KILLER CROWS IN ROME, LUCKY SHIRTS IN QUITO, When I was filming Raw Travel Season 1 in Quito, Ecuador, a raptor or some enormous avian creature excreted on me in mid-shoot. Cameras weren’t rolling, and we didn’t have the presence of mind to film a “When Travel Goes Wrong” segment at that point, sadly. I thought someone had thrown something on me, but alas, it was just a big old bird with digestion problems. In Latin America, it’s supposed to be a sign of good luck. Hmm, maybe, but the color was obscene (not the typical white), the amount voluminous, the smell was rank, and the look even worse.
I went to a public bathroom, washed off the shirt as best I could, and proceeded to film the rest of the day’s shoot shirtless, in a zipped up hoodie (Quito is high altitude, it’s chilly even during the day), until I could finally replace with a shirt bought off the street. Just in case the “luck” thing is true, I still have the original shirt that was splat upon to this day. I love that shirt and can’t find myself willing to part with it. Not sure of the replacement, probably not since it was likely something cheap and, most importantly, a bird hadn’t shat it upon.
We began our 2nd day of shooting by visiting a small school in one of the poor barrios on the outskirts of Quito. The Fundacion Honor de la Vida (Foundation for the Honor of Life) School’s mission is to work with poor children from even more difficult backgrounds (an addicted parent, an abusive situation, etc.). The school is solely supported through private grants and donations and serves a few hundred poor and special needs children.
Because school supplies are always in short supply, we brought along pencils, sharpeners and erasers, as well as Punk Outlaw and Afro Latino stickers which were a big hit. I spent about 30 minutes teaching them some basic English words and to my surprise, a couple of them actually knew some of the words already. To my further surprise, I really enjoyed teaching these kids. Though I come from a family of teachers, I’ve never considered the profession seriously myself (I hear you need something called “patience”), nonetheless we made it through 20 or so basic English words like “hello” “goodbye” mother, “Father” etc and the kids really seemed to comprehend.
Afterwards the kids were all over us, hugging us and hanging on to us as they asked us questions all at the same time, like how to translate their names into English, or the meaning of certain English words along with some pretty personal questions like our age, family status, etc. This was by far my most rewarding time in the trip so far.
Next, Bernardo, the owner of the Folklore Hotel where we were staying, picked us up and took us on a tour of Mitad del Mundo (or Middle of the World). Bernardo acted as our Driver/PR guide/Fixer and Guide and handily got our admission to almost all the area attractions waived. Gracias to Bernardo and the fine Folklore Hotel, a good budget accommodation in a great location in Quito that is a step above a hostel but not like staying at some multi national chain (we were not compensated in any way for that endorsement).
The very touristy Mitad Del Mundo is the one that you see in all the brochures and tour books. However, it is not the actual center of the world. Thanks to GPS technology, we now know the French, who first established this as the center of the world with a latitude of 0 x 0 degrees in the 1700s were off by a few meters. Still pretty impressive given their instrumentation back in the day and the site is still very much worth visiting, especially if you happen to hit it on the weekend when there is folkloric dancing and traditional musical entertainment.
But to me the most impressive was the much smaller but wildly popular museum just down the road, the Museum Intinan. Our guide, Javier, was a charming, English speaking young cat who also happened to play drums in a punk band so we hit it off immediately. Javier showed us how the water drains differently just a few feet each side of the equator. If I remember correctly, when to the north it drains clockwise, to the south counter clockwise and directly over it flows straight down. A truly a fascinating demonstration.
The museum also had an impressive collection of fake and actual shrunken heads that were fascinating. The practice of shrinking the heads of noteworthy enemies when they were killed and important members of the tribe after they died was outlawed just over 60 years ago in Ecuador.
After the museum we hit up some pre-Inca ruins which were close by and afforded an incredible view of the valley below. I always get chills when I visit Indigenous ruins (even when it’s not windy and cold). I could just imagine the local indigenous tribe defending themselves against rival tribes who were foolish or brave enough to try and climb the hill to attack.
We made it to the La Virgen del Panecillo on Panecillo Hill just in time for sunset and to grab some pretty incredible pics and video of the towering statue, which can be spotted on the hill over the old city from miles around.
