Serenade In Spanish

Traveling The Panama Canal Part 15

Iglesia de San Francisco. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

We recently returned home from an 11-week trip that took us to several stops on the eastern coast of the United States, through the Panama Canal, including stops at several ports, and then to Ecuador. We visited three cities which were the cultural capital and third largest city, Cuenca, then the economical capital and second largest city, Guayaquil and last, Quito the largest city and the political capital of Ecuador.

As we boarded the plane to Quito from Guayaquil, we found the man in the window seat of our row had strewn his Panama hat, a laptop, earbuds, a soiled napkin and two empty wrappers across our seats. While we were putting our carry-on bags in the compartment above our row, the man picked up his belongings, stood up and moved to the row ahead of where he had been sitting. Come to find out, he was not assigned to our row and it appeared he may have claimed an empty window seat from an earlier flight, because the view from his assigned seat was blocked by the plane’s wing. Not only did he not take the disposables, but he didn’t remove them from our seats.

Soon after we settled in, we were offered a drink with both of us choosing peach juice. We landed in Quito less than an hour later. The new airport was built approximately 25 miles from the city. The majority of the ride consisted of typical cabbie weaving in and out of traffic with one instance of pulling in directly in front of a dump truck. Typical.

After exiting the four-lane on the edge of the city, we traveled downhill for a long while, twisting and turning around hairpin curves and then did the opposite. It seemed like we traveled uphill for miles on the curvy, narrow, two-way cobblestone street. There seemed to be something about that winding and turning that brought out the urge to sing in the driver. He did not speak English, but was able to serenade us in Spanish for what seemed like a long while. It wasn’t until a few days later we learned the four-lane highway is a one-way exit route from Quito during rush hour.

The taxi fare from the airport to Quito was $25, nearly as much as one airline ticket from Guayaquil. The Traveller’s Inn (The spelling bothered me, too.) was a large house with an addition built onto the back. It was behind a wall with a metal gate, like most of the businesses and homes in the cities in this country. After ringing the buzzer, the gate was opened to reveal a short sidewalk leading to many steps to the building.

A native dance demonstration. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

After checking in and walking up three short flights, we were surprised to open the door and find two bedrooms, one with a double bed and the other with a double and a single bed, and a bath, since we were only paying $35 per night with breakfast. The wall at one end of the largest room had floor to ceiling shelves built around a window. At the foot of the beds were two wide doors with windows from top to bottom, that opened swung into the room. An outer sliding glass door opened onto a balcony that overlooked the street. These appeared to be the only rooms on the second floor in the original house.

We found it was much cooler in the city than it was at the airport. Quito is located on the Equator, but is cool due to being 9,350 feet above sea level. Our room was a bit too cool and after a brief nap under five blankets stacked on our bed, we descended the three flights. We asked one of the brothers who owned the facility about a heat source and towels. We were told there was no additional heat and that we were experiencing the coldest few days of the year. The towels were in the dryer.

We then walked a few blocks to an area that had several restaurants, looking at the menus from a pricey, fancier restaurant to a burger joint. We ended up eating at an Ecuadorian version of a Route 66 restaurant, which was quite amusing to two people who left no stone unturned on a four-week trip on the Mother Road in 2016.

As was mentioned in an earlier installment, it is common wherever we have traveled in the Caribbean and in Central and South America, to find the sidewalks are treacherous, a broken foot, ankle or leg waiting to happen.

When we arrived in the breakfast room the next morning, we found a couple with an adult daughter who resided near Cooperstown, New York and a Canadian woman named Gina Orsini.

The Rowlands standing on the Equator at the Middle of the World." Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

We were surprised at the breakfast we were served, which consisted of a glass of liquid yogurt, two eggs cooked to our liking, a slice of cheese, a roll, a slice each of apple, pineapple and papaya and a glass of juice, as well as a choice of teas.

While eating, we decided we would do a little sightseeing with Gina, who had been to Quito in the past and who was going to be traveling in Ecuador for several weeks. We hired a taxi to take us to a cable car ride, which was one of the highest aerial lifts in the world. It was a little foggy going up and extremely foggy at the top, so much so that not only could we not see the volcanos below, we couldn’t see more than a few feet from the railing. We checked out the souvenir shop where an oxygen bar was offered at $2.00 for three minutes, $3.00 for five minutes or $3.50 for seven minutes. The cherry, bubble gum, pineapple and other flavors of oxygen were supposed to eliminate headache, nausea, fatigue or general discomfort, all which can be caused by high altitude. We took a hike on a path that led to a small chapel, while observing several interesting plants along the way.

