Center of the World – Ecuador

Posted 4 Jan 2011

Greetings from the center of the world. This is Ecuador, calling.

Colorful lifestyle? Yes.
Happy people? Double check.
Rainy & cloudy climate? Unfortunately, check.

We’ve been here for 2 weeks, mostly in the capital city of Quito.

This is a festival city, especially during the Christmas week. Out of the blue, the streets can turn into a colorful rainbow.

Friendly people, extreme use of lamas in all festivals are the norm.

Whatever you’d expect in terms of weather, from a country that is literally in the middle of the earth, the reality is 180 degrees opposite.
For example, our first encounter with snow-capped mountains, since USA was -believe it or not- in Ecuador, three times in one week.

Not only that, but we had a record number of our first encounters in many other categories, as well.

Let’s start.

Rasta

First time in our lives, we’ve come pretty close to looking like our Jamaican buddies, at least from a hair perspective.

Suffice to say we no longer need to worry about doing our hair in the mornings.

Hostel Belmont in the Old Town area & the Wild Dogs

I drove Belafonte towards 4 wild dogs, to scare them away. This is a first for Belafonte, as it normally thinks it’s for transportation.
Hostel Belmont proved to be a very nice option, compared to its pricier counterparts that offered no extra amenities.

For those backpackers amongst us, here’s the tip of the day:

Lonely Planet, let’s face it, is the de-facto standard in travel books. When you’re new in a city, and you want clean, economical hostel, you use Lonely Planet. The more up-to-date version, the better. However, these hostels get so many guests that, they generally quickly start losing their appeal, as they try to capitalize on the fact that they are always full, no matter what their service quality is.

We still use Lonely Planet, but after finding that ‘recommended’ hostel, we walk around the block, to find the ‘unpublished hero’ which tries to be a good alternative to the ‘famous’ one, by offering generally the same amenities for a fraction of the price. In our case, this was Hostel Belmont, next to the Lonely Planet celebrity ‘Secret Garden’.

The fact that it was next to the Plaza del Torres -the bull-fighting arena- was a bonus for us. On top of that, we made our first real enemies of the trip, with the over-protective guard dogs of the parking lot where we parked our motorbikes. They made sure we were not stealing our own bikes! Hassling and barking was so intense that, sometimes they outnumbering us 4 to 1, which was a situation I could only overcome by restarting the already-parked bike, and riding it towards the leader of the pack -the tall, black one- with the high-beam on, while crazily honking my horn. Even as I write these words, I can hear them barking. Considering we sleep on the 3rd floor, and the parking lot is in level minus 1, this is quite an accomplishment for them. As of this moment, one wooden floor-sweeper is broken -while trying to scare the dogs away-, and 2 bikes have been peed over around 10 times, unfortunately only the last 8 of those occurrences were known by us, as we thought there was a serious oil leak near the rear tires, and sniffed the liquidish material twice, before understanding what it really was. Good thing we never thought about doing a flavor test. Lesson learned though: Don’t park where there are lots of dogs.

Plaza de Toros Belmonte

Who would have guessed, we would be staying next to the Bullfighting Arena? We took advantage of the fact, to say the least.

The beautiful dogs seemed to have been bored. We decided to give them a run for their money.

New Years Eve – Burn the Puppets Down

First time in a New Years Eve, we burned some puppets to the ground, in an attempt to forget all those not-so-positive things that happened in 2010. According to the cultural belief, this would guarantee a fresh start to 2011, signifying a blank page.

You can buy these hand-made puppets on the street, in which case you’re getting the fast & cheap version, as it’s made up by so many plastic bottles. Or you can build one on your own, which seems to be a very good pastime for Ecuadorians, judging by the number of authentic puppets. People dress them to their liking, inserting newspaper inside. However, if they entered the Best Puppet in the World contest, they would likely have a good chance of making it to the semi-finals, as their dresses are real as well !!!

Whatever version you have, you’re supposed to burn it, at midnight.

What happens at 0:00 at New Years Eve?

