They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Texts written by my mate...

Texts written by my mate

From broad spread disillusion to an inventory of failures. But, what will be next?
A time for trials, a time for achievements

By Sara Plaza

It has always been easier for us –though never too simple– to name what than to explain how. Perhaps our blind confidence in what we see neither allows us to observe under what light each thing shines, nor the shadows cast by a reality, which stays as it stays, but can –and should– stop being as it is [1]. Today we know that things are not going very well, and we can even enumerate every single failure of an engine that imperfect, unjust and unusable as it is, still turns to be useful. It is useful for those who take advantage of how "badly" it works increasing the realms of their power. It is useful because its dreadful arrangement of gears only permits some of its pieces to be in good conditions, destroying –not out of fear, I guess– those which do not suit it at all. And it is useful where no other machinery has resulted in a better distribution of resources and wealth.

No matter how shameful and humiliating the former statements seem to the ones who believe and defend the idea that another world is possible; we, in a certain way, continue feeling sorry about them without putting a stop to such madness. We continue denouncing them in the streets and in the big squares of many cities, in classrooms and auditoriums, in silence and shouting them out, stood up and sat down, but when are we going to start moving ourselves in order to put an end to so much misery? The sort of misery that each of us keeps inside him or her, the same misery that marks ourselves and stains every corner of this planet. Many books have been written, many laws enforced, many treaties signed, many agreements sealed, many judgments passed, and many people have been declared guilty and subsequently condemned. All of this should have taught us something, however, where is our learning? Many things have changed, some of them have even improved, but what happens with the many things that day after day get worse? Those are many more and we do not seem to find the proposals that should deal with those problems. I wonder if we have even proposed to solve them some day.

A few days ago I was reading a book published by UNICEF, OMS and UNESCO several years ago, a book called "FACTS FOR LIFE. A communication challenge." A book that neither defends it nor challenges "every kind of communicators" and, for sure, it is not addressed to "all those who can help in making this information belong to the basic health care knowledge heritage of all the families." At least it made it clear that the book "is both for women and for men." I write this because the authors never went to the places where that life does not have any value, does not count for anybody, where that life is killed by leaving to die. Or, if they were there, never drew back the smoke curtains which permitted them to see what can be done but did not allow them to discover what must be accomplished first. They wrote a book for "politicians, educators, religious leaders, health professionals, company managers, trade unions, volunteers associations and mass media", the ones in charge of transmitting its contents to those who were dying because they ignored them.

Among its town criers they forgot to name librarians, for example. Perhaps they did not considered libraries as places for the sort of change that it is not only necessary but also possible for our society to make. They also forgot about the fact that in that society –the one that will have 8.000 millions of people by the year 2025– almost 2.000 million people "will suffer from severe water shortage" [2], and the same number "do not have electricity yet", and, as the same sources state: "even if we multiply by 100 the present development rate, it would be necessary at least 400 years for those people to get it."

When in that book it is written that "many mothers do not feel confident about suckling their babies and need stimulus and practical support on the part of the baby's father, the health agents, the family and friends, the groups of women, the mass media, the trade unions and the employers' associations.", did the authors think at any time that those women might not be living with the father of their baby because they were raped on many occasions? Did they think that the health agents usually are situated very far from where those women live? Did they think that their family and friends turned their backs to them? Did they think that the mass media are in the hands of economic and financial power? Did they think that the trade unions, in many places, forgot where they come from and serve only to the very same power? Did they think that the employers' associations would never offer a contract to those women, precisely because they are women? No, they never thought about it. Mothers who do not feel confident about their skills at suckling their babies? Yes, that is exactly what their mates, the health agents, their families and friends, the mass media, the trade unions and the employers' associations think of them, and what those women think does not matter, nobody has asked them their opinion, nobody want to know it.

In Spanish it is said that the real blind is the person who does not want to see, as the true deaf is the one who refuses to hear. I did also read one time that "Every poet is a heir to the fairy–tale hero who can hear the grass grow" [3]. I imagine that if we do not want to remain blind, nor deaf, some day we will have to dare to see and hear, and maybe some other day we will turn to be poets as well. Nevertheless, with imagination alone we will not manage to get anything. What about being aware of what we need to build our own path rather than following the steps of the fairy–tales heroes? What about listening to those who have historically been kept in silence in addition to reading those ten points for life that organizations such as UNICEF, OMS and UNESCO have published? They are neither dumb, nor quiet. Their poverty, their misery, their sickness, their hunger and their thirst are a shout, a cry, a scream, a yell, a call. Neither our wealth, nor our education or our health systems have made us better, since we have permitted ––and allowed it day after day– that the majority continue being much worse than us.

I want to say once more that we already know what does not work, why it is not working and, though many have been the teachings and not so much the learning, we also know how we should start to put it right. Until now we did not have tried it enough, and when we did so, we did it badly. Miracles do not exist, but miraculously men and women are still on their feet, no matter how many times they have run into troubles. Why are we so determined to break our nose when it is what allows us to smell corruption? The rotten smelling of those who have the power stinks. When will we be aware of that? If we put our hands in their dirty businesses we will end being so miserly. From being accomplices we will become the authentic guilty party. Is it what we really want?

Fernando Savater tried to explain to his son Amador that he was in charge of providing a good life for himself [4]. The Spanish philosopher was intending to make us understand that there is a sort of selfishness that suits us perfectly, does us good, and humanizes us. If we have got disillusioned enough, and we have understood the need for writing an inventory of the failures of the world that we are building together, why do not do now what is the most convenient for us. It does not have to do with anybody else but ourselves, it is our choice, our responsibility. There was a time for trying it, but now the time for achieving some of our goals has come. We should place ourselves in the reality that surrounds us, the one before our door and the one behind it, the one in the journals pages and the one in the stanzas of the poems, mine, yours, our reality. They are many, however, they are not so different and they are not placed so far away one from each other. We should occupy the position that let us protect our life and be in favor of it. We should take part in the existing organizations or create alternative ones. We should give our opinion. By doing so, sometimes we will smile and on other occasions we will cry. Do not allow anybody to tell us what we have to do when we already know –or should have known– what is good for us. We have to defend the ways and the manners which allow us to accomplish it, and we have to achieve it. For another world is possible and the possibility is in our hands.

[1] Paulo Freire. Brazilian pedagogue. Expert in popular education. Author, among others, of the books La educación como práctica de la libertad and Pedagogía del oprimido.
[2] Le Monde Diplomatique. El Atlas II. Buenos Aires: Le Monde Diplomatique, 2006.
[3] Gaston Bachelard.
[4] Fernando Savater, in "Ética para Amador".


Friday, January 26, 2007

Travel diary (23-28 out of 28): Quito, Lima, La Paz, La Quiaca, Córdoba...

Travel diary (23–28 out of 28): Quito, Lima, La Paz, La Quiaca, Córdoba

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated and commented by Sara Plaza

[Diary of the journey by land across the ancient Inka Empire, from LIS Meeting to LIS Meeting, through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and NW Argentina, from November 5th to December 1st, 2006]

Sunday, 26th of November found us at dawn in some place of southern Ecuador, without having slept at all thanks to the dreadful service offered by the bus company "Rutas de América", which miraculously made extraordinary efforts to show worse conditions than our famous and detested enough "Ormeño".

After crossing the Babahoya River and fields and more fields with banana plantations, whose deep green was interrupted here and there by the bright whiteness of some herons, we arrived in Puerto Inca, a typical sylvan population where stopped many lorry drivers carrying bananas and the very few travelers who crossed this region northwards or towards the Peruvian border. The dirtiness of that place might have been the perfect ingredient for a novel about "underdevelopment". However, the settlement has certain charm and character: those many cooks placed outside, the fruit stalls were we haggled the prices with a very young salesgirl who was not eight years old, the long distant travelers and the people commuting from home to their working place to another

More banana plantations followed; huge irrigation channels and narrow sandy paths that got lost in the thick emerald green; the classical silhouette of flocks of "cebúes" (bovid that resists very hot and humid weather better than cows); settlements with spear houses built over wooden columns to avoid the turbulent waters of the countless rivers running below... Sara wrote down in her diary...

"Hills covered with clouds, very high trees, many rivers, properties, fruit markets, lots of people eating in the streets, whole families sat on the back part of small old lorries swallowing dust and smoke, a great amount of cloths hung on the shore of small rivers and irrigation channels..."

We crossed the Ecuadorian-Peruvian border –mentioned in previous posts as of the most problematic– between Huaquillas and Aguas Verdes the very same day presidential election in Ecuador was being celebrated. Once in Peru things were completely different: we suffered a couple of retentions on behalf of the police and were literally locked up behind bars while our luggage and the bus were carefully revised. At midday, behind the dirty glass of the bus windows we could see miles and miles of rice paddies, and later the sea again, and the desert shortly after, the same sea and the same desert we had discovered a week before and featured the entire Peruvian coastal line. It was late in the afternoon when we arrived at the beach and stopped for having lunch in Máncora, the well known tourist center in the north of Peru. From that point onwards there would be only desert in front of us and, from time to time, the view of the coast and the outlines shapes of "rabiahorcados" in the air.

It was very late at night when one of the pistons of the engine was broken near Trujillo. Few hours later, after a sort of rebellion attempt on the part of the passengers, the drivers decided to repair it and we finally could continue our journey to Lima.

On Monday, 27th of November, dawn found us in the central coast of Peru. We were crossing desert and more desert while we stood, in freezing conditions, a stinking bus and a pestilential toilet without water, the unbearable sound level of the films, and the dictatorial manners on the part of the drivers. We stopped to have breakfast 16 hours after Máncora, in a hidden petrol station placed in the middle of nowhere. The best qualifier for the food might be "filthy", but we were really hungry.

At midday we arrived, finally, in Lima. The city did not show us many more surprises with the exception of the governor election result, which, at least in the capital, had been favorable to the reelection of Castañeda. We found a room in the same hotel we had been the previous time and, after having a shower and put on clean clothes we went out to look for something to eat. The sky was dark and the streets were grey but our dishes on the restaurant table looked as tasteful as to illuminate our faces. We decided to taste Peruvian beer and try "cuy" (though it must be written "quy", which is the Quichua name for a Guinea pig, a type of rodent similar to the hamster but bigger that is breed for its meat) From pre-Hispanic times, this little animal is eaten roasted or grilled and you can find it in most Andean inns and restaurants menus from Otavalo to the north of Chile.

