Saturday, 11 January 2020

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

There are times when one thinks that they are the centre of the world and then there are days like today when one is actually at the centre of the world. I would suggest you forgo the former and sign on for the latter.

After a taxing day of travel and arrival at our hotel at an early morning hour that would make a hooker blush, we were less than ready to start our first day in Quito. I wish I could tell you that four hours of sleep, an altitude of almost 10,000ft above sea level, and a city tour on the rickety roads of Ecuador's capital made for the perfect sightseeing experience, but such hell is the price we pay for the life of a nomad. In short, we were exhausted and headachy but we refused to let a little thing like debilitating fatigue shut us down. On we ventured into the Ecuadoran unknown.

Quito is a beautiful but rather schizophrenic city. The old town, with its tiendas, fifteenth-century churches, market squares, and indigenous artisans makes for a lovely and authentic Andean experience. The new city, with its glass, bustling business district, and horrendous traffic shows an Ecuador that is ready to face the twenty-first century. We spent most of the morning in the old city wandering and puttering. After many trips and tours to many places around the world, I am still stunned by how much importance both locals and tourists alike, place on showing off their churches. We get it. We have zero involvement in this religious experience but the centrality of these spaces to the individual communities never ceases to amaze me. Not only that, the amount of money spent by the Catholic church around the world to maintain their branches is truly staggering. The baroque cathedral we toured today in the old city has its entire interior covered in gold leaf. It wouldn't surprise me that all of Quito's impoverished could be supported comfortably if the church would sell off its walls and altars. I will never understand a religion that preaches aid and comfort to the poor and maintains such grandeur and splendour for itself.

The highlight of the day was standing at 0° latitude, the true centre of the earth. I realize that it sounds incredibly hokey but the equator museum on the exact middle of the earth provided some really cool examples of science in action. Watching the water plunge straight down the drain at 0° while spinning in opposite directions just six feet south or north of the line was the ultimate example of the Coriolis Effect. Did you know that Ecuador never gets hurricanes, tornadoes, or typhoons? Our guide was even able to balance an egg on its end right on the equatorial line. I felt like I was back in high school science class.

Ecuador is a country of four climatic regions. The coastal, the volcanic, the rainforest, and the Galápagos. Quito is a city surrounded by active volcanoes. I will admit to being unnerved by the idea of living with constant tremors, earthquakes, and eruptions. Somehow, I think the islands of the Galápagos are far more suited to my DNA.

A few observations.

1. Ecuadoran chocolate is the best I have ever tasted. We bought four different flavours but I doubt any of them will see the shores of North America.

2. Our group is a nice mix of Europeans, North Americans, and Aussies. I was truly perturbed today when a MAGA guy from Cincinnati tried to convert a Quebecois gentleman over to the dark side. It was bizarre and cultlike and wholly unnecessary. I wanted to tell the boor that Quebecers dislike their president more than almost any other Canadian group but the French Canadian chap more than held his own. Unless you have travelled around a bit over the past four years, you simply cannot comprehend how odd this entire MAGA thing is. Honestly, I'm ready to lay some survival of the fittest on his ass.

3. While standing in line at customs and immigration yesterday, we met a couple from Los Angeles who are on our tour. Her name? Dawn. That NEVER happens. Of course, I am stuck with my forgotten first name in all the paperwork for this trip, so I guess she is the only Dawn on this trip.

4. Bought The Husband a Panama hat. Did you know that the original design for these hats comes from Ecuador? Check out the photo on Instagram or Facebook. He looks quite dapper.

Must sleep. Tomorrow we head for the animals. Will post some photos then.

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