As we’re late with every other project, we missed the deadline, and our puppet was alive & kicking while all others were being burned to the ground. To be fair, it only occurred to us when we heard the fireworks exploding in the air, at which time Emrah was creating a playlist in his iPod, while I was taking a shower. Oh well, you can’t always enter the new year as perfectly as planned, can you? Around 12:20 we ran downstairs to do our part, joining hundreds of others doing their favorite dances with their small patches of fire in the middle of the street.

Mitad del Mundo – Center of the World – Latitude 0′ 0′ 0″

No Ecuador story is complete without a visit to the “Mitad del Mundo” (the “Middle of the Earth”). This monument is in a well-maintained park, with the letters “0 0 0″ written on it in big bold fonts.

However, if you do have a GPS, you can’t resist the urge to measure it yourself, at which point you actually realize that it’s actually 263 metres off the mark. One smart person figured this out before the others, and he is counting the green bills by the dozen, everyday, in his private museum, exactly -yes, you guessed it right- 263 metres away from the monument.

Inti-Nan Solar Museum [Museum of Indigenous People]

In that museum, we were submersed in a myriad of knowledge, about the indigenous people of Ecuador, mostly living in the Amazons area.

Penis Fish

In the same museum, some other very-important information about the “penis fish” was also provided. According to the theory -I can only choose to believe it, as verifying the truth in this case would not be the smartest idea- the fish is attracted to the smell of urine. If you choose to pee while swimming naked in the rivers of Amazons, the “penis fish” will enter your penis, and get attached into it. The only way out is by a special surgery.

Ladies are not exempt from this harsh lesson of the nature either. However the name does remind us of that one very unlucky encounter of that very unlucky guy. The only solution to this problem is to not pee while naked. I will probably choose not to pee at all if I ever swim around the Amazons, to make sure ‘piranhas’ are my only worry.

Headhunting – literally

Amazons are also famous for the fantastic rituals of their tribes. Victory in a war meant so much to them, that they felt they had the right to cut the head of a warrior who had lost the battle. Of course they would not stop there, as we have been shown in a do-it-yourself way in just 12 steps, and the victorious warrior would then go on to cook the head in a special way, which would shrink the head to the size of an orange, to be used as an accessory in their home.

Why on earth would you have such an urge to show off your victorious ways is beyond me, however this custom has become world-famous over time, and there have been special requests to get the shrunken head of various important people, such as shamans. With enough money paid -around 20,000 $- some tribe members were more than willing to kill whoever was requested, to be able to sell the shrunken head. This resulted in the term ‘headhunter’ being given to those professional killers.

Government of Ecuador has seen that, this custom was getting out of hand. As a result an agreement has been reached: You can only shrink the heads of animals. No more playing games with the human heads. This has technically killed their tradition where the loser’s head automatically lost its right to belong to his body, however the ‘headhunting’ business has also seen a radical drop as a result of this agreement.

Conclusion & Travel Plans for the Remainder of 2011

OK, it’s been 3 days since I started writing this blog, and here’s the last update, as of January 5, 2011.
We’re leaving this wonderful town of Quito. Our goal is to visit the touristy town in a gorgeous natural setting, called Banos. Yes, it has hot springs. Yes, we’re looking forward to every minute of it.

Then comes the train ride in a place called Devil’s Nose. “Nariz de Diablo” would be my guess as to its local name, but don’t count on it.

Technically, around January 9, we should be in Peru. Previous experience tells me not to give any dates, so don’t count on that either.

Machu Pichu, Patagonia, Brazil are all in our plans, however we’re taking it one step at a time, and right now it’s time to enjoy the cold/rainy/sunny/summery 4-season of Ecuador, all in the same day.

Final words of wisdom: Whatever they tell you about travel safety, question it. Only accept advice from the people who have had first-hand experience. So many people say “Don’t go to XYZ, because …”. I am sure, you can easily fill in the blanks. Don’t listen to them, the world is a nice place, just test it yourself.

Cheers !

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