Today we took Isabel (an employee here whom we've become friends with),
Elvis and Brayan, her two sons, and Victoria, her mother, to a thermal
water park about an hour and a half away. It was suggested that it
might relieve some of Victoria's pain. She has cancer. Because our car
only seats five, 7 year old Brayan had to sit on a lap. The drive
through the mountains was a gorgeous one, as are most drives around
here. Housing standards may not be up to those of the U.S., but the
natural scenery never fails to delight the traveler. At one point we
kept going down, so I said, “Abajo, abajo!”. Brayan picked up on that
and he would say, “Arriba, arriba!” whenever we had long stretches of
up and, “Abajo, abajo!” when we had long stretches of down.
Isabel’s 22-year-old son, is studying tourism at the university in
Ibarra, so he was our primary guía, though Isabel also knew the
way. Elvis also got to practice his inglés with Marilyn, just as
we constantly practice our español with Isabel. The place where
we went is called Chachimbiro, and it’s just past Tumbabiro. I actually
found Tumbabiro on a National Geographic map online. No luck with
Chachimbiro, though I found it on our Ecuadorian road map.
is operated by the provincial government of Imbabura (the province in
which we live) for the benefit of several surrounding communities. The
insides of Volcán Chachimbiro warm the waters that are diverted
into piscinas (swimming pools).
Isabel, Brayan, and me
were many ways to get to the various pools and we kept trying to find
the one with the least amount of steps. We found it. Unfortunately, it
led to a pool that was closed. It was getting late, and I wanted to
make sure Victoria got in the water, so I told everyone I’d wait up in
a restaurant and watch them swim. Marilyn is used to me staying back
for the sake of convenience. The others were not, and it took a lot of
convincing for them to go on without me. Just then, we spotted a pool
that only involved a few more steps, and the workers were kind enough
to help, so I got to go swimming after all.
was a huge waterslide camouflaged as a serpent that Brayan and Elvis
liked. I was surprised at how reluctant Victoria was to get fully
immersed in the water, especially because it was so warm and felt so
good. I suspect she may not swim. Or, it could be that she was afraid
of increasing her pain instead of decreasing it.
splashed and floated and swam and played for about an hour. When
Marilyn would tire of keeping my head above water, she would pass me
off to Elvis or Isabel. How relaxing it was to be enveloped by warm
waters and almost completely encircled by mountains as we watched the
moon and stars appear in a darkening sky.
brought along some pan dulce (sweet rolls) and jugos (juices), and when
we got out of the water, got dressed, and got back to the car, we had a
picnic of sorts. There’s nothing like a good swim to sharpen the
back to Otavalo didn’t take any more time than the trip to Chachimbiro
had taken, even though it was dark. But, when I think about it, that
makes sense. The crookedness and steepness of those mountain roads (not
to mention hazards such as cattle on the road and mini rockslides)
limit speed day or night.
taking Isabel and her family home, we got back to the Ally Micuy and
fell into bed. It had been a tiring day, but one full of fun and new
experiences. The best part was that we had gotten to know new friends
Domingo, 27 de abril, 2010
On our walk to church today, Marcello hailed us from his rooftop and
asked us to wait until he came down. We met him and his family a few
weeks ago. He asked why we hadn't come to his house for coffee Thursday
night. He lived in Belgium for a year and wants David, his 4 year old
son, and Viviana, his wife, to be exposed to as much English as
possible. We had to explain that we were really tired that night. (We
knew that was no excuse for not calling, however, and that our bad
manners had been exposed.) He immediately invited us to visit after
church. What choice did we have?
arrived after church, he had to carry me up and down a few steps, while
Marilyn brought my folded wheelchair along, because one of the doors
was too narrow for my wheelchair to fit through while I was sitting in
it. We were sitting there having pleasant conversation, when he asked
what we wanted to eat. Now, to put this in perspective, one of the
perks of staying at the Hotel Ally Micuy is that they know how to cook
for the “tender stomachs” of foreigners. Therefore, I was not anxious
to eat in a typical home, and I told Marilyn so. She said it would
probably be alright and, besides, we had medicine. That was comforting.