After such a traditional meal, we resigned ourselves to buy in "Ormeño" the following bus tickets for La Paz. We would be leaving the day after in the morning and the journey would take us 27 more hours which we thought that would not be so horrible according to the ticket price. We took advantage of the evening to have some rest and we had dinner with some friends, with whom we shared our last hours in Lima chatting and laughing in a "chifa" (popular name of Chinese restaurants in the Andean region).

On Tuesday, 28 of November, we set off for La Paz early in the morning. Still we passed more deserts going southwards. Again, before our eyes, poverty marched on: impoverished populations, mountainous settlements with the sea at the back and the houses covered in dust and sand covering everything... On the one side we crossed walls and walls painted with the names of the political candidates, on the other we could gaze some private beaches and some public ones, adorned here and there with the silhouette of few rich houses and many poor ones.

The oasis that men and women had created in the valleys astonished us once more. There were fields sown with carrots, cotton, potatoes, corn and even vineyards in the middle of that immense desolation. We passed Ica and crossed again the grounds where the archaeological Nazca lines are drawn. Outside there were houses made of adobe, street markets, "mototaxis", small carts with fruit, traveling sellers... Sara wrote down in her diary that churches there had the very same color as the sand, the very same color that had everything actually. Behind the glasses of the bus all was covered with dust, completely covered in dark grey and dull brown. Desert would be with us for a long time, sand, stones, curtains of dust would accompany us the following hours. Near Palpa Sara described the landscape behind our window:

"What a pretty thing the serpentine that made us bending and twisting among sandy mountains to, after the last curve, found ourselves in the middle of a fertile valley, with fields of corn, cotton, reed, and the extraordinary diversity of trees, and small houses made of adobe looking at the extremely thin trickle of water still flowing down the wide riverbed!"

We had lunch on the bus, and the service happily surprised us due to its good quality.

It was almost sunset when we started passing fields of olive trees next to the sea. On both sides of the road we could read the advisory message "sandy area". The road was only an unstable fine line over a field of dunes that were moving constantly as they were nomads and they wanted to occupy again the space that the road had stolen them. We crossed the small village named Tanaka, and from Chala, we turned west towards Arequipa. At dinner time we stopped somewhere under a starry sky that invited us to lay down face up on the sandy quilt of the desert.

On Wednesday, 29 of November, we got up in the heart of the highlands, lands covered with short pastures and "ichos" that the cold wind bended and did not allow to grow higher. That region was the Collao land, a large area of high flat land that separated the different Andean ranges, and where Titicaca Lake appeared as the great puddle formed by the tears of the sleepy gods and goddesses that one day inhabited inside the mountains that surrounded its crystal waters. It is the highest navigable lake in the world. The name of this inner sea, actually written Titiqaqa, means "feline stone" in Quechua. The populated areas of this region were small groups of huts made of adobe and with roofs covered with reed in the traditional Andean style (or with much more modern calamine slates). Around the small houses animals were grazing and the small cultivated fields spread. Further on the communal fields extended over the horizon and were sown with the help of the entire community. The "pirqas" (short stone walls without mortar) divided slopes and dales: from our position they looked like irregular seams in a sort of canvas made of patches.

Early in the morning we arrived in Puno. At last we could see Titicaca Lake from its very shore. It is one of the main "Mama Qucha" (mother-lake) of the whole Andean range.

The houses came down the slopes, the mountains where the frame where the violet and grey tints of the water were immersed. On the shores a couple of "caballitos" (little horses) were resting. They are the traditional Aymara rafts made of pieces of a reed called "totora" tied together and used as boat. There was a lot of "totora" on the shores and peasants cut it and spread it on the ground to make it dry. We could also see the circular nets extended over the lake: people who live near Titicaca live on agriculture, "totora" handicrafts and fishing.

One hour later we left Puno and crossed Juli, a city that forced its way through the wrinkled coastal land. There the first printing house of the region was established in the early XVII century, and it was there where the priest Ludovico Bertonio published his famous "Aymara Language Art and Vocabulary". This was the first piece of writing about the "Jaqe Aru" (human language, original name of Aymara language), a work that continues being a source of valuable information for linguistics and anthropologists.

That part of the region was completely "Aymara". Women were dressed with two or three bright skirts, one over the other; they carried colorful bundles on their back and wore bowler hats over their heads with strips and pompoms that, in the old times, indicated whether they were married or not. Their long plaits were tied with tassels of wool and the cloths over their shoulders were tied with silver "tupus" or simple pins. All of them wore an apron around and their eyes were filled with curiosity...

In Juli was market day. Animals, cereals, grain, fruit, meat, cheese, bread, etc, would be exchanged along that morning in the outside market. People guided their herds of llamas and vicuñas, their small flocks of sheep and their droves of pigs that sometimes had to be carried under their arms. The market was placed on the outskirts of the city and was a meeting point for inhabitants that lived far off and during that day went down to the city and traded their products to obtain what they did not produce. It was midday when we arrived at the Peruvian-Bolivian border in Desaguadero. It was an authentic chaos as the rest of the borders we had crossed on this journey. Finally we came in Bolivia and got another stamp in our passports. Desaguadero was a profusion of colors, of dirtiness mixed with smiles, of outside stalls and little shops, of quiet smugglers and expectant policemen...

From there onwards we only found small herds and flocks cared by girls and more and more houses made of adobe: a lot of poverty wherever we turned our heads to see. The city of El Alto (a slum of La Paz situated in the highland that, because of its impressive growth, had become an immense urban area itself) announced the Choqueyapu River gorge: a deep narrow valley with steep sides where is situated the capital of Bolivia, with its houses, streets and squares hanging on those slopes. The view from El Alto is unusual and surprising, absolutely startling: thousands and thousands of unfinished houses exhibiting their red bricks, covering each square inch of land.

Once in the Bus Station, the first thing we did was to buy the tickets to go to Villazón with the company "Inti Illimani". We felt too soon the "suruqchi" ("soroche", mountain sickness): our head burst, our ears rang, and our heart beat as we were running a race.

We decided to spend our free time walking in the streets of La Paz, city that Sara did not know yet. From the centric San Francisco Church we went up Sagárnaga St., stopping here and there to have a look, play musical instruments and carefully touch the wonderful handmade textiles exhibited on the walls. We walked along Linares St., and saw the luthiers and the Sorcerers Market, full of stuffed fetus of llamas that were supposed to bring fertility to women and lands.

Crossing the invisible Choqueyapu riverbed we led our steps towards the Central Square, with the Cathedral and the Government Palace (in whose façade, along with the huge tricolor national flag, hanged the Wipala, the multicolor flag of the native Andean peoples, placed there since Evo Morales was chosen as the president of the Republic). From there, walking under the slight rain that had started a few minutes before, we went to visit the Ethnographic and Folklore Museum, where we were lucky to find a wonderful collection of ethnographic and archaeological "unkus" (traditional male piece of clothing similar to a long shirt without buttons). Then we trod along the narrow street formerly known as "of the Green Cross", today Murillo St., passing the Ernesto Cavour's Musical Instruments Museum and many famous "peñas" (places where people join together to play and enjoy traditional music). The houses of that little street conserved the taste of colonial times among its wooden doors, its thick walls, its iron balconies with pots of geranium, its old street lamps... Our steps echoed with the stones of the steep pavement...

We ate "salteñas" (sort of small pies stuffed with chopped meat, vegetables, boiled eggs, cheese, etc.) in one of the many stalls of the market while we observed the incessant work of the shoe-cleaners, young boys that covered their face with a winter cap because they considered that their job as bootblack is discriminated by society. It was early in the evening when we went back to the Bus Station and we got on the uncomfortable, dirty, ruined, broken and cold bus without delay. Both of us knew (attending other personal experiences in similar conditions) that the journey La Paz-Villazón would neither be comfortable nor easy. It is a trip that one suffers more than enjoys. The outside freezing air came in through the windows that opened alone with the shaking movements. We cracked our heads on the back of our seats many times because the road were not paved and the rattling of bags, and bundles hitting against each other was a hell of a noise. Many children were sleeping on the floor between both rows of seats. People carried bundles and bundles and bundles of we did not know what...

It was there, in the middle of that highland and in the middle of the night when someone stole my suitcase where I had put my travel diary, my documentation, information related to my professional work and most of our new contacts. Nothing was said, nobody seemed to be in charge, no one moved a finger, no solidarity was expressed. I lost everything. In fact, this travel diary has been written thanks to the notes that Sara wrote down in her own notebook and my memory, and slowly I had been able to recover most of my work and the majority of our contacts. However, the experience left a nasty taste in the mouth that will remain forever.

The Bolivian "prepuna" (previous to the highland) landscape seemed to us more bleak and desolate than ever. There, in Cotagaita, everything looked like sad, ash-colored, dusty... Dried irrigation channels and riverbeds, twisted trees without a single leave, a road that seemed not to have an end, and a group of travel companions that we wanted to have out of our sight as soon as possible...

We arrived in Villazón at noon, on Thursday, 30th of November. In the local police office they gave us the necessary papers to be able to leave Bolivia and cross the border. Carrying our backpacks covered with sand and dust (the bus was opened in its lowest part and we almost did not recognize our luggage when they took everything out), disappointed, exhausted, dirty, hungry and worried for the lost of my documentation, we crossed over the bridge that separated Villazón from La Quiaca in Argentina.

Without much problem we were allowed to leave Bolivian grounds, and with a few recommendations about how to deal with the loss of my documentation and avoid problems in the future, Argentinean frontier army did not ask us many more things.

In La Quiaca, Argentinean police gave me a special document whose fulfillment took me five more hours, which I spent waiting for someone who took me a photograph (there was only a photographer in the village and I had gone three times to his shop before finding him the fourth) and going from one cyber to another trying to find a printer where I could print a number that I had to present to the Police. Meanwhile, Sara remained "growing roots" at the bus station in the middle of a crowded corridor where people from Jujuy and Bolivia were camping with their many children and huge bags.

