Saturday in Quito

A cold drizzly Saturday morning in the old town of Quito does not deter the street vendors. Some aim for the tourists with Ecuadorian scarves and ponchos, but the majority are targeting the ordinary Quitenos – with everything from plastic pegs, Samsung Galaxy 6 phones to kitchen whisks. There are people selling lottery tickets, or offering to take your photo. One old man with a tank of water and plastic cups seems to cross my path again and again. With the sudden onset of cold, puffer jackets are big business.

Not to overlook fleecy jackets, hats and shoes for dogs – the models looking less well cared for than their owners.

There are fruit sellers, loading their apples, oranges and tamarillos into large plastic bags as they sit on the side of the narrow streets. Others offer cups of cut up melon and pineapple. If you want something more substantial there are women with plastic bags of pulled pork, or men with a yoke across their shoulders with packets of biscuits of various shapes and sizes. For something sweeter, try a cone of meringue or a cup of red jelly.

And as they offer their goods they cry, their voices echoing across the narrow streets as they encourage custom, each trying to outdo the other with their vocal range. I M reminded of a flock of corellas, heard long before they appear in the evening sky.

I wonder how these people make a living – is theirs a subsistence existence (in some case it definitely appear so) or are they entrepreneurs able to do a deal and buy in bulk and sell in the streets with no overheads – and presumably no taxes.

A couple of days ago, outside the old town I saw a woman with baskets of delicious looking apricots, cherries and strawberries. I asked to take her photo, but she disappeared rapidly, and although I waited on an opposite corner, she did not reappear.

For those without the ability or contacts to sell on the street, there are beggars. I see several amputees, one man with an open wound on his heel which looks as though it needs hospital care, and old women. They are prolific in the porches of the many churches, especially around the San Francisco monastery, but also scattered throughout the town.

In this melange of bustle, crowds and noise, as I huddle into by anorak, the ice cream sellers are missing today

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It seemed like an easy wants get some travel money – what my mother would have called pin money – though I don’t know why. Being paid to walk the streets, which I do regualrly anyway, tea,k g to people , whichI love.

With the five yearly Census approaching, I applied for a position as a field officer. How hard could it be?   Last Sensis I had been working in an aged care facility, wher eI helped the residents complete their cCensus,or used thief medical files to fill  in what information I could.

And ” miracle of miracles, I could even Fong my ABS employee number in my erratic filing system. ( note to self, fi.kmg this I a well labelled folder is more efficient than piling this I the corner of a desk, hoping they will sort themselves. Sometimes.)

 

Never on Sunday

pexels-photo-358319.jpegIn my limited experience of overseas travel, three airports/ flights stand out as being more challenging than usual. It may be coincidence, but they all took place on a Sunday.

The first was a flight from Dublin to Madrid. We weren’t even meant to be on that flight, but my husband had been ill overnight causing us to postpone our flight. So instead of the early Saturday morning flight, we left on a Sunday afternoon. At the gate we realised that this was no ordinary group of passengers. About half were schoolchildren, aged between ten and fourteen. They were excited after a weekend
excursion, and once on board, showed no interest in sitting in their assigned seats, listening to safety briefing or even wearing seatbelts. They shouted to each other across the plane in Spanish. Not only were they impervious to the requests of the flight staff, but the accompanying teachers did nothing to settle them. The flight attendant – a mature woman who no doubt had children of her own, told us that this was a common occurrence. Rich private school kids, hyped up on a weekend of freedom, CocaCola or more.

We did make it safely to Madrid, but this was strike one against Sunday.

Strike 2 was in Casablanca. No romance with Ric climbing the aircraft stairs. We had started the day in Fez, leaving at the time of the first muzzerin’s call, driving for several hours to Casablanca. Why this was necesssary when Fez has a perfectly good airport, wasn’t clear – it was the way the tour was planned, and in my naivety I hadn’t questioned it.

Although it was a week after Eid, there were still many family groups travelling, and the airport was chaotic. So much so that we had to to queue outside to even get intothe terminal. Flights were delayed, gate numbers on our boarding passes bore no resemblance to what was on the indicator boards, and there were few announcements in English. My attempt to spend my last few dinars on coffee were successful only after a group of men pushed in front of me.

