Galapagos Islands: wildlife galore, from sea to sky

Monday, October 1, 2018, to Friday, October 5, 2018 — Time to leave Quito, Ecuador, and our Alexander + Roberts guide, Maria, here competing against Sunday morning church bells in the main square. She has another group coming into Quito on Monday afternoon to do the same trip we have made in reverse – Ecuador first, then Peru.

We are leaving this land of volcanoes to a group of islands 645 miles off the coast of Ecuador, where we will spend the next five days. In 1959, Ecuador made the Galapagos Islands a national park, and it became a UNESCO site in 1996. The archipelago includes 19 islands; just five of them, where potable water was found, are inhabited by human beings. That’s about 3 percent of the land mass for humans and the rest national park, where about 95 percent of the natural wildlife is still intact.

BoatWe traveled around the islands aboard La Pinta, staffed with three naturalists, chefs who knew their way around the kitchen, a helpful crew to sail the boat and help us in and out of our wetsuits and the pangas (Zodiacs or small boats).

 

Five days of hiking, snorkeling and exploring the islands’ coastlines by boat. Hard to beat.

First stop was Santa Cruz Island, where we visited what seemed to me to be a tortoise farm. The tortugas, weighing as much as 500 pounds, are not in captivity and can leave through fences to seek food. But they come here for the guava fruit and grazing on grasses, leaves and bananas. Not carnivores.

Those that are hatched here are kept for five years until their shells are strong enough to be released by the park.

Turtle

Then from turtles to iguanas, seals and lots of birds. I’ve seen more variety in fish when snorkeling in Hawaii, but I’ve never swum with a seal before. Tried to get a picture with my underwater camera ($110 Nikon Cool Pix, highly recommended), but he took one look into my mask and took off while my finger was trying to find the shutter button.

Seal eyes open
Seals are much easier to photograph on land; it’s hard walking on flippers

The naturalists accompanied us on treks around the islands and also gave lectures each night, one on fishes, land iguanas (did not see) and my favorite, on penguins. There are about 17 kinds of penguins — more or less with some dispute on that — and all but one lives in the Southern Hemisphere. That one is the Galapagos penguin, which is close enough to the equator to drift into the Northern Hemisphere. The lecturer pointed out that the Galapagos Islands are the only place in the world with both penguins and flamingoes – except for Las Vegas, interjected Mimi, a witty member of our group.

Penguins
Galapagos penguins

Once Galapagos penguins numbered over 2,000 birds, but they are down to about 1,200. The biggest threat is El Nino, a weather condition where the ocean current pushes warm water east into the islands and the coast of South America. The penguins live on the west side of the islands because the underwater current churns up cold water with lots of food. The El Nino reverses that, causing the biggest drop in penguin population. Other threats include:

  • Pollution from lead and cadmium, which may come from underwater volcanic sources rather than human contamination;
  • Fishing when birds are tangled in nets or caught as by-catch (unintended);
  • Tourism, overpopulation by the 100,000 who visit each year;
  • Predators — feral dogs and rats are the worst. Goats used to pick the islands clean, but they have been mostly eliminated in a park eradication program;
  • Diseases brought by migratory birds.

Besides the island of Santa Cruz, we visited the islands of Bartolome, Santiago and Genovesa. We saw birds, birds, birds. And I’ll leave you with that on this last post from our trip to Peru and Ecuador, which was a buen viaje.

Lava heron
Lava heron
Magnificent frigate
Magnificent frigate bird
Galapgos dove
Galapagos dove
Yellow warbler
Yellow warbler
Juvenile red-footed booby
Juvenile red-footed booby
Swallow tailed gull
Swallow-tailed gull
Brown pelican
Brown pelican
Blue footed booby
Blue-footed booby
Great blue heron
Great blue heron
Galapagos mockingbird
Galapagos mockingbird on Sanders’ hat
Short-eared owl
Short eared owl
Iguana-blue footed
Marine iguana and blue-footed booby
Us with seal
Us and a seal of approval

Oh Rose thou art in abundance in Ecuador

Single rose

September 29, 2018, outside Quito, Ecuador — “Oh Rose thou art sick” may be the only line of poetry I remember from my English class on William Blake. I also remember what our professor, Hazard Adams, said about that line: It’s rooted in reality; roses do get sick easily and often. And then Blake and the class wandered off into Los, Urizen, Oorthoon, Enitharmon and other fantastic Blake’s poetry and artwork.