It was almost midnight when we set off for Jujuy, capital of the Argentinean province with the very same name that is next to Bolivia. We would pass the picturesque villages of "La Quebrada de Humahuaca" (declared Humankind Heritage by UNESCO), where the frontier army would stop us at one in the morning. They asked us to get off the bus with all our bags to get frozen in the cold night and be checked once more.

We would arrive in Jujuy at four if nothing else broke our journey, and at 7 would connect with another bus that, after crossing Jujuy, Salta, Tucumán and Santiago del Estero provinces (hundreds and hundreds of kilometers) would leave us in Córdoba, tired and loaded with a lot of packages the 1st of December and ten in the evening.

The return journey from Quito has lasted six days; we had spent 28 in total since we left. We had crossed four countries plus our own and five borders, toured thousands of kilometers and bore 230 hours on some of the worst long distance means of transport that we had ever met. We had tasted most of the regional and local dishes in the most popular inns that we found; we had seen Latin American landscapes from Temuco in the south of Chile to Peguche in the north of Ecuador. We had traveled along the dorsal spine of America, crossed the old Inkan Empire, and attended three International Librarianship Congresses. We had met really wonderful people, slightly knew the social and cultural reality of the Andean world... We had listened to three different languages and many more indigenous dialects, and discovered ancient cultures that, in spite of everything and everybody, continue struggling for their identity and their survival.

We had seen misery, poverty, desolation, hunger, sickness, inequality, unbalance, discrimination and too much injustice. And, in front of all this we always wondered where the hell the hands that speak constantly of help were. We had also visited very small libraries and listened to the minimal stories of colleagues that worked in infrahuman conditions to provide the services their users really need. And it was also there where we asked ourselves where the "big names", the "academic" people, the "professors" and the president of the "fine" National Associations with their "fine" dresses and their "fine" hands, talking of "fine" things such as "digital libraries" were. We always made us the very same questions and the answer was also the same: those who speak, those who tell, those who claim, those who publish, those live in a universe apart from reality because reality does not suit them at all. Those do not know anything about "real" services, "real" help, about the "real" problems that people face day after day, people that cannot have a shower because do not have water, people that cannot read because nobody came near to teach them. Those "great", those "important" ones live inside their pink bubbles, thinking that their reality is also the reality of the rest, ignoring (as good uninformed ones) that their reality is only for some fortunate only.

Through those thousands kilometers, many things were broken and many more grew again –in a different way– inside us. To the small house in Córdoba did not return the very same two persons that left one month before. Two different persons came back, more realistic, conscious of the sufferings that sow the world with sorrow and pain, disgusted with so much hypocrisy and falsehood, and ready to set their hearts on and give the best of themselves for those unknown people that, with their quiet and anonymous work make possible that many children learn to read, that many young people finish their school years, that many men and women learn a profession, and that many elders entertain their time and be informed. If the journey taught something to the two travelers that have been writing this long diary through the past two months on this blog, it is that there are a good number of people –to whom we listen with admiration and adorn with pompous titles– who should close their mouths forever if they had a bit of dignity. Because the world –the one Sara and I discovered when set off– is very different from the place they want to make us believe. It is much harder, it is much more difficult and if we want to live in it, we should look directly at its face, at that painful face full of very deep scars.

To all those who have followed our steps through the pages of this travel diary, thank you very much. To all those who have accompanied, helped, and welcomed while we had been touring along the Latin America spine, our affection and kindest regards. And to all those who still wonder "How do Civallero and Plaza do for traveling so much?", we can add that we do it with a lot of sacrifice, inconvenience, dirtiness, hunger and tiredness, as most of the poor people –as we– do it in our continent. Please, do not think that putting this into practice is easy. Nonetheless, if you believe that it is so, we invite you to try. You will see, as we wrote above, that our world is neither very nice nor too simple as some people color it.

A huge hug from these two nomads who prefer learning from reality than continue dreaming impossible chimeras.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Travel diary (19-22 out of 28): Smoke over Mt. Tungurahua…

Travel diary (19–22 out of 28): Smoke over Mt. Tungurahua

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated and commented by Sara Plaza

[Diary of the journey by land across the ancient Inka Empire, from LIS Meeting to LIS Meeting, through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and NW Argentina, from November 5th to December 1st, 2006]

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated and commented by Sara Plaza

On Wednesday, 22nd of November we left Quito and set off for Riobamba, where the IX Ecuadorian Librarians Congress, organized by the Ecuadorian Librarians Association, would take place. The Congress' motto was "The Library in the XXI Century". This time we went by car. David Romero, a conservator who worked for the Republic's Ministry of Culture, took us with him to the southern city, crossing in our journey Cotopaxi, Tungurahua and Chimborazo provinces.

We were traveling southwards, crossing forests and dales, mountains and moors. It was curious to notice, in a few kilometers only, the quick succession of different sceneries and ecological layers. Our travel companions pointed out that those contrasts were even bigger when one crossed the country from west to east: in a few hours the view changed from the coastal scenery to the high Andean range and from that mountainous area to the thick Amazonian forest that featured the oriental part of the country.

In Latacunga we broke out our journey, stopping only for a short time to taste the famous chugchucaras at Doña Rosa's. That is a regional dish that basically consists of fried small chunks of pork with bigger chunks of its skin also fried. Since I was not very hungry and Sara was not very fond of that sort of food we only tried a very small piece and thanked our hosts for the invitation with a smile. Further on we found the well known ice-creams with five different color layers from Salcedo. Though we were at the foot of Cotopaxi volcano we were not able to see its proud summit. Neither could we admire active Tungurahua, because the sun was setting when we managed to guess it smoking silhouette. Children from this region say that this mount "roars". For us, this was completely different from anything we had seen before, and it was amazing to notice how the communities that are place at the foot of the volcano lived without worrying too much about those "roars", and quite indifferent to the occasional bursts of activity and the ashes that covered the roofs, the walls and the floors of their houses.

That region –surroundings of Ambato– was Salasaca Quechuas' home. Behind, northwards, we had left Otavaleño Quechuas. When we were in Peguche, we were told that the Salasacas spoke in a different way from the Otavaleños: "in a different manner they speak; soon you discover that they are 'Salasacas'". As we could see they also dressed differently and we did not find the same pleased and satisfied feeling in their sight as the one we had observed in the Otavaleños' proud eyes; maybe they were more insecure, perhaps they have been hit hardest, probably they resigned themselves... Somewhere I had heard Salasaca music and it has nothing in common with the music that was made in northern Ecuador. It was great to be able to appreciate such huge regional differences in the same culture, in the same language and in the same people.

We arrived in Riobamba –capital of the Chimborazo province and well known historic Ecuadorian city– at night, under the very same obstinate rain that traveled with us during the whole journey and that did not allow us to see the Chimborazo silhouette –one of the highest Andean volcanoes– when the sun was going down. Neither could we admire the Sangay, the most active volcano in the world, which had been in front of us behind a veil of persistent raindrops.

Welcomed by the event Organization Commission, we were taken to the hotel after a few minutes waiting and chatting with other colleagues and international guests. The hotel called "El Rincón Alemán" ("The German nook"), was a family house far away from downtown, with excellent facilities and its host was really very kind.

An hour later, some organizers came to pick us up and we joined the group for having dinner. We had to listen to embarrassing opinions and regrettable personal judgments on the part of the Ecuadorian official librarianship representatives, who –we wanted to believe– would not represent the opinions of the majority of Ecuadorian librarians. We went back to the hotel doubting whether or not our presence there would be of any interest. What we had seen and heard till that moment made us feel as spectators watching a sort of "great figures circus". I do not remember if we paid attention to something else: we were exhausted and went to sleep immediately. The universe disappeared for a few hours but in our minds a question still echoed: "what the hell are we doing here?"

On Thursday, 23rd of November, the Librarians Congress would be officially inaugurated so, after having breakfast at the hotel, organizers showed us the way to the Superior Polytechnic School of Chimborazo in whose auditorium the event would take place. The Congress basically consisted of the presence of a small group of foreign guests that came from Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay, Spain and Argentina. With the exception of the Spanish lecturer –who would open the Congress that morning– and me, the rest of the lecturers where archivists who would talk about documents conservation and preservation. Apart from the conferences, the Congress would be the meeting point for AEB members to choose new representatives and discuss matters that only concerned to themselves.

During the three days that the event lasted, we understood that there were things working poorly; that the organization was not as stable as supposedly it should have been; that some people worked hardly while others showed off their positions; and that "international" conferences were a sort of stuffing to fill the discussion breaks and justify the sense –if any– of an event where solving internal problems was the important matter. And those internal problems appeared constantly and sometimes the discussions were far from educated or civilized. Anyone who wanted to attend this Congress would have to pay 40 dollars to have a sit in the auditorium. If we consider that there were over 200 people there... well, you can easily make this arithmetical calculation.

The very first conference was given by Dra. María del Pilar Gallego, Madrid Librarians Association president. If I have to be honest, I nearly died of embarrassment when she said the sort of things that I had to listen to for one hour and a half. Sara and I did never understood how she could continue speaking that nonsense without guilt feelings, not being ashamed of reading page after page without looking at her audience a single time. Maybe she knew what she was talking about, but her words made no sense, her reading was a complete disaster since she had a lot of pronunciation problems, and the things she explained about "Digital Libraries" were completely out of date. "Shameful" is all that I can say about this woman performance. The public only bore her reading during 10 minutes and with no respect at all started to stand up, to chat, to talk by their mobile phones, to say hello to each other from one side of the auditorium to the other, to sleep, to snore... Their attitude was also very shameful and their lack of education, absolutely regrettable.

Sara and I listened to her from the beginning to the end, without understanding a reading that was full of errors, either in its format or in its contents, boring, without supporting images or slides, badly presented and worse executed. Meanwhile the rest of the audience forgot that there was a lecturer on the stage and behaved as if they were in a pub, not in a conference room. Though most of the spectators agreed on qualifying that lecture as abominable crime against our profession, we still had to bear the hypocrisy of those who congratulated Mrs. Gallego. This is something very common: someone taps you on your shoulder to say "well done", while s/he turns her/his face thinking "poor fellow".