Everywhere there were signs warning us not to take large volumes of fluid on board and to have all our tubes creams and potions in clear plastic bags. Standard procedure, but despite passing through several checkpoints, no one ever asked to  see mine.

We finally found ourselves at the right gate, waiting,waiting, along wth many others. We chatted to a couple of young Americans who were seated behind us, and joked about leaning our seats back on them. Be careful what you threaten. When we took off, my husband’s seat flew back and he was left staring at the ceiling until we gained altitude. As the plane shuddered and rattled, I began to have thoughts about having to leave him and saving myself if we did end up in a disaster situation –  our daughter has a chronic illness and is unable to live independently.

Strike three was in Lima today. Wedged between the successful economies of Ecuador and Chile, Peru is very much a developing country. The airport is busy, but there aren’t enough gates so buses are often used to transport passengers between the plane and the terminal. There seems to be a severe lack of toilets, too.

Today’s adventure started when my alarm went off a t 12.45 am, in preparation for a 1.30 pick up from the hotel for a 4.15 flight from Quito. There would be a short layover in Lima,  and then onto Santiago.

When I tried to print my boarding pass, a message about priority passenger came up. I stood up straight, rearranged my scarf, and waited to be invited to upgrade to business class. Ahh, those two minutes of hope, soon dashed. Not business class, but no room on the aircraft. Despite booking my flight six months ago, I had been offloaded to a later flight. In compensation, I had two hours free wifi (usually you only get half an hour at Lima airport) and was given a breakfast voucher. I couldn’t find the restaurant I was meant to use it at, so I contributed to the flagging Peruvian economy by paying $US11.50 for coffee, juice, and a few small rolls.

Being Sunday, and the last weekend of the annual Chilean vacation month, there we many families with young children travelling, and both airport and plane had many unhappy babies. In the restaurant where I had breakfast, the music and chatter were so loud that it was impossible to hear any announcements.

Earlier I had congratulated myself that being half asleep minimised my stress about the delay. But the noise levels, missing free breakfast and the crowds soon had me anxiously waiting the call to board.

The flight was relatively uneventful, except for the crying babies, and the fact that there appeared to be no expectation that you would sit in your assigned seat. But I was aware that my luggage was probably on the original flight, and having been told at length by some travel  companions  about their battle to find their luggage in Shanghai, I was aware that finding my suitcase might be an issue.

I passed through immigration and customs without drama. But the baggage hall was chaos, with piles of unclaimed suitcases between carousels and  stacked up in corners. I couldn’t find the indicator board telling me which carousel to go to; nor could I recognise anyone from my flight. Finally I found the carousel, through a door at the end of the hall, but, as I expected my, suitcase was not among those going round and round.

I pulled out my phone, and composed a question in Google Translate, asking where I should begin to search for my luggage. But as I approached the Latam enquiry counter ther was my familiar green case with its red Bunnik’s strap and pink ribbon on the handle. I breathed a sigh of relief, and headed for a taxi, incredibly grateful for my distinctive case in a sea of hundreds of apparently identical black bags. I don’t know how anyone else found their suitcase.

All these things might happen any day of the week. And it was a Saturday, not Sunday, when my boarding pass had seat number XXX, and the driver I had booked to take me from Lima airport was late.

But on the balance, it seems wise not to book an international flight on Sunday unless absolutely necessary.

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Touchdown in Lima

To reach the Galápagos Islands from Sydney, one must fly to Santiago, through Lima to Quito. Faced with a six hour stop-over in Lima, I decided to add a brief stay in the city instead.

Santiago to Lima is a four hour flight, but is like stepping back through decades.
Santiago, despite or because of Pinochet, is now a thriving economy; Lima is a developing country whose population has exploded without jobs or infrastructure to support the inflow of people from the hills. The trip from the airport was slow, with street vendors walking between the lanes of traffic selling water, soft drinks and ice cream. Buildings are shabby, bags of garbage clutter the streets, yet signs welcoming Papa Francisco are everywhere- looking fresh and new although he has already been and gone.

There is a constant tooting of horns, which seem to mean anything from “I’m coming through” to “don’t even think about stepping off the pavement” and “I can see you and I know you have right of way, but I was here first.” Or maybe it’s just “I have a working horn in my car.”

