Friday, September 23, 2011

Club Med this ain't -- a visit from Grandma (part 1)

My mom was recently here for a visit that was probably for her more like vacation boot camp. But, c'mon, who comes to South America for two weeks? Whatever happened to that tradition of travel where you loaded up two or three trunks with leather straps, covered all the furniture in the manor with sheets, and spent 3-6 months on trains and steamer ships to visit distant relatives on their country estates? Oh yeah, egalitarianism happened. Damn.

Well, when life gives you egalats, make egalitarianade. So we treated mom to an egalitarian tour of Ecuador in the little time she had here. Sounds so Enlightenment, so horse and carriage, doesn't it? Well we started here in Cuenca, which, with its old Spanish architecture, grand cathedrals, and cows in the parks, certainly hints at a more romantic time. And our apartment is certainly one of the nicest places we've ever lived, so throw in a little early misdirection there. But we tried to throw in subtle hints here and there that her time here was going to be a little sub-royal.

The tiara? Genuine plastic

And this is how the commoners perform executions nowadays. This is not a photography trick of perspective. An alarm sounds on the bus which--had you understood the man speaking in Spanish over the loudspeaker at the beginning of the double-decker bus tour--informs you that your should now choose to sit and duck your head or choose to spend the last three seconds of your brain's life staring up at the person behind you from the perspective of their lap. Mom's short (or Ecuadorian-sized), so she only had her hair mussed by the passing cables. And so she lived to see the rest of the grand tour.

But having shown her much of what I've talked about in this blog, I won't bore you with that. We'll just get right into the real egalitaria.

To be sure we disabused Mom of any thoughts of horses and carriages, we started our travels beyond Cuenca with all four adults, two kids, and all our luggage in one taxi to the bus station, scraping tailpipe at every cobblestone in the street. At least that makes a long bus ride more tolerable. But buses, as I've mentioned before, are really generally pleasant, depending on the audio/video "entertainment"  provided by the drivers.

And kids just love 'em

So we hopped on our first bus, luggage and all, headed to the remarkably well-preserved and impressive Ingapirca ruins. These was a really technologically impressive community left by the Cañari people who preceded the Incas, who in turn thought (as remains true for real estate to this day), "Wow, great location," before conducting one of the first real estate transactions in the area's history (though the process then involved much less pain and suffering, if a bit more bloodshed). Mom was really impressed with what Ecuadorians are both willing and able to drive a bus up.

 But indeed a view has always been a big draw for real estate, and the Cañar folk found a gem here. You sacrifice a bit of warmth in your climate up here, but as in Alaska where a three-dog night is considered cold, you rarely see anything colder than a two-llama night.

Notice the pets, still dressed for the climate, remain

We were lucky enough on this visit to witness a photo shoot with some local royalty. It's nice here in Ecuador that royalty mingles so casually amongst the rabble.

After this brief look back in time we flagged down another bus headed to Baños. This one had Saran Wrapped seats that deflected sweat back at you, delivering the peculiar sensation of having only half of your body in a sauna. It was like my Aunt Betty's plastic-coated furniture that seemed intended to ensure the enjoyment of the furniture for future generations. But in all other respects this was as pleasant a seven-hour ride as you could hope for. Huh, Mom.

Stay tuned for the next episode: "how to make anything seem like luxury after a 7-hour bus ride" or "Grandma, wanna hike up a volcano?"

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