[As a lecturer myself I use to repeat to me, according to the Spanish saying, that: "It is not good when the wise person is quiet; however, it is worse when the stupid one claps"].

Anyway, after such a beginning of activities and the subsequent confusion due to the lack of presenters and moderators –who did not exist at all– it was my turn. Through my conference I presented some very basic ideas concerning the meaning of Digital Divide, its nature, which is the state of things at present, its effects and the threat that it still represents for Latin America. I also pointed out the actions and factors that we should consider to reduce it (since we cannot affirm that there is a "solution" for eliminating that huge difference completely). Among the many questions that were raised at the end of my speech, a few ones had to do with the curiosity that my work with indigenous communities, rural libraries and reading-writing promotion had arisen. It was from those questions that Sara and I got our best contacts (and friends) in Ecuador. Maybe that was the best part of the Congress: the bond of friendship and future collaborations that we could build with people that shared the same interests as we.

In relation with those moments, Sara wrote down in her diary:

"Our happiest and most moving moments arrived at the end of the presentation. We were congratulated, thanked, embraced, our hands were stretched by an old indigenous woman who was a librarian from the shores of the River Napo, taken photographs, looked with bright eyes and smiling lips. Many people wanted us to collaborate with them in future projects, and invited us to come back the next year to give some workshops..."

In some place that we did not manage to find, lunch was served for everybody that has bought the ticket beforehand. After going round the University Campus twice without discovering the signaled place (we would know later that it was a sort of large shed situated a bit far from the auditorium) we ended up in the students restaurant (cheap and tasteful by the way).

Later we attended the conference given by the Peruvian archivist Carmen Pfuyo, but we missed the first part because neither the organization nor the public seemed to respect the Congress schedule. Since the following activities (cultural visits) had been cancelled due to the delay that did not allow things to happen when they should had, we decided to go back to the hotel on our own account, and have a shower before taking part in the evening activities that included fireworks ("chamarrasca") and drinks such as the famous "canelazo".

When we arrived on time at the placed we were told, we only found the ashes, and the lights had been switched off. We did not know when the party had been celebrated and nobody was able to give us an explanation the following day. Apparently it was decided to set light to the paper figures immediately after the last conference (not in the evening as it was planned) and we were the only ones who left the place when it finished.

The night has fallen: we were very disappointed and absolutely exhausted. Therefore we decided to rest at the hotel. Still there were some things to do the following day.

On Friday, 24th of November, the second conference day took place. We had to take a taxi because organizers had disappeared and nobody seemed to be in charge. We were decided to take things easy and attended the lecture on the part of the Uruguayan archivist María Laura Rosas, who had been invited in the very last minute, when it was knew the "unexpected" absence of another official guest. As we were not very interested in the subject –archives conservation, which, honestly, is a bit beyond our realms– we preferred to walk around the university and continue talking with the same people that approached the previous day to explain to us their work, their experiences and their ideas. That way, we were able to know very interesting projects that were being developed in Ibarra, in the Forest region, in the south of the country, in Guayaquil, in Quito... Here and there, a good number of professionals were looking for exchanging ideas and novelties, for telling us about their achievements or their failures, and that was, as we had written down in our diaries, the most valuable learning that we got from Riobamba. Many gave us presents (leaflets from Archidona and Napo region, a book of poems, a doll from Imbabura that today is placed on our desk, etc.), many took a photo with us... and I was interviewed for the local newspaper. After lunch time –in that sort of large shed where many ate sat on billiard tables and others remained stood– our colleague David Romero took us and the other lecturers for a walk downtown. We visited the Museum of the City where there was a very nice exhibition of paintings related to the important that the train has had in Ecuador, as well as a lot of information about the Natural Parks that surround this region. During our visit we listened carefully to the guide that told us the very peculiar story about the first owner of the building where the museum was situated now. According to the legend, the immense house had belonged to a very rich woman that was bewitched while she was practicing the famous game so-called "witch board". As a consequence she did start floating in the air and could never take communion again nor be exorcized.

[... We did not know how seriously take this story ...]

The churches and the squares of Riobamba were of particular beauty; the streets still had much of its provincial taste, and there was a significant indigenous presence. David –who knew the rough tracks of the local art thanks to their profession– turned to be the best guide.

That night there was another party but we did neither know where nor at what time. As on other occasions, nobody came to pick us up, nobody called, nobody looked after us. So, we decided to stay at the hotel and watch on TV the debate between the conservative candidate Noboa (owner of a very disgusting discourse) and the left-wing Rafael Correa, who finally won the presidential election. The night has come and our disappointment was still too much. Things had not happened as we expected and nobody offered us an explanation. We will be back in Quito the following day and set off for Lima at night.

On Sunday, 25th of November, the event finished with the same disorganization as it had started. The first conference that morning (and the last of the Congress) was to be given by the Bolivian archivist Lidia Gardeazabal, who showed very interesting photographs from a restoration workshop that took place in Cochabamba under her direction, in the context of the Bolivian National Library where she worked. Once she had finished answering the questions thrown by the public, the AEB General Assembly was celebrated with the reading and the approval of their statutes and the election of the members of the board. We decided to leave the room because we did not want to listen to the internal problems that would be discussed shortly after.

The Congress ended at midday, after a chaotic discussion where loud voices, shouts and expressions of excitement could be heard from outside. We soon realized that nobody from the organization had thought how we were going to go back to Quito. Considering this state of things we took the bull by the horns and faced the situation directly.

We said goodbye to a couple of "organizers" and went to the local Bus Station in order to find a means of transport –cheap and comfortable– that took us to Quito under the stormy and lead-colored sky that neither allowed us to guess the Cotopaxi silhouette nor the Chimborazo dark shape.

Sara wrote down in her diary much of the sounds and flavors of that journey:

"'Small pears, peaches, claudias (plums), small apples for the journey'. That way the man who got on the bus that took us from Riobamba to Quito, advertised his culinary offering. Before our eyes extended a sort of quilt with many different patches sewn together consisting of successive fields, some of them sown, some of them covered with fruit trees, some of them with pastures for pigs, llamas, cows and donkeys. 'Beans, small beans, try them now'. 'Ice-creams, small ice-creams made of cream from Salcedo'".

Once in Quito, we went back to the table and the arms of our "adoptive family" Proaño-Añazco, with whom we shared a splendid farewell dinner that wiped out our distress and the many vicissitudes we had had to deal with and that reconciled us with life and Ecuador. They took us to the Bus Station and the last thing we saw in Quito was their waving hands telling us goodbye.

We looked at each other while we wiped some tears from our cheeks. Ecuador had been a wonderful country and apart from professional disappointments (that we had always found, especially in our own country), we soon understood that we would miss that family, those streets, those kind people from Peguche and the very gentle ones that we found here and there, those delicious dishes, those colleagues that had embraced us stretching our hands and looked with deep emotion sharing their successes and their failures...

Yes, we would miss that country, its people, that market in Otavalo, that waterfall in Peguche, those librarians from the shores of the River Napo. We would miss their kindness and their sweetness, the dreams that they had whispered in our ears, the sorrows that we had seen, the obstinate rain, the crazy weather and that "don't-know-what", which covered everything and turned it so beautiful and unforgettable...

If there was something that we should thank the Librarians Congress organizers for, it was the opportunity to know those people and that country. It was the most wonderful thing that we found in our long journey, which took us almost four weeks to complete.

As it has been said through the many lines of this post, the Congress was not of our living at all. We believe that any event (especially those that pretend to be "international") should be built on solid grounds, thinking before anything else of who is going to be invited and why, and not calling a few people from abroad in order to patch a poor schedule. We also believe that the organization of such an event should consist of a group of people thinking and acting as a team, but not by two or three volunteers who will never manage to solve the many problems that may occur. We think that timetables and activities in schedule should be respected. We also consider that it is not fair to blame the ones that we have in front of us running from one place to another (though they do not know where they have to go or what they have to do) for the errors of those comfortably sat at their desks. The ones to be blamed are those who remain with crossing arms and, besides, are the ones who won success. We want to show our total disapproval of their methods and themselves.

Now it was time to go back home. The return journey would take us four more days and a few problems that we will share in the following post that would be the last of our travel diary.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Travel diary (16-18 out of 28): narrow streets and churches in the Pichincha shade

Travel diary (16–18 out of 28): narrow streets and churches in the Pichincha shade

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated and commented by Sara Plaza

[Diary of the journey by land across the ancient Inka Empire, from LIS Meeting to LIS Meeting, through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and NW Argentina, from November 5th to December 1st, 2006]

The day got up very warm and damp, our bed was immersed in the humid and cold atmosphere of a room with an extraordinary amount of water in the air, on the walls, on the ceiling, on the floor, in the wardrobe, in our clothes. It made no difference to be inside or outside the hotel. The temperature was exactly the same, so was the humidity. Evil tongues usually have a liking for urban legends, and in Quito there was one that told how easy it was to protect you from rain: you only have to cross the street, because in Quito it rains over the pavement on one side but not over the other. This disparity between sunny and rainy weather, though it was not that wide as the myth told, certainly existed. In spite of the atmospheric conditions, we decided to walk along the streets, cross the parks and sit down in the squares to be able to see, hear, smell, taste and touch the daily life running through the old part of Quito, the first Humankind Cultural Heritage as it was declared by UNESCO. Our hotel was not exactly downtown but was in the centre anyway. It was placed in one of the neighborhoods inhabited by rich people in the past, but it has become second-rate and was not that nice at the present. The newest and wealthy part of the city was placed eastwards. Downtown was towards the west. We would have to walk over 40 blocks, so we started our tour very early in the morning after having breakfast in a small inn where we were served coffee, a huge glass of natural juice, bread with cheese and boiled eggs. During the following days we would understand that this was the sort of breakfast that everyone had in Quito, and day after day we felt deeply in love with the profusion of exotic types of fruit that grew along the country, and were used to make the most delicious juices and milkshakes we had ever tasted.

There we were, walking a long 10th of August Av., surrounding "El Ejido" Park, the green area in the heart of the city where people have rest at any time and can even have access to a number of good readings from the Public Library placed inside, that is named after the park. These libraries in parks, squares and public walking areas –old friends of my childhood– are, probably, the best "adornment" to make recreation grounds look more attractive, and be highly enjoyable.

