Giving Back While Shrunken Heads Abound!
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.