A delightful book beckons

In the park near our house on top of the hill, there’s a house that must belong to a teacher or school librarian, because there is always a cardboard box or two full of kids’ paperback books there, sometimes boring but sometimes the best sort of old, weird book. I had a stressful week at work and am feeling fed up so decided to dive into this gem from the free box.

It’s called The Saucepan Journey, it’s by Edith Unnerstad, first published in 1949, and is translated from Swedish. The book opens by describing the seven children in the family, and how they don’t have room in their tiny apartment for them all to sleep, having to put three chairs together and put an ironing board on top, or for the smaller ones, sleeping in a bureau drawer (as I hear I did as a baby!) There is a housing crisis (because of it being just post-war?) and no one will rent to them anyway because they have too many children and not enough money.

Their mother used to be a traveling (and maybe not very successful) young Shakespearean actress and their dad is a travelling button-seller but really, a brilliant inventor. He’s invented a 3 part whistling saucepan called “Pip”. A grumpy uncle dies and leaves them his brewery horses and two large wagons.

Their mom, a sprightly and inventive person herself, comes up with the idea that they’ll leave their cramped apartment, build bunk beds in one of the wagons, fit up the back of the wagon with a little kitchen, and travel the country selling Pip (in all three sizes).

Without even going further than that it’s clear this is going to be an amazing book. I am almost in tears at how awesome it is, and nothing has even happened yet! The Swedishness and the being 70 years old and it being relatively normal to have horses in the middle of cities adds to the fabulosity.

The parents are nice – fun – adaptable – And the children all seem to appreciate each other’s capabilities and quirks.

Why are some books so cozy, and enticing, and you can fall asleep thinking about how you’d fit up your little caravan behind your brewery horses, either with your seven (!) children or as one of them, enterprisingly selling patent saucepans? I can feel the stress just draining out of me. Even better — there are two sequels.

I met a fabulous storyteller

This afternoon I was sweeping up leaves from the sidewalk when an old guy stopped to remark on how he thought it was a pretty house. He lives around the block on Santa Marina and has lived there since 1952 and in 1960 he nearly bought this house but his wife didn’t like it. We continued chatting.

I mentioned the history of the house as an earthquake shack. He told me how he moved here in 1947, worked 6 days a week very long hours and earned 14 dollars a week, but that was very quickly enough to buy a house. His house was $9500 and soon he had enough money to buy a second house. And he’ll tell me something about it! We settled onto the sidewalk bench which I built specially for people to rest there when going up the hill, and I was prepared for pretty much anything at this point, because he was charming and rather intense. The story went something like this:

The house is at 18th and Church, in a little, in a little street near there,
“In the alley by the Mission? Mission Dolores!”
Yes, yes! You know! The Mission. The cemetery there.
“Yes I’ve been to the cemetery, it’s very strange, and sad, they enslaved people, a lot of people died”
Yes that’s right. The indigenous people died there. They’re in the cemetery. Anyway, in the 50s, 60s, I’m under the house, it’s, I’m on my knees, it’s very small,
“In the crawlspace?”
Yes! I’m crawling under there, I’m digging, it’s very dark, with the electrician, who is of Caucasian descent, European descent. And it’s very dark. He screams! He gives out a big scream! Then silence. Nothing.
“Did he find bones?”
No, no bones, I crawl around, I’m yelling Davy! Davy! That was his name. Davy (Scheule?) He was of European descent. And he fell down a big fucking hole!
“Oh my god!”
It is the well from the mission, Under my house! My house is built in 1750, and they don’t cover up the well!
Anyway, he was down the well, very far! I got out and got someone else, he brought a light. And we got him out of the well. It was very hard, and it took a long time. We got him out.
“Did he die?”
No, he was ok. And I tell a guy from the city! He’s of caucasian descent, this man. He comes, himself, with a crew, and he goes, himself, under the house! And he makes a stairway with the rope, a —
“A rope ladder?”
Yes, a ladder with the rope, then he goes down into the well, himself. And he comes up and has something, maybe, gold, but he says it’s his because he found it. I told him he can’t come back any more because I’m mad he took the things from the well! And, he reports me to the city because the house has no foundation.
“OMG. Coins? Money? What was it?”
I don’t know. Maybe money from 1900s, but older, it would be something else! So then I am building the foundation. I find the bricks, bricks put out for like to walk to the well, from the Mission. It’s a path to the well. Then I’m digging, I’m putting cement. And I dig these big wooden, like this, but big (indicating a 2 foot by two foot square beam) this big, from here, to that door (like 10 feet or so)
“Beams?”
Yes, big beams, of wood, very solid, very good, under the ground for 100 years. And then I find more of them, I dig them out. What they’re for I don’t know.
“Wow!”
Then I sell them, someone buys this wood for one thousand dollars! I don’t know why. I know things, not the things like this, but I know to fish, to grow, to build things. I’m not of European descent, I’m indigenous. So, I don’t know why they buy the wood, back then. What they do with it. I don’t let them go under the house any more.
“So, did you sell the house?”
No, I still have it.
“OK!!!!! So!!!!! Can I go down the well? Wow you are a really good storyteller! ”

*fin*

Then he gave me his card, in case I need advice in building or getting city permits which he’s great at because he’s been doing it for 50 years. We shook hands several times and I thanked him for the fantastic story!!! How did he know I love local history.

