Nov 22, 2005

Quirky Quito, Quintessential Questions

Micah In Front of San Francisco Square

I have had trouble keeping a travel journal in the past. When I was having a great time I´d just fully enjoy having a great time instead of writing. And when occasional travel doldrums hit: when I was sitting at a bus station for countless hours, sick on some exotic food, or found myself lonely and friendless in a sketchy city it would seem like a great time to mope and write about how much suffering I was going through. And so, years later, I look back at my travel journals and think "God, what a miserable trip that must have been!" This weblog has, in many ways, helped me bridge that gap and write about both the good and bad times, from inland seas to scabies. Unfortunately, I am discovering, Í´ve still not mastered the art. This weblog is now running more than a couple weeks and an entire country behind, largely because I was too busy enjoying myself in Ecuador to write about it!

Map of Ecuador

From the safe distance of an iCafe in Huanchaco, Peru after a couple weeks I am finally starting to talk about the country we just left. From Colombia Tyler and I made a bee-line for Quito, Ecuador the capital city. I don´t think I have ever seen such a big city so defined by it´s topography. It´s in valley in the Andes so the city is pinched so that its population squeezes into a long line. Every direction one looks has a slope, a valley, or a little hill. And every time one walks it is uphill.


Just due to its wildly varieing elevations and the countless cool stairways to keep it all connected the city looks complex and intriguing. But the Ecuadorans, not to be shown up by mountains, went out of their way to put in some incredible buildings too. For example here is Tyler, hanging out after breakfast on our hostels rooftop patio with his back to the Basilica (on his right).

Hostal Chicago Rooftop Terrace

The Basilica, which was barely mentioned by the guidbook nor other travelers turned out to be a pretty major highlight for the two of us. We got to climb up in it, above the clock and the bells, to get a staggering view of this remarkable city. Up close it looks like an ancient cathedral that belongs somewhere deep in Europe, when in actuality they started construction on it a little over a century ago and the work is still going strong. Ecuador, as it turns out, has had a pretty fiercely Catholic history that still persists today.

Basilica belltower view

The people we met were invariably friendly and we found a much higher concentration of native people than we found since Guatemala. One particularly cool addition, however, is that the traditionally garbed native women here all wear bowler hats. How cool is that?

Native women in Bowler hats

But they weren´t the only folks in uniform. When school lets out for lunch a sea of red pours out from one street...

Ecuadorian Bloods

... and a block away flows a sea of blue.

Ecuadorian Crips
¿Is this where the US street gangs,
the Crips and Bloods, got their start?

Being the good little tourists we (sometimes) are, we checked out some museums. One was this great Metropolitan Cultural Center/Library:

La Capital de Chile by Enrique Garnica
Click me to see artwork from the
Centro Cultural Metropolitano

But when we made it to the National Art Gallery/Theater/Dance School/Everything-else-cultural-you-can-think-of it was inexplicably closed. We got all grumpy about it, and angrily stormed off across the street to see some artists showing off their wares across the street. Before long we were in a maze of hundreds of local artists showing some really, really, incredible work (not to mention all the local handicrafts!). If they´d put all that work in a building and charged an entrance fee I would have left counting it as one of my all time favorite art museums. As it was simply in a public park, Quito is now one of my all time favorite art cities!

Art in the downtown park

We enjoyed our time at Lima, but were also on a mission. We´d heard of a WWOOFing farm in the south that tickled our fancy and got us moving. On the way there, however, we stopped at Cuenca which purported itself to be the premier colonial city of Ecuador.


And it is nice and it is colonial. But to be honest after the richly cultural but laidback colonial city of Popayan, Colombia Cuenca reminded me more of a big bustling city. Which, indeed, it is; its the third largest city in Ecuador and a commercial hub. With that in mind it was less like a life size museum and more like an example of living evolving history. The city has a nice river and a flower laden center square but my favorite part of the city was probably the view from our hostel kitchen window. We looked down into the busy market below.

Look carefully
Is everyone staring at that
guy just trying to read the paper?

For those of you keeping score at home... you´ve figured Brothers MacAllen must have put in some long hours on buses as of late. In other words, I should have some processed thoughts about the questions I brought up in an earlier post. I got a lot of really great responses to my query, much of which inspired a lot more thought. Clearly there are some fiendishly clever folks out there reading our blog. From your ideas and mine I´ve got grist for several blog posts but one of the first things that struck me about each response was something that was lacking.

Even in a list of several important things no one even suggested that a meaning of life is to seek happiness.

Don´t get me wrong, I´m not saying we should all be depressed. To the contrary, I suspect that almost all of the people that wrote me these responses are generally happier than average. The important part I gathered is that seeking and being happy are two entirely different things. Indeed, they might even be opposed to eachother.
"You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. -Albert Camus "

Tyler and I got to talking about this and we tried to puzzle out what it would mean if one picked happiness as their sole ´destination.´ For me, I suspect I´d end up lounging on a beach, gorging on chocolate ice-cream and expensive booze. While I know each of those has made me (very!) happy if I followed only their pleasure in life I doubt thats where I´d remain. I believe if one chooses bliss as their ideal ´destination´ addiction and misery is where one actually arrives. The ineffable "happiness" is an internal measure, whereas a valid destination has to be external to oneself.

Instead, I´ve found that happiness actually comes as a side effect, if you will, of working towards another unrelated "destination." The happiest days of my life were not when I lounged and ate nothing but fudge all day (although, perhaps I need to try that again) but when I moved towards something outside of myself. This all might not sound profound, but it struck me pretty hard. Far too much of my life and energy is devoted towards "following my bliss" and in retrospect I´m really not thinking it got me any closer to it. So, my personal task is still evolving on this trip. I don´t need to just find a destination that feels good. I need to find one that IS good, and just trust the feeling will come later.


"The happiest people seem to be those who have no particular cause for being happy except that they are so. " William Ralph Inge

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