The “Rose thou art sick” is stark reality based on my piddling rose-growing experience, mostly black leaf spots, spindling vines and little adherence to trellises.

Merino RosesSo imagine if you had 99 acres of flowers to keep healthy so you could pick 50,000 blossoms a day. That would be the business of Merino Roses, outside Quito, Ecuador.

There are 422 companies growing flowers in Ecuador, most of them started in the few decades. The country is perfect for growing roses: the daylight on the Equator is consistent at 12 hours a day all year long, the weather is mostly the same. So now the country supports 700,000 acres of greenhouses.

The Merino company’s greenhouses each cover about one acre to grow 69 different flowers — 17 devoted to red roses. The greenhouses control the humidity and ultraviolet rays that can cause variation in blossom colors. Birds and beetles are kept out, and even pollinators such as bees are verboten since these hybrids want no natural you know what. Bamboo fences keep out the wind.

Greenhouses
Greenhouses for flowers
Equator
Each with one foot in different hemispheres

New plants take about four months for the first cut of blossoms, then two more months for the second cutting. After that, the plants can produce every 75 days. Those that don’t measure up go to the compost pile.

The blossoms are harvested, washed, climatized for seven hours, kept in a cooler for five hours and cooled slowly down to the temperatures in the planes that will take them to Europe, the USA and Japan.

The roses are cut according to each specific market. Some markets want short stems, some want longer ones — and the longest goes to . . . Russia. Six feet long and very leafy.

About three weeks before February 14 — Valentine Day — the 50,000 blossoms per day gets kicked up to 110,000 buds per day. The 175 employees are joined by about 50 percent more workers keeping the plant in operation 24 hours a day during this busy time.

Distance in rows
A worker at the end of the row, cutting roses
Gathering roses
Gathering the picked roses
Putting in baskets
Wrapping them in baskets
Baskets
Ready to be shipped from the greenhouse
Trolley
Off to packaging
Sorting by stems
Sorting by stem lengths

The average wage in Ecuador, according to Maria, our Alexander & Roberts guide, is about $376 per month. The rose factory tops that by about $150 to $200 more. Plus workers get two meals per day, except for one on the half day on Saturday. Money for social security and hospitalization is withheld at 8.9 percent, and the employer also pays into the fund. The best thing about the job, says Maria, is that people don’t have to leave there community and move into the cities for jobs.

There is no room for slackers or slowpokes in this factory. Those on the lines sorting and packing flowers move quickly and efficiently to keep up. And the roses hold up very well compared to all they are put through in packaging.

Kathy in warehouse
In the warehouse

The flower industry is much bigger than I would have thought until I read a New York Times article about what would happen when Britain splits from the European Union. Twelve billion flowers and plants are sold through Royal FloraHolland near Amsterdam — more than one third of the worldwide trade. One billion dollars of that goes to Britain, now with no tariffs, no custom inspections and no sanitary inspections. But Britain’s exit from the European Union is fast approaching and that could mean all the incumbrances to free trade listed above. As one flower shopkeeper in London said in the article: “People aren’t buying as much as they used to.”

With this much disruption in the bloom business this could be the

 

“The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.”
Rose gift
What would a rose factory give its visitors?

With plenty to do in Quito, can hat shops end up on top?

Statue
The Spanish king on the bottom of this Ecuadoran statue on its fight for independence.
Liberty
With an ascending condor, symbol of Ecuador, and Liberty on top

Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, Quito, Ecuador — With 2.6 million people living in Quito, Ecuador, a city surrounded by volcanoes, it might seem odd that our new Alexander & Roberts guide, Maria, would make our first visit there to a hat shop, one of two we frequented while there.

She could have — and eventually did — take us around the city and tell us about its Spanish founding in 1534 when it was dubbed San Francisco de los Quito. The population that year was 254 people, but they only counted Spaniards and two Moorish slaves. Native population who had been there for thousands of years did not get on the stone tablets now displayed on the main square.

Quito is the second highest capital in the world at 9,350 feet. The highest belongs to La Paz, Bolivia, at 11,942 feet. Quito is in the middle of 16 active volcanoes and when we asked if there had been an eruption, Maria answered back, “Which one?” There was an eruption two years ago.

With 24 provinces and 16.5 million people in the country, Quito is the political capital of Ecuador. Guayaquil and its four million population is considered the economic center of Ecuador.