We went from one park to another named the Alameda, where the imposing monument to the Libertador Simón Bolívar was erected and it is also placed the old Astronomical Observatory, which used to be really beautiful in the old times and was now under reconstruction and improving works.

Following the same street we arrived in the San Blas neighborhood, with its ancient church and its small square, located in the intersection with Guayaquil St., which would lead our steps downtown. Right there, opposite San Blas church, it was written on a building wall with brass letters that Quito was declared the first Cultural Heritage of Humankind.

Soon we were to discover that Heritage along Guayaquil and Venezuela Sts., and the many more that crossed or run parallel to the former ones. The historical center was a pattern of straight and very narrow streets crossing each other, raising and falling quickly, beautifully adorned with very high whitewashed walls, wooden balconies, and thick dark carved doors. It was absolutely impossible to walk two blocks without running into a church, cathedral, basilica, hermitage, convent or monastery, all of them exhibiting the most significant features of the colonial or early republican architecture. The San Agustín church and convent, the Carmen Bajo church and monastery, the Santa Bárbara and Santa Catalina churches... were only a few of the more than 25 ones that we saw –though we only visit some of them– during that morning.

If you stopped at one corner you could see the narrow stony streets that lay on the steep slope of the hill where oldest part of Quito is situated, with its shops and stores' doors open, with its tiny sidewalks, with its balconies covered with geraniums' pots, with its reddish roofing tiles, and behind, as a frame, the Pichincha silhouette over the Andean range. Sometimes those slopes were covered in green, but most of the time we saw their summits crowned with stormy clouds and the slopes tinted in grey. After having touring the spine of South America during three weeks, that range seemed not to have an end, like existing and continuing forever.

If you crossed the street and remained still at the opposite corner for a couple of minutes more, you could notice how packed with people and vehicles those streets were. Many people would trip over you in that position and most of the cars would sound their horns if your intention was to use the road to pass someone walking more slowly than you.

We were able to feel the rhythm of the modern city beating in the heart of an ancient one, and we were very enthusiastic about being stepping carefully onto the scenery that a large number of people had trodden a few centuries ago. There is always something magic when you walk along ancient streets; it is probably the history that has been written on each of their stones by the men and women that walked them before.

In the Plaza Grande, also named "de la Independencia" ("Big Square" also named "of Independence") there were placed –as in most of the Latin America capitals– the Government Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral. Both monumental buildings were of great beauty, especially the Cathedral, which gathered other convents together, such as the one called Sagrario. We noticed that a lot of improving works were being made in some of the ancient buildings of the historic center, which seemed to us to be really good news for a city that "supports" the presence of millions of visitors, the increasing pollution, and a very frequent volcanic activity.

Once in the Plaza Grande we tried and sought for tourist information –country and city maps and guidebooks– that allowed us to move with a bit more organization and improvising less, but, regretfully, we discovered that those services were, in Quito, provided by the police, and honestly speaking, they did not do a very good job. In fact, we were lucky to get a simple and incomplete map because they did not have enough for the growing number of visitors we found that morning and the following ones.

With those monuments behind pleasing to our senses we went on and found a bit further the Compañía de Jesús church and further on the San Francisco church and convent and the Cantuña chapel, splendid buildings that shown the best of colonial style on their facades.

Those squares –illuminated with the bright light of the day and that stormy clouds darkened little by little as time was slowly passing– and those buildings were the living memory of a past time, with its great and horrible stories, with its achievements and its failures, with the echoes of well known and almost unknown people still ringing inside the confined spaces behind their huge walls.

The storm put an end to our tourist march. It started suddenly, a faithful feature of the weather in Quito that, as expected, soaked wherever, whenever and in whatever way it wanted. Completely wet –but absolutely happy– we came back to our hotel to get some rest, and to wait for the rain to stop so that we could go out again. But it would not happen until the following day.

On that Tuesday, 21st of November, we chose the option we thought the best – before the rain and the unstable weather forced us to remain in the hotel: to pay a visit to the museums and institutions that the previous had been closed (as it happened on Mondays in every city we had been).

We headed for the south part of El Ejido Park, an area known as El Arbolito ("The small tree"), where the Ecuadorian House of Culture was situated. The magnificent building of this noble institution gathered the Central Bank of Ecuador Museum, the different exhibition rooms that belonged to the CCE (closed a few years ago, waiting for better times to arrive), the theatre "Simón Bolívar", the Ecuadorian Writers Association and other spaces for painting, sculpture, dancing, music, and art in general. In addition, there was also placed the National Library, which we were not able to visit during our stay in Quito. The CCE also included a couple of specialized libraries that offered reference services and sold their own titles.

Due to the closing of the small specialized collections (among which we regretted not to be able to see one of the best popular musical instruments exhibitions in Latin America) we should "be resigned" to visit the Archaeological room of the National Museum of the Central Bank. Its collection –probably one of the best we had seen through our tour, due to its excellent structure and design– covered the Ecuadorian history from 12.000 BC to Atahualpa's execution and the subsequent fall of the Inkan Empire. It also counted with a special section dedicated to metallurgy and golden elements. The rest of the rooms exhibited colonial, 19th century and modern pieces of art, and there were a few temporary exhibitions as well.

Its chronological organization, the space management, the use of different techniques to create the mysterious atmosphere where the glass cases where immersed, the interesting combination of archaeological remains with maps, graphs and models, turned the principal room into a true discovering walk. Unknowing the pre-Hispanic Ecuadorian history, we were delighted to see most of its traits: here, the remaining part of Spondylus shells used as ceremonial adornments and exchange money; there, the erotic ceramics; further on, wooden tools... At the end of the sequence –spanning the entire geography of the country, from the coastal line to the Amazonian forests– we arrived at the Inkan section.

The exhibition in the archaeological room finished with Atahualpa's death, represented on one of the high walls of the museums, with a sentence written in very big characters – the same that we had found in Lima: chawpi punchaw tutallarqa ("it became dark at noon"). Tradition told that when Atahualpa was about to be executed, the day suddenly became night. It seemed as if that mythical cry of the sun would have ended up, not only with Atahualpa's life but with a chapter of our past history.

The Gold room gave us a lot of information about the advanced techniques used to work metal elements in pre-Hispanic times. Those black, gold, and silver smiths, with a few tools, got absolutely splendid results, with very high artistic and technical level. From filigrees to spirals, from thin threads wonderfully weaved to form a sort of plaits to tiny perforations, the golden metal –the very same that so many ill ambitions have brought to those American horizons– looked at us as bright and eternal as always, from behind the empty eyes of a mask or from the wings of some mythological animal beautifully carved.

Fascinated as we felt with all those sights of clay, Sara and I left the Museum.

From the CCE we decided to go and have a look at Abya Yala Editions, placed next to the Catholic University in 12 of October Av. This publishing house –that is a cultural centre also– is one of the principal publishing books on original peoples in South America. In fact, in its bookshop we could find many different documents on the oriental Ecuadorian ethnic groups (especially on the Achuar and Shuar groups, formerly known as "jívaros"), plus a good number of manuals, photographical documents, maps, dictionaries, anthropology and linguistic texts, specialized magazines, and a great deal of books dedicated to research and education matters. Likewise, it counted with literature related to the present state of things for indigenous peoples in the rest of Latin America and the world.

We thought that it would be better to go back the following day in order to do some shopping and visit the Amazonian Museum –placed upstairs– and looked for shelter in the room of our hotel when we saw the threatening sky over our heads. We came back walking along Amazonas Av. –a very touristic area, where most visitors from abroad are lodged– and stopping for buying our return tickets to Lima, this time with "Rutas de América" bus company.

That night, the Central Bank of Ecuador presented the first edition of the book "Original Societies from Ecuador", a presentation that included Enrique Males (indigenous musician and singer from Ibarra) and Papá Roncón (probably the best example of Afro-Ecuadorian music from Esmeraldas) performances. We were invited to this presentation by our friend Eduardo Proaño, and could enjoy the sounds of those pre-Hispanic instruments played by Males, as well as pieces of oral tradition represented by Roncón. The book –two volumes, in fact– was a text book for school children that included the history, the archaeology and the ethnography of Ecuadorian original peoples that existed in the country before the European arrival. I thought that such a book was an excellent idea, considering the many text books for schools in Argentina whose editions have neither been actualized nor their contents improved, and still there are many teachers and librarians who do not know the original history of their own nation. Hence, this sort of initiatives is always welcomed if done with the seriousness that they deserve. With evident complicity on the part of Eduardo, we got both volumes –the teacher guides, in fact– since we wanted to bring them home with us in order to learn step by step a bit more of the footprints left by humankind in those incredible lands. We had dinner with our friends and their family. It was a night for trying "naranjilla" juice and "cedrón" tea for the first time, for listening to an old records collection as well as to the new digital sounds... It was a night for enjoying it with friends... It was an unforgettable night.

Next morning –our last free day in Quito– we decided to pay a visit to our friend Gloria Añazco, who worked in the Library of the Andean Justice Tribunal. After seeing the legislative collections –statutes, laws and jurisprudence books– organized in the shelves of that little unit, we thought about the different possibilities for the following hours and we started from the Library of the Central Bank of Ecuador, located very near to the CCE. The unit had varied collections –all of them with databases on the Internet– and of special interest for us was the "Jijón y Caamaño", the incunabula, valuable and rare books collection. Shamefully, those master pieces –preserved in a special case, with temperature, humidity and exposure to light carefully controlled– were not accessible for the general public; however, some of its most famous documents had been digitalized and they were freely accessible on the Internet. Nevertheless, we did not fail to make the best use of our visit and got a few leaflets with information on the early printed works and the first ones who printed them in Ecuador, as well as on the rare and curious books that were included in the collection and the Americanists that were part of its catalogues. Being a library specialized in American matters, it was quite easy to find, among their titles, the works from the pen of Alexander von Humboldt, of the Argentinean authors Serrano and Lehmann, of Bertonio, of D'Orbigny, of Herrera, of Montesinos... In addition we took with us a catalogue with explanations of the books collection that belonged to Eugenio Espejo, the first Ecuadorian "librarian" whose effigy can be found –if I am not wrong– in the Ecuadorian Librarians Association logo.