I have such good luck with random encounters and I want to be friends with this cool dude now. He is 86! And still contracting (with his son).

I guess all the houses right there around the Mission Dolores must be on top of some amazing stuff and archeologists have likely poked at it over the years!

The Wide, Wide World

Today in weird old children’s books! (Which I like to read while I’m sick, and I’ve had a cold all week.) The Wide, Wide World (1850) by Susan Warner was the first book published in America to sell over one million copies! It’s the book that Jo March was reading in Little Women when someone discovers her reading and crying in a tree! Girls in *other* books are often reading it too!

The Wide, Wide World starts out in a tense, claustrophobic situation where 10 year old Ellen is hanging out with her mother who is obviously dying of consumption. (The dad is an indifferent and kind of scary figure – barely there.) The mom has to go overseas for her health so they plan to send Ellen to her aunt in the country. Ellen devotedly makes toast and tea for her mother and tries (unsuccessfully ) not to cry and to love Jesus best.

The crowning glory of this book is probably in these first few chapters when they finally stop crying and praying (and coughing) long enough to leave the house on a shopping trip to get Ellen a Bible. (The mom sells her treasured ring to be able to afford it!) Agonizingly long bible-choosing scene. The mom also buys her a truly wondrous mahogany writing-desk with a zillion little drawers and compartments & all the things to go in them brand new. Pencils! different note-papers! Ink and ink powder and a screw top jar for the ink! (Even some pounce!) Then, surprise, a work-basket equally well provisioned. I wonder if Warner was fantasizing about having the best possible writing desk, or didn’t quite know how to go about moving the plot forward and had to fill up the chapter and used her own gorgeous little desk as an example?!

Then an utterly terrifying journey with some strange family who are not very genteel. They mock her bonnet. Luckily on the river boat she meets a kind old gentleman on deck who finds her crying and comforts her by discussing Jesus at GREAT LENGTH and then sets her to read the text of some hymns. Yay, he even gives her the tiny hymnbook which he’s helpfully marked up with pointers and explanations! By the end of the journey as night falls I think she’s cuddled up in his arms?! He never even says what his name is. I picture him as a very whiskery man in a top hat with his pockets just STUFFED full of weird religious tracts.

Then a stressful stay at an inn. The travelling companion lady lets Ellen just fall asleep on the floor and goes down to dinner. But the nice servant girl conspires with the inn’s chambermaid and they make up a nice bed for her & bring her fancy dinner. Huzzah! (No one mentions Jesus. Just how polite and sweet Ellen is. )

The next day they brutally yeet Ellen and her trunk in the town square of Uhhhh I can’t remember. Townville. Clearly we are in upstate New York though. She gets to ride in an ox-cart to her aunt’s house and then terrifyingly the ox cart driver tells her to just walk in. The aunt had no idea she was coming. OK this is getting too long so I’ll just say: The aunt is a sharp and hard hearted person, the ox-cart driver Mr. Van Brunt ends up befriending her, there are like a zillionty great characters (ox-cart guy’s old mother, charismatic Swiss French lady who lives on top of the mountain, her feckless, tricky and wild granddaughter Nancy, Alice Humphreys the young lady who is the minister’s daughter. Alice adopts Ellen as her sister and talks to her constantly about Jesus so they are BFFs. Then we meet Alice’s brother John ***DUH DUh DUNNNNNNNN*** ***super dramatic entrance music*** who is studying to be a minister and who LOVES to tell Ellen how to behave and truly be good and who also encourages (as Alice does) her education, her questions about science, the refraction of light, etc. Meanwhile, she and Alice learn perfect French from the lady on the mountain. She goes with Alice and John to a house party at their friends’? cousins’? mansion, Ventnor. Then she goes home to alternate staying with Aunt Fortune (the mean one) and Alice.

I can’t help seeing some of this from Aunt Fortune’s point of view. She works her ass off and is a perfect housekeeper and has to take care of a useless religious nut who cries all the time and Ellen’s nice genteel sweetness is never for her but only for strangers who don’t do all their own work. Anyway, at some point Ellen has to take care of the Aunt and the house mostly by herself for a month even doing the super difficult churning. Aunt still terrible though for opening her letters from her mom and not letting her have them for days. (Even when her mom just DIED.) Oh yeah her dad is also lost at sea.

Let us fast forward through the scenes at Ventnor and also when she finally gets a completely perfect pony.

Suddenly things take a completely bizarre turn. Nancy brings a hidden letter to Ellen! It says her mother’s dying command is that Ellen should go to her maternal grandmother in Scotland who is super rich! Who no one has ever heard of because they were estranged! Whaaaaat! But Ellen wants to stay with John her “brother” (i.e. the youngest and hottest creepy jesus loving control freak in her life) But it is her duty to obey her parents! OMG!!!! She is packed off to Scotland immediately of course. Impossible to tell how old she is but by this time maybe 18 or so. Her creepy uncle in Edinbugh adopts her (How many times COULD a person be adopted, Ellen wondered to herself) and makes her drink wine (GASP) and doesn’t take Jesus seriously — all the Scottish relatives make fun of Yankees and the backwoods – forbid her jealously to talk about her “brother” – Well, you can guess what happens at the end.

