Bombs in the rainforest and fellow villagers on a volcano.
Twice I had almost turned around. The first time it was because of the taxi driver: obviously a special case of ADHD. Everytime he couldn´t accelerate, steer or change gears (oh yeah, or honk of course!), he turned the volume of the radio randomly up and down. Loud, quietly. Loud. Aaaand quietly again. Loud. Sigh, quietly. Besides, there was a local program on and Friday afternoon was ¨bad jokes continuously¨-time. Our driver found everything said hilarious, but his good mood didn´t reach any further than the front window. Honking, swaying, pushing in, and pointing at his forehead he made his way through the Friday traffic in Quito. And when occasionally he didn´t touch the radio for more than a minute, the volume was always left at an annoying level of 12+, where 8 indicated the limit of severe hearing damage. Forty minutes to the northern bus terminal: thirty hilarious jokes later I got out of the cab as fast as I could. My travel mates seemed to be as relieved as I was, but maybe that was because the four of them had been squeezed into the backseat made for only three people. We had payed two dollars extra for that. ¨Risk money¨. As if we didn´t know that the police was the last one to care about how many people fit in a cab. But we were there. At last. Hallelujah.
The second time was when we heard that a rock crashed down on the road to Otavalo, and that it would take us four hours instead of two to get there. Basta, lets go, or that taxi ride would have been in vain. Also, my lungs longed to be filled with fresh air without particles, my ears longed for two days without alarms, sirens and honks, and my eyes, longed to see the beautiful green mountains that you couldn´t really see from Quito… After three weeks in the city, no taxi driver or roadblock could stop me: lets go to Otavalo. Lets breath some air.
Eventhough Ecuador is the country of unspoiled rainforests, the Andes, the natural beaches and of course the Galapagos, ¨schizofrenic¨ seems to be a good word to describe the politics concerning nature here. It´s the first country ever to give fundamental rights to nature, but on every corner of the street in Quito there´s an accelerating bus or a smoking chimney that makes the inattentive pedestrian gasp for breath. Legally. About 75% of the country is protected area, but we throw glass, paper, compost and other garbage in one big bin. No recycling: garbage with garbage. The huge amounts of tourists visiting the Galapagos by boat or plane make it much less unspoiled that ¨unspoiled¨ would suggest. And recently the government announced that they´re going to exploit a part of the rainforest called Yasuni to gain gas. A detail is that this is protected area and it´s the home of tribes that have no contact with the rest of the world. No effort is made to talk to them, money is needed. End of story.
But Otavalo is situated in the Andes, so the main tourist attraction isn´t the rainforest but the handicraft market on Saturday. After a disappointing festival concert at the bust station, with a non-creative pop/rock band and a lady singing out of tune behind the microphone and a good night´s sleep, we arrive at the market at half past seven already. Many vendors are still building up their stalls and organizing their products: the tourists don´t arrive until ten o´clock.
So we have plenty of time to have a cup of coffee (at the stall of this woman)
and walk around between the vegetables, fruits, the colorful sweaters, blankets, bags and hats, jewelry and trinkets.
We have a chat with a few people who wonder what we´re doing there so early, we drink yamor, specially brewed for the yamor festival out of seven types of corn, and we eat a cheese-with-corn ball before the buses with Europeans arrive. And when they do, it´s time to go anyway…
… To a condor park with a bird-show and a brilliant view.
Then we take the same kind of cab, with ¨doble cabina¨ for seven persons (read: three in the trunk) to the Peguche waterfalls and we find the workshop where musical instruments of the Andes are made. After a true family-concert we follow the railway back to Otavalo by foot. ¨Twenty minutes¨ is after a twenty minute walk still twenty minutes, as it is after forty minutes, but that doesn´t matter at all. The surroundings are beautiful and it´s a really nice walk.
I stay one more night than the others to see the lake in the volcano crater. The bus to Quiroga stops at the main square where I can take a rattling truck to the lake. During the twenty minute drive up the mountains the old driver mumbles a story about a group of Dutch people that he once took all the way back to Quito in his trunk, while they were singing Ecuadorian classics all journey long. And then we drive up the final slope and suddenly the lake Cuicocha lies there in front of us. Wow.
While we navigate around the crater in a little boat, my boat companions make me the subject of their questionnaire. ¨Holanda?¨ I nod. ¨Aaah, the man in the back is Dutch too!¨ After we´ve moored again, we have a little chat while we warm up our hands with an agua de canela. Where I´m from in Holland? ¨Eindhoven¨. The man who introduced himself as Mark looks at me with disbelief. ¨Or actually,¨ I quickly explain that I´m not really from Eindhoven, but from Son en Breugel. Two streets and a bus stop. His eyes grow bigger and his face radiates surprise. ¨Naaah! Me too! And yesterday I also met someone from our village. The Amstelstreet.¨ I laugh: that sounds really bizar so close the the equator in the silence that lies over the lake and the mountains. ¨She has a restaurant down the street by the way, would you like to come and have lunch with us?¨ ¨Us¨ is two Ecuadorian families that I´m introduced to a few moments later.
And so we have lunch with Dutch-Ecuadorian home made ¨bitterballen¨ at ¨El secreto de Jeanne¨ of our fellow villager, Mark invites us for a cup of ¨the best coffee of Ecuador¨ at his place, and then I can get in the car with Rosa and Santiago for a ride back to Quito. They stop in Otavalo so I can get my stuff at the hostel (aaah) and before I know it we´re almost there.
When his mother wrote down their contact details in my notebook, little Santiago wants to write his name too. There´s so much white space left that I ask him if he´d like to draw something underneath. A little later he gives me the little book back with the drawing. ¨Yasuni Santiago¨ it says in shaky letters written on the humping back seat. ¨I see a river, and trees,¨ I say, ¨but what is that?¨ I point at something in the right lower corner that doesn´t seem to fit the whole. ¨A bomb,¨ little Santiago says. ¨And this?¨ He looks serious when he answers: ¨to let it go off.¨ I nod and smile shortly. ¨Thanks¨. He nods back and lies his head on his mothers lap. Then we enter the city of Quito.
After a great weekend in the green and lush surroundings of Otavalo, the contrast with Quito seems to fall heavily on my shoulders. I put the little book with "Yasuni Santiago" in my bag and I look through the pouring rain to all the grey concrete and asphalt rushing by. Yasuni Santiago. For a moment the fresh green and blue of this morning´s scenery seems to be further away than ever.