So, we ate some very tasty baked fish that Marcello got from a street
vendor across from his apartment (with the 4 year old picking at the
fish eyes) and had more pleasant conversation. (As I write this, it's
been about 24 hours and we're not sick yet.)
Verónica, Rosa, Glenn, and Margoth
afternoon we took Margoth, Verónica, and Rosa, three hotel
workers, to Lago Cuicocha after they finished work at 4:00 p.m. The
lake is about 45 minutes away and is in a protected area on the flanks
of Volcán Cotacachi.
got there, we stopped at the information center (which I don’t believe
is ever open) so Marilyn could take them on a short hike that she had
discovered on our last visit. At first, they didn’t seem to want to go,
but quickly acquiesced. I think they had a good time, because they
returned talking about the sign indicating peligroso (danger) that they
had all climbed through or over. This got them down nearly to the edge
of the lake where it was amazingly quiet and peaceful. They also
brought back some plant parts. Verónica told Marilyn that one
was good for el estómago (the stomach). That might come in handy
after the impromptu lunch we had earlier at Marcello’s.
on to the part of the lake where there is a boat dock, bar, restrooms,
and small tiendas (shops), where we parked and got out. The clouds were low
this afternoon, so the lake wasn’t as beautiful as it had been the last
time we’d been there, but it was still a pretty dramatic scene. As I
said, it’s on the flanks of a volcano and looks like it’s in a caldera
(though not the Cotacachi caldera). There are three conical islands in
the lake, which I suspect are old cinder cones. I also suspect that the
lake is in the caldera of a side vent of the volcano.
At Lago Cuicocha
Rosa, and Marilyn wanted to take the scenic boat ride, and
Verónica and I decided to wait at the top of the stairs.
Unfortunately, the last boat ride for the day had departed before we
arrived, so everyone spent the time taking pictures, walking around,
and looking at the shops and stalls. We left when it began drizzling.
before dropping Rosa at her home in Quiroga, a few kilometers away, we
stopped and had a picnic in the car of some pan and jugo that
we had brought. As we ate, we were treated to a great view of
Volcán Imbabura, even though it had many clouds on its slopes.
took Verónica and Margoth home. They are sisters and live with
their parents. As with Rosa, we had to be directed to their casa. It
was up the hill just east, or southeast, of Otavalo – and I mean UP.
Ever been on Lombard Street in San Francisco, CA? This was much
steeper, and even more crooked, with hairpin curves so tight that they
could only hold a few strands of hair. Molly, our car, labored
mightily, but got us to our destination after Marilyn gave her a few
reassuring strokes on her dashboard. Along the way, there were several
great views of Otavalo lit up at night. After saying hasta
mañana, we came down the hill in four-wheel drive. We probably
should have gone up that way, too.
decided that, since we had to buy a car for Marilyn’s work anyway, we
may as well use it to take friends who can't afford cars on excursions.
A minister friend at home has called it our “driving ministry”. If
that’s what it is, than the ministry was working smoothly this weekend.
Marilyn taught her first English class at Huaycopungo. When we drove
into the courtyard, it was packed with children from the community who
were playing. Marilyn parked about as far from the church as possible,
trying not to disturb the play nor to drive through it. We were quickly
directed to park next to the church by some of the children – we had
parked too close to one of their soccer goals! Fútbol is a
national pastime in Ecuador, as it is in many countries around the
world, and both children and adults play it every chance they get.
church FEDICE works with in Huaycopungo feeds many children each day.
It also provides a safe place for children of the community to play
each afternoon (assuming Marilyn does not hurt any of them on her drive
across the area three times a week). This church has really become a
the car attracted mucho
attention, especially from the younger
children. The crowd grew substantially when Marilyn got my wheelchair
out of the back. It swelled even more when Marilyn helped me get into
my chair. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were 50 pairs of curious
eyes on us by the time I was comfortable.
classroom, the children who had registered for the class were pretty
excited, and therefore pretty chaotic. It was a good thing that Blanca,
José Manuel, and the pastor of the church were there to
introduce Marilyn and the class, which helped to settle them down.
still pretty noisy. The classroom was at the end of a hall and children
were playing in the hall, fairly lustily. You could close the door, but
it didn’t help much because there was a large opening for an absent
pane of glass above the door.
the students were remarkably attentive once they settled down, despite
the outside noise. Marilyn taught some greetings first, such as,
“hello”, “good morning”, and “good afternoon”, and things went pretty
much as expected. Pronunciations had to be repeated often.
