26 - ECUADOR
Quito - 30/03/04 - 28/5/04
Quito from the Basilica
We arrived in Quito late, but had booked a hotel and they sent a cab to pick us up. We walked through and there's a guy in a suit with a sign with "Richard Heaphy" on it. Proper people or what?
We had found the most bizarre hotel room yet. Full of old French furniture, black marble bathroom and a little flight of stairs up to the loo.
Next morning we found Dan's friend Trys in the internet cafe and he helped us set about freeing the bike from customs. He was great, bought us breakfast and then came with us to the airport. Showed us to the right customs window and where we'd have to go to find the inspectors.
He had gone through the same process a few weeks earlier and it had taken him two days. It took us about half a day in the end, difference being we had a Carnet de Passage (like a passport for the bike). It still seemed to take an age to do very little. Some photocopies, a payment to the holding warehouse and getting the paperwork stamped. For ages we weren't actually sure where the bike was but eventually we were taken to a warehouse. Stood around for another age. In the end we asked a forklift driver if there was a bike here. Yes, he said it was round the corner. We double checked, was it big and yellow? Yes! Hurrah we didn't get Dan's bike.
We were still lurking around and they took pity on us in the end and took us to see. All was well, just sitting there, no crate or palate, covered in dust and a few stickers.
We reconnected everything and after waiting again for the police to look at the paperwork we were off to the nearest petrol station.
Decided we'd stay in Quito a bit and do some Spanish lessons. We moved rooms in the hotel to one with a kitchen and a little terrace. Found a Spanish school and became regulars in the British Pub that Trys had found.
It's run by Albert a Scottish ex dispatch rider. Trys was painting his portrait which we ended up seeing from blank canvas to completion.
Spanish lessons!! Well we thought we knew quite a lot, turns out we knew nothing. We started off doing three hours each morning & built up to three hours each morning!! It was so exhausting, by the time we'd had some lunch, done our homework..... yes homework we just wanted to go to sleep.
We persevered though and think we got somewhere, but going to the pub and just talking to English people didn't really help. The girls who taught us were really good. R's teacher thought he was very cool as he rode a motorbike and he told her he played the guitar, so he had a lovely time.
The man himself
Good Friday in Quito is quite a thing. We got a cab in to the old town, found ourselves a little patch of pavement and settled down to wait for the procession.
There were thousands of people lining the streets and hundreds selling all sorts of things. Sponge Bob toys seemed very popular, umbrellas and all kinds of things to eat. Indigenous ladies walk round with baskets lined with plastic and filled with toasted corn, banana chips, beans and a salsa of chopped tomatoes, red onions and coriander. This was layered up in little bowls and munched with plastic forks.
Big white enamel trays piled high with candy pink and white gelatinous, sugary mousse that refused to melt. Topped with inverted ice cream cones to serve it.
As the crowds built up we had to stand and then move back as police motorbikes rode along the gutter moving everyone out of the road.
Eventually we heard the first band playing slow and mournful music and then our first sight of the Cucurucho's. Purple from head to foot in robes like the KKK. Very weird. Guys in chains, more with great pieces of wood across their shoulders. Some being beaten.
Then came Jesus carrying his cross, Centurions either side.
More purple robes float by, another Jesus, a bewildered looking little boy and girl dressed as Mary & Joseph, more purple.
And Jesus after Jesus with increasingly heavy crosses. Like they were trying to outdo each other - which church can make the heaviest cross competition. As one poor guy staggered along with his telegraph pole sized cross there was a true re-enactment as a woman ran out from the crowd, wiped his brow and gave him water.
I couldn't really believe what I was seeing and without thinking, muttered... "Jesus, that looks heavy". Captured forever as I had the video running.
More bands, more singing, more purple, more beatings, some being given with maybe a little too much relish.
Then a guy wrapped in stinging nettles, then barbed wire. He had blood running down his back and like many had his feet chained together.
The depth of feeling of these people was amazing and made us both feel very emotional. My lasting impression though was fear, of the absolute power religion can have over people.
The procession went on for ages, as it came to an end the crowd closed in behind and followed as it carried on through the streets of Quito. We escaped the other way to get some lunch.
Traditional Easter lunch in Ecuador is Fanesca. A thick potato and fish soup with beans and lime juice. It's served with fried plantain, crispy cheese empanada's and of course toasted corn. It's followed by Arroz con leche, rice pudding you can almost drink with cinnamon, and raisins lurking in the bottom.
We took our time over this, it was delicious and could hardly move afterwards.
On the Equator
We wandered through the old town, in & out of churches, bought an umbrella, and up to the Plaza de San Francisco, where the crowds had re-formed to see the end of the procession. It still hadn't arrived and this was almost four hours since it had started.
I couldn't help thinking that a few of those Jesus' might be regretting their choice of cross by now.
We spent a good deal of time in Quito updating our web site.....not really how it was supposed to work, but a good deal more time in the pub!!
We met lots of great people and had many good nights out.
