut because it is Sunday) but I did find a pharmacy without MUCH of a step and got claritin and kleenex for Danny who is either sick or having allergies/altitude sickness. I had lunch in Plaza San Francisco in a little tourist cafe where the food was excellent and I could sit outside. The bathroom there was kind of almost accessible but not really. (Ditto for the bathroom in the tourist information building on the Plaza Grande). Back to lunch: I had a fritada which was huge, cheap, and delicious, with juicy grilled chicken, garlic maiz blanco, a sort of onion-tomato curtido, thin avocado puree with toasted maiz on it, platanos maduros, and a mildly spicy pepper sauce, kicking back with that and a coke sitting right on the Plaza.

I must have gone around the Plaza Grande like 5 times just kind of wandering and then sitting in different places to look at the town and watch people go by.

You can get a haircut for 2 dollars and lunch (huge) for $5-10.

The Museum of Precolombian Art was accessible and had the only (mostly) accessible bathroom I’ve seen so far in Ecuador. By which, it had a hand rail and I could get into it in my wheelchair though a bigger one than mine might not fit. So, if you’re a wheelchair user and you need the bathroom check out this museum (which is free). Not to neglect the actual museum, which was excellent and super fancy, with a lot of ceramics and a few gold oranaments and pretty good explanatory signs (along with a booklet on the exhibit you could borrow). The ceramics from the Chorrera culture were especially fabulous. I didn’t see a shop, alas, (as I was hoping to buy a replica bird whistle.)

I liked the guy with a puppet show of joropo musicians, and the people further up the street playing huaynos (or something close to that) and everyone dancing in the street. A jolly woman in one of those andean lady bowler hats with a peacock feather grabbed my hair and complimented me, dancing a bit (I did not mind) But aside from that only a few people went slack jawed at the sight of me. No one fake-jumped out of the way (what a nice luxury) And no one else had brightly colored hair – perhaps they are all in the other tourist area where there is “night life” and where the gay bars are. I will go there later in the week and find out.

The guys who drove us from the airport to our hotel at midnight were very negative on the idea of my going on the trolebus (it is too crowded, and not “exclusive”) but it looked OK to me, maybe a bit crowded but not impossible. I will likely try that tomorrow, either from the Plaza del Teatro or the Plaza de Bolivar in the other direction. (with my eye on going to the big park that has a botanical garden.)

The whole day was very relaxing!

Traveling slow

It was a good decision so far to break this trip in half. We did one short flight to Houston, stayed in the airport hotel, and will take off later today for Ecuador. I had a swim last night in the hotel pool so I even got in some exercise. This is in theory going to mean I’m not physically destroyed at the other end of the trip (and then on the way back we’ll stay in Houston a few days to visit my parents and grandma). So far so good!

I am planning to fritter away some time in the airport this afternoon before the flight playing Ingress and Pokemon as I ride the tram around and around. Perhaps also an airport “spa” leg massage.

A good adventure on the road

On the road by myself this morning to Calistoga I pulled off of 101 figuring I could have a little Olompali State Park lookaround. So I’m on San Antonio road, parallel to the highway, and passed a young person with a backpack…. thought a second, stopped & stuck my head out the window. WANT A RIDE! I screeched out the window after a quick assessment. The young person ran to catch up looking absolutely gobsmacked and hopped in. Rather than drag them to the park I figured we were on the back road to Petaluma (where they said they were headed). After some consultation of maps (young Tad was walking to Bodega Bay) I offered to take them to Santa Rosa where they could take 12 to the coast. Offer accepted!

Our mysterious encounter continued and I hoped my tacky dance music was acceptable (“Hashtag this you basic bitch!” was blasting, which felt wrong for my new friend somehow.) I mentioned the land and the Mushroom Farm as a conversational hook to no avail (My first guess of eco-farm-hippie was wrong.) An observation on some sort of Path (terminology that I don’t remember) was made. “So… Buddhist? Hindu? Krishna?” Yes to Krishna! That explains the cute lil dots and stripes of white face paint. “I’ve always liked the story of Krishna stealing the butter and his mom telling him to open his mouth and she looks in his mouth and instead of the stolen butter there is the whole world and the whole universe!!! Enthusiastic agreement from Tad. When you are first on the path, you’re like a child seeing the forest from a child’s perspective! Then, the next stage, you’re like a mother holding the child in her lap, in the forest (on the path?) and you have to be both mother and child, to yourself! Enthusiastic agreement from me. Priest and poet journeying together! We entered historic Petaluma.

Somewhere in downtown Petaluma they offered the thought that I should see Scott Pilgrim (movie, full title escapes me) which I had not. “Is that.. uh is that by the guy who did Slacker?” No. But Tad loves that movie. I was like Tad, my friend, I lived that movie and knew everyone in it! Turns out Tad was a street kid in Austin for some time. We high fived for love of Austin at a streetlight. How about the movie Waking Life? Yes! Tad loves it! I think it is a little sad but beautiful. Why sad? Because, I take it to be all a dreamlike mind journey in the moment between a car crash and death (feeling a little weird to say this to my hitchhiker as I, a stranger, drive my FMINIST-mobile.) “I’ll have to watch it again! I didn’t notice that!” Tad had left the hari krishna festival in Fresno (to go their own way still a personal follower of krishna) and it was an uneasy path and difficult but worth it.