From that library we went back to Abya Yala Editions, and there we got a few books related to our professional areas and two traditional tales written in three languages (Quichua, English and Spanish) beautifully illustrated.

Later we visited the Amazonian Museum, organized according to the many elements that Salesian (catholic) missions had collected in the eastern part of the country, in the region next to the frontier with Peru and Colombia, which is thickly covered with trees and vegetation.

In this small museum, which seemed to lack organization and had a very poor underlying structure, we found groups of artifacts belonging to the different ethnic groups that populated the eastern region of the country. However, the majority of the exhibition was referred to Shuar and Achuar cultures that, together with Aguaruna and Huambisa (from Peru) formed the great nation formerly known as "jívaros". These indigenous peoples won fame at the beginning of the past century (and were still famous until recently) thanks to their custom of hunting human heads and make them smaller using a technique which consisted of a special mixture of herbs where they were first boiled, for later being heated with sand. The trophies achieved in that way (named tsantsas) became very expensive tourists souvenirs, till the "jívaros" themselves started to reduce monkeys' heads or to falsify the "tsantsas" for business. At present, it is very rare to find an original trophy-head, with the exception of museums, though Shuar and Achuar people continue, from time to time, hunting heads as an ancient tradition without trading with their trophies.

Among the tsantsas' features we can mention their long hair, their mouths and eyes tied together with knots leaving both ends hanging loosely, their ears adorned with wooden pieces and the peculiar dark ochre color on their face. The elaboration process –taking the bones out of the head, cleaning it and boiling the skin, filling them with hot sand, shaping, tying and adorning them– was made, originally, in order to avoid the spirit of the assassinated foe to come back looking for revenge. Obtaining and keeping this trophy-heads was something quite usual among original peoples from the entire American continent. Many pre-Inkan vessels show warriors carrying head and some nations from the Forest such as "Avá-chiriwano" peoples from Bolivian-Argentinean regions put them into practice during many centuries. One variant –that became very popular with films and literature– was the well known "scalping" or the stealing of scalps, that took place among some native peoples that inhabited the south-west and the prairies of the United States, and also among peoples from the Great Chaco in South America, such as Nivaklé and Yofwafja in Argentina.

Among musical instruments and big canoes made of hollowed trunks, among stuffed animals and examples of carefully made baskets and wickerwork, among weapons and bags woven with fibers, we passed the morning discovering words and sounds from a very difficult language, and the characteristics of a culture that we had only guessed through the pages of some books.

We improvised our lunch as we used to –always in a very popular inn or a tiny restaurant– and went downtown once more, because we did not want to leave the city without seeing the Music Library of the Central Bank of Ecuador, a small information unit that, though it did not count with the modern technology available today and needed for the reproduction of audiovisual materials, still managed –with the resources on hand– to give good service to students, professionals and researchers. Even if its collection was mostly oriented towards classical and academic music (therefore, with an important lack of popular examples in their shelves and drawers), the articles, videos and recorded conferences compensated for this loss of variety.

Under the persistent and obstinate raining we went back to our hotel, saying goodbye to each nook in that pretty scenery, beautifully represented by its colonial buildings, poorly dressed in its corners, historical as no other, populated by unsolved problems, noisy and polluted as many, rising like a phoenix from their ashes after the Pichincha has covered it with the grey and black powder left by its volcanic activity, worried about its political future that would be soon decided after the presidential election –between conservative Noboa and left-wing candidate Correa– took place in a few days...

On the following day we would be in Riobamba attending the IX Ecuadorian Librarians Meeting. Our next trip –this time by car–, our participation in the event and our return to Quito in order to go back in Córdoba through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and NW Argentina will be the material for our two last posts referring this travel diary...


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Travel Diary (15 out of 28): Peguche voices

Travel Diary (15 out of 28): Peguche voices

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated and commented by Sara Plaza

[Diary of the journey by land across the ancient Inka Empire, from LIS Meeting to LIS Meeting, through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and NW Argentina, from November 5th to December 1st, 2006]

It was Saturday evening when we arrived in Peguche, fleeing from the first raindrops that were the announcement of the ones that would be falling in large amount a bit later. We were seeking for lodging to spend the night and get some rest. We had been touring without interruption and we really needed to sleep for a while and lay down on a bed. Still blinded by the profusion of colors we had seen in the Otavalo market, with every smell inside our head and each sound –music, Quichua language...– dancing in our ears yet, we trod on the grounds of that little community, placed a couple of kilometers far from Otavalo main square. "Taita" Imbabura mount was threatening, showing that bad weather was likely. Clouds covered the highest summits of the range that we guessed on the dark horizon, while flashes of lightning struck the sky.

In Peguche, our contact was Elena Huenala, a teacher whose surname –we came to know it later– was old enough to be well known and respectfully pronounced everywhere. A native speaker of Quichua, she owned an exquisite culture and a natural kindness; she had been a tireless traveler and managed to survive very bad times. Elena welcomed us to her house with open arms –though we were strangers– and let us stay with her and her family that day and the following. It took us nothing to feel at home, and soon we sat down with her in a little room and talked to each other while we heated our hands and our throats with a hot cup of a herbal tea.

It was Sunday morning, the 19th of November; birds singing awoke us very early and Sara and I went quickly to the windows and looked out of them. There was mist on every hillside and since our room was overlooking the entire horizon we could see Imbabura summit on one side and Cotacachi summit on the other. The first one was completely naked, while the second was totally covered with snow. We also discovered the small village at our feet, the rows of tiles on the roofs, the orchards, and the people walking in the stony streets with quick steps, probably to meet their duties or to join the mass. It was curious to see that most of them were dressed with their traditional clothes, something that I had only seen in La Paz, with Aymara women, before.

We went down to help the family with the household and the breakfast but they did not allow us to move a finger. Trying not to be get in the way of their movements, we put ourselves aside for a moment while our hosts taught us how, in the Andean way of thinking, mountains, in addition to be the protective spirits' homes, were considered to have sex. That way, Imbabura mount was male and was called José Manuel. Cotacachi mount, on the other hand, was female and was named Blanca Nieves (Snow-white). The legends that join one mountain with the other, in many different ways, are a lot, and make up a great part of the oral tradition that is still alive among the indigenous groups of this area. And there were many aboriginal communities from Ibarra to Otavalo, sparsely populated among the mountains. In those valleys, raised many little villages, whose names reminded me of a good number of traditional "sanjuanitos": Tabacundo, Iluman, Chimbaloma, Cotacachi, Carabuela... In each place a particular handicraft was made; felt hats, shoes, textiles and so on, where the sort of products that those communities, and Peguche itself, felt proud of.

While Elena was preparing the breakfast, her sister took us to their orchard and showed us the plants, herbs, trees and fruits that grew there. We found some types of fruit that we had never seen before –"uvilla" and "granadilla", for example– and some others that, even if we knew them, tasted so sweet and delicious when grabbed them from the tree.

We could not avoid thinking that most of the children that live in a city do not even know that mandarins grow on a tree, how the corn plant looks like, and that potato, from which their "snacks" are made, is a tuber that grows underground. Perhaps the library and the school have a very important role to play in naturalizing what has been denaturalized, in bringing children –men and women of the future– near to the land that sees their growing.

Breakfast included "tree tomato" juice (another piece of fruit that we had not seen before), bread, cheese, herbal tea and "kanguila" (popcorn). Elena's father arrived just before we had started to eat. This man did not know his own age –neither his daughter knew it – but had an extraordinarily clear mind and expressed himself with astonishing lucidity. He was one of the most important music players, song writers and composers of his community. So, once we had enjoyed with some of his stories and his curiosity –and the rest of the family curiosity as well– had been "satiated" by asking us many different questions about our own countries, someone brought me an old flute made of plastic and from that very moment, a completely different dialogue took place between both of us. With a song going and an anecdote coming back, that old musician begun to pick different chapters of his artistic life from his memories, sharing with us the happiness of being the proud author of his community anthem, which was titled "Peguche tio" (Lord of Peguche). Our conversation around the table was delightful, sometimes in Quichua, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes through music, sometimes in silence... The mutual respect shown by every family member together with the humility of our own voices created a strange atmosphere of comprehension behind the words. It was also curious to take notice of how Elena's father talked to us only looking at me at the beginning, and turning his face to Sara a bit later –whom firstly he had put aside and after a few minutes invited to come closer and sit next to him.

For a couple of hours we listened to all of them and heard of travel stories, of the many places they went to and the many more they had to leave, of failures, of the envy felt inside the community at the success of one of its members, of problems, of the sacrifices they made...

We did perfectly understand something we had heard before about people from Otavalo: their spirit of struggle, their intelligence, their capability to adapt to modern times without losing ancient traditions, and their determined initiative. However, we also discovered that underlying those extraordinary qualities there was the great love that they felt for the ground where they stand, a huge feeling of melancholy when they are far away... I had seen that feeling before: it was there, in Spain, in the eyes of my Ecuadorian friends.

After having breakfast, Elena's sister invited us to go for a walk up to the Waterfall of Peguche, one of the most important natural tourists' attractions of this village. It is located two kilometers far from downtown. Walking slowly along the main street we could observe the morning life running on both sides of our path. Here, there was someone selling "guavas" – very big pods filled with seeds, which inner part tastes sweet; there, a couple of women carried their bundles alongside with their children on their backs; a bit further a grandfather was sat on the threshold. "Ñanda mañachi" greeted our guide: "lend me the path" she was telling in Quichua, a greeting that was something like a sort of permission for overtaking someone showing your respect. The streets were covered with "guava" seeds and we followed Elena's sister jumping over them and listening to the stories she told us concerning the history of Peguche, the origin of those lands that now belonged to the community but were first owned by a landlord, the work done by "comuneros", the land divisions and the different uses given to it... Further on we crossed the "chagras" ("chacras", corn fields) where seeds were starting to sprout little by little.