Marilyn started to teach the numbers 1-15, and we got quite a shock.
The students fairly ripped through these without any hesitation. Had
they all had experience with inglés numbers in the mercado
(market)? Had they learned these in some English class in school? We
don’t know the answers yet.
came a song. Marilyn explained that this was a song for niños
(very small children), while the class was made up of jovens (youths
probably 11-13). However, it would help them remember their numbers.
They all seemed to enjoy learning it and singing it, including the hand
movements. In fact, some were still singing it after the activity
addition and subtraction problems followed. Most students also answered
these easily (after Marilyn explained that “plus” meant más and
“minus” meant menos.)
the class, Marilyn taught them how to say, “goodbye”. She had them
leave the room one by one, each stopping to shake her hand and say
first class was over, and we started preparing to leave. However,
José Manuel, a community leader in Huaycopungo, had other ideas.
He asked Blanca and Marilyn if Marilyn could teach a second class to
youths who were a little older, say high school age. Unlike the first
class, this class would be composed of students with widely varying
degrees of English language ability. Marilyn said she could try.
Manuel then left for ten or fifteen minutes and came back with a crowd
of young people. The classes were explained to them and they were given
an opportunity to sign up. As with the first class, if they completed
the 30 hours of instruction, they would be given a certificate from
FEDICE acknowledging the achievement. The certificate, in turn, would
be helpful in colegio (high
same time, Marilyn and Blanca were evaluating the English-speaking
abilities of the potential students. Three or four had very good
skills, while some didn’t have many skills at all. This class would
clearly be a challenge for Marilyn.
woke up this morning, we thought Marilyn would be teaching one class
three times a week until May, when she would add another class at the
nearby community of Tocagón. Before we even went to cena
(evening meal), Marilyn was teaching two classes (with 21 students in
each) three times a week and we were not certain where Tocagón’s
students would fit in. The weather is not the only thing that can
change quickly in the Andes.
breakfast, Isabel asked if we had felt the temblor last night. Temblor?
¿Que es temblor? Well, folks, a temblor is a small terremoto
(earthquake). No, we hadn’t felt it. We slept right through it! Our
first earthquake! At least, the first earthquake I’ve been in.
said she didn’t feel it, but it woke up Don Jairo and Yolanda, his
around 3:30 a.m. Later, Yolanda told us that the chandeliers were
Don Jairo said that some people in Otavalo felt it and others did not.
I didn’t find anything on the web, but I don’t doubt that it happened.
It was probably too small and localized to be noted on the web. I did
find some shaking recorded in La Paz, Bolivia on the proper date, but
the wrong time.
afternoon, the weather was nice so Marilyn took me for a ride in the
mountains. Her ANETA driving instructor had taken her to a couple of
that Marilyn knew I would like. Sure enough, I really enjoyed the
drives. The second was to an overlook of Otavalo. Breath-taking! On the
first drive, we saw a giant passenger jet at a hacienda – with no
runway! They must have gotten it up there in pieces and reassembled it.
that, we drove to Ibarra to get some calcium tablets. Naturally, I had
to have a helado, though it
wasn’t from Rosalia Suarez. For me, Ibarra
has come to mean ice cream.
cena (evening meal) on Good
Friday, we were passing through the lobby,
where some of the employees who live here sometimes relax with their
families. There weren’t any children around, as is normally the case.
We asked where they were, and were told they were at the
procesión. Thus began
our Easter weekend activities.
what the procesión was
and were told that it was a Catholic
parade of sorts that commemorated the death and resurrection of Christ.
We asked when it started and were told 8:00 p.m. (it was now just after
8:00 p.m.) We asked if we could get to it by walking down Bolivar, one
of two streets we normally take to walk into town, and were assured we
could. So we determined to throw on a jacket and go.
to an intersection on Bolivar that was barricaded as the
procesión was passing
by. Besides procession, another meaning
for procesión is parade.