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Not the only car in this condition.

I was staying in Miraflores on the coast, which people had told me was a good choice. Despite the plethora of surf schools, the surf looked choppy and uninviting, the beach grey and pebbly. And sea mist hung over everything, as it does all summer.

But this cleared in the afternoon and it was hot when I visited visit the pre-Incan ruins of Huaca Pucllana , then walked among the Saturday afternoon strollers. In the park, a crowd and music revealed a group of seniors dancingin an amphitheatre – not very energetically – but with great enjoyment.

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I left downtown Lima for today, starting with the Museo Larco. This amazing private institution was founded in the 1920s by an enthusiast who bought up collections of pre-Columbian art to protect them, and went on to research the many civilizations that existed in Peru before the Incas. The exhibits were well- curated, with explanations in six languages, showing everything from ancient ritual vessels, to delicate fabrics and elaborate gold armour. The post colonial era was not overlooked with some interesting religious art – with an indigenous twist.

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Museo Larco funeral rites.

The museum is also famous for its gardens – bougainvillea and geraniums in a riot of colour, cacti – even a few eucalypts. There is an elegant restaurant/ cafe, as well as a separate gallery of ritualistic erotic art.

I decided caffeine was more important than the latter. And not wanting to miss Lima central, I only saw a few reproductions in the gift shop.

My taxi driver was waiting as arranged, and he took me to Central Lima, dropping me off outside the Cathedral, and pointed me to the tourist office. Sadly his directions (or my understanding of his limited English) were wrong, and I did my usual wandering around in circles, trying to make sense of of street names and relate them to my map. I came to the magnificent Santo Domingo church, but decide to bypass the catacombs. Heading back to the main square, I found the tourist office, and received advice on far too many museums to fit In in one afternoon.
My primary goal was to visit the sanctuary of Santa Rosa, Lima’s patron saint, for my neighbour who shares her name. The church promotes Rosa in many ways from its dark pink walls, to the roses In the gardens. There is a museum telling her story, with a delightful priest outside. I read what I could – most was in in Spanish – and took photos of the various statutes of Santa Rosa.

I bought a small picture of Santa Rosa from the priest – and showing my protestant ignorance, didn’t know why he asked for it back. Of course, he needed to bless it. “mi no Catholic”, I offered in explanation in goodness knows what muddled language.

 

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Top deck sun protection

Back in the heart of Lima with its colourful Colonial architecture, wooden balconies and crowds of people. There were banners for Chinese New Year, an alley full of stuffed toys for Valentines day, apparently guarded by a soldier with a gun, and police lounging everywhere. Strolling balloon sellers, invisible under their helium filled load. And round very corner, or down a passageway were shops selling colourful Peruvian fabrics, hats, and stuffed lamas of all sizes.

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Valentine’s Day must be approaching.

Don’t walk faster than the natives is advice I have been given for hot climates. But when many of the natives seem to have some physical impairment, or are aimlessly strolling to fill in a Sunday afternoon, this advice is best ignored.

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I would love to see Lima on a working day instead of a weekend, to see how different the city is. But my current impression of crazy traffic, poverty, churches, colonial architecture and parks, and friendly people immensely proud of their city will have to suffice.

Spirituality in Santiago

A city as dry and smoggy as Santiago needs its parks. Yesterday’s visit to Santa Lucia Hill was an unexpected delight; today’s outing, although planned, was also surprising. The Parque Metropolitano has been described as “the lungs of Santiago”, its bare hills having been planted with trees and gardens over the past hundred years or so. There are even a few eucalypts.

You can drive through the park – or walk or cycle to the 300 m to the top of the hill, but it it is easy to catch the funicular. The park itself is celebrating its centenary, but the funicular was built in 1925. I had expected a seat, but it was standing only – justlike today’s Metro. The old photos show that riding the funicular in the 1920s was a pursuit for men only.

One of the highlights of the park is the 14 m high statue of the Virgin, which can be seen from many parts of the city. I had read about the statue and the nearby painted crosses, but the experience still exceeded my expectations. San Cristobal Hill is the second highest point in Santiago, the city sprawls beneath it in every direction. The Virgin and nearby chapel offer not only a relief from the heat, but a spiritual respite for those seeking peace and quiet from the city’s bustle. The hill was known as Tupahue, meaning place of God, by the indigenous peoples of Santiago.

