Friday, November 18, 2011

November 2011 vacation diary - day 6

Yesterday’s distractions took my mind off the sun-screening process, so I’m a bit burned today. No altitude sickness though. We didn’t feel like leaving the hotel last night (originally we had a plan to try a particular restaurant in the old district, but we scrapped that idea too) so we ate here again, in its Swiss-themed restaurant. No surprise that we kept returning to the same topic, and also that we were both thinking and talking very slowly, as if having trouble getting back in sync with things. We both assume we unknowingly crossed an invisible line and entered a part of town where the prevailing social assumptions just don’t apply, but still, it can’t help but reduce your enthusiasm for being anywhere in the city. And I forgot to mention yesterday that when we went back to the old town in the afternoon, we saw two dogs running up the street, and one of them ran into a car which rolled right over it. The dog kept going (as did the car), but it can’t possibly have been unhurt. Shortly afterwards we saw the other dog coming back by itself. We love dogs and have a possibly unwarranted concern for their welfare, so it would have been sad anyway, but given what had happened earlier, it seemed especially symbolic and painful. On a happier dog note, I tuned in again into the Urban Dog webcam, and for the first time ever saw Ozu humping another dog who he was obsessively following round. Maybe he’s in love…

We both woke up early but went back to sleep for a while. I had a lurid dream involving zombies. I’m now watching Eric Rohmer’s 1972 film Love in the Afternoon, which has the unintended consequence of reminding me how happy we were in Paris last year. Ally has been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, parts of which are coincidentally set in Chichen Itza and Valladolid. Anyway, we decided to visit the Museo Nacional del Banco Central del Ecuador, which we’d already walked by several times. The guide book suggests this might have filled four hours, but it took us less than an hour (admittedly, some of the galleries were closed). It has some interesting old artifacts and paintings but it all seems rather abstract if you’re not actually in tune with the country’s history. We walked round the surrounding area a while longer, but even more than Ally, I couldn’t relax and felt suspicious of every second person. We returned to the hotel and had lunch in the same attached café as yesterday.

Then we decided to take a cab to the Fondacion Guayasamin, a gallery built around the works of a famous Ecuadorian artist. The cab ride ($3) took us in a direction we haven’t seen before, with some spectacular views emphasizing how Quito is embedded in the cradle of the mountains, hemmed in on some sides and exposed on others. The gallery is a very peaceful, sheltered collection of buildings around a courtyard, and although Guayasamin’s works couldn’t all be called peaceful (some of them are distinctly anguished), the exhibition as a whole is very satisfying and cleansing. Still, it didn’t take long either in the scheme of things.

There’s another gallery just a short distance away. They pointed the way for us and said it was just five blocks, but after the first couple of blocks it started looking distressingly similar to where we got held up yesterday. It’s not very likely I suppose that the relatively short space between two art galleries would be festooned with criminals, but I think any reader will understand our risk aversion. So we turned back and caught a passing cab back to the hotel. We could have taken a tram up one of the surrounding mountains, but we’ve done that kind of thing before and it’s usually underwhelming (various sources suggest it wouldn’t be safe to do any walking on the mountain once you get there – two days ago we would likely have felt OK ignoring such warnings, as we did in South Africa and elsewhere, but that mindset’s not available to us right now). And we never did get up to the monument overlooking the old city, but that’s a forever tainted spot now. What else? It would have been good to take a walk, but we’ve covered all the walkable areas around the hotel it seems, and anyway, as I mentioned, that’s not the carefree experience it used to be.

So for the third day out of six, we spent more time in the hotel than we ever would have planned on. As I mentioned, it’s an exceptionally nice and spacious hotel room, which certainly helps. And we both really like the stuff we do in the hotel. But you know, it’s hardly why we spent all that money. As we were coming up in the elevator, an older couple was just arriving and from the tag on their luggage I saw they were from Chatham, Ontario. Part of me just wanted to say, “Guys, take it from me, just turn round and get the hell out.” I honestly don’t have any ill-will toward Quito. But it’s just a fact that we’ve been to Africa and Asia and Australia and all round Europe and barely ever had a bad day, let alone a bad week, and yet we’d always held back from visiting South America, sensing it might not suit us. And then we changed our mind because the conference in Cancun came up and we decided to use it as a springboard to a new continent...and so far it’s been the worst trip we’ve ever had – not just because we were robbed at knifepoint, but because we’ve never been able to get into our rhythm of just happily exploring, engaging with the sights and the rhythms, constructing a mental map of a new place. If you ask me right now, I’d say South America is fine, just as the NFL and stamp-collecting and the history of the Popes are all fine, but I just don’t personally care about any of it (hey, we can’t all care about everything). Of course, it’s all experience, as the phrase goes, and maybe seeing Chichen Itza should make up for all the rest. But what we really need now is to just love the Galapagos.

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