For dinner, we grabbed some local street food at one of the nearby parks, which judging by the crowd is a very popular spot for locals. I can understand why. The food was incredible. I tried Menudo (the soup, not the Puerto Rican boy band), Tripe (intestines) and a couple of other items full of mystery meats. My hat is off to anyone that can make intestines taste good enough for me to eat.
Later that night I had an interview with a local punk band El Junta at Plaza Foch. The guys were super cool and invited me to a punk show but I was exhausted and we had a big day trip planned to Otavalo the next day so I had to pass.
Working with the poor school children in Quito was a great start to a great day. I have to admit, things in Quito seems to be looking up, but I’m looking forward to getting out of the big city to some of the more traditional small pueblos of Ecuador.
Ecuador got off to a somewhat rocky and inauspicious start when I was surrounded by 6 young hoods and accosted for my camera just hours after having arrived in Quito. The location was Plaza Foch which is packed with tourist and police, but evidently is one of the more dangerous areas you can wander around at night by yourself with a camera around your neck.
By yelling, screaming and simply refusing to give over my camera without a fight or a big scene, I was able to avoid anything more serious than a ripped jacket. I was also able to notify the police when I later spotted some of the main culprits walking around as if nothing happened just a few blocks away.
Unfortunately, because they did not actually steal anything, I’m afraid the guys were most likely released from custody that very same night to continue their reign of bullying on unsuspecting travelers. Nonetheless I recognized my luck at having my Cannon still available for our first day of shooting the very next day and while I had an exciting story to tell I’ll be the first to admit I was a bit foolish in having my camera out at night in the first place.
But I must say I will probably do so again, when circumstances are similar and I want to get a good shot. I firmly believe you can’t spend your whole life with your camera packed safely away in your hotel or hidden away because someone might actually be willing to rob you for it.
At some point you have to live your life and enjoy your trip, but common sense must tell you have to weigh the risk vs. the reward and be prepared to lose your camera or worse. If you don’t risk anything you may as well stay at home and never go anywhere or do anything. But if your reading this and planning a trip to Quito, be very vigilant, especially at night around Plaza Foch and other areas.
We received what we thought to be a 2nd bad omen when early into our first day of shooting in the historic old city of Quito (at 52 blocks the largest preserved old city in South America), a bird, or a flock of birds more likely, did their business all over me, my shirt, my producers shirt and our camera bag. Normally I’d laugh this off but this stuff was the ugliest, foulest smelling bit of feces I’ve ever come in contact with (and I grew up on a farm). I didn’t have another shirt with me so we all had to wash in a nearby public restroom and I had to change into my previously ripped, hooded jacket and we carried on shooting, continuity be damned.
My producer, Renzo, is Colombian and he said that in Latin America a bird plopping crap on you was considered a sign of good things to come. I certainly did hope so because the last 24 hours had been tough.
Indeed, things did quickly get better. Our shoot in the rest of the Old City was wonderful as we shot such beautiful historic sites as Plaza Independencia, La Plaza Grande, The Government Palace Building and more. I took advantage of the situation and bought a hand woven replacement shirt at one of the stalls where they featured clothing made in nearby Otavalo, a city famous for its textiles, market and indigenous culture . We also met a lovely couple who were weavers and demonstrated how to hand weaving process works for our cameras.
Later we were joined by Cheo, a local, young communications student from the coastal city of Esmeraldas who had volunteered to help us out. We made our way to the Teleferiquo or the cable car which took us up for an incredible if chilly view of Quito high above one of the area mountains.
We made it to the back down to the old city and the lovely La Calle Ronda, an area of cobblestone streets, cafes and restaurants in time for dusk and we got some great shots off there before dark and then heading over to the more modern part of the city to shoot at the famous rock bar, “The Garage”. We were there to shoot my buddies from the local punk band DMTR (Demeter) who agreed to put on a special performance just four our cameras.
All in all it was a solid 1st day of shooting and given the way things had begun I had a feeling our luck was changing. I mean the camera wasn’t stolen, I ended up washing my shirt and getting a cool hand made replacement in the process. Maybe the old Latin American superstition about a bird doing its business on you was true after all? Only time would tell but so far, so good… I guess!??