September 1st, 2007

Hat

Up, and down

That one's ears don't pop when one is making final into Quito goes unnoticed. It goes unnoticed mostly because one is afraid the plane (a DC-9) is going to make contact with the earth at an angle, and velocity, not planned for in the design specs.

Which is because the city is in the valley of several high mountains, and the plane has to make several 90° turns to miss them. The other option, it seems, would be to just line up, and point the nose straight down until past them, and hope the plane doesn't break when the pilot pulls up.

It wasn't that the plane was creaking, but it was moving about more as one thinks a smaller plane, doing aerobatics, might. The crosswind over the runway, and the left side coming down first, followed by some nose wiggling; before and after the nose came down, kept the relief at landing from being immediate.

So that one didn't notice the decrease in pressure when the cabin opened.

Quito, you see, is at more than 8,000 ft above sea level.

Which didn't bother me. I didn't even notice it really. Part of it may have been that most of the previous 11 hours had been spent at a partial pressure of about 8,000 ft, part of it might be that I've never really had any problems with altitude until I get past 10-11,000 feet.

So we got off, cleared immigration, found our bags, cleared customs, found a taxi; which then found our hotel (the Hostel Santa Barbara, about which more later, but in any regard which I can heartily reccomend to anyone planning a stay in Quito) and set off, on foot, to find, "Happy Gringo" our travel agent for this trip.

Four, obvious, tourists. So much so that a woman (American, in an "I (heart) NY shirt") who saw my camera told me to put it away, as she lived/worked here, and that we were going into a bad part of town where she (a photographer) had her camera cut from the strap and stolen.

She especially thought the others were at risk (why, I don't know). Since I didn't have a bag with me, I just kept doing what I do in the states, and hand my hand on the camera, at the strap. To be more cautious, I kept the camera more in front of me, and draped my off hand around it.

I think, honestly, the only real risk to anyone's equipment was when Alan's fell out as he bent over. It wasn't harmed.

So we strolled through a place which looked less reputable than it was; because some lady was solicitous of our safety. Apart from the gypsy-types selling gum (for the health... 1-5 dollars a pack... pushy about it too) it seemed as any other neighborhood. Not as comfortable as Kiev, but that might be because I don't anywhere near the facility with spanish as I do with russian; though I am; with difficulty, able to make myself understood, even to solving the problem, on the plane, of getting Pat the dinner of which they had the most.

Got to Happy Gringo, where we gave our agent (the owner, a charming woman from Holland, who came here to study, fell in love with a local; stayed with him and needed a way to make money. So she opened the business with an Englishman who was in the same, general boat, and is now the sole proprieter) a box of chocolates (we should have grabbed a long-stemmed rose from the huge bouquets welcoming us to the airport).

She reccomended a restaurant, and we walked by it. We decided (not my idea) that we could wait until dinnner to eat, and hailed a cab to Tegucifero; the summit region of the volcano which overlooks the city, where one can take a cable car to get to the base of the peaks.

At the base of the mountain is a plaza. A sort of carnival collection of circus rides, and a set of open places for musicians, buskers, etc. At each level there are shops, and at least one eatery/bar.

After a few of these one is at the cable car.

The ascent is misleading. Perhaps the moreso for us because we live where there are mountain which overlook the city, and those mountains are really steep (Mt. Baden-Powell is four miles, or so; as the crow flies, from my house. It is about 9,000 ft. tall. I can't directly see it because of intervening mountains. My house is about 1,000 feet above sea-level).

Up we went, gently rising, the car never more than about 100 ft above the ground below. We got out in a plaza, some more shops, and a trail.

The air was noticeably cooler. We headed up the trail. It was slightly overcast and there was a breeze. I was glad I'd kept my sweatshirt when we left the hotel (yes, we are just below the equator, but the weather is autumnal), because the lack of sun and the breeze was bracing.

After the first leg of the climb I was feeling a trifle short of breath, so I asked Alan what the altitude was (he bought a GPS for such things).

We were at 12,800 ft.

We kept climbing. The light to the west was incredible. Quito is a city of two million people. For a sense of scale, Ecuador is a country of 30 million. On the other side of the ridge, there were but farms and trees. Where a sliver of light pierced the clouds, it was emerald on the hillsides.

At 12,982 Alan had a drop of blood hanging from the tip of his nose and we made him (though he tried to say it would be all right) go back to the indoors area at the top of the cable car.

We pressed on. I refused to round off. At the, apparently, highest point we were willing to ascend (I starting to shiver, and my teeth beginning to tingle, with hands the color of recently dead flesh [a chicken-skin yellow, not the grey of those whose blood has pooled] and a little light-headed) it was 13,201. We went on a bit, because there was a sign which said, "caballos" in letters large enough to read, and that required investigation.

Had it been warmer, and clearer, we might have tried to get up the volcano, but the wind was nibbling, Alan was below and all of us were feeling the altitude.

Back with Alan we looked at the shops (and caught our breath, at 12,800 feet). Things are cheap. Had any of the alpaca been in things we wanted, it would have been snapped up, because the price was about 1/4 what it would cost back home.

Maia bought a cheese empenada-like thing (a fresh cheese, slightly sour, wrapped in pastry. It was delicious, and neither she, nor her mother, liked the cheese, so I got the innards). I wanted a hot chocolate, which all decided was a good idea, and we warmed ourselves before heading back down the mountain.