As we headed back, we heard a clap of thunder and a light drizzle started before we got back to the loading area. The view on the way down the mountain was nowhere near as nice as on the way up. Since it was raining, we took a waiting taxi back to our hotel.

That evening, the three of us walked a few blocks to a Peruvian restaurant where we found the inexpensive specials we had come to know while visiting the South American country. Gina ordered a pork dinner. Fred and I had beef and rice mixed with lentils. It came with two types of plantains, which he substituted with a salad. The price for each dinner was $3.99, plus the cost of a cup of herbal tea. The wall dividing the dining room from the hall to the restrooms had stacked bales of hay that were wired together. On the hall side, various short pieces of tree limbs were stacked with the ends facing outward.

The next day’s outing started with a 14-kilometer taxi ride to the middle of the world. A fare of $15 was agreed on before we got into the car, which is the best way to do business since taxi fare is negotiable and tourists can be gouged.

Along the way, we saw the work of Ecuadorean graffiti artists, most done with great talent, on nearly every wall and flat surface. On the sidewalks were many people, young and old, male and female, with their shirt, jacket or sweater laid across their head as protection from the sun. As was witnessed in the other cities, there was an abundance of small farmacias.

We arrived at the “middle of the world,” latitude 00, the Equator, where we watched a native dance before we and a group of young businessmen were given an English-speaking guide. We saw several displays with one telling how shrunken heads were once made in the Amazon and how the practice was discontinued 100 years ago. A demonstration showed how draining water swirls in opposite directions on the two sides of the Equator, even if they are positioned a few inches from each other. All of the men walked on the Equator, one foot in front of the other, to see how difficult it was to keep their balance with the forces in each hemisphere pulling in opposite directions.

From there we had the waiting driver take us to the “Mitad del Mundo” monument or “Middle of the World.” The French erected the very large monument in 1736 where it was believed the middle of the earth or 00 latitude was located, but about 18 years ago an Army GPS proved them wrong.

On our last day in Ecuador we took a twenty-five cent bus ride to a $7.50 hop-on hop-off double-decker tour of Quito. We started on the open top level, which had a sliding canvas top that was closed shortly after, due to rain. We got off at a market where booths displayed brightly colored trinkets, leatherwork, Panama hats, shawls, tablecloths and much more. Here we purchased a 00 latitude T-shirt for our oldest grandson and hats for the three youngest grandsons.

The tour buses, like most of the other buses and taxis, had Latin music playing. We made a brief stop at a very large basilica, but had very little time. Fred and a few others got off for some quick pictures. The next stop and where we exited the bus was at Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco, a Roman Catholic church and monastery. After 150 years the project deemed the largest architectural ensemble among historic structures, was completed. There were several people asking for money while standing on the church steps.

On a nearby street corner was a woman who was peeling the garlic she was selling. Another lady was selling from a kettle of cooked potatoes and red peppers and near them was a man selling small speckled eggs. The umbrella sellers had come out, as we had seen in the other cities during rain. We purchased an umbrella, which we later donated to Traveller’s Inn, and a poncho. There are really only two seasons in Ecuador, rainy and dry.

The tour guide on the last bus was a very friendly 25-year old man, who visited with us since it was the end of the day and most of the passengers had gotten off. He arranged for us to stay on the bus beyond the last stop and for the driver to drop us off at the mall five blocks from our hotel. We had 75 minutes to find food, eat and walk to our hotel.

We set out our luggage, said our good-byes to Gina and went outside to the awaiting taxi. The lights of Quito resembled a star-studded night sky as we traveled to the airport. The scale at the airport counter revealed Fred’s bag was overweight causing him to quickly pull out whatever items he could until it was light enough to go without extra charge. I ended up with the overflow making for a very heavy computer case.

Our overnight flight to Fort Lauderdale was long, because I couldn’t sleep, but uneventful. Once back in the states, we stayed 5 nights with my aunt in Pompano Beach, Florida, a week in a time share in Kissimee, where Fred’s cousin joined us and attended a Perry Stone service in Jacksonville. From Florida we drove to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where we spent another week in a time share before staying a few days with our son and family in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. We arrived in our driveway just before 2 AM on February 12th, eleven weeks and eight hours after we left home in November. As always, we were grateful to God for His protection in our travels.

I appreciate the readers who hung in there throughout this rambling series where 95 percent of the info and all of the pictures came from my iPhone. Every time I considered pulling the plug on the article, I would receive an email telling me how happy the sender was to see “To be continued” at the end of each installment, but all good things must come to an end.

The End!

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