Isn't it hot and humid at the Equator?
Trip Start Jan 04, 2008
34Trip End Apr 08, 2008
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So, Iīm staying with a delightful ex-student of mine who I havenīt seen in about 8 years...and her roommate, an Italian woman working as a volunteer for the UN on gender issues in policy making in Ecuador. Both are delightful...lots of thoughtful conversation...such a pleasure to stay with someone you know, especially when they're local to the area. I learn about the au pair program thru EF since Paola works for them...seems like a good deal...for a minimal up front payment you get to live in another country, your room and board is covered, and you get a small salary for doing childcare for the family. A great opportunity after college or even high school...I listen to Paola give the intro talk and Iīm ready to sign up....
Through Giulia, her roommate, I get to meet a bunch of other UN volunteers working in programs such as domestic violence and HIV/AIDS education. A bunch of well-traveled, motivated young people. The UN has a lot of opportunity for internships and short term (6 mos-2yr) experiences abroad. Although youīre called a volunteer you receive a small salary...easily covers living expenses and a bit more. Sounds like an excellent way to travel but also to get job experience in a field of interest. I also spend some time with a woman doing her graduate work with monkeys in the rainforest in Ecuador. Sheīs studying primate interaction and conservation...Ecuador has a lot of work yet to do in conserving the environment. This group is also educating to eliminate poaching of threatened species and it seems that their presence is having a positive effect so far.
Anyway, apart from all this socializing I pretty thoroughly check out Quito. Itīs a high altitude city...about 9300 feet, so Iīm breathing hard again...sucking in all that black diesel exhaust in an effort to filter a little oxygen out of it. Iīm pretty thrilled that I hung on to my warm clothing...was going to lighten my load and leave it all behind...somehow I thought that when I flew north to the Equator, I was through with all that but of course, Quito is high up in the Andes and cool, even cold at night...no heating systems in any home...because you donīt really need them. I partake in many, many jugos...made from a variety of fruits, many of which i've never heard of...like tomate de arbole, looks like a plum tomato but tastes like tree... in a good way. Im experiencing a huge shift from the Argentinian driven saturation with red meat...my digestive tract is still in shock. All sorts of fresh fruit drinks everywhere...the water in Ecuador is not for drinking...serious after effects...hopefully I'm not taking in any bugs that I don't already have. Visited the Mercado Centrale for some great fish (and a bucket o' jugo), as well as pan de yuca, a gummy yellow fried bread....mmmmm...and some potato and cheese soup, a local staple. So far Ecuador gets a thumbs up for tasty food....
About the equator....donīt you just picture the equator to be perpetually hot and humid? Well of course itīs not up here in the Andes. We go to visit the line...that is, 0 degrees latitude, a place called Mitad del Mundo (center of the Earth). And theyīve got all these little science experiments in this hokey sort of open air museum....but itīs really very interesting...to me anyway. Like the egg standing on end thing that we can only do on the Equinox, and the circular drain flow going straight down on the equator (no Coriolis effect)...and a few others I hadnīt seen. Touristy yes, but when you go to Quito, youīve got to check this out. And if anyone stops you on the street and asks what the weather is like at the equator, donīt say hot and humid.
A couple of other observations about Quito....PACKED trolleys and buses- definitely beats NYC in terms of competition for space on mass transit... and safety seems to be a recurring issue here in the city. Iīve never been given so many warnings about potential robbery and/or rape. And these warnings are not only in tourist guides but echoed by well-traveled locals and tourists alike. Lots of "donīt walk alone" or "donīt hike this trail" or "donīt carry anything - like a backpack" and "don't wear tempting jewelry"...makes me feel a little paranoid...especially when I get off on the wrong tram stop one night...Iīm busy listening to this blind man singing for money...and then I see the doors close on my stop...jump off at the next one only to look around and realize Iīm on a very deserted street...not carrying much to steal except my purchases from the indigenous market up in Otavalo that I hadnīt intended to put at risk...anyway, I feel the hair raise on my neck, I decide to bolt along to the next station looking fierce and purposeful...and the adrenaline carries me in safety to a returning train. Must say, I have not felt unsafe throughout all my travels so far...and I donīt like feeling that way. Hard not to take it on when Iīm surrounded by warnings....so Iīm going to get the best that Quito has to offer and then get out into the country to regain my sense of security.
One of the things I'm enjoying about Quito are the public singers/speakers that just pop up everywhere...on the street, on public transit...a fair number of blind people selling carmelos mentholades, or sporting a boom box to back up their melodic song. On a 2 hr bus ride I hear an entertaining spiel about 30 minutes long...a guy selling capsules that will cure any ailment you might have. He does it with humor and enthusiasm... he engages the bus people and in fact he sells all his pills. No I donīt buy any...I figure that even if they work, I wonīt have the opportunity to refill...so I pass.
It's March 10th and I just left Quito...on my way to the Galapagos...what a thrill!! Iīm so excited that I get the opportunity to visit this place. Iīve heard nothing but amazing recounts of peoples experience on the islands. Iīm taking a boat tour...seems thatīs really the only way to efficiently get around -Iīm on the Golondrina I, not a super fancy ship but itīs gotten good reviews and has only 12 passengers which is preferable to me. Iīve already met two of them at the airport and they seem great. Meantime, we just flew over the rivers north of Guayaquil...thereīs an enormous amount of flooding in the lowlands. Iīve never seen such devastation by flooding...acres and acres of not only farmland but residential areas and small towns. Peopleīs houses barely poking above the surface...small cities standing like islands surrounded by the flooding. I had heard about it but seeing the area is really shocking....i guess there's been lots of landslides throughout the country due to the heavy rains. Well the stewardess just detoxed everything in the luggage compartment...opened it up, sprayed it, shut it down tight so all those bugs will die. We're going to land soon...the islands pop into the wiindow...scrubby, isolated....I'm beyond excited...