Where Smokey Bear Is King

Smokey Bear Museum Capitan

Smokey Bear Museum Capitan

Everybody knows the Smokey Bear of advertising, but do you know there was a real living Smokey Bear.According to Wikipedia:

The living symbol of Smokey Bear was an American black bear three-month-old cub who in the spring of 1950 was caught in the Capitan Gap fire, a wildfire that burned 17,000 acres (69 km2) in the Lincoln National Forest, in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. Smokey had climbed a tree to escape the blaze, but his paws and hind legs had been burned. According to some stories, he was rescued by a game warden after the fire, but according to the New Mexico State Forestry Division, it was actually a group of soldiers from Fort Bliss, Texas, who had come to help fight the fire, that discovered the bear cub and brought him back to the camp.

Originally called Hotfoot Teddy, his name was changed to Smokey and he became a living symbol, ensconced at the National Zoo in Washington until his death in 1976. His remains were returned to Capitan, New Mexico, where there was a museum and a funerary monument in his honor.

The museum is still there, as well as a Smokey Bear Motel and a Smokey Bear Restaurant. We visited in 2003, and plan to drop in again to pay our homage to Smokey. Martine has a special devotion to Smokey. She has a special 50th anniversary stuffed Smokey Bear, as well as a zipper pull. Our refrigerator has two Smokey Bear magnets.

This Sign Appears All Over the Southwest

This Warning Sign Appears All Over the Southwest

There is even an Idaho company called Woodland Enterprises, which Martine has visited and which sells Smokey Bear (and Woodsy Owl) memorabilia. We shop there annually for gifts.

So Capitan, New Mexico, you can expect us some time this summer.

Standing on the Equator

At the Mitad del Mundo

At the Mitad del Mundo

That yellow painted line is supposed to be the Equator. But actually, according to computer measurements, the actual Equator is about 240 meters north of the line. Not that it matters: That woman in the lower half of the picture who is straddling the yellow line thinks she is getting some of the Middle of the Earth mojo—but she probably isn’t. Dan and I didn’t bother pacing out the 240 meters to the real Equator, because we would have fallen into a volcanic crater to our deaths. And some things just are not worth sacrificing oneself for!

Ecuador created a nice museum and restaurant complex at what it calls the Mitad del Mundo, which takes the sting out of the slightly misplaced line. The only problem we had was getting there in our rental car. Fortunately, there is a Mitad del Mundo bus line. We just followed the buses until we actually met up with a helpful road sign, of which there are probably not more than a dozen in the whole country.

Close Enough for Government Work

Close Enough for Government Work

There is nothing in Ecuador to compare with the tourist éclat of Machu Picchu in Peru. So the Mitad del Mundo will have to do. Fortunately, it’s not half bad.

Latin American Churches

Altar of Quito’s La Compañía de Jesús Church

Altar of Quito’s La Compañía de Jesús Church

In my posting the other day on Why Did I Go to Ecuador?, I seem to have left out one of the main reasons. This applies equally to Peru and probably Colombia, but not so much to Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay.

I am referring to the Catholic cathedrals, basilicas, and other old churches of the Andes. Until age 17, I received a Catholic education at St. Henry School in Cleveland and Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio. Then, while I was at Dartmouth, although a nominally Congregationalist school, I was very active with the Catholic Students’ Newman Club.

Coming to California has been disastrous to my faith—but yet something remains. It comes out when I visit the Andean churches, the most beautiful of which is La Compañía de Jesús church (shown above) near Quito’s Plaza de la Independencia.

In both Peru and Ecuador, I frequently stopped in at the local churches; and, not infrequently, I stayed for the services. In the Andes, I felt like a Catholic again. Even the smaller churches in places like Otávalo, Alausi, and Mindo drew me in.

The Small Church in the Village of Mindo

The Small Church in the Village of Mindo

In my life’s journey, I can see my returning to the Catholic Church. I continue to take exceptions to many points of dogma, such as the prohibitions on married priests, women in the priesthood, abortion, and divorce and some doctrines such as the relatively recent ones of the Immaculate Conception and what I call Papal Inflammability. On he other hand, there is much to admire. At this point, I am not sure which route I will take.

It’s OK To Be a Fool!

When in Doubt, Use All Means To Communicate—Even If It Makes You Look Like a Fool

When in Doubt, Use All Means To Communicate—Even If It Makes You Look Like a Fool

I never took Spanish in school, so most of my knowledge of the language comes from an old Berlits Latin American Spanish phrase book. I’m pretty good at getting a place to stay, and even better at ordering a meal. What I cannot do is engage in a conversation. I will try gamely, but my Rule #1 is never ever get flustered.