It seems, according to this afternoon's taxi-driver we chose a great time to go. The wait to get in the cable car can be as long as four hours on a weekend (which explains the 3-dollar surcharge to get in the shorter line).

We went to the restaurant, but it seems they were filming a movie, or commercials, and would be closed until 6:30. We went shoppies. We came back. In the way of movies, they were running long. Some wandering was done, and after another hour, or so, I said we ought to bag it for the night, essay the restaurant in the hotel and go to bed.

It was the right thing to do. The food was good. We all had an appetizer (three minestrone verde, and I with a cheese crêpes... which were filled with a soft cheese, flooded with a beurre blanc) followed with an insalata caprese, and then the main course. Maia and her mother opted for a "ravioli Romangola which was ricotta, parsley and parmesan sauce. Alan got a lasagne Bolongese, and I opted for a tortellini; which was supposed to be with mortadella and proscuttio.

None of them were what we expeceted, though that was what we expected. I'm not sure what wasn't quite the same with the lasagne, but the ravioli were more like gnocci and my tortelli were more like raviolini in brodo. But all was flavorful, and the brodo for mine was wonderful. It was a light, slightly over-salted, chicken broth; made from a chicken who got lots of exercise.

The service, was perfect. The waiter didn't hover, but he was attentive. When plates were empty, he took them. When water was needed, he poured. When he wasn't needed, he wasn't there. When he saw that we were a trifle cool, he laid a fire.

No one had room for desert. I did order a chocolate. Everyone decided to have some and a full pot (about a quart) appeared.

When it was done, we retired.


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Hat

On the level

Today was less exciting.

Got up. Maia and I took showers (the shower is so small that turning around is hard, on the flip side we have three beds, a closet, and a large desk).

Went down to join Pat and Alan for brekkie. It was nice. The waiter wasn't as good as the night guy, but it was enough.

Dropped our key off at the desk (the hotel is terribly reminiscent of the sort one reads of in late Victorian/Edwardian/pre-war novels), and grabbed a bus to the area where the museums we were planning to go were.

That was a trip. The busses have conductors, who lean out the door to see if people want on. We got on, and off we went.

Got off, in a crowded market area, which Maia said reminded her (because of the density) of New York. Off we went. I saw a the twin clock towers of the bascilica. The museums were ditched and we headed off, by dead reckoning, through the maze of narrow streets.

And then spent a couple of hours taking pictures. Because Maia had asked, at the last minute, if I was bringing a tripod; I had. We had to buy a tripod bag (otherwise the airline would refuse to let me put it underneath, and it won't fit carry-on) which made it easy to drag along for the day; which was a last minute decision to add to the load. I had my camera bag, Maia had the tripod, and everyone had cameras and some stuff (though Maia's was in the tripod bag, or her mother's tote).

The tripod was of much use in the darkness of the church, and we were there for about three hours, all told. I did get a great shot of a monsignor's staff taking pictures of the interior.

Then to the vivarium, to look at snakes, frogs, toads, tortises and cayman. The woman at the ticket counter spoke excellent english, and we got to talking about one of the signs, which was; sort of, wrong. It was on a corn snake (Elapha guttatta, gut and the sign was for E. gutt, so we spoke on the differences in range between the binomial and trinomial species, since what was in the case was a dull expression of E. gut. gut..

After that we went to the botanical gardens (we got a discount because we'd been to the vivarium). Shot some hummingbird pictures, and some orchids. The three of them left ahead of me, because Pat had asked me to take some specific orchid shots.

I left, and managed to get to the entrance just as the guy was heading to somewhere, and he unlocked the gate so I could leave. I pressed on, at a good pace, to catch up. Maia had the tripod bag, so I was a trifle encumbered.

I also turned on my walkie-talkie and started to page them.

I was to the far side of the place when I got a response. They were still inside; having gotten a bit lost on the way out. I turned about, and made it back to the gate, which was locked, and no one in sight. So I figured out, while they were making there way to it, how to scale it. The broke out, and we caught a cab to the restaurant which had been closed the night before.

It was touristy, but pretty good. I ordered the only thing on the menu which had no translation. Oops. It was tripe soup. I don't care for the tecture of tripe, but the soup was good. My entree was lamb. It was less exciting than the soup, being about, the same in flavor as lamb at home. I had been hoping it would be more like the chicken broth of the night before.

Alan ordered guinea pig (which saved any of the rest of us from doing it, as it we were all curious). For a comparison, it tasted a trifle gamier than rabbit, though it had more fat, and was more work; the bones being denser.

There was the most amazing guitar player. Wonderful tecnique, and superb blending of one melody to the next. He moved from El Condor Pasa to something else, to some dirty blues (using a water glass to get slide-guitar effects) as well as some percussive effects with a pick hammering the neck as he pounded chords on the strings. Most of it was arpeggioed, but all of it was incredible.

For desert we headed back to the hotel, had some more chocolate, and headed to our rooms, that we might prepare for tomorrow's flight to the islands. Right now all I have to do in the morning is pack the computer, and head to breakfast. If I dress with dispatch I might be able to post a couple of photos before breakfast.



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