Our first day on tour with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) began with cherubic voices and inspired dancing at the Sinamune school for disabled children and included a moving encounter with an Ecuadorean woman whose hard life experiences have led to her becoming a legal sex worker on the streets of Quito.
OAT proved itself to be not your abuelo’s tour company in the programming of our day in Quito. When a chocolate artisan was late for our scheduled visit to her gallery, our tour leaders improvised with a ride on a big, blue city bus, complete with a charismatic beggar who handed out cards and exhorted us in Spanish to give him money as he strode the aisle of the vehicle.
Our local guide, Patricio, received training to become a full shaman in the Amazon. Now, as a tour guide, he cast spells of discovery and serendipity that made the oldest capital in South America come alive. He carried a takeout lunch for an hour, which he offered to Elaina, the sex worker, along with grapes he’d purchased from a street vender. OAT also pays her cash for each interview she gives to groups of tourists. Patricio made it clear that if any of us felt uncomfortable with the unusual encounter, we could wait for the group in our bus. No one did.
Elaina supports three children as a single mother and lives in a different city to hide her secret from them. Legalization of prostitution has eliminated the scourge of pimps and corrupt police, but the economics of the work are grim, not to mention the work itself. She was a pretty woman, approaching 30. I asked what sort of job she would like to have if she could abandon what she’s doing. As translated by Patricio, she said she would like to own a dress shop or a restaurant.
Our first stop this morning was at a school for disabled and blind children, founded more than 20 years ago by a man who is still playing the trumpet in the Sinamune orchestra. The students dressed up in colorful costumes, sang, and invited the visiting OAT tourists to join in their joyful dances. OAT’s Grand Circle Foundation supports the school and has donated more than $60 million to similar local organizations over years of guiding tourists throughout the world.
…We just returned from the opening supper at a nearby restaurant, and I’m going to have to condense a very full day’s worth of impressions into a few words in order to be up very early tomorrow morning for a flight to the headwaters of the Amazon. We will stay at the Yarina Lodge in Coca–No Internet, no cell phone coverage, and electricity for just four hours each evening. It sounds like heaven, to tell you the truth!
Our fellow travelers are a mixed and jolly lot. There are 13 of us. At our opening meeting one guy, a lawyer, followed up on Deb’s saying she can’t wait to swim with the animals in the Galapagos with a perfectly delivered anecdote.
“I saw a cartoon in The New Yorker once,” Phil said. “One dolphin is talking to another dolphin and says ‘What I’ve always wanted to do is swim with old Americans.'”
We have heard a lot about Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, in the past two days, starting with our first driver, Wilson. Today it was Patricio’s turn to sing the praises of the economist-turned-politician. “He saved the economy of this country,” Patricio told us on the bus. Unemployment was at 26 percent when Correa took office in 2007. Now it is 3.9 percent.
Everyone we’ve heard talk about the past 12 years cites “The Constitution” in remarkable detail. Adopted in 2008, this document is actually the 20th Constitution of Ecuador. It passed by more than 80 percent of the vote in a referendum. A ticklish issue now arises from the Constitution, because it limits Correa to two terms and he apparently is not ready to leave off putting his reforms into place. Even supporters express nervousness about an amendment that would enable the president to run again, because it then becomes difficult to imagine him ever leaving office.
I would like to learn more about President Correa. I did not have a chance to visit the U.S. Embassy yesterday, but maybe there will be an opportunity to do so after the Amazon.
In the meantime, I hereby sign off from this blog, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, email, text messages, and phone calls until Sunday night when we will return here to the Hotel Reina Isabel in Quito.
See you on the other side!