There are about 1.5 million Colombians living in Ecuador and right now the country is getting 5,000 to 6,000 Venezuelans crossing into the country every day — that’s about two times each day compared to Trump’s feared Central American caravan. The government statistics say the unemployment is about 12 percent. But Maria pointed out that many people are either making a living or supplementing another job by selling oranges on the streets, washing windshields at intersections or working as street vendors. The currency here is stronger, which might not be a surprise since it is the dollar. Many of the dollar coins depict James Madison, George Washington or Susan B. Anthony. Seemed odd to me. Never saw any with James Monroe on them.

The presidential palace was built on top of an Inca building (wasn’t everything?) and the Spanish rule didn’t start to crumple until Aug. 10, 1809, when Ecuadorans gathered in the main square (“Perhaps after wine,” suggested Maria) to demand freedom. Soldiers jailed them, they died but that was the beginning of the move to independence, which came in 1822. The statue in the square stacks things on top of the Spanish king. Then comes guns and battles. A condor, the symbol of the new country, breaking chains and then liberty on top.

Maria could have said all that right at the beginning of our visit, but the Humacatama Sombreros hat shop was right around the corner from our hotel (the lightly guarded presidential palace was around the other corner), and it was a ton of fun.

From the second that they pulled out the hat in the video above, I knew that it would become my winter hat. Kathy bought it for me at $35, which is a very good bargain, and it folded up in my luggage to get it home. But first it was used in demonstrating for sizing, pressing and waterproofing. Nice to witness all that goes into your purchase.

Besides witnessing how hats are made, we got to try on everything in the house, which brought out the best of us, I think.

Large hat 1
Who else could carry off this lovely hat, but Kathy?

The hat-shop tour did not end there. A couple of days later we dropped by Casa Montecristi, a shop that makes and sells what most people refer to as “Panama hats,” although most of them are made in Ecuador.

$3,000 hat
A $3,000 hat

My summer hat is a straw one that seemed expensive to me when I bought it at the John Helmer shop in Portland, Oregon, for about $100. That pales in the face of some of the hats in this shop. The price tag on the one pictured to the left  was $3,000.

Out of my price range, but perhaps understandable when you take into account the amount of work these handmade items take. First the straw to make the hats is sorted and separated into thin, thin threads. From there the threads are

Loose straw
Loose straw and the beginning of a hat

woven together to make the hat. In order to do this, Maria demonstrated the position the weavers need to get into to make sure the straw is going together in a tight fashion. From there the hat is woven, shaped, a band attached and put up for sale.

The thinness of the straw and the tightness of the weave makes the hat more expensive. In the picture below you can see the difference

Weaving position
The weaver is up close and personal with the hat being made

in the thickness and tightness of the weave between my formerly expensive hat, left, and a truly expensive hat on the right.

Straw in hats
A $100 hat, left, and a $3,000 hat, right

A couple of very interesting shops, a couple of interesting days in Ecuador’s capital and I got my winter hat. Can’t beat it.Us in hats

Kathy bought my $35 winter hat but would not let me buy this lovely fascinator for her

 

 

Visiting a popular spot in Cusco: Cementerio

Fest mural
The walls outside the cemetery show lively festival-goers in costumes

Corn mural
Life inside every ear of corn

Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, Cusco, Peru — “People in Cusco like to visit the cemetery,” said Yakelin, our Alexander & Roberts guide, “and cremation is not popular.”

Cemetery signSo off we went for a visit to a popular spot in Cusco: Cementerio Museo Patrimonial de la Almudena.

The outside walls of the place are covered with murals depicting scenes from life, pictures of people in costumes at Cusco’s celebrations and godlike creatures emerging from an ear of corn.

Inside, the overall impression is a bit more sober, but a closer look is warranted. The rows and rows of crypts holding the bodies are stacked high. The outside coverings of the small outside doors display the wealth of the family with some in shiny metals and others in less expensive materials. The richest are stuck away in a mausoleum, off by themselves.

Cyrpts

We stopped in front of one crypt with no door. It was for an 11-year-old boy who had died recently. It will take at least three to four months before a new door can be put on because the gas from chemicals and decomposing can break the glass.

Families can own crypts, or they can rent them in five-year periods. However, when the rent is unpaid, an “eviction notice” (as Ramsey the doctor who could be a reporter called it) is posted on the door of the enclosure. If not paid, the body is removed and buried in a public common grave.

