After seeing Tungurahua volcano continuously erupting virtually since arriving, imagine my delight upon hearing that Cotopaxi volcano, on whose slopes I reside, could soon be joining in on lava-spraying of the highest order. Recent days have seen the glacier temperature around the volcano's cone rise from just 4ºC to almost 50ºC, steam now gushing from the exposed rock.
I have mentioned previously that my house is deemed in the 'safe zone', but after further analysis of this bold statement, misleading is the only conclusion reached. My house is indeed safe from any lava flow, flowing at approximately 100km/h, but the pyroclastic flow, a toxic cloud of intense heat and ash, traveling at a more hefty speed of 1000km/h, something that would melt you on the spot, is a completely different story!
With another week's vacation from the joys of teaching about to start, taking in Latin culture has been kept to a minimum. The only real journey of note was a day trip to the colonial old town of Quito, exploring the Christianity delights of churches and giant virgins. A full day’s religious activity isn't for everyone, including me, but I was actually pleasantly surprised.
Viewing churches can be demanding business and after briefly entering only two of them, Iglesia y Convento San Francisco (Calle Cuenca and Calle Simon Bolivar) and La Compañia (Calle Garcia Moreno and Calle Sucre), the latter of which is decorated solely in gold, it was time to take a well-earned break. To redeem energy levels, a taxi ride was taken to a nearby hill, El Panecillo where I was able to bask in the glorious weather, and sit between the legs of a virgin while gaining decent views over the well-developed pastel shaded city. To save money I had considered walking here, but due to frequent violent muggings and rapes, I decided I’m not quite mature enough to be involved in such romantic situations. This wasn't just any old virgin, it happened to be the monstrous 'Virgin of Quito', who stands guard over the city, protecting from any dangers that might develop. With numerous volcanoes cornering Quito from every side, I’m not quite sure what an inexperienced virgin can have to offer, but she seems to satisfy the residents’ fears.
Just before dusk I was able to complete my church hat-trick, visiting one of the largest and most formidable religious icons in all of Ecuador, Basilica del Voto Nacional, perched on a small hill on Calle Venezuela (daily 9am-5pm, $2). Upon entering, I somehow managed to miss all signs, in English and Spanish, regarding the prohibition of photography, which I believe is the reason after I'd started flashing away from the second floor balcony, the priest had the audacity to stop his service and, speaking through his microphone, politely asked me to refrain from such behaviour. With close to a thousand pairs of eyes from his congregation now staring directly at me, I wasn't really in any position to argue. To make the experience slightly more embarrassing, I also failed in climbing to the church's summit, the two 115m towers, which make it the tallest church in all of Ecuador, due to a small condition known as acrophobia, probably my only slant from perfection.
With little traveling taking place, it meant all my efforts could focus on teaching, and I thought it was high time that the children of Ecuador had the chance to learn the ancient English art of cricket. Due to the lack of authentic cricket equipment here in Ecuador, it meant having to make do with a wooden toy block, a yellow bouncy rubber ball and an old rickety chair to carry out my demonstration with, very similar to a favourite university game of mine, 'hammer cricket', another variety of that quintessential summer sport.
Sadly, my enthusiasm failed to wash over onto my students, no matter how energetically I tried. With one last giant effort, I encouraged one pupil to throw the ball towards the chair wicket. With the grace of Peter Such, I strolled down the crease and connected 'willow' on 'leather' with such ferocity that there is no doubt in my mind it would have sailed straight down the ground, over a despairing long mid on and into the adoring crowd.
Hitting the same shot in a school assembly hall doesn't quite have the same pleasure, especially upon watching the yellow piece of rubber bounce off the ceiling and smash straight into a vase, which happily shattered onto the floor, dispersing its contents of water and roses everywhere. After several teachers came rushing to see what all the commotion and noise was about I realised my innings were well and truly over. Admitting defeat, I resorted to something a little less masculine: the making of sparkling necklaces, which the children found much more appealing and entertaining. The creative future of Ecuador seems well assured!
I suppose as punishment for causing such damage and showing a total lack of respect for school equipment, I was sent to the day nursery for some real graft. I would like to say the children were happy to see me, but with my strict discipline record they seemed to go into some sort of disillusioned meltdown, walking around in an hypnotic state muttering the words 'why, why, why' over and over again, not that disimilar to the shell-shocked actions of Normandy Beach war heroes, carrying their own severed limbs while in a state of denial and shock. Luckily, this frosty reception subsided pretty quickly and a fun week was had by one and all. There is one question I would like the answer to in regard to entertaining young children. Where do you draw the line on what passes as legitimate entertainment? Is letting a wild sheep lick your face off, solely in the name of humour and fun overstepping the mark?
During my time here in Ecuador, I have come to realise day nurseries leave a lot to be desired when compared to their Western counterparts. A few basic lessons and education certainly need to be learnt. Examples include talking to deaf children with your back turned and then getting angry when he doesn't respond. Making women nine months pregnant continue to work also seems to be a problem. I suppose money and survival is more important?
On this beautiful image I will bid you all a farewell until I get back from my travels to the south of Ecuador to Vilcabamba, Loja, and Cuenca. They say you haven't visited Ecuador until you've seen Loja, so I’m hoping it will live up to its high billing. Forget the scenery though; my main goal is to taste the local delicacies of cat and dog meat.