A++ excellent totally bizarro book; clearly L.M. Montgomery did a serious Jesusectomy on it to get herself going. Despite my alienation from all the religious stuff I liked Ellen’s moral quandries as she tries to be nice to people and do her duty even when they are horrible, despite her fierce temper.

JUST FOUND OUT that there is a 53rd chapter that wasn’t published until the 1980s (thank you Feminist Press) I need this! They have this edition in the Main library downtown for in-library use only so I’m going to have to go on pilgrimage!! Very exciting. I mean, obviously it’s just like Susan marrying John her “brother” which was only hinted at coyly in chapter 52.

Musings on fundamentally ableist assumptions

It isn’t a terrible thing, but a revealing thing, that when I give a short description of the game project I’m working on, and include that you can play a blind or Deaf/deaf person or wheelchair user, people tend to make several assumptions. That the game is about the experience of frustration or pain, about inaccessibility, about barriers. And, that it’s for able bodied people to develop understanding or empathy. I’ve gotten this response so many times that I’ve stopped being surprised. But, how odd!

The reason I’m writing these possible points of view in the game is so that I and other disabled/blind/deaf folks can feel some part of their own experience reflected. It’s a game with fantasy and magic and time travel, it’s about feeling connected to your local geography and history and people and having a sense of place in the world, with a bunch of goofy puzzles. It’s supposed to be fun and amusing. The wheelchair using point of view character might “notice” the bumpiness of pavement or need to use the elevator in train stations instead of the stairs. The blind character gets to use a little audio guide to the train station environs instead of looking at the murals and signs and maps. That’s about it! It’s so that we get to play a fun game without feeling jarred out of what would be our own experience, on some level, and get to feel the pleasure and validation of being represented.

It’s like assuming that a farming or spy game where you can choose your gender, is “for” men to understand women or NB people’s experience, and to show how frustrating it is to be a non-male farmer or assassin or whatever. No, it’s to play the game with a sense of identity that you want to play as, not to play a game about being constantly sexually harassed and shooting powerful lasers out of your boobs, though I’m sure that would be fun in the right context.

Nice encounters

On the way to swim laps at Balboa pool I was congratulating myself, “Great how I didn’t even have to think to do this, just pick up my nicely organized swim bag with everything in it, and go!” As I started to get undressed in the locker room, realized I had forgotten to bring any towels.

Everyone in the locker room told me about times they had done this and just dried off with their tshirt (I did not look forward to doing this and then putting the shirt on!) Asked the lifeguard if I could borrow a towel and just bring it back washed the next week and he found me one (and took it back afterwards to put with the lifeguard’s laundry).

So kind of him! Must remember to bring cookies or something next time as a thank-you.

My swim was good; despite a nasty sciatica flare-up, I went 900 meters, the last 100 without using my legs since I was hurting but feeling stubborn and wanted to hit 1000. Then came to my senses and stopped. Listened to Prince as I swam (waterproof ipod + headphones) and then, appropriately, “Go Slow” by Fela Kuti. Impossibilityismalogicalization!

Knocked off work a bit early to grocery shop, realized maybe i should have a nice afternoon of it, so I took the bus to 18th and went to Bi-Rite (for the nicer selection of flowers than Good Life), got pastries from Tartine and took them to the park. Some kids came to dramatic trick stops at Dolores & 18th as I crossed the street and as one of them wiped out I saved his skateboard from flying out into traffic.

I picked out a sunny spot with a view in the middle of the park near the statue of Miguel Hidalgo (Libertador). Just then a young man approached me with a very open and innocent aspect wanting to ask me a question if I didn’t mind. I took an internal stance somewhere between wary, patient, and open to things myself – what was he going to ask me? Wheelchair related? Asking for money with a story behind it? Just wants directions to somewhere?

“Sure, what’s up?” “Well I’m from out of town and heard that you can just be hanging out in this park and people will sell you weed but is there a close by place I can buy some?” “Well that’s true but I haven’t seen anyone and it’s pretty random. All I’ve seen is a pizza and beer guy.” His shy, sweet friend then came up to join him and we discussed local dispensaries and ways to walk there. I ended up sending them on their way to Apothecarium, with handshakes, smiles, and Alex’s assurance that he would buy me a blunt and be right back. (Alex from L.A. and friend Roseanne never returned but I didn’t mind and hope they had a lovely afternoon.)

Later when Danny joined me in the park I told him I was somewhat honored to be the person asked where to buy weed (Smart since crips always know, right?) He side eyed my pants (which are completely ridiculous instagram ad pants made entirely of fabric patches badly sewn together) and leather jacket. I guess???!!! Maybe I just look like a NICE PERSON.

I ended up working in the evening to make up for my afternoon of swimming and park-lounging, and because it just needed to be done so why not.

Looking forward to a long weekend of organizing stuff (bookshelves and cabinets and garage) and working on my game project.

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.