Indian lady walking

Yakelin said people usually visit at least once a week to replace flowers inside the crypt doors. That’s where things liven up a bit with pictures from the deceased’s life, things that remind the family of them and other things that could be special to them.

Aisle

DecoratingBattery-operated figurines have become popular in many of the crypts with families believing animated figures put some life in a place of the dead.

See that frog in the video below? Right on top of my urn, please.

But first, we are off to Quito, Ecuador.

 

Coca leaf tea, potatoes, corn and llama fetuses for good luck

Pig butt

Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, Cusco, Peru — If you have a weak stomach, then the meat section of an open-air market is no place to visit. Most North Americans used to shopping where meat comes plastic-wrapped might not find these stalls all they’ve been cracked up to be. They might butt up against something they’re not accustomed to.

We put that part of Cusco’s market behind us in a hurry, but we had a great time finding all kinds of things to buy. Coca-leaf tea? You bet. Never know when we might get altitude sickness again. Our guide, Yakelin, assured us it would get through USSA customs.

Potatoes

Three thousand varieties of potatoes. Did I mention that before? We didn’t buy any spuds, but it was nice to see a couple dozens of those varieties.

Coffee, chocolate, table runners and other fabrics went into our bags as we strolled through the large market.

CornAll 17 types of corn grown in Peru were represented. That included the one Yakelin considered the best, a white corn with big kernels, which actually looked a little overripe to me. Didn’t buy.

She also pointed out to me something hanging from the ceiling. Those, she said, are llama fetuses. They are used as offerings to the earth. If the grass dries up, nothing for the llamas and alpacas to eat, it’s time to get out the llama fetuses.

 

Llama fetuses
Grab a llama fetus to ward off natural disasters

I thought about getting some to try to raise soybean prices up from their death by tariff. Tried my best, USSA soybean farmers, but they would not fit in my luggage or likely get through USSA customs. However, the coca-leaf tea was no problem.

Hats

 

Mortar? Incas made buildings last without it

Stone insets
Incas used “insert tab A into slot B” to hold stones piled on top of each other in place for years

Thursday, September 27, 2018, Cusco, Peru — How could the Incas build foundations that have outlasted the colonial buildings built on top of them? The Inca foundations were built with no mortar, just stones carved and placed on top of each other, surely not the most stable construction technique.

A visit to the Convent of Santo Domingo in Cusco answered those questions. The colonial church, started in 1534 on top of the Inca Temple of the Sun, fell down in the earthquake in 1950. That exposed the Inca foundation underneath. In a wise decision, the church opted for leaving the foundation open so the public could view them. Plus, they have a display that helps explain the Inca technique.

The stones look like they were just stacked on top of each other, but there is an “insert-tab-A-into-slot-B” going on. As our Alexander & Roberts guide, Yakelin, had already pointed out, the walls lean into one another to help support the entire structure during shaky times.

Leaning walls
Inca walls leaned into each other to provide stability

We also visited the Cathedral Basilica in Cusco’s main square. Mostly struck by a painting by Marcos Zapata in 1753 of the Last Supper. Right in the middle of the table is a prepared guinea pig ready for eating – an excellent demonstration of the Catholic’s church blending in with the native culture. Yakelin also pointed out that many people believe that Judas’ face is actually that of Francisco Pizarro. She also noted the halo over Christ. It’s not just a shining band perched over his head. It is a glow behind him, as if the sun were rising behind him. So what was Zapata worshiping?

         From https://medium.com/@julieshentonpeters

 

 

Sacsayhuaman: Where the Inca Empire was lost

Top view
Sacsayhuaman, on the wall looking down at the parade ground

Cusco, Peru, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 — In 1536, there were 190 Spaniards in Cusco, eighty who had horses. Juan Pizarro, half brother to Francisco, had freed Manco Inca, made ruler by Francisco Pizarro after he executed Atapaulpa. The newest Inca leader made haste to the hills to raise as many as 200,000 troops to get rid of the Europeans.

The Inca force returned, burnt the city and holed up in Sacsayhuaman where they could sweep down on the besieged Spaniards.

“Thus ended the Inca capital: stripped for Atahualpa’s ransom, ransacked by Spanish looters, and now burned by its own people,” says John Hemming in “The Conquest of the Incas.”

Peter Frost’s book, “Exploring Cusco,” called the “bitter struggle for these heights became the decisive military action of the conquest. Manco’s failure to hold Sacsayhuaman cost him the war, and the empire.”

