After realising that I had the audacity to propose to my girlfriend on St. Patrick’s Day, a date I should not really forget in a hurry, it's been a fairly stressful few days. Something I can accurately pinpoint on incompetent immigration officials.
The first week of April, minus the tradition of April Fools, was touch-and-go as to whether I’d have to travel the length of the country and into Peru, as my girlfriend's visa ran out and it's not uncommon for power-hungry officials to satisfy their sadistic pleasure by rejecting people at random. Not wanting my girlfriend to travel alone and not see her for two weeks, I made sure I had all the necessary paperwork to leave the country, as it's compulsory to obtain government permission to do this. Such a task proved to be slightly more ludicrous than I was expecting.
I made my journey to the immigration office in Latacunga and politely stood in line until it was my turn. After explaining my position and requesting their approval for an unplanned road trip to the country of their bitter rivals, I was surprised when the attending officer insisted he was unable to allow this as I first needed military clearance. Apparently, all men under the age of 30 in Ecuador need such military permission due to the obligatory military service that is law here. I enquired why gringoes such as myself would also require this, especially a gringo with chicken legs and breasts so big that they don't have the ability to see their member when urinating, and who would be more of a hindrance than a help to any army. This was to no avail as I was sternly lectured that all men in Ecuador have to go through military service.
To make matters worse, I had to visit the same University that silently dumped me from their teaching staff to get the permission I needed. Of course, this trip proved a fruitless expedition. I'm not quite sure what I did there, but I’m certainly not flavour of the month! Luckily, not wanting to participate in any Ecuadorian-Columbian war that seems to be only months away, a little bit of persistence confirmed that the immigration official was talking rubbish. It wouldn't have mattered anyway as my girlfriend managed to get her visa after four days of trying. They certainly don't make it easy in Ecuador for volunteers to come and help people for free.
Not having to venture to foreign lands allowed the religious Good Friday shenanigans to be enjoyed in the capital Quito, where I was able to watch numerous disturbing sights at first hand. The main highlight of the day's celebrations was a march by local monks through the streets of the old town, a re-enactment of that faithful day all those years ago when a certain Jesus Christ did exactly the same thing and went down in the history books. I'm not quite sure if these monks were hoping for similar popularity, but there were certainly enough spectacles on display to stick in my mind for a long, long time.
As to be expected, the monks came dressed in their Sunday best, costumes of purple robes and huge pointed hats, mostly of the same colour. From this explanation you might think they were dressed for a birthday party, but as the robes also covered their faces, with little slits for the eyes, they looked more like Quito's branch of the KKK out and about to cause a little mayhem than fine people of religion.
If this wasn't a weird enough sight, other monks complimented their outfits by walking bare-footed and chaining their legs together. Other members of the procession, including mere children went one step further by dressing up as Jesus himself and not only carried huge mock crucifixes, but also wore crowns of thorns, hit themselves over the back with whips and stinging nettles and tied barbed wire around their naked torsos, blood trickling on to the hard, paved street.
While some monks might have been taking the procession rather seriously, other members of the purple KKK took a more liberal stance to the occasion. Instead of carrying bibles and babbling verses to the fixated crowds, they decided to walk with their portable radios, The Beatles blaring out for all to hear. It was a strange, strange experience seeing all this on offer, especially the crowd’s reaction of frantically crying, clapping and cheering as a statue of Jesus encased in a glass tomb and carrying his crucifix came past. I was a little disappointed that my enjoyment was cut short by a monstrous storm that produced huge bolts of lightning overhead and a torrential hail downpour. Maybe this was a sign that a certain someone wasn't best pleased with the efforts that were being made here?
The following day an excursion to the nearby tourist attraction of 'Mitad Del Mundo' or 'Middle of the World' (Mon-Thu 9am-6pm, Fri-Sun 9pm-7pm, Tel: 02-2394806, $2), was undertaken, that marked the spot of the equator. I'm not the biggest fan of crowded tourist attractions and the fact that a huge monument built to mark the equator is almost 250 metres off the correct spot and is surrounded by a ridiculous number of tourist shops and overpriced restaurants just added to my annoyance. Luckily, next door was a small museum by the name of Museo Inti-Ñan (930am-530pm daily, Tel: 02-02395122, $3), almost hidden by the glaring tourist trap monstrosity next door, that marks the real equator, and where you get the chance to participate in a variety of interestingly-themed equator experiments including water falling down a plug hole, strength and balance tests (where my fellow guests laughed at my inability to perform both) and attempting to balance an egg on the end of a nail. It was freaky how much of a difference there was from performing such experiments on the equator and standing one metre either side. I'm sure there had to be some tricks involved.
That night,to celebrate the joys that Easter brings to the world,I decided to partake in a traditional English night out. Now, I normally frown upon people who go to some exotic far-flung location and spend their time drinking in mock pubs of their home land, but I decided after being here for 8 months already, I have the right to behave in such an inappropriate manner. So after enjoying several beers and a few games of darts and pool in a traditional English pub called The Turtles Head (La Niña 626 and Juan Leon Mera, Mon-Sat 5pm-2am, Sun Noon-2am, Tel: 02-2565544), I ended the night red-eyed, eating curry at The Great Indian Restaurant (Jose Calama E4-54 and Avenida Amazonas, Noon-1am daily, Tel: 02-2238-269), and ranting to random people who would listen about how much I love Bollywood movies. I certainly need a little more drinking practice before returning to home soil.
The next couple of weeks need to be a quiet affair. After evaluating my finances, I have come to the realisation that it may prove difficult to continue spending like I am and buy the slightly more expensive engagement ring I have already promised to my girlfriend—sorry, 'fiancée'—and in such situations you have to make priorities! This may be a blessing in disguise as I need a braek from long-distance bus rides. Not only have I clawed an old lady's face after accidentally falling in her lap, but I also had the pleasure of sitting next to a man who I swear made kissing sounds to me every time my back was turned. I suppose it's hard for some people to resist the bleach blonde eyebrows that I have the luxury of possessing!