Ecuador doesn’t celebrate Halloween but they have New Year’s Eve to take Halloween’s place.
Today there are bad spirits about.
They are atop cars, seated in chairs in retail stores, looking down from balconies, slumped on curbs and grouped near churches. Some are fully dressed and have ears and noses and eyes and mouths. Others are misformed aberrations that somehow have survived termination. The tradition is to stuff them with messages, good and bad, light them on fire in the street, then jump over them to make your wishes come true.
The effigies have been appearing early. In a spirit place like Cuenca, with churches and crosses in every part of town, one has to accept that there are Demons as well as Angels.
Getting rid of bad has good consequences.
In a place where there were only five murders last year, there is still a reservoir of pent up anger that has to be released.
We need our rituals and traditions.
Certain things in our certain world are unpleasantly uncertain.
Cuenca, Ecuador has expanded as far north and south as you can see, stopped only by the Cajas National Reserve on one end and more mountains on the other. Red tile roofs and reddish bricks look like a bloody battlefield but there are no wars here.
Andres, our guide, gives a history lesson.
” There are about half a million people in Cuenca. The major industries are tourism, building construction and fabrication, and selling homes.”
You can see a few landmarks from this observation point, if you know them. You can see the twin blue striped domes of the New Church in Parque Calderone. You can see the soccer stadium and the goldish planet shaped planatarium that locates Gringoland.
” Ecuadorians are a clean people. We are taught to pick things up and be polite.” Andres says.
The funniest thing is when I tell him I am from New Mexico. His ears perk up.
” What city? ”
” Albuquerque. ”
He smiles and says ” Breaking Bad. ” We both laugh.
” The best thing, ” he advises, ” is to buy land. ” You buy the land for ten thousand, build a house, sell the house”
There are plenty of Ex-Pats into real estate in Ecuador, buying up farms in the Andes, old homes in Cuenca, beach bungalows in Salinas.
Riding real estate waves is a popular financial sport for people who have money but want more, and making money without working sparkles like your girl’s best diamond ring.
All these places with good real estate deals that market to foreigners had even better deals before they were discovered.
In Ecuador, as elsewhere, it is best to hire a lawyer to represent you because ownership of properties is convoluted and price is always negotiable.
Riding real estate waves is not always without wipe outs.
Up top, on our double decker bus, you have wind and sun, but, on this trip, you can’t stand up because low hanging electric wires will take off your neck. Our guide reminds us to watch for low hanging wires, watch the tree on your right, don’t stand too close to the edge of the top floor rail. From the second deck, we all see the city as we pass through, weaving, bobbing, climbing, descending and ascending hills.
This Cuenca city tour takes us in a circle from Parque Calderone to the Mirador de Turi and back. We leave the Historical District, cross into a newer part of the city, climb hills to the famous look out point, then return through the opposite end of the Historical District that we left from, ending back at our beginning.
Andres gives commentary in English and Spanish but mostly all you have time on this tour to do is point your camera, shoot, enjoy the sights.
The ride costs $8.00 U.S. and takes, with a half hour stop at Turi, two hours. Along the way, I see a Panama Hat Museo that might be fun to visit. The Museo Pumapungo looks important. There are lots of churches crying for admiring photographers..
Our guide tells us that Cuenca, a World Heritage City, has only five murders a year instead of Chicago’s five a day.
After driving in this mid day traffic, I would think bus drivers here would shoot at least one person a day so the murder rate in Cuenca wouldn’t sound fictitious.
On the streets are a few people, stray dogs, taxi drivers, construction men headed for jobs. Churches aren’t open, retail shops are locked tight, and, as you explore, the Historical District is shut down tight too.
As people wake and go to work, traffic increases.
Walking past fellow pedestrians on narrow sidewalks is difficult. Even though Ecuadorians are shorter and smaller than Americans, there is still barely room for them to walk side by side, much less someone my size.
I stay to the right on sidewalks but sometimes move left and hug a wall. These sidewalks and streets are not made for American bodies, cars, or intentions.
First thing in the morning, the city is fresh.