Spaniards, protected by steel helmets and bucklers, killed thousands of Manco’s forces by wielding steel swords and using their horses to charge into the Incas armed mostly with slings and stones. An example: The Spaniards wiped out about 1,500 Inca holdouts in the last battle for Sacsayhuaman. And not all 190 went up there. One who surely didn’t go was Juan Pizarro, killed previously by a stone dropped from one of the towers at Sacsayhuaman, the first of the Pizarros to go.

Frost tallies the rest of the Pizarro clan: Gonzalo executed in 1548 for rebelling against the Spanish crown; Francisco was assassinated in Lima in 1541 by rivals; Hernando spent 20 years in a Spanish prison for either provoking Manco’s rebellion, killing a Spanish nobleman or both. He died an old man whose wills and other efforts to control his vast fortune all ended in naught.

Big stones
See that rock behind us? Could you drag it three or four miles?

Our guide, Yakelin, said it probably took 20,000 people working for 60 years to complete the Sacsayhuaman. The stone quarry was three to four miles away from the site, and if you look at the size of the stones you can see what a struggle it must have been to drag them to Sacsayhuaman. They had no horses and did not know about the wheel. So they pulled the stones themselves by rolling them over logs. (It seems that someone might have thought, “These logs could be cut into segments, hitched behind a llama and we could open a John Llama dealership.”)

Cut stones.jpg
And once you got it here, could you carve it to make it fit?

The three towers on top of Sacsayhuaman were torn down, and the Spaniards forced the Incas to drag the stones into the city to build cathedrals.

That tickled a question in my mind that I had had since finishing Hemming’s book: Why did anyone in Peru allow anyone to speak Spanish? After independence, why didn’t they put every European they could find on a boat and head them back home – or drown them?

My effort to get those questions answered never worked. But Ramsey, a doctor on our tour who would make a good reporter, got it right when he asked Yakelin about her heritage: Given that she is mestizo (mix of European and Indian blood), what side of the family do you lean toward?

“I don’t worry about Spaniards or Inca,” she said. “No one separates things that way.

“The Incas incorporated others into their Empire, some asked, some forced.”

She learned basic information about Incas in school — some of it wrong. She grew up in Cusco and said they were taught that the Incas only lasted 100 years. Actually, they had been around for at least 400 before the conquest. This short-lived story of the Incas was also used as a justification by the Spaniards for the conquest: The Incas had only ruled for a few generations, and the Europeans “supplanted other equally unwelcome conquerors.” Maybe.

Yakelin explained that Quechua, the native language, is being reintroduced with medical professions and educators required to learn it. The CIA Factbook notes that the Peruvian population is 60 percent mestizo, Amerindian 25 percent, white 6 percent, African descent 3.6 percent and others (Chinese, Japanese, etc.)

It’s a mixed bag in Peru, native religion mixed with Catholicism, Quechua and Aymara languages mixed with Spanish. And no one is being led down to the boats for a journey to somewhere that would no longer feel like home.

Leaving Cuzco
A baby goat, a woman in native dress — who could resist?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Machu Picchu: Comparing a visit in 1975 to a visit today

Kt good light

Tuesday and Wednesday, September 25 and 26, 2018 — Since returning from our trip to Machu Picchu, I have been comparing our visit there to one that my friend Jeff made in 1975. His experience there seems almost impossible for the Peruvian ruins now.

He took the train up the Sacred Valley to a very deserted place, as he remembers it, which today is probably the busy town of Aguas Calientes. There was only a miniature school bus run by the rather dilapidated hotel at the top of the mountain next to the ruins. So Jeff hiked the switchbacks up to the ruins, planning to camp up there.

He toured the ruins, remembers that there were a couple of Peruvian students there to hire as guides. There were not more than maybe 30 or 35 people in the entire site. The hotel held a few people, mostly older. But Jeff bedded down in one of the enclosed stone structures. The next day he hiked up to the Sun Gate and then headed down to the train to continue on his journey through South America.

Now the buses run from 6 a.m. until closing time when guards (attendants) chase everyone away. The max they allow at the ruins each day is 2,500, but word has it that anyone willing to buy a ticket is let in.

I’m glad Peru has developed a tourist industry, and Machu Picchu deserves to be the star of the show. Foreign cash welcomed there, and it’s better than visitors scared away by the Sendero Luminoso. But it does make me wish I would have continued on with Jeff from Central America in 1975, although grad school paid off in the end.