Once you get flustered, the person who is talking to you will think that you are being a rude dickhead for no earthly reason. It is far better to look stupid and try patiently with your limited repertoire, including hand gestures and even written notes.

At the bus station in Cuenca, I tried hard to buy a ticket for a ride to Alausi. Although the signs on the booth indicated that Patria buses stopped there, the lady refused to sell me a ticket there. Instead she went into a long explanation which I didn’t understand. Finally, I bought a ticket instead to Riobamba, which was a major stop on the line, albeit past Alausi. I figured I could get off the bus near enough to Alausi to get there by other means—at worst walking a kilometer or two down the hill. (I knew that the buses would not stop in Alausi itself, as it was in a valley below the Pan-American Highway.)

In the end, not only did I have no trouble getting off at the Alausi bus station on the Pan-American Highway (a place called La Estación), but the conductor called a cab for me.

I think what the woman’s long explanation at the Cuenca terminal was all about was that the bus did not go into the town of Cuenca, a fact which I already knew. Although I was out about fifty cents by buying a ticket to Riobamba, everybody was a winner in this transaction.

 

Why Did I Go to Ecuador?

Plaza Independencia in Quito

Plaza de la Independencia in Quito

A reasonable question, one that I have been asked frequently by people who know me. My answers will probably tell you a whole lot more about me than about Ecuador:

  1. I am drawn to South America because it is at one and the same time strangely different, yet not to the extent that I would feel totally at sea. And it has been so neglected by North Americans.
  2. The Andes are incredible. When my brother and I were lost on a road that was not on our map, we suddenly came upon the volcano Chimborazo, which was not only striking in its own right, but surrounded by herds of wild vicuñas. It was a magical moment of the type I keep having in Latin America.
  3. You can always find a bench at a beautiful tree-shaded plaza, get a shoe-shine, and do some world class people watching.
  4. It’s so nice to leave Los Angeles during a heat wave and find oneself in the mountains.
  5. South Americans feel so out of the way of “mainstream civilization” that they tend to be friendly and curious. I keep having interesting conversations with locals who know a little English; when they don’t speak English, I just try to carry on with my poor Spanish.
  6. I have a positive loathing of mosquitoes, so I tend to avoid jungles.
  7. It’s fun to spend the months before vacation time reading up on a culture with which one isn’t familiar.
  8. After standing on the zero meridian at Greenwich Observatory in London, I always wanted to stand on the Equator.
  9. Nobody I know knows anything about Ecuador.
  10. Ever since my visits to Mexico in the 1970s and 1980s, I fell in love with Pre-Columbian art in all its variety.

There’s probably half a dozen more reasons I could come up with, but this’ll do for starters.

Pre-Columbian, Then and Now

A Unique Museum Linking Pre-Columbian Art to the Present Day

A Unique Museum Linking Pre-Columbian Art to the Present Day

There it was, a museum just one block from our hotel in the Mariscal district of Quito. I knew that Dan was interested in seeing and buying Ecuadorian handicrafts, so we decided to pay a visit to the Museo Mindalae, which calls itself an ethno-historical museum of Ecuadorian handicrafts.

It turned out to be a good call. Although we are more than half a millennium away from Christopher Columbus, the peoples of the Andes are still very much in touch in touch with their ancestors. Of course, not only the Spanish, but subsequent rulers encouraged them in this. Today, the Fundación Sinchi Sacha, which runs the museum, not only encourages them, but runs a three-story handicraft store featuring the best of their work at fair prices.

Pre-Columbian or Current?

Pre-Columbian or Current?

I wound up liking the Museum so much that I returned to it the day before leaving Ecuador for the U.S. Both Dan and I bought several pieces of art from the store.

When, subsequently, we saw the crafts markets at Otavalo and Cuenca, we had a good idea what we would find and how much it might cost.

[Fashionable Term] A Nightclub

Say What?

Say What?

The Mariscal district of Quito is so full of nightclubs, including the oddly named (and described) one illustrated above. One could meditate for years on what “Relative the Perfect Side” really means. No matter: The term “Selfie” is hot right now, irrespective of any Perfect Side.

Apparently, people in Quito with money to invest think they can make a killing by opening a club. Walk down Diego Almagro or Reina Victoria, and you will, within a few blocks, pass several dozen clubs. My brother and I marveled at whether they were making any money at all. After all, probably most of the tourists are traveling on the cheap and staying at youth hostels.

Needless to say, neither of us wasted any time listening to loud music and drinking dubious concoctions.