And, being from New Orleans, I
immediately sensed a parade-like atmosphere. As we looked up the
street, we saw the whole two lanes totally filled with people who had
already passed by all the way to the top of the hill, around 4 or 5
blocks. There were people marching or walking, some carrying candles,
some with masks, some with painted faces, and there were onlookers,
such as Marilyn and myself. They even had “floats” and bands, though
only one of each.
“float” was a lighted statue of Christ carrying the cross. It was
carried by ten people and came after the first main group of people in
the procesión. After the
next group of people came a brass band.
They were playing a tune that was neither joyful nor mournful, but sort
of meditative. Last came a third and final group of people.
filed by a lighted stage to our right. The living tableau on stage
depicted Simon of Cyrene taking up Christ’s cross. Many of us are
familiar with living nativity scenes at Christmas. I think that would
what the stage we saw looked like. Upon closer inspection, I noticed
the words, “V Estación”
and realized that this depicted the 5th
station of the cross in the Catholic tradition.
asked if I’d like to join the procesión and I said
yes, so we
joined the rear, with several baby strollers and another person in a
wheelchair. We were not far behind the band, so we got to hear them
play the same two tunes over and over. It was not irritating, however,
because the music was so meditative. Indeed, the music gave a solemnity
to the procesión that
otherwise may not have been present. The
only thing that really disturbed the solemn mood was the occasional too
sensitive car alarm when someone brushed against a parked car.
The procesión did not move
fast, as it stopped at each station of
the cross, ten more in all because, unlike the traditional 14 stations
of the cross, there was an additional one depicting Christ arisen on
Easter Sunday. These, like the first we encountered, were usually
lighted stages set up at intersections. Each station was sponsored by a
civic organization or a city department.
joining the procesión made Marilyn
think of what it must have
been like on the original Palm Sunday. Some people no doubt began the
walk with the intention of accompanying Jesus to Jerusalem. Some no
doubt joined because they believed in Christ. Some probably joined
because of the majesty or because it “seemed like the thing to do” that
day. Some, like us, joined to see where it would lead and to experience
the solemnity of it.
expected myself to be in a religious procession of any kind. I had read
about Catholic processions, as well as Muslim processions, and sort of
thought of them as quaint anachronisms. I was a little surprised that I
could feel the gravity of the occasion, because I’m not a particularly
walked along familiar streets, they looked quite different because most
businesses were shuttered. Those that were open were usually eateries
of one kind or another. One had a television facing the street, which
was showing scenes of Christ’s crucifixion, probably from a movie such
as The Last Passion of Christ. Because of the clarity of the picture,
we assumed it was a DVD. However, if it had been a TV broadcast, that
would have been quite a coincidence.
procession ended at one of the Catholic churches in town. It didn’t so
much end as it quietly dissolved, with people quietly walking to their
homes, or to their cars if they lived farther away.
Catholic Church where we dispersed is lit up each night with exterior
lights, whose colors are purple, green, and gold. It’s very pretty, but
I can’t help being reminded of Mardi Gras.
Easter Sunday, 4 de abril, 2010
We had noticed on Palm Sunday that Easter had not been referenced at
all in the evangelical church we attend, as far as we could tell (the
service is in Spanish and we don’t understand everything). Someone here
told us that Easter was celebrated by the Catholics, or something along
those lines. Sure enough, a minister friend back home told us that
evangelicals don’t observe many religious holidays (though they usually
observe those from the Bible.)
the worship service on Easter Sunday, Pascua
(Easter) was only mentioned in
passing. As you may expect, this was very different for us, since we
come from a tradition that celebrates Easter whole-heartedly as being
the basis of the Christian faith.
was another reference to Easter during the service, however. During
communion, they projected movie scenes of Christ’s crucifixion onto the
screen normally used for the words of praise songs. I can’t speak for
Marilyn, but it made me slightly uncomfortable to eat the bread and
drink the juice (symbols of Christ’s resurrection) while watching
spikes nailed into Christ’s hands.
experience brought to mind an exhibit of religious art from South
America that Marilyn and I once attended in Austin. It taught how the
Catholic priests from Spain used art to educate South Americans about
the Christian faith. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words,
and that was the concept behind creating all this religious art. When I
watched movie scenes of Christ suffering, as I was participating in
communion, it reminded me that images are still a powerful form of
communication. I don’t know how many people are literate here, but I
think it’s a large majority. However, I suspect some may be illiterate.