Not sure how good the student guides were, but the modern day ones are excellent – at least Yakelin was. Our two-day tour was filled with facts, observations and numbers.

It probably took 40,000 people to build Machu Picchu, most of them doing their “mita,” two years of labor as a tax to the Inca Empire. It was built there because of water sources, a quarry of stones to build with and perhaps some idea of defense because of the cliffs surrounding it. But with eight ancient trails leading into it, defense may not have been the highest priority. It may have been an advance post for the Incas move into the Amazon region to take over supply of coca leaves (a mild stimulant that helps with altitude sickness, not cocaine, which came later).

The terraces were used for agriculture with drainage built into them, and the place could support a population of 500 to 700 residents. The stone temples and houses, once covered with thatch roofs, were built between 10,000-foot Machu Picchu – the Old Mountain – and Wayna Picchu – the Young Mountain.

Wayna Picchu
Ruins on Wayna Picchu

There are ruins and a Moon Temple up on Wayna Picchu, but we did not have time to climb it. You need a permit, and we had a schedule to keep. We were up at 5 a.m. on our second day to get to the front entrance before the buses started to arrive. My second cup of coffee put us behind two early-arriving buses. So we joined the crowd of about 200 people who all had the same idea we had: Hike to the Sun Gate, a thousand feet above the main ruins. Four-hour hike up and back for us, and too cloudy to get much of a sunrise. However, the view up there is worth the climb.

From Sun Gate
At the Sun Gate with the ruins behinds us.

The best way to avoid the really big crowds is to stay late in the afternoon (maybe walk down to Aguas Calientes or dig deep into your wallet to stay at the post-1975 hotel next to the entrance) or go early, getting in line for the first buses climbing the switchbacks up to the site. Your best shot at getting off by yourself is to climb Wayna Picchu. A climb Jeff and guidebooks say can be tricky with the last 20 meters on steep rocks with a ladder and rope to help out. Only 400 are allowed up there each day – 200 at 7 a.m. and 200 at 10 a.m.

The authors who wrote the guidebooks we used have a longing for the past – fewer crowds, fewer people “reconstructed” the ruins. Peter Frost in “Exploring Cusco” says that when the anthropologists arrive, the gods depart. Too much work to get everything down to bare stones with no vegetation, no lichens, no wilderness to entrance the imagination into picturing what it once was. Too many government departments with some control over the site. Too much intervention “where entire walls and even buildings have been assembled upon little more than a vestige of the foundations. Visitors are presumed to be insufficiently intelligent to imagine how an unreconstructed site might have looked.” He says that having seen the ruins before and after reconstruction and he “immoderately begs to disagree.”

Yakelin pointed out that there some terraces that have not been dug up yet, but they are far down the mountain and not easy to see.KT with llama

Ben Westwood in the Moon Handbook “Machu Picchu” notes that the millions visiting there each year has the site, built on a man-made mound of earth, actually sinking, “albeit very slowly.” So get there before it slips away. It’s right up there with my other favorite pre-Columbian archeological site, Tikal in Guatemala, which has unreconstructed temples that allow your imagination to run wild.

When you do visit Machu Picchu, do as Peter Frost asks: Don’t litter, don’t remove stones, plants or animals. “Remember, the Machu Picchu park is a sanctuary: for ruins, for wildlife, for trees and flowers – and for you. Please treat it that way.”

Kt up high

 

 

 

 

 

Glyn Meyrick, huge influence on my life, is fading away

DSC_0044.JPG
Glyn Meyrick

The news was not unexpected and neither was the reaction. But hearing that Glyn Meyrick was in hospice with his well-spent life about to end left me just as sad as I thought I would be when a huge influence on my life fades away.

Only spent two years with him as my coach and teammate at The Ohio State University rugby club, but that kept me playing the game for the next 37 years – and a dedicated follower still.

Glyn was an inspiration to live to the fullest – on or off the pitch, in work and play.

Back in 1969, Glyn seemed the slowest back on the field but always found a way around his would-be tackler, a bit of foot work, a kick or a lovely pass outside – or a faked one. He made me believe you could play this game forever, just like this old guy, who turned out to be in his early 30s at the time.

Ref
Glyn refereeing during a practice. I’m the last guy in the lineout — with beard and HAIR.