It was great to be learning while we were walking, since our friend shared with us what she knew about the plants and herbs that we found on both sides of our path, about customs, about the kind of relationships established inside and outside the community, about their way of life... From time to time, she stopped briefly and told us how to prepare a mixture of herbs and fruit that it is considered to be an excellent remedy for reducing the effects of "chuchaki" (hangover); how they cut in strips the leaves of a plant –the "penco", similar to an agave, a plant that grows in hot dry areas, with sharp points on the leaves– and use them as washing powder to wash on the shores of the narrow streams surrounding the fields, which clean your clothes and whiten them without polluting the water with foam and other harmful compounds... A few steps further on she explained to us the different uses of "cháwar" or royal agave, whose fibers were used for weaving textiles, and from its pulp, fermented a bit, was made the "cháwar mishki" (a drink that tastes nice and sweet), or if fermented for a long a time, was obtained something very similar to the Mexican "pulque"... While we continued walking, she showed Sara her clothes and told her what the old traditions were for the women to get dressed. She pointed out how in the past, women and men were considered equal to each other were grown up to be respectful of dual conception of the Andean universe. Regretfully, with the conquest and later, during colonial times, machismo emphasized the importance of being strong rather than being intelligent and sensitive. However, our friend, with a very funny smile on her face and brightening eyes, commented on the strong determination and independency of the women from Otavalo – something that we had notice the previous day in the Market: most of the traders were young and adult women, even girls, who had haggled with us about the price with great dexterity. Sara and I were very conscious of how fortunate we were having the opportunity to listen to this indigenous woman, a person with a lot of knowledge, determined to share it, maintain if alive and widen it day after day.

In less than an hour we reached the entrance of the natural park where was written on a wooden board "Welcome to the faccha". Something broke out in my head, I could almost feel the emotional explosion: that was the title of a song that I loved very much that was played by the Italian group "Trencito de los Andes" (Andean little train). Though I had never known what the meaning of "faccha", I loved that song a lot. Right there I learnt its meaning: "faccha" was the same as waterfall in Quichua.

The song I referred to above described, step by step, a visit to that waterfall, which was a ceremonial place, the source of many legends and where people meet before festivities. That way, whispering the lyrics of that song –kept in my memory since I was an teenager– and holding Sara's hand, we started going uphill following the narrow paths in the shade of the forest, touching slightly the trunks of those tall eucalyptus, treading on the curbs of the irrigation channels –at the beginning made of stones, today covered with concrete– up to the river, which had had a good number of mills in the past. There was the waterfall: a beautiful cascade falling down a steep slope with rocks and vegetation.

We enjoyed getting wet by the water cloud that formed at the bottom of the "facchita", while our friend told us one of its legends: there is a big pot full of gold hidden inside the walls behind the cascade and many are the ones who still look for it. Some nights you can listen to the pot crying and lamenting its luck.

When we got back, our host explained to us a bit more of the cultural reality of the region. Without libraries in the communities, with very few bilingual education programmes, with not very well organized efforts, with many foreign hands wanted to help at the beginning but leaving soon without having improved anything... People from Peguche seemed to know that they need a library, and they remembered that once there was one in Otavalo with an indigenous collection, but it is not being used nowadays. It was as if there had been many things in the past that were disappeared at the present. Listening to this fact, I thought of the many useless hands, of the thousands colleagues who do not know what to do with their profession, of the thousands of students who neither know how to face their studies nor how to explain why they are studying LIS... I thought about the brilliant conferences given by those great librarianship characters, about those nonsense meetings, about the people foolish enough to write very stupid things, about the many books that continue forgetting the ones that were always kept in silence. I thought that there is a great deal of hypocrisy, a lot of lives wasted on dreams that they do not believe at all... What a shame to find here so many dreams that only need someone pursuing them in order to make them true, to leave them spring into live and bloom.

I thought and thought and as it always happens when someone realizes that things will never change if we do not try doing it in a different manner, I felt an enormous rage and could not stand the frustration of not being able to put upside down an engine that does not work anymore.

We were going downhill, repeating "ñanda mañachi" here and there and chatting with our friend about schools, education, communitarian problems, families jealousy of one another because they did not have the same resources and had not got the same welfare state (something that did not happened before but modern "culture" taught to them), when we met the most typical example of "foreign tourist" that we could have found in our way home: a North American woman. Not even trying to speak to us in Spanish, she came closer as we passed and in English told us that she was looking for a particular shop where she could see a family weaving textiles as in the old times. She did not stop criticizing what she had seen and heard till that moment and wanted us to ask our friend where she could find what she was seeking. It was embarrassing for us, but still we got the information she demanded and went with her to that house. We became red in the face when she started haggling for the price with the weaver and accuse him of selling their products more expensive than the ones she had seen the previous day in the Market. Some people do not seem to understand how much time and effort is needed to weave those beautiful tapestries, carpets, bags, belts... Some people do not seem to notice the different between industrial and homemade production, between quality and quantity, between traditional clothes and colorful souvenirs. Some people would do much better staying at home, or if they decide to travel abroad, being with their mouths closed and their ears open for they have a lot to learn and very little to teach...

When we almost had arrived at Elena's house, we discovered another where instruments were made by true luthiers, artisans that worked as their parents and their grandparents did before. I wanted to ask for the prices of some. What we had enjoyed the most would have been to see those persons working, but they were not at home that morning. We came in shouting "minga chiway!", and found ourselves in the middle of a court where bundles of reed pipes of different size and thickness where piled up and there were many instruments on the walls exhibiting how the final work looked: "rondadores", "zampoñas", "quenas", "mohoceños", "tarkas", "quenachos", "pífanos", "flautas traversas"... The artisan's wife explained to me, in Quichua, how his husband made those instruments and I was absolutely delighted looking at his working table and imaging his rough hands choosing the right pipes, testing its vibration, its sound, cleaning them...

No, I did not ask about prices at the end of our visit, I simple decided to enjoy the opportunity of witnessing something that does not exist anymore in many parts of the world, parts where once upon a time it was also a common activity. Before our departure, Huenala family invited us to have lunch with them and they offered us rabbit meat, a dish that people do not eat every day in Peguche. While Sara helped women in the kitchen, stirring the smelling liquids that boiled in the "pailas" (copper pots) and sharing many stories and a few recipes with them, I laid the table and placed the wooden benches around it, thinking that our stay in Peguche had been, up to that moment, the most incredible thing we had experienced through our tour: maybe due to its simplicity, to its purity, to its authenticity, maybe because we had learnt a lot, much more than what professional congresses were supposed to have taught us. Definitely, valuable things are not in those important places: you can find them turning the following corner. We found them in that community, with such a nice and generous family; we found them in Quito, in our friends' home and hearts. They were as the small threads of happiness that touch you without previous notice.

We had lunch with our fingers as our hosts, using only the spoon for the soup. We ate salad, fried pieces of rabbit, potatoes and corn that had been pulled out of the land a few minutes before, under the persistent rain that would be with us the rest of the day. We drank water and had something absolutely delicious as desert: "quimbalito", cooked dough made of eggs, flour and sugar that is boiled wrapped in "achira" leaves.

We left a bit later under the gentle rain that started from behind "taita" Imbabura. When we got on the small bus named "Imbaburapak" that took us back to Otavalo, we could feel for the first time in our lives how it looks like to be different: everybody was indigenous, they were traditionally dressed and the only language they spoke was Quichua. However, our differences did not make us feel uneasy since people continued smiling after having gazed at us with very kind and sweet eyes. How many people from occidental cities can be proud of treating those who are "different" with respect?

From Otavalo another comfortable bus took us to Quito, where our friends Gloria Añazco and Eduardo Proaño would welcome us with an enjoyable "merienda" (that is similar to our dinner) and left us in the hotel a bit later.

The following day –that would be a rainy one as well– we wanted to go downtown. Those would be the last free days before the IX Ecuadorian Librarians Meeting took place in Riobamba. And we certainly wished to make good use of every minute. We will let you know more about our steps tomorrow.

A big hug.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Travel Diary (14 out of 28): At the foot of “taita” Imbabura mountain...

Travel Diary (14 out of 28): At the foot of

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated and commented by Sara Plaza

[Diary of the journey by land across the ancient Inka Empire, from LIS Meeting to LIS Meeting, through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and NW Argentina, from November 5th to December 1st, 2006]

Ecuador always represented in my mind a wonderful country. I grew up far from where I was born, as any other Latin American emigrant who left his/her country in the 80s' to go and live in Spain. There, my best friends –those with whom I first did music in the streets– were from Ecuador, Quichua indigenous people from the Otavalo area. During the long hours that we shared together, they did not talk of anything else but the beauty of their countryside, of their mountains, of their women, of their markets, of their food... With them I learnt Quichua language and the magic of the Andean flutes and strings. One promise that I made to myself when I came back to South America, at the end of the 90's, was to travel to the valleys that my friends remembered with such an emotion, with the sort of bright in the eyes that meant nostalgia and deep memories. It would be right now, thanks to this journey of thousands and thousands kilometers through the Andean range, when I would be able to make my dream come true.

We arrived in Quito after a 36 hours' trip that destroyed the very little that still remained of our exhausted bodies. Fatigue made us lost a bit of our nerve and part of our good sense of humor, though we continued being ready for enjoying the new horizons that we started guessing in front of us. When we opened our eyes early in that morning, we discovered an absolutely fantastic countryside: mountains covered with green pasture, meadows, fields densely populated with trees, bushes and shrubs, high summits, valleys with all the imaginable tints of green colouring their floor. That represented a huge change of temperature and environment to our astonished pupils –used to the harsh desert we had journeyed through– that smiled gratefully in a sense. Those highlands we were crossing where the announcement of water, rain, mist, life...