Things like these movie scenes must be valuable tools of instruction
for them. In my case, I’m not illiterate, and the movie scenes brought
things into sharper
focus for me.
didn’t have any expectations for Easter in Otavalo. That’s a very good
thing, because we would surely have been disappointed otherwise.
Instead, we got to celebrate Easter in an unaccustomed manner, with
friendly people, and in ways that were sometimes profound.
morning I thank God for hot water in my shower. And then I revel in its
warmth that heats me to my core.
The weather here has been delightful: mild during the days and mild at
night. The rising sun shines into our room through our large bank of
three windows, warming us. In the afternoon, when sometimes it’s almost
too warm, our room is cool. At night, we go to bed early and stay warm
under the covers together.
There is no heat in the hotel, so when our room is cold, we put on more
clothing. It’s a concept that we’ve not utilized much at home in Texas.
Life seems relatively simple here. I don’t have to cook; I don’t have
to clean. But I do have to work on my communication skills in Spanish;
I do have to prepare for my driver’s license exam; I do have to think
through my classes that I will soon be giving in English. It’s nice to
be able to walk to most everything I need and do. And when the car is
working and reliable, we will be able to drive on weekend trips to
nearby mountains and waterfalls and lakes.
Not everybody who lives here has such a simple life. Isabel is a single
mom whose mother has incurable cancer. Victoria is doing pretty well,
but often, her medication is not strong enough for her pain. Recently,
she made a trip to the emergency room of the hospital across the
street, only to find there were no available beds for her to stay in so
she received a different medication and was sent home. Isabel’s son is
a handful. Unfortunately, she is at work until 4:00 p.m., leaving him
alone with his grandmother after school ends around noon. He does not
always listen to his grandmother’s instructions.
Paulina holds down two jobs (one as an elementary school teacher and
another as a hotel employee) in addition to living in the hotel with
her young daughter to make ends meet. She is often very tired by the
end of the day when patience is harder to come by.
Jairo manages both the hotel and a restaurant about five blocks away.
He has good staff under him that take care of daily operations, but he
only has a maximum of 24 hours a day to make it all work. In addition,
because of his kind heart, he is often pulled in different directions
helping others. His biggest challenge is making the two businesses
profitable so he can both pay his staff and continue to improve what a
few years ago was a hotel that had been let run down.
I sometimes see indigenous women on nearby streets who appear to be
homeless. They are often carrying heavy burdens. Some beg for money;
others sell candies, or grapes, or woven items. For change and dollar
bills, they somehow eek out a living. And I wonder how the merchants
with families in the mercados
can make a living selling inexpensive
items to Otavalo residents and to tourists.
I have learned that most people here work 6 days a week. Sunday the
parks are filled with people playing soccer or volleyball, talking with
friends or lovers, riding horses (at least at one park), playing with
their children on playground equipment.
Yet, this doesn’t really sound a lot different than the lives people
live back in the United States. Many are unemployed or underemployed
there. Families have troubles and pain and sorrows. Sometimes help is
close by; other times it is not. There are homeless people begging at
street corners in the U.S. also.
It appears that for most of us, what we are given in the way of a life,
we accept and go about our business. For some of us, it is easier; for
some, it seems harder. Yet, whether one has a life of ease or hardship,
there are times of difficulty.
The people here in Ecuador laugh a lot. The pressures at the job seem
less than in the United States. Folks talk to each other and share
stories. Many people are merchants and don’t answer to a boss. Family
and friends are important and it seems that people take time to spend
together and to laugh even though they work 6 or 7 days a week. We are
glad we are here and hope we can always remember the importance of the
relationships we have with others and to take time to laugh.