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