We arrived in Quito very early, on Saturday the 18th of November. Our knowledge of that city was almost none, however, some friends were waiting for us. Both of them –Gloria Añazco and Eduardo Proaño– librarians and excellent mates, opened the doors of their house and their family for us, and made us feel as we were in our home. They treated us like brothers and siblings, and we joined them in their daily routine. We do not think that we will be able to thank each of them their sweetness and kindness. Their cordiality, affection, and respect towards Sara and me were priceless. There are things in life that we never forget, laughter and hugs that last forever, and are deeply kept in our hearts while they wait for being enjoyed and lived again. Welcomed in such a wonderful manner, our fatigue vanished, and after having breakfast and a shower, we decided abruptly –suddenly and unexpectedly, as many of our decisions while travelling used to be– that we would visit Otavalo that very same day. Here I would like to stop for a moment and point out something: ethnology distinguishes different Quichua speaking groups in Ecuador, one of them is the "Otavaleño", placed in the town named Otavalo and in the communities surrounding it. These people have a very strong personality: they preserve their traditions, their clothes, their customs and their language, but at the same time, they are very active, progressive and keep on moving and going abroad to sell their handicrafts, textiles and show their music and the Andean sounds to everybody else in the world. Men plaits and dark blue "ponchos" are a distinct features of these traders-artists with coppery skin and very sweet accent (even when talking in Spanish it is amazing how kindly they pronounce each sentence).

Each community is specialized in a particular handicraft, and each member of those communities is very proud of belonging to his/her own, what, sometimes, gives rise to traditional disputes between peoples.

Otavalo, together with Ibarra, are the most important cities in the area. The rest of the villages and rural communities form the sparse population of the mountains at the foot of the father ("taita") Imbabura Mount and the mother ("mama") Cotacachi Mount, two volcanoes that when they are not covered with snow, they are so with stormy clouds though.

Otavalo valley (poetically named "dawn valley") is the cradle of craftsmen and women, musicians and traditions. On Saturdays, the city welcomes the stalls of one of the most famous handicrafts, instruments and textiles market in the entire world (at least among the knowing travelers).

We wanted to take advantage of such an opportunity of visiting both the valley and the city during the market day, since, at that moment, people from different communities came down to Otavalo in order to trade and exchange food for textiles, textiles for grain, grain for animals, animals for ceramics and so on. On that day, we might see instruments, eat a traditional dish, watch their typical clothes, listen to Quichua, smell new flavors, see different colors with a centenary history, and feel how the indigenous blood beat in the heart of America. In addition, I did fulfill a personal dream walking in the streets that my old friends have trodden when they were children.

At the same time we decided to set off for Otavalo, we started putting very few things in our backpack while our hosts looked for someone who could be our contact in Peguche, a small indigenous community near Otavalo. This person would be a teacher named Elena Huenala and we would be ready to leave a short time later. In less than two hours we were on a bus again, going uphill through the chain of mountains surrounding Quito, leaving on one of its sides the child ("wawa") Pichincha volcano, which dominated the inmense capital and covers it with ashes from time to time, as it is still active.

No, we did not have time to visit downtown, nor its narrow colonial streets, renowned by their beauty. It would be in a couple of days when we would be walking along them.

That morning, we preferred getting involved in a new small adventure –the ones that we enjoy the most– and were delighted to see before our eyes those rows of tiles covering the roofs –a feature that characterizes most of the houses there–, the herds of cows, the pastures, the orchards and the fields at the bottom of the impressive Andean summits. I remembered that those lands had resisted many years the many Inkan attacks before becoming part of the Inkan province known as Chinchaysuyu, ruled by Huáscar, Atahualpa's ill-fated brother. Later on, those grounds would be dominated by the Spanish Crown and the Christian religion, following the same destiny as the other American viceroyalties. It would not be until the movement led by Bolívar (and continued by his generals) reached those hills that independency was won.

The road zigzagged into the distance and would take us to Tabacundo (a bit northwards than Otavalo), from where came one of the most famous Ecuadorian "sanjuanitos": "Tabacundeña". "Sanjuanitos" are typical musical rhythms from that region; originally they were played during San Juan festivity, however, they became a sort of "national anthem" for the Andean folk music. The sound of their instruments, specially the "rondador" (a Pan flute similar in its structure and timbre to the one used by the knife grinders that used to play in the streets each time they arrived in a new place) gave them a very peculiar touch.

Otavalo shown a frantic activity when we first put a foot on its grounds –yawning and stretching our muscles– after travelling two hours on a bus much more comfortable than the previous ones. We neither knew where we were, nor where we ought to go to find the market, but a bit further on we saw many people following the very same direction and we decided to walk behind them. We followed the women, dressed in colorful blouses and black skirts ("anaco"), carrying in their bags those big bundles ("rebozo"), a bright colorful piece of textile where many things are wrapped up, from clothes and food to the very little children; the men loading boxes; the grandmothers leading a group of children (the ones that best behave, by the way) also dressed with their original clothes.

While we were crossing those narrow streets packed with traders and visitors, and flooded with shouts, invitations in Quichua or in Spanish to buy, to see and touch, to try and play, we also could smell the traditional dishes just cooked and wondered whether or not everything would be prepared to be appreciated by visitors like us both. Soon we understood that it was not, that it was a celebration, it was a custom, a tradition that still remained in those communities with the same power to bring people together, and without forgetting some new tendencies of our modern life.

We walked for a while, following the many streams of people going from one place to the other, thinking that sooner or later we will find the renowned "Plaza de los Ponchos", that is, the Handicraft Market. There are three markets in Otavalo on Saturdays: the one of foodstuffs, the animals' one and the one mentioned above. The latter is the one that all the tourist guides recommend to visit However, some deity's hand –knowing that we are not ordinary tourists– led us to the first one, the sort of market where tourists are rarely seen because it is intended for exchanging fruit, vegetables, cereals, eggs, meat, bread, etc., and this stuff cannot be taken to your home country as a present for your family and friends. Our steps end in a sort of indoor market without walls and we spent the whole morning there. We trode slowly, crossed every corridor, turned in each corner, stopped at all of the stalls in order to see the profusion of colors, of smells, of tastes, of textures, that we had never met before or if we had ever seen then, they still make a difference with the ones we had in Spain or Argentina. We listened to "sanjuanitos" coming out from a radio that we never found, and from all the pots and pans where food was being cooked in the heart of that market –the dining room– delicious flavors announced a tasty lunch.

From seeds to dried pasta in the shape of very thin sticks, from alive crabs (that were sold tied two or more together) to products brought by the negroes from Chota (one of the groups with African origins that still remain in this country), from tropical mangoes to rice (something that cannot be omitted in any Ecuadorian dish), everything was exhibited there.

The women selling their stuff while lively talking to each other in Quichua, looked at us with the same curiosity as we admired their adornments and dresses. Refreshments made with thousands fruits and colorful milkshakes populated those counters.

This part of the market, situated in the middle, consisted of a series of long counters behind which the cooks laboriously prepared the meal, moving carefully among the gas rings. Lunch time was near and they were almost finishing "fritadas" (bits of cow or pig meat stirred up and slowly fried), "tortillas" (round balls of smashed potatoes, sometimes mixed with vegetables or "chicharrones"), roasted chickens, "seco de res" (beef stew), and many other typical dishes.

We did suppose that in many communities the fact of eating meat was already something to be celebrated: as well as in Argentina, farmers who grow animals take care of them as their most important capital, killing only some of them on very special occasions. There we were ordering a menu (drink included) for 1$. We sat among the others, we were only two more in the crowd: trading, chatting, eating, resting... The funny thing is that we still thought that we were in the Handicraft Market and what surprised us the most was not to find more people from abroad.

We left the market absolutely marveled at the festive air that surrounded the place, and while Sara waited for a minute learning how a mother did for tying her child to her back with the colorful "rebozo", I did try to understand that beautiful language, which I was able to speak very slowly and found it difficult to follow at the speed those people spoke it.

"Alli punzha... Imanallataq kanguichiq, wauqekuna?" (Nice day... ¿How are you, brothers?) I heard to say to someone. It was really moving, I felt deep emotions inside. How wonderful to normally talk in such a valuable language as Quichua was. It was something very special to be there and enjoy something so important for our identity, for our cultural heritage.

Our following steps took us along crowded streets that we had not crossed before, where dozens of handicrafts stalls formed rows on both sides, this time perfectly equipped for attracting tourists' attention. In fact, the quality of most of the things exhibited there was excellent: wooden carvings, musical instruments, CDs, textiles, metal work. Little by little, playing one "charango" here, looking at some textiles over there, searching for popular music a bit, we finally arrived at the "Plaza de los Ponchos", where we met all the foreigners that we had not seen during the morning, and became aware of the fact that we had not been following the touristic route but the one done by locals. This, by the way, made us very happy, because it was much more for our liking.

Still we spent a while in Otavalo, and even had time to be sat down in the Rumiñawi Square, where an enormous head has been placed in the middle honoring the Inkan general, whose name means "stone eye". That square reminded me of a song by the group from Otavalo "Charijayac", who, when I was very young, made a musical theme called "Otavalo y punto" that said "building Rumiñawi Park". When, with my musicians friends, I did heard that theme there in Spain, so far in time and space from that square, they told me that the Square was under construction and that they would have liked very much to be there when it was officially open to the public and cross it holding their girlfriends' hands or beside their parents, sisters and brothers. Being there, sitting in a bench of that finished square, made me think of those people from Otavalo that were far away, of the young boy that I was, of the many dreams and the great desire of visiting that place through years and years. And I did also think that, in a way or another, the life always gives to us the opportunity to make true our dreams if we pursue them long enough. And, if sometimes those chances arrive later (to our understanding) maybe it is because that is the moment for us to enjoy and appreciate them.

The sun was setting when we decided to find a taxi and asked its driver to take us to the near village of Peguche, where Elena Huenala had kindly offered a place to spend the night. Peguche is a very small population, whose inhabitants work the land and make textiles, situated at the foot of the stony giant that indigenous people named Imbabura. It is also renowned for giving birth to well known artists and musicians and thanks to the textiles that tireless sellers, travelling from one market to another, have traded worldwide It is next to Otavalo, so near that you can go walking from one to the other, but the clouds that covered the sky and embraced those hills around us menaced to break a fierce storm over our heads, thus we look for lodging as soon as we could.

To find Elena's house and meet her and family was very easy. To fall in love with them and their world was even easier. We would spend the night and the following day with her and her family, however, we will introduce them to you in tomorrow's post, because that day, maybe the most beautiful of our journey, deserves a special treatment.

From this sunny city, humid and flooded with very hungry mosquitoes, which are biting us day and night without rest, we send you a huge hug.