At the foot of the terraces leading to the statue is a lifesize wooden nativity scene. The Pope has visited recently, and as I have seen no mention of it in the tourist guides, I suspect this may be a recent addition. Along with the shepherds and the Magi is a woman with a fat duck, and, necessito in Santiago, a dog.

Santiago is a city of murals, so it is appropriate that the crosses outside, representing the seven last words of Jesus, are painted mural style; some traditional, some more modern, some subtle, some emphasising outpouring of blood, but all depicting an aspect of Jesus’ death and relationship to humanity.

There was piped music – not overly religious, maybe modern hymns – reminiscent of the singing nun of my youth – and the signs requesting silencio were respected. Many Chileans take holidays in February, and Brazilians from Rio escape Mardi Gras, so tourists seemed to be outnumbered by locals. Families with children, young lovers, older people and friends, all coming for a day out or a spiritual experience. There was plenty of space to sit and reflect, or just rest in the shade.

There is a small chapel within the pedestal in which the statue rests, and a larger one a short distance away. The walls of the latter, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, are decorated with monochrome murals. It seems to celebrate the women of the Nativity story, with Mary and Elizabeth given precedence over St Peter and John the Baptist. Inside one can “light” an electric candle, but outside there is a framework for real candles and other offerings.

At 12 o’clock, the music stopped, bells rang, and a prayer to Santa Maria was recited. I don’t know enough Spanish, or Catholic prayers, to identify it, but I wonder if this is the same as radio 2SM would broadcast at midday many decades ago.

There are beautiful gardens around the statue and church. With a climate similar to Sydney, most of the flowers were familiar. But further on towards the next hill, the gardens were less tended, and some of the structures had seen better days. After a short exploration, leading nowhere, I decided to return to the city. But not by funicular. The other means of descent is the cable car, which covers much of the breadth of the park, with a stop midway near the zoo, swimming pool and restaurant. As promised, the views from the cable car were spectacular, and apart from a lurch at the beginning and end, the ride was remarkably smooth.

For those who tire of seeing ABC ( another bloody church) while travelling, San Cristobal hill offers another type of sacred site, and a mountaintop experience.

 

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Visiting the baby Jesus
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Statue of the Virgin – and communication tower.

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Leaving on a jet plane

 

In the mid-70s, I left Australia with a group of other middle class professionals, heading for London via Kathmandu – the infamous hippy trail. I was shy and sheltered, a bookworm, still struggling to find who I was.

We travelled through amazing countries, many now accessible only to the brave, after decades of war and inhospitable regimes. There was no internet, no mobile phones. Letters home were written on fine blue aerogrames, mail was collected at “Post restante”. The only other contact was the occasional reverse charge phone call home on birthdays.

Now I am about to embark on solo travel again. Older, wiser, more confident. But still a bookworm, still happy with my own company. Back then I was a square peg in round hole; to a certain extent I still a. Life in a round hole isn’t appealing.

Forty years ago, I had no plans other than g thing to London. I worked and travelled, soaking up museums and concerts. I stayed for eighteen months, deciding one Northern hemisphere winter was enough.

This time, I have three weeks, part organised tour, part solo exploration. The focus of the trip is a ten day tour of the Galápagos Islands. Time in Santiago, Lima and Quito is a bonus.

Unlike the seventies, I can remain connected with iPhone, and iPad, global roaming, whatsap, Skype and FaceTime. The time, effort and expense in sorting all this has not been inconsiderable. Packing clothes was easy. Sorting out passwords for communication and working out the electrical plugs and adaptor needed for three different countries were not.

I am cuaght between the world of technology and the world of paper. I have hard copies of  my travel documents, backed up electronically on my devices and at home. I have downloaded google maps and photocopied pages from travel guides. I have a book to r ad nad others on the IPad. I am writing a blog and taking a travel diary.

I look forward to seeing the amazing wildlife of the Galápagos, to experiencing a tiny amount of South American culture, to seeing the Andes, the Equator and the other side of the Pacific Ocean. I hope to blog every few days. So join me as I leave on a jet plane for three weeks of #newexperience. 

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