We stayed several days in Falco's place in downtown Quito. Falco is the director of Fine Arts College at Quito University. He has some obsession for Mexican wrestling and a fridge covered with all sort of stickers ranging from Jesus Christ to the Transformers. If he feels alone he sits a Mazinger Z replica to diinner. Now he adds extra plates for these hitch-hikers. Falco is one of those who believe that Art ought to wander out of the walls of Academy. Working together with an organization of sexual workers he designed an image of Virgin Mary that would cater for them. And so was born "Nuestra Señora de la Cantera".
We were not impressed at all by Quito's churches. Latin America is becoming a bit monotonous in that way. Guidebooks describe churches with such detail that one would imagine backpackers are ecclesiastical researchers. The colonial era common to all the countries in the region causes that there is always a La Merced or San Francisco church waiting for us at any city. Moreover, But if you want us to talk about them, let us point that San Francisco church incarnates a fashion that would have repelled that wondeful ascetic monk Francisco de Assis was. He would have found God among "three little birds right on my doorstep singing a song..." and definitely not in gold layered altars. In any case, those stone cathedrals erected by indigenous craftmen call a dramatic lich treat under Quito's stormy skyline.
And we eventually got to "Mitad del Mundo", literally "Half of the World", where one is to find the symbollic line dividing our globe in two halfs. While GPS has come to say that the 30 meter tall stone landmark is displaced 240 m from the actual spot, it is not any less magical for us. As to hitch-hikers who have made it here from the frozen edges of the Antarctic continent, we are delighted with the event. We suddenly realized that it's been a year and a half since we became "Acrobats of the Road" in plural, which include 9 months of ongoing exploration of South America. Stepping over the Equator's line, in the land of bananas and butterflies, the memory of icebergs seems unreal. But the esence here is celebrating celebrate the mistery of the other half we haven't yet explored.
History relates that a French mission conducted by Charles Marie de la Condamine realized in 1736 the measurements that conclusively proved that latitude 0 wrapped the planet at this spot. A lesser known bit of data is that the same research lead to the outline of the Metrical System, which came to dethrone yards, feet and inches much for the sorrow of British and knackers. The comitive actually walked overland from Cuenca in several stages in their attempt to find the elusive line. The poor Frenchmen couldn't possibly have known that Andean people would ignore their meticulous task just to keep saying their beloved "ahicito no más" when referring either to ten meters or a kilometer. The "metrical expedition" seems to have found a healty balance between work and play, judging by the odd proportion of blue eyed "cholos" in tiny communities like Victoria del Portete and Tarqui, as I personally observed in 2008 while surveying a mining conflict. The French were not dumb, they could have followed their invisible line acros Africa, but I guess lions were less of a tempting option. Way or another, their epic, metric tour gave name to the nation of Ecuador.
Laura and I are enthusiastic to camp in the Equator's line, but we soon learn it's forbidden. That same night finds us in Calacalí, a neighbouring town, equally crossed by the line. It's really easy to make friends in Equador. We first called it dinner time at a corner comedor where we ordered achiras de cerdo and potatoes. We then asked the lady in charge where could we set up our tent. Along with her daughter, they inmediatly suggested their garden. They forecasted the main plaza was not a good option with wandering drunkmen and reggetòn crasy youngsters with loud speakers. For us, it's more than solving the housing situation. It's a chance to sample how's life in the line of the Equator for an average family. I am glad at the mere contemplation of how they filter grains to prepare morocho. Rosario complains her husband is in a bad mood after she banned him from going out to bet in cock fights. Her mother sustains a similar drama. At a moment we can see how two neighbours drag her drunk husband in, his tongue literally out and his legs as dead hanging elements. In top of that, Rosario and his mother have risen their nephews together. The children were abandoned by their mother crawling. Father works in Quito as security guard and visits them once a month. It's a pitiful Latin frame: two women surviving in spite of their slothful husbands.
When I started travelling, my central motivation was to flag the message that it was possible to go around the world finding good intentioned people. I assume the continuity of this round the world hitch-hiking trip is still a proof of that. However, my pen is increasingly inclined to feature this every day battles od ordinary people. While some trips are challenge centered (reaching Alaska, etc) and I can still remember myself akin with such lines, I can't now imagine a journey deprived of ideology. America is sorrounding us, not its monuments. I refer to the magnific, odd America, a locus terribilis capable of -even- surviving itself, where dreams ambush behind the dark glimpses of its inhabitants.
Rosario's aunt arrives, greets us and rises a bag of chicken bones that will be her dog's treat. Keeping them lifted enacts a severe speech about 2012. She assures that draughts and famine will come, and that our politicians should prepare us by teaching the population how to grow tomatoes in a bath tube. While she ushes, her 5 years old son presses over her leg an electric massage appliance someone ordered from a TV sales show. That -too- is America.