When I said I love trains, they quoted Buckminster Fuller on public transit. Hahahah, lovely. I explained about 4D Timelock and the towers and airships. Also I was offered a Bob Dylan quote (always stick your tongue out at babies) and something about the Grateful Dead.

This young puppy, voice barely breaking, utterly charmed me. I dropped them off by the side of the access road to highway 12 in Santa Rosa, offered $20 bucks “because you’re a holy pilgrim, and to get some food and water!” (I thought of giving more but did not want it to be weird.)

We are now Facebook friends. An auspicious start to my mini-vacation at the hot springs. Wow I do love life quite a lot. A small human connection. All of these moments should be valued and held close to our hearts.

Back on my bullshit!

I’m back from my trip to Seattle, Vancouver, Whistler, and beyond! Now that I’ve taken the Coast Starlight train to all its destinations I can’t wait to take some more long distance train journeys!!

Danny has often pointed out to me how I go down a social class for every bag I’m carrying and it was even more true for this trip. As I went from my friend Els’s house near the giant geodesic dome thing in downtown Vancouver, to the train station, at 4:30am, laden with giant backpack hanging off the back of my wheelchair, smaller backpack at my feet, and duffel bag balanced on my lap, a little group of maybe 30-somethings was heading away from the crosswalk I was approaching. One of them veered off towards me holding out a bag. “Would you … would you like breakfast?”

Now…. what a question since I was just looking around wondering if anything was open so I could get a muffin or whatever before getting on a 3 hour bus to Seattle where I’d get back on the train. Perhaps this young man had been at some sort of … early meeting rife with donuts, or was a baker carrying home some fresh pastry and a MAGICAL CROISSANT was going to appear for me.

Thus I paused a bit, consideringly, and said “Um… what is it?”

“It’s my leftover McDonald’s pancakes. Please, take it, go on!” (Earnest eye contact, look of deep and pained concern.)

Maybe I should have taken it so he could feel good about himself but I did not and I may have giggled inappropriately without explaining but I did smile and was as nice as possible at 4:30 am on the street. Then I passed through a sort of encampment in the park and at the train station a cab driver was screaming at a definitely homeless dude who was asking for change and so I gave the homeless dude my leftover Canadian money mentally attributing it to the nice man with the free bag of (gross!) Mcdonalds pancakes.

Completing my downwards journey to squalor I then just flat out laid down and fell asleep on the (relatively clean) floor of the bus.

p.s. I did get breakfast from a nice man in the train station who opened a tiny cafe at 5am and sold me a slice of lemon cake!!!

p.p.s. Wait staff in Vancouver AND Whistler sensitively offered me a straw, multiple times! They lean over and say it with soulful discretion, while making eye contact and touching my arm a little! “Would you like a STRAW, ma’am?” (They have HEARD that disabled people have this whole straw thing so…….)

More about the amazing adventures on my trip later !!! A little at a time!!!

p.p.p.s. CRIPS!!

Reading The Cruel Way

I am reading Ella Maillart’s The Cruel Way, about her road trip from Switzerland to Kabul in 1939 along with her friend Annemarie Schwartzenbach. This book was in theory free from University of Chicago, but I ended up buying it after several failed attempts to get the free book in a readable form, having installed several ugly and pointless pieces of bad software which I then had to uninstall. Better to buy the book and crack the DRM myself! Ridiculous!

Maillart is an ethnographer and writer, is interesting, often fantastically racist, hates Hitler, and is trying to help the famously “androgynous” men’s-suit-wearing Schwartzenbach clean up from a heroin addiction (what better thing to do than bring someone straight to Afghanistan????!!!) and get over some sort of stormy lesbian heartbreak. While I hoped initially they were lovers, now I think not – Schwartzenbach seems to have some other affairs along the way, though. Their relationship is pretty cool though. I enjoyed the moment where Schwartzenbach moans that Ella is more famous because her books have been translated (even though Schwartzenbach had more publications). Still true and no one seems to have translated her to English yet. Also fascinating, Maillart’s recordings of sentiment from people in various countries about Hitler, Mussolini, Britain, the US, Russia on the eve of war.

Neat stuff looked up in Wikipedia along the way
* Windcatchers of Hyderabad http://localcode.org/2017/03/windcatcher-passive-cooling-and-cultural-identity/ https://www.fieldstudyoftheworld.com/searching-windcatchers-hyderabad/

* The Tomb of Kabus and the Qabus-Nama

So many other things but it’s now a week later and I have moved on to read some other things! Oh well, I’ll post this anyway.