He let us play in practice while he refereed the scrimmages. Three times a week of tackling, scrummaging and beers afterwards. Glyn could party, and his singing in his thunderous Welsh voice made me see that singing wasn’t just confined to church. The lyrics never slipped his tongue – not appropriate for church – and he knew every rugby song ever composed.

How I even made it through school is a wonder, but I sensed that dropping out, failing, would be a disappointment to him. So I stuck around to keep playing, even after I graduated. Who would want to leave?

But a job took me to another city and I remembered him saying, “You can move anywhere in the world and immediately make good friends.” Happened in Portland, Atlanta, Seattle, in New Zealand on tour.

At the last reunion in 2016 marking 50 years since the founding of the Ohio State club (Glyn was there then), a teammate who played in the 1970s after I left (but still a teammate) made some remarks after visiting with today’s OSU players. Yes, the game is more regimented, there are national teams, professional leagues and contracts, somewhere to go up in the game if you behave. And the university keeps a closer watch on them.

“They’re not having as much fun as we had,” my teammate said.

Glyn had a lot to do with that.

DSCN1090.JPG

Trump’s aid cut can add millions more to the caravan

Our guide in Quito identified this puppeteer as someone who had fled the bad conditions in Venezuela. He might have been a street vendor there until no one had money to give him. What if he played outside the White House all day long?

The United States should pay more attention to Central and South America – and not just as the source of people in caravans headed for the southern border. We need to pay attention in a way that will provide them a safe home in their own countries.

Stopping aid to Central American countries is no way to do that. The Greedy Old Peckers controlling our nation ought to take a good hard look at giving more aid to those countries or the few thousands in a caravan headed north will be a tiny village compared to what is on the move in South America.

I picked up a La Hora, a daily newspaper in Quito, for my weekly Spanish reading as we headed toward the Galapagos Islands. As one article said, the newspaper was “venezolanizaron,” completely taken over by talk about Venezuela and the millions of people fleeing the bad conditions there.

One article reported on how France had affirmed its support for investigating in international court “crimes committed in Venezuela,” saying they threatened the development of South American countries and areas outside the region because of “en particular el deterioro de la situacion economica que oblige a cientos de miles de cuidadanos venezolanos a exiliarse y buscar refugio” (in particular the deterioration of the economic situation that obliged hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan citizens to go into exile and seek refuge).

France joined Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Canada (what happened to the United States and Mexico?)

What if the caravan started in Venezuela and headed this way? Wait, the Darien Gap might stop them.

An opinion in the paper noted that the president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, had addressed the General Assembly of the United Nation the day before, speaking for 40 minutes before an almost empty hall and “no dijo nada” (said nothing). He talked of “la migracion” but mostly denied it, as he always does. Blamed it on the United States and other South American presidents and got support where it could be expected – Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia.

No need for humanitarian aid. Said the exodus of 2.3 million from his country was a “fabrication,” apparently the Spanish word for “fake news.”

He left the hall without answering uncomfortable questions from the press, including this one the editorial asked: “Why is his country’s economy on the edge of collapse, why is it that his nation with the largest oil reserves can’t provide food and medicine and pushes millions into exile?”

Another editorial ticked off the conditions of life in Venezuela: Basic services scare, health services “castrados,” insecurity equal to a state of war, corruption and crime institutionalized and public resources converted to the booty of pirates.

Maduro is a dictator, no doubt, with nothing to control his power, with judicial or financial means coopted. No free elections. The ability to confront his power abolished and guarantees of humanity and life annulled.

Yet the man responsible for all this can stand before the world stage and give an “outdated” talk on sovereignty, socialism, the equality of people, democracy, anti-imperialism and his state officials listen and applaud.

How can this happen? the editorial asks. And how can the diplomatic corps make space for him without degrading itself.

That’s a long way of saying that things could get a lot worse for the United States, if aid is cut to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Trying to keep out desperate people with a wall or anything else goes against the history of humankind. We’re a migratory beast that flees from places where we can’t survive. One way or another, the caravan will arrive someday.

Which should not be taken as an argument for open borders. What we should do is something that will make Central America and Mexico better places to live. That doesn’t mean making them into states, as a Seattle Times printer once suggested to me (we tried that in 1855 to no avail). But cutting off aid right now is going in the wrong direction. More trade, work permits here to fill open jobs, help to eliminate gangs. Something that keeps the caravan of a few thousands from turning into millions.