Having helped us, Trys became unofficial customs guide for bikers as they arrived. Jerome arrived first, then Dan, having ridden through Colombia, then Colesy. We were quite a little crew and riding a bike through S.America suddenly seemed to be the most normal thing in the world. Not that we were riding at the time!!
Dan arrived unscathed from Colombia and as the rest of us had jibbed out we had to put up with "when I was in Bogotá" stories quite a lot.... Fair enough.
He had had to wear a government number pinned to his jacket to avoid being shot by he army.
Colesy & JB
Apparently the FARC (insurgents/freedom fighters, which ever way you look at it) have taken to doing drive by shootings on motorbike. The army in response have taken to shooting first and asking questions later.
We were glad we flew straight to Quito.
Our nights out followed a bit of a routine with who ever happened to be around. Starting off in The Turtles Head, we'd pretty much stay there until they chucked us out. Anytime between midnight and 2am. Then it was on to Cats bar or Mayo 68 and then on to Seventh Heaven club until whenever. I remember Dan saying one night when we were about to leave "I'm not sure, but I think it may be light". We walked out in to blazing sunshine, arrived back at out hotel to a round of applause from the night watchman and our room having already been cleaned. It was eight o'clock.
Tara, Dan & Grainne
We kept going back to this place even though R got his jacket nicked, we got kicked out by the police (only to return half an hour later). Grainne, a friend of Dan's got her jacket nicked and Dan got his pocket picked. It had something to do with the need for more beer at three in the morning and it being the only place open.
Mayo 68 was cool, good salsa dancing and free shots all round as Dan and the bar's owner were fellow revolutionaries.
All this may have something to do with why we were so very inefficient in Quito and why it seemed so difficult to leave.
Many great conversations were had of course, lots about bikes amazingly enough. But also lots of politics, truly non-exploitative ways of making money, Food Stylists versus Fidel Castro and "who would win" Bengal Tiger or Grizzly Bear. The last was left unresolved.
We did manage to do a few cultural things. We went to visit the Equator, set off with Dan and Brian, his friend who had come to visit for a couple of weeks. Stood on the line and took the obligatory photos.
It's apparently in the wrong place really. The mayor of Quito happens to own the land just a little bit off, but never mind he's making a packet.
R & I later went and found the true Equator which is on a bend on the main road. Made R very happy by getting the GPS to read 00.000.
The ill fated trip begins
Dan, Brian & Trys headed off for the coast one day but were back the next. Dan on the bike but Brian on the bus. Dan's bike had in his words "decided to eat itself". The sprocket started to spit off it's teeth, sending a couple through Dan's boots! Dan & Trys had limped back hoping like hell all the way that the chain wouldn't fly off at any minute.
Dan has been waiting for parts from BMW ever since!! Not much good on their worldwide service, even though they use overland bikers as a huge part of their advertising campaign.
We are really keeping our fingers crossed. Tyres are our next worry. The dealers in Panama and Quito had none! We may have to get them sent form San Diego.
Anyway back to Quito. We had a great time visiting the old town a few times. The Basilica is an incredible building and they just let you climb all over it. You think you've got as high as it's safe to go and there's another set of stairs, then a ladder, then another ladder. You end up in the tiniest room at the top of the belfry with the most amazing views over the whole of Quito.
From there you can see what a long thin city it is, filling every speck of the valley with mountains rising so steeply on either side.
We crawled out and sat with the gargoyles, one at a time, no room for two. And not for long either, it freaked us out.
The scariest bit though was walking the length of the Basilica through the roof on a wooden walk way, really wobbly and a long way down.
We then walked down the hill to the Plaza de la Independencia and the Cathedral. There's a great room at the back with full length portraits of all the Bishops to have served. It's really creepy.
Another room has all their robes. The embroidery and gold woven in to the fabric is unbelievable, the amount of money they must have cost.
Everywhere we've been the extravagance of these churches has astounded me. The people were and still are so very poor. At the time they were being built, all that money could have been used in countless better ways. It's quite immoral.
Half way up
Out with the Gargoyles!
Another place we visited was the art gallery at the Convent de San Francisco. This was pretty amazing but mostly because of our guide, Miguel. He was a young Ecuadorian who really had it in for the Spanish. He kept saying "this is where the Spanish people get angry with me" as he pointed out how much gold they took back to Europe or how many Indigenous people had died.
A lot of the paintings had been done in Quito by Ecuadorians taught by the Spanish. He took great pleasure in pointing out to us that in the paintings of the stages of the cross the Centurion guards have been replaced by Conquistadors.
So we finally managed to leave. Our last night in the pub was horrible I knew we were going to have to say goodbye to so many friends. Luckily we'd said goodbye to Dan & Anna the night before, if they'd been there too it would just have been too much.
Bye Bye to Trys & Jake
We took a final picture of Trys and the finished portrait, did a big round of hugs and kisses and left quick before I started blubbing.
Hope we meet them all again, somewhere in the world, we miss them.
Go to the gallery for this diary