"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Monday, February 16, 2004
Exotic in Thin Air (Part 4, Guano)
ad-ven-ture Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English aventure, from Old French, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin adventura, from Latin adventus, past participle of advenire to arrive, from ad- + venire to come -- more at COME
1 a : an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks b : the encountering of risks
2 : an exciting or remarkable experience
3 : What you can find anywhere you share the road with goats
All afternoon, we were surrounded by volcanoes.
We continued our bus ride to Riobamba, where we would spend the night and catch Ecuador's only train the next morning. As we pulled out of the Latacunga market, the horizon was soon dominated by Tungurahua, an active volcano at the crest of the Andes, and Cotopaxi, the worlds highest active volcano, snowcapped at the equator.
Our next stop was a convent. The Catholic church has an almost exclusive foothold in the Ecuadorian culture. But what we discovered inside the convent was disturbing to say the least.
We gathered in the central courtyard. It was paved with...uh, something odd. We looked closer, and it looked like some sort of two inch beads or something... No, wait... Those are vertebra.
The entire courtyard was paved with bones. They were laid out in intricate patterns like the finest Italian tiles, and polished smooth by many years of nuns walking through the courtyard. (It turned out they were goat vertebra, which only made it a little less creepy.)
Then we went into a special room where some older items were stored. There were several crucifixes here, with gore being the order of the day, as well as the overarching theme of trying to make the indians think the crucifixes performed miracles. One crucifix was designed with an open view of the heart of Christ, so delicately balanced that it would "beat" with the slightest breath of air. Another was designed so that it could be "posed" from day to day. Another would bleed on command, and another was designed so that a priest could secretly remove the prayers that the indians placed within it each day.
Such chicanery. I felt sick to my stomach.
Then they showed us a heartbreaking collection of little glass houses. Each one was filled with toys. We found out that when a young girl was given to the convent, she was allowed to keep one toy. On the day when she took her vows, she had to give up that toy and it would be brought here.
We soberly boarded our bus and headed onwards.
Our next stop was the little town of Guano.
Yeah, I know. The town was named for the stuff that comes out of the rear end of a bat.
What a place to live. There's a lot of jokes I could come up with here, but let's just go on, shall we?
Anyway, we visited a carpet factory there. Inside that factory, women would sit on benches and hand weave a carpet all day long on an upright loom, tossing the spindle with lightening speed back and forth between them. Then, in another room, a man would take electric scissors and carve it into a design.
We calculated that these people made less than a dollar per day. Way less.
Not being interested in buying carpet, we left some of our fellow travelers inside to haggle and walked outside for a smoke. Traffic was heavy. It consisted of a cow and two goats, walking slowly down the road in the center of town.
You don't see that much in the United States.
Back in the bus, we rumbled towards Riobamba, our destination for the night. Tungurahua faded into the distance, and Chimborazo, another live volcano, rose into view ahead.
Chimborazo is a very ill behaved volcano.
This is demonstrated by the fact that in 1795, an earthquake associated with volcanic activity in the area caused the local cathedral to collapse and be buried under ash. The stones were excavated, and the cathedral was rebuilt just as it was before.
Well, almost. You see, they had turned it 90 degrees. Now it faced east instead of south.
Which meant that the celebrated sundials on the front of the cathedral no longer worked. But apparently no one noticed.
And that, my friends, is Ecuador through and through.
We settled into a "country lodge" (obviously never slept in by any Ecuadorian, but it was pretty) for the night. The rooms were constructed out of huge timbers, even the furniture. It was probably one of the nicest places I have ever stayed. At dinner they had some folk music, including the authentic Simon and Garfunkle song "I'd Rather Be a Hammer Than a Nail" which we all sang along with like it really belonged here.
That night, we went to sleep to the smell of eucalyptus.
Tomorrow, we would ride on the highest train on earth.
Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.