Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ecuador 4---May 11, 2008

Ecuador 4---May 11, 2008

Oh what a long strange trip this has been. Everything that I have said before remains true but as time goes by I realize even more that Ecuador is much different than any place I have ever been before.

The people here are very intelligent and highly educated. Cuenca, Ecuador is referred to as “The Athens of Latin America.” There is a four year college on almost every corner. Most of the people I encounter can speak at least two and sometimes five languages.

The most common person at the bus stop will announce in the middle of a casual conversation that he or she as a PhD from some prestigious University in Europe in Engineering or some equally challenging field. I am impressed.

Along with this also comes an attitude that their stuff does not stink.

Many wear their academic credentials on their sleeve. I think that some like to mention their credentials casually to create a level of prestige that would not normally occur. I think that is fine but in this culture a PhD might make $500 a month.

I realize that income and prices are highly inflated in the United States but I very seldom hear anyone talking about their education and/or income. I think that at least in the American West we judge people based on what they are and what they have accomplished rather than some ubiquitous standard.

My good friend John Farr often speaks of the European influence in his adopted country of Argentina. I would agree with John. I am given the Italian greeting of Ciao daily. Then when we finish eating someone will use the French greeting of Buen Provecho. Before you linguist out there jump down my throat I will agree that both are usual comments and are used widely in many cultures including the United States.

Anyway, back to the travel log.

The rain has stopped and the weather has gone from great to outstanding. Hard to imagine that this place has been here the whole time I have been suffering in Colorado each winter. Ecuador is on the equator hence the name. The country enjoys a long Pacific Coast with the high Andes running through the middle (that is where I am) and the Amazon River Basin in the east with deep jungles with all of the creatures you would ever want. All of this is within a very long bus ride or a short plane trip.

For example the trip from Quito to Cuenca by plane took 40 minutes but by bus takes 12 hours. I do not like to fly but this one was a no brainer.

My housemate Julie from Canada went on a day long trip to an Ecological National Park on Saturday. Sunday as I write this she is on another day trip to a volcano.

By the way, while she is here and in her later trip to the Galapagos Islands for three months she receives a salary, yes a salary, from the Government of Canada to finish writing her thesis. How about that for a free public education? Let’s hear some stories like that from the United States. Doubt if you will hear of any. I was getting a salary from Summit County when I wrote my thesis but I think that had more to do with the fact that I worked full time as a police officer and not that I was being paid to write my thesis.

My family took me to a birthday party on Saturday night for a young man who was turning 40. His father is a prominent doctor here in Cuenca and owns what I would characterize as the largest private single family home I have ever seen. I am sure that it was close to 50,000 square feet. It was a couple of hundred years old and had, at one time, been a church, a monetary and a nunnery. He was very nice and spent a lot of time telling me about how great his house was. The very strange thing was that it was in a very poor section of town and was surrounded by salvage yards and small industry. There were armed guards and the entire complex has surrounded by a very high fence.

He had hired an excellent singer and four or five disc jockeys playing an alternating selection of Spanish and American top hits. It was nice to sit in the courtyard listening to Elton John (yes he lives in Atlanta) and the Eagles some of whom live in Colorado. I especially enjoyed the many couples dancing various Spanish dances. They were very good. And no I did not get up and dance. I did take a ton of photos. There were also a lot of children there playing on the fully equipped playground in the center of the garden.

Dinner was roast beef, potatoes and steamed vegetables. He had about fifty people taking care of the food and drinks.

I will end on this. Speaking of food one of the favorite dishes in Ecuador is Cuy. Pronounced Coo-ie. It is a guinea pig. Yes, a guinea pig just like the one you got your kid years ago. They slaughter them, skin them and put them on a spit to roast them. I have been giving everyone a bunch of crap about their eating Cuy calling it a rat. How could anyone eat a rat?

Well yesterday I was invited to lunch to celebrate Dia de Madre (Mother’s Day). Of course I agreed to go. All of a sudden we were pulling into the parking lot of a Cuy restaurant. In the center of the parking lot were about two hundred of the little buggers cooking on the grill. I about passed out. Of course the family was rolling on the ground. What goes around comes around. They had done it on purpose. They waited until everyone received their Cuy and I was gingerly pulling it apart just like the child next to me was doing. In the midst of this the waiter brought me a real lunch of roast chicken breast. Everyone broke out in laughter. I did finally eat the Cuy and of course it tastes like chicken. But the so does rattlesnake and other offensive dishes.

Here is to Cuy and the other things in life we do no want to eat. g

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