The cupolas and towers of the Santuario of Atontonilco, near San Miguel de Allende. The Santuario is a Unesco World Heritage Site and the interior paintings, which were undergoing restoration while we were there, are [...]
The Citadel, built by the Vietnamese emperors in the early 19th Century, was severely damaged in Vietnam's two wars of the 20th Century. In 1947 against the French, and again in 1968 against the Americans, the center of Hue was the site of ferocious battles. The citadel area once held over 140 buildings. Only about 20 remain after extensive restoration since the 1990s. Most buildings were completely destroyed in the fighting and cannot be restored.
Cappadocia, In a word: fantastic. In the literal sense. It's a fantasy land, both in terms of history and landscape. The region is a network of small towns that have one thing in common: the weird geology of the region lent itself over the ages to people digging caves to live in. And so they did. And, if you look at a map, and know a little of the history of the Christian church, you'll see that this area also lent itself to becoming a true cradle for the infant church--a cradle which sheltered Christians in these caves for up to fifteen centuries.
I've been pretty lax in writing lately, at least for this blog. I keep telling myself I'll write a long post when I get an internet connection, but they've been harder to come by lately it seems, and when I do get one, I have to spend an hour making train and hotel reservations, and, of course, screwing around on Facebook. Kris and I just finished a 40 minute forced march across Rome (did you know we were in Rome?) to the train station. There was a hell of a lightning storm here this morning, and it took out the taxi dispatch system evidently, so because of that and because it was raining there were no taxis to be found anywhere. So, we were damn glad we're in shape from having walked across Spain, because if we hadn't been, we'd be dying somewhere on a Roman sidewalk and have missed our train to Pompeii.
Kris and I went for the weekend in Valparaíso and stayed for the rain. The three month long drought in Chile broke all over us last weekend. We took a two-hour bus trip to Valpo on Friday even though we'd been warned that the weather wasn't going to cooperate. I don't know why we didn't just postpone until the week. It's not like we have jobs or anything that makes us note the difference between weekends and weekdays, but, at least one of us is really stubborn.
I'm trying hard to figure out how to make this come off as something less than bitter, but the truth is that Kris and I could not be happier about leaving Ecuador. Perhaps this joy is informed by the fact that tonight we were robbed for the fourth time since we've been here. For a little perspective: in the 31 years we lived in Minneapolis, we were robbed twice. In the seven months in Quito…well you do the math. We were having sort of a bad day anyway. For some inexplicable reason, I've been trying for the last 30 days or so to renew our visas to stay here, but today I got the final "fuck you" from the Ecuadorian authorities.
I've been reading, for the second time, a book called The Last Days of the Incas by Kim McQuarrie. It makes traveling so much better when you know something about the history of what you're looking at. It's a terrific lot of historical research that reconstructs in great detail just how the Spanish destroyed the Inca empire, and fits in beautifully with Hiram Bingham's accounts of his rediscovery of the Incan sites, particularly Machu Picchu. (Did you know, btw, that Bingham was looking for Vilcabamba, the last Incan capital, and thought that's what he'd found at Machu Picchu? Oh well, that's another story for later, and to be told by someone else--scholars, for instance--who are interested in academic credit.)
We've been in Peru for five days now, and the first impressions are that Peru is more prosperous than Ecuador, and that this is due to a few things: the people just seem to be more entrepreneurial, especially when it comes to tourism; and the government seems more interested in actually doing things to promote the economy instead of promoting itself. We see some of that in Cusco, where we are now, but it was really apparent in Lima, where we spent two days before heading up to the mountains.
To my mind, one of the major deficiencies of Quito is its lack of neighborhood bars. When we lived in Madrid and Barcelona, we could count on there being at least one bar on damn near every block in the residential neighborhoods. These were most often family places that opened early in the morning so you could get your café con leche and a croissant, served a hearty lunch at the beginning of siesta time, and were there for beer, wine and tapas after work. No such luck in Quito. We make up for the coffee ourselves by brewing a very strong pot every morning in our French-style press pot we brought from home. (We tried serving it to one of my students one day and he recoiled at the grounds that stuck in his teeth.) There actually is a place that makes pretty good croissants, but it's about a 20 minute walk, and we don't usually make it there in the morning.
Saturday and Sunday are the best days to walk around the city for two reasons: everyone else is doing it, and the city provides entertainment in the form of music and dancing. First, the people watching part: both weekend days are big shopping days. On Saturday, all shops are open and are doing big business. Squeezing through the stalls of the Quiteño equivalent of a mall is an experience in itself. The shopping centers mostly resemble a U.S. storage locker facility where rows of 12 x 24 foot empty spaces face each other across a narrow hallway. Here, though, those lockers are packed to the top with merchandise of all types. One stall has underwear, the next has shoes, the next has small appliances, and the one next to that has mattresses (which reminds me, I need one.)