Feeling Balanced at the Equator
Twenty-two hours on a bus. TWENTY-TWO HOURS! I stood up to take my first steps in Ecuador and flailed around like a newborn deer. First step arriving in Quito: re-learn how to walk. Second step: clear the fog of the bus ride and kickstart my brain. Our decision to go from Salento, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador in one go might have been a mistake, but we thought we wanted to be in a larger city for Christmas. In hindsight, we could’ve spent Christmas anywhere and had a similar experience - Quito was a ghost town. But let’s backtrack a bit. We took a night bus, on December 23, to the border of Ecuador, from Colombia. Arriving at the border on the afternoon of the 24th, Christmas Eve. Dropped off at a bus terminal, ten minutes from the border, we took a collectivo (shared bus) to the border where we would go through our sixth border crossing.
The border had several Red Cross stations set up to provide assistance to Venezuelan refugees - a sobering reminder on Christmas Eve. Families with a few possessions: pillows, comforters, a small bag of things, and kids with their favorite toy. The Red Cross stations were set up with medical professionals providing vaccinations and basic healthcare services, stations with food and clean water, and volunteers handing out small Christmas presents to the kids (sticker/coloring books, crayons, and candies). A somber experience, but also a testament to the human spirit. These people are at the lowest point in their lives, but still full of jokes, laughter, and love. People dressed in some of their best clothing (as you would, if could only bring a few things to restart your life somewhere new). For me, this was unexpected but makes sense. If you could only bring a few things to start a new life, you would bring only the things that would provide you with an opportunity to succeed - professional clothing. My naive idea of a refugee, as I have never been in a position to put much thought into it, was of a person who had nothing. In many cases this is true, but not for Venezuelan refugees. These people, people from Venezuela, have had a standard of living that was likely equal to or better than that of many other Central and South American countries. They were not destitute people. They had many belongings, worked hard to collect assets, and are now faced with starting essentially from scratch in a new country. An unbelievably difficult concept for any of us to face, but would unquestionably seem insurmountable to those in the later years of their working lives.
My heart goes out to the Venezuelan people; they are living the cruel reality of the volatile nature of economics and government. It makes me think about how much we take for granted in Canada. We have the unbelievable fortune of abundant natural resources, and as a result, a solid healthcare and education system. Our socio-economic circumstances are the product of a stable Canadian government which incites foreign and national investor confidence, which is the backbone of our social services. The reason for our stable Canadian government: confederation - the unification of the provinces, and ultimately the Canadian people. It is the legal framework that ensures that we work as a single focused entity to build a greater Canada. Given that, in my lifetime Canada has been a stable place for investment, a global leader in human rights, and on the forefront of environmental issues, it is easy to take our circumstances for granted. At times it can be difficult to see the forest through the trees, but Canadians live in a utopia that most would give anything to be a part of. However, this is not how it’s always been, nor how it will always be. It is something that cannot be taken for granted! As all things are achieved, the Canadian people have achieved our high standard of living through compromise. Our economic success is a result of our responsible development of the assets of our country to prop up our society, not despite it. Cutting off our nose to spite our face, so to speak, could mean the destruction of everything the Canadian people stand for and our influence as a global citizen. We should be proud of who we are as a people. We are a nation built on the shoulders of an ethnically diverse people, we have a strong human rights and environmental focus, and we are firmly positioned to continue in this direction if we are not swayed by fringe special interest thinking - we must stay firmly entrenched in the rational. Ultimately we must realize, and come to terms with the fact that the Canada we love would not be a reality without the means provided by a confident investor environment, and the strong business environment that we have fostered in Canada. This is not the reality in much of the world and is something which has slipped from the fingers of Venezuela. A once thriving country with a booming energy industry has completely collapsed. The result: rampant inflation and the loss of the livelihood of over three million Venezuelan refugees. Let that sink in for a minute… 3 million displaced people. Witnessing a situation like this makes you greatly appreciate the circumstances that we live under, and the importance of maintaining that standard of living, which is only possible by ensuring that Canada remains a competitive environment for industry compete in an increasingly globalized world.
8:30 PM Christmas Eve and we finally arrived in Quito. We decided to splurge on a nice hotel room for the night; *fingers crossed* that Santa would find us. Waking up Christmas morning, we were elated to have slept a full nine hours in a quiet dark room, climate controlled, and on a comfortable bed.
If there is one thing that has changed about me, it is that I no longer require a dark, quiet room for sleep. Now I am happy if I have somewhere flat and bedsheets…noise no longer makes any difference to me. Sleeping in dorms and hostels means that you are going to be subject to continuous noise throughout the night. Eventually, you get used to it.
Christmas morning we wandered through the various parks in Quito where there were tons of people playing “Ecuavóley”, Ecuador's national sport. It is essentially volleyball but the net is higher. The courts were mostly dominated by older men (60+) who take this game very seriously. So seriously that I thought we were on the cusp of witnessing some full blown fist fights, over misplays. It made for some great people watching on our stroll…
Christmas isn’t nearly as big in South and Central America as it is in Canada, but New Years is a huge celebration. Something interesting that the Ecuadorians do for New Years is that they buy effigies which they will dress like family members, friends, bosses, etc and light on fire, or pack with explosives and blow up. They do it to wish each other good luck in the New Year. The Uber driver we took back from the Equator tourist trap was particularly excited about blowing up his effigies. We were discussing his plans (reminder: I can barely speak Spanish) and I mistakenly made him believe that I was interested in buying explosives for my own New Year's effigy… Luckily Rose caught on eventually, and we had to communicate that we, in fact, didn’t need explosives, and just wanted to go back to our hostel. The driver was disappointed, as he was very proud of his connections to get the illegal explosives for the New Year’s celebration.
I’ve got to say, if it wasn’t for Rose, there are several situations that I would have got myself into mistakenly. Almost nobody seems to understand my Spanish. Without her, my trip would be completely different.
What we did Christmas Day:
Enjoyed the public parks of Quito
Cleaned our running shoes - a futile attempt to deodorize them (I’m all but certain they have become biohazards waste and would require some kind of highly trained HAZMAT team to properly dispose of them)
Other things we did in Quito:
Shopped for New Years Effigy
Observed lots of Ecuavóley
Stayed in the Old Town and New Town
Went to the Equator (comically underwhelming - the line wasn't even on the actual Equator!)
Mountain tram and hike Pichincha
Quilotoa Loop (3 Days)
Shopped at the mall (same brands as Canada, but incredibly expensive)
Rest and Recovery (R&R)