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.

 

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

 

 

You never know what you’ll find in an archeology museum

Sheila museo
Sheila introducing us to the Museo Larco

Lima, Peru, Sunday, September 23, 2018 — “There are about 45,000 artifacts in the Museo Larco,” said Sheila, our Alexander + Roberts guide to Lima, Peru, “and you will see about 38,000 of them.”

The full name of the Museo Larco is the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera. In 1926, at the age of 25, Rafael Larco Hoyle founded the museum. Today it is an overwhelming display of pre-Columbian artifacts. Actually, they are mostly pre-Incan because the Spaniards destroyed most of the Inca work in their search for riches. Golden art works were melted down and either shipped to Spain or stuck in the conquistadors’ pockets. Not gold? Those were discarded.

There were a few gold pieces, mostly mixed with copper for stability.

The museum offers row after row of clay faces, “the cultures’ form of writing,” Sheila said.

Examples of ancient textiles included a rug that was 3,000 years old.

Rug
The 3,000-year-old textile was used as a body wrap for the dead

Faces 4
A face from “Salon exotica”

Sheila did not accompany us into the “Salon exotica.” Not sure what she would have said in there. But she led us to the door and said, “That’s a part of life as well.”

It’s an interesting job she has. She works as a freelance guide to work all year. She studied tourism for a degree and then studied English for three years in a language school.

She will drop our group off at the airport tomorrow (5 a.m. wake-up call!) and then pick up a new group in the afternoon to tour Lima. Upcoming trips include a week in Cusco and then a cruise in the Amazon region. When she goes outside the Lima area she turns the guiding over to a local person (as they do for her in Lima) and serves more as a facilitator, coordinating transportation, hotels, boarding passes and all the other things one of our tour identified as “sure nice to be babysat for awhile.”

Sheila also provided a birthday celebration that night at the dinner at the museum to our oldest member who turned 83. Excellent meal of an appetizer of potatoes (3,000 varieties in Peru), chicken salad, olives and a quail egg on top. Entrée was rice with seafood (shrimp and scallops) with pasta in tomato sauce and creamed dessert of a fruit similar to avocado (lucuma?) that tasted like butterscotch.

Loved having Sheila as our guide with her amazing knowledge of the city and the museum, often stopping to point out some of the masks that had been restored. And my favorite quote from her concerned the obnoxious habit of Lima drivers to rely heavily on their horns: “Honking horns is like our national anthem.”

On to Cusco.

Big dreams

Back in the USSA, you dunno how lucky you are, boy

Love statue
This statue in the Parque del Amor is known as “The Kiss.” Our tour guide said you can’t see the woman’s face because the artist, Victor Delfin, had four wives.

Back in the USSA, you dunno how lucky you are, boy, a friend told me, to miss the news of the past two weeks when the Greedy Old Peckers took over the last branch of USSA government to give them the economic security to hang on to their riches in a nation headed for moral bankruptcy. Sort of like what they said about the path that guy in Europe took to keep the trains running on time -– even though they didn’t always go where the riders wanted them to go.

But let’s get back to where we’ve been visiting the past two weeks. That’s where the Really Greedy Old Peckers showed what a combination of religion, horses, armor and avarice could do to people who stood between them and the gold. Let’s start with Lima, Peru. Back in 1535, Francisco Pizarro founded the city where he would be murdered by folks even more greedy than he was.

Sheila
Our tour guide, Sheila, addresses the group during a walking tour of Miraflores, a neighborhood in Lima.

Today, it’s a city that houses 10 million of the 30 million in Peru, mostly in apartments. Our excellent Alexander & Roberts guide, Sheila, explained that Pizarro came from Andalusia in Spain and styled his city after what was built there – walled houses with courtyards. After independence in 1821 and a flush of railroad money, the buildings took on the look of French architecture. Today, many of the older, bigger homes have been taken over to be used for businesses and embassies.

Lima is divided into 43 neighborhoods, six with ocean views. Each neighborhood has its own mayor, and there is one for the entire city. With 25 political parties in Peru, getting signs up for all 43 mayoral candidates plus the Big Enchilada took over most of the billboard and empty wall space in the city for the elections on October 7. There is a $30 fine for those who don’t vote, applicable to anyone between the ages of 18 and 70. After that Golden Age, citizens can “volunteer” to vote.

The rate of illiteracy in Peru, says Sheila, is 8 to 13 percent of the population; the government clings to the 8 percent figure. There are 143 universities in Peru, and Sheila graduated from one of them with a degree in tourism. All guides are required to have a degree, which was very apparent in the breadth and depth of knowledge our guides had in Peru and Ecuador in everything from how people lived to archeology, architecture and politics.

The security in the city was not terribly noticeable, but it was there, as Sheila pointed out. The increased security was the Peruvian answer to the Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path, a Maoist terrorist group that made this a dangerous place to visit – or live – in the 1980s and ’90s.

“The Sendero Luminoso took advantage of the poor people,” she said, “forcing them to join or be killed.”

She seemed quite proud that the country did not compromise with the terrorists or accept any of their reforms (as Colombia did with FARC, she pointed out). Peru captured the groups’ leaders, threw them in jail on life sentences and installed heavy security. She pointed to the lighted cross erected to mark the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1985 and 1988 (81 percent Catholic, says the CIA Factbook, the best thing that organization ever did. And more on religion in a later post). The cross shines out over the city from a hill in the harbor, which Pizarro chose to ship gold he stole from the Incas. The cross was built from electrical transformer parts blown up by the Sendero Luminoso. So this cross has become a sign of peace rather than the banner under which the Spaniards slaughtered and conquered the Incas.

Sheila told us the main industry of the country is still mining and then agriculture. The minimum wage is $300 a month, with $500 a month being the average. Food is still affordable (and quite good), but transportation costs are expensive – and roads are hugely congested with people taking two to three hours each way to get from homes to work (sounds like Seattle). On the way to the airport, we hit the road around 6 in the morning to escape from buses, trucks and thousands of cars. Not entirely successful, but we did make it on time for our flight to Cusco.

The kiss
The Kiss