By the end of the day, Cuenca’s tablet is filled with stories.
I stick with postcards and snapshots on Scotttreks.
It is a challenge to be short, sweet, to the point.
What I should have done was read about the ruins before I got here.
Lamanai, which means submerged crocodile, is a Mayan city in the Orange District of Belize. It dates to the sixteenth century B.C. and was occupied into the seventeen hundreds A.D. It was a city of forty thousand and combined farming and fishing and large trade networks for success.
The three main structures, excavated in the 1970’s by David Pendergast, are the Jaguar temple, the Mask, the High Temple. The Mask Temple is the tombs of successive rulers who built their burial place atop that of their predecessor. The High Temple is in a natural amphitheater and was the site of public spectacles, religious ceremonies, and political grandstanding.
Standing in this hot humid jungle looking at tourists climbing to the top of huge stone structures, I weigh the manpower and skills needed to build them and the spiritual and political reasons for completing them.
Longevity speaks of doing things right for a long time in the time and place you find yourself.
What would they have thought of our world if they could have imagined it?
Would they choose, if they had the choice, our world over theirs?
Ambergris Caye is not wide but it is long. From one end to the other, head to toes, is over twenty eight miles.
San Pedro Town is in the middle of the island and holds most of the business and population. The island’s one improved road, to the south and north,is functional. Once off the pavement though, small tributary roads are potholed, dirt, muddy in wet weather, often difficult to navigate.
As you walk south or north,homes become more private, isolated, and there is more open landscape between them. There are resorts all along the main road and some accommodations have ” Beware of Dogs ” signs on their front gates, security cameras and barbed wire, swimming pools, tall fences you can’r pull down or climb over. These expensive Caribbean bungalows are nestled next to bare wood shacks where a single electric pole runs twentieth century technology to seventeenth century shacks to keep a refrigerator and lights running.
Along the bike ride. I hit a place called ” Hotel California ” that makes me hum the Eagle’s top hit. There are plenty of escapees from cuckoo California in Belize. Californians like to run but they always bring their state, and it’s ideas, with them.
A sign on the Hotel California’s fence says, ” Trespassers will be shot first, and then shot again if they survive. ”
At the end of this bike ride is a knot of construction men digging a hole with shovels and a backhoe to install PVC pipe to hold electric wires that will supply electric to a future gated community for escapees from America and Europe.
In paradise, someone still has to mop floors, fix broken pipes, babysit, build, take care of the needs of people with money from abroad.
On the ride back to Chez Caribe on my borrowed bike, I visit the Marcos Gonzalez archeological site, going back thousands of years. The world has been full of people for a long time and people still don’t clean up after themselves, leaving clues behind about what they were up too. Going from this site to Hotel California is an incomprehensible leap in time and technology, lifestyle and mindset.
I hide my bike in the bushes because I don’t want it to disappear.
A bicycle in Belize is a poor man’s Cadillac and plenty of poor people would borrow this one for free if they had an opportunity.
Taking precautions might be tedious, but I don’t want to walk home and have to explain a bad outcome..
I doubt the residents of Marcos Gonzalez were any more honest than those in San Pedro town today.
This small island is to the south of Ambergris Caye on the way back to Belize City. The Belize Water Express brings you to the miniscule port in thirty minutes and a round trip ticket from San Pedro Town is $25.00 U.S.
This is a slice of paradise instead of the entire pie. It is smaller, more Caribbean, less developed than San Pedro Town. On a Sunday there are dive shops open and some bustle and you see a mix of young and old in the streets, rasta men and foreign girls hanging bras and beach towels on the front porches of bungalows.
There is inexpensive local food sold on the beach out of old black pots. A row of vendors where the Belize Water express ties up sell conch shells, jewelry, beaded bracelets for wrists and ankles, ironwood sharks and manta rays, pot pipes, and Belize knick knacks. There is a liberal sprinkling of dread locks, golf caps and the coconut smell of sun tan lotion is everywhere.
Older visitors here are retired or getting ready to retire; younger folks are looking for their edge.
This is what San Pedro Town used to be before the northern invasion.