Return from Ecuador

La Plaza Grande in Quito, Ecuador

I returned from my last vacation in South America under a dark cloud. It was November 9, 2016. I had spent a sleepless night at the Viejo Cuba Hotel on La Niña in Mariscal watching the election returns on CNN. I could not believe my eyes. Twenty times I would shut off the television and try to drift off to sleep; and twenty times I sprang awake and turned it back on because I could not believe my eyes.

Despite my dislike for Hillary Clinton, I had gone to considerable trouble to vote for her before flying off to Ecuador. I had to drive all the way to Norwalk on the I-105 in a heinous traffic jam. And now I would have to return to the United States to see my country attempt to survive the next four years under a malicious buffoon.

I managed to compose myself enough to take a taxi to Mariscal Sucré International Airport and catch my return flight on Copa Airlines to Los Angeles via Panama City.

When I landed at LAX, though, I was conscious of being in a different country than the one I had left three weeks before. Quite suddenly, all kinds of disreputable figures emerged from their hidey-holes into the broad daylight. And now, even though the Lardfather is no longer president, I feel the ground has shifted beneath my feet. The look on my face is of a skeptical vigilance.

Nightmare in Quito

The Center of Quito, Ecuador

Roughly four years ago today, I had the worst night of my life. Curiously, I was on the last night of my vacation in Ecuador at the time. It was election night in the USA, and I made the mistake of tuning in on CNN for the voting coverage. Big mistake!

I could not believe my eyes that Trump was winning. Not that I liked Hillary Clinton, but I thought her opponent was—at best—a total buffoon. There I was at the Hotel Viejo Cuba in the relatively posh La Mariscal district, waking up every few minutes and compulsively turning on the television.

When I finally stumbled out of bed in the morning, I knew I had to get a cab to the airport—but I didn’t want to return to the United States! That night, I had lost faith in my fellow Americans. How could they do such a thing to themselves, acting against their own interests.

The Hotel Viejo Cuba in Quito

It is now 9:20 PM in Los Angeles, and I don’t have any idea how the final count will go. But I still distrust the American voter—even more, if that is possible. There are some Trump-voting states that I would never want to visit, such as West Virginia and North Dakota. And I feel somewhat queasy about some of the rural areas in California.

Whatever happens tonight, I am not the same person I was before the 2016 results came in.

Mindalae – A Museum of Ecuadorian Handicrafts

Ceramic Snake

My brother and I were staying on La Niña in the tourist suburb of Mariscal at the Viejo Cuba. On our first day in Ecuador, we were tired out by the 9,000 foot (3,000 meter) altitude, but we had a few hours before vegging out for the night. Right down the street, at the intersection with Reina Victoria, was a fantastic folk museum called the Mindalae. Both of us were interested in purchasing some folk art: The Mindalae provided a guide to the best of what was produced around the country.

We took the elevator to the top floor and proceeded to walk down looking at the exhibits, many of them based on pre-Columbian originals. Included were ceramics, textiles, ceremonial objects, basketry, and other crafts. Adjoining the museum is a craft store with an excellent selection of items paralleling the exhibits, and offered at a fair price.


The displays at the museum were in both Spanish and English. If you are interested in Andean handicrafts, it is a good idea to visit a museum like the Mindalae before visiting the various local markets. You will have a better idea of what is available in every region of the country.

Dan and I enjoyed the Mindalae so much that, after Dan left to return to the U.S., I visited it a second time.

The Fashion Police

In Quito, There Are Many Types of Police

One thing that my brother and I noticed when we were in Quito, Ecuador, last October was that there are many different types of police. We sat in the central Plaza de Independencia for upwards of two hours, watching the different types of police congregate and go their separate ways, only to be replaced by policia with different uniforms and different means of locomotion. We were particular amused by the Segway patrol that mostly wheeled around chatting with one another.

At one point, as we were going by in a taxi, we noticed a number of heavily armed military escorting several male and female officers into the Municipal Palace. They seem to have arrived there without any major mishaps, like having a Segway run over their feet.

Just a few blocks away, there were four cops with bright yellow vests.

These Police Seemed to Be Guarding a Church (Rear Left)

All I could guess is that the creation of different government security forces was a form of mitigating the unemployment problem that seems to be endemic throughout South America.

Several times, we asked the police for directions. They were always very polite, even if they didn’t understand us. Fortunately, we didn’t look like bad guys; else, we would have been mobbed by policia wearing a variety of different uniforms. (It would have given them something to do for a change.)

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.

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.


Quito’s English Bookshop

Mark Horton at the English Bookshop

Mark Halton at the English Bookshop

My brother had left a few days earlier, and I was due to fly back to Los Angeles the next day. Martine had given me strict instructions to bring back five Ecuador 2017 calendars that we could distribute as gifts, so I walked around the Mariscal district of Quito. A couple weeks earlier, Dan and I had stopped in at the English Bookshop at the corner of Calama and Diego de Almagro to ask if he had an Ecuador or Quito street atlas. The owner, Mark Halton, gave us a couple of good leads—though, alas, we could not find any such animal.

So, on this (dire) election day, I stopped back at the English Bookshop and got into an interesting discussion with Mark. He was kind enough to brew me an excellent cup of tea, and we had a wide-ranging conversation about books, politics, technology, and a variety of other subjects. He even told me where I could find the calendars. And they were exactly where he pointed me. There were just five left, and I bought all of them.

Mark has a large selection of hardbound and paperback books, mostly in English. It is a fun place for travelers to pick up some interesting titles and sit down and talk books.

If I ever find myself in Quito again—and I hope I do—I will make a point of stopping in at the English Bookshop and Mark’s excellent hospitality.

One of the Two Books I Bought There

One of the Two Books I Bought There

Where the Streets Have No Name

It’s Okay in the Center of Town, But ...

It’s Okay in the Center of Town, But …

When Dan and I started driving in Quito, we made a dismaying discovery. We spent a whole morning looking for a road atlas of Ecuador, and were greatly surprised that no one thought such a thing existed. And all city maps we had showed none of the outskirts, just the centro historico or tourist center of town.

Worse was to come: Once we left the center of town, there were almost no signs at street corners indicating where we were. Even if we had a good street atlas, it wouldn’t have helped, as most of the streets were strictly incognito. Missing were any directional indicators, most notably for E-35, the Pan-American Highway, the main trunk highway, which runs north/south through the center of the country. Where there were signs, they were more often than not for relatively minor streets.

The net result is that we got badly lost in the cities. All we could do is look out for intercity buses to see where they were going (if we were so lucky as to pass them) and follow them. Where there were no intercity buses in evidence, we tries to orient ourselves to the nearest known volcano and look for wider roads headed roughly in the right direction.

In Quito, we finally lucked out and found ourselves on the Pan-American Highway, but we didn’t know for about 40 miles that we were on the right track.

And then the E-35 lost itself in a warren of streets in the city of Ambato. In tomorrow’s post, I will explain how getting lost in Ambato led to the most transcendent moment in our whole vacation—just by sheer persistence and good luck!

On to Quito

Getting Ready to Pack

Getting Ready to Pack

The next couple of days, I will be busy cleaning up after tax season at work, and packing for my Ecuador vacation at home. Consequently, this is my last posting until my return in November. I do not anticipate making any postings while I am there.

Quito is two hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time—essentially the same as Central Daylight Time (UTC -5 hours). That means there will be no jet lag. There will, however, be some danger of altitude sickness, as Quito is approximately 9,000 feet (around 3,000 meters) above sea level.

So, vaya con dios, amigos!