Last spotted in San Francisco, USA on March 28, 2003, 1:23 pm
Who is he? Where is he going? Where has he been? David Barrett / Quinthar
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After more hours asleep than awake for two days, I join my fellow hostel guests in our shared dining room for a $0.60 breakfast. Two eggs, steaming croissants and hand-made marmalade, piping hot milk and cool fresh-squeezed orange juice later we hop into our proprietor's/chef's/tour guide's Jeep and head for the back country. Our first stop of on the way out of Quito is "El Mitad del Mundo" (the center of the world) -- a grand monument set 800 meters north of the equator (the French explorer's weren't quite as accurate as the buried Incan ruins 800 meters to the south).

From there we turn off a big road to a small road, and then to a dirt road used only by mining trucks and us. Up and down we cut back across the steep sides, encountering a wild fox as a reward for our troubles. As we press on, the dirt quarry road narrows to be a muddy single lane, and then to what's little more than a wide mountain path requiring all four wheels, though rarely at the same time. Enduring ceaseless josteling and staggering mountain vistas, we pullinto a small village accessible only by our very route. Simply a church square of incredible flowers, we're told that most residents visit Quito -- just an hour away by jeep -- perhaps twice in their lives.

Returning to our private jungle trail we begin to encounter local construction workers building miles of cobblestone roads, by hand, to make the bouncy trek somewhat more bearable. Our next stop is Otavalo, a small town known for its exceptional indiginous market. There we split up for two hours, lunch being the highest priority on my mind.

I wander a bit before giving into food, though having little money and no space in my pack, my wandering doesn't last long. As the foreboding clouds turn to rain, I step into an unmarked restaurant for my first true Ecuadorian meal.

Now, at the time of this writing a week after leaving Ecuador, I still don't know what is Ecuadorian food. Everywhere I go I see restaurants offering pizza, hamburgers, filet mignon, fruit salads, curries, stir fry -- every ethnicity of food but here. But as far as I can tell Ecuadorians eat soup, as every meal I get seems to come with a bowl. This meal is no exception. After giving up on trying to understand what I'm ordering, I just start saying "Si" until she stops asking questions. First to arrive is the requisite soup, in which sits a large cross-section of some large animal. The soup itself is excellent, though I steer clear of the strange leg bone, as nobody else seems to be eating it. Next is the main course, consisting of beef marinated in a sweet tomato sauce, plantains, rice, bright-orange chicken fixed in a style that doesn't suit me, and some unidentifiable potato-like substance. All this was washed down with a ubiquitous Coca-Cola at a price of $2USD.

We leave Otavalo soon after, only to immediately break down near a toll booth (apparently the mechanic forgot that bolts taken out of an engine are supposed to be put back in). At this point I get into a rousing and extremely edcational discussion of politics with one of the two other guests, a member of the Canadian foreign ministry (who happens to have been intimately involved with the Somolian conflict that led to the Black Hawk Down incident). This conversation continues through the repair, into and out of a volcano's crater lake, through an incredible sunset, and on the long trip home. This time, by highway.

French explorers to the region marked the spot of this monument as the center of the world, or directly on the equator. Sadly they were off by about 800 meters, as the equator is actually a bit to the south. However, the ancient Incans actually figured it out exactly, and high in the mountains can be found ruins precisely on the equator. Indeed, Quitos (which is very close to the equator) actually translates roughly to be "Center of the world" in the ancient dialect.

Or so I'm told.
Driving around the Andes mountains by 4x4 is quite an experience. Dirt roads twist up and down the steep hills overflowing with brilliant green in all directions. This picture, taken (with permission) of two local Ecuadorian woman and their dog, shows a bit of the nicer roads we travel. Off-camera to the right is the road on which we enter, and behind is a sharp U-turn that link the two. Flowing over the 180-degree curve is a tiny waterfall, a creek really, trickling down the mountainside in a happy burbling stream. It bustles down the grassy rocks, wearing a pebbly-path across the muddy road, and down into a ravine it has been carving for a thousand years. A beautiful sight wherever you look.
As dark clouds race just inches overhead, the wind whips nearby branches to and fro. This curved limb, secured down on both sides, swings like a lasso up into the air, framing the valley below for an instant at a time.
This freaky statue sits in the center of an equally freaky and uninviting park. The park, obviously attempting to evoke the joys of WW I trench warfare, actually has its grassy sections fenced off in barbed wire. Truly a fun place for a picnic, walking the dog, or preparing for eminent invasion.
We pull around a corner in the rolling hills to find ourselfs faced with an incredible sight of orange and red, yellow and green. Our view of the sunset, with the fading light spending its last rays illuminating the surrounding mountains, is incredible.

Copyright 2021 - David Barrett -