Why can’t you get a Runza outside of Nebraska?

Runza
Most people take pictures of their food before they eat them, but I could not wait.

First time I heard about Runza was in Ogallala, NE, when a car salesman told me to go get one while my new car was being prepared for me to continue my drive to Arkansas in 2015.

So I went there in a loaned car and had beef, cabbage and onions wrapped in homemade bread. It’s been that way since 1949 when Sally Everett started selling them from a carhop stand in Lincoln, NE.

Then her son, Don, franchised the restaurants, sold Runza across from Memorial Stadium until he moved inside and started selling them from food trucks.

Now there are 80 locations – all within the state of Nebraska. Why not expand outside the state? A question they must hear a lot. So at the Runza in McCook, NE, there is a sign that answers that question:

“Well, we don’t want to be the largest restaurant chain around. We do want to be among the best. That’s why we pour our heart and soul into every store. To maintain this level of hands-on support, proximity plays an important role in our growth strategy.”

Even if you love beef and cabbage, it’s probably not worth driving to Nebraska. But if you are passing through, stop.

Sally Everett
From a handout at the McCook, NE, Runza.

Out ahead of lightning, thunder and rising water

Ian in rain
Ian about to launch on a rainy morning. Sorry about the rain on the lense.

Buffalo River III, Third day — When sleeping in a tent, there’s nothing like a peal of thunder and a flash of lightning to get you up in the morning – especially when it is 1:30 a.m and still dark outside.

That’s what woke us up on our third day on the Buffalo River in Arkansas. The nice thing about the lightning flashes is that you can see how much it is raining. In this case it was one of those big-drop rainfalls that spent the next five hours forming puddles around and then under my tent. So far my MSR one-man tent has always kept me dry without a ground cloth underneath it. I’ve heard too many stories about wet campers from the under liner sticking out from under the tent and collecting pools that come inside. But having now experienced what can happened when water pools under your no-ground-cloth-for-me tent, I can say that a custom cut tarp goes with me the next time.

I had planned to stay snuggled in my sleeping bag and tent until the rain stopped (sometime in August?). But when Ian was outside asking, “Are you awake in there” at 6 a.m., my dry spot in the tent had dwindled to an area almost big enough for me in a fetal position – almost. Foot of the sleeping bag sopping wet. Starting to leak around my head. Time to get up.

Out in rain
Last two miles of the Buffalo River in the rain.

We bundled up wet tents, sleeping bags (for me), clothes and were on the water in rain gear by 7:30 a.m. We had planned the trip to have only a few miles left to paddle on the last day. Which worked out even better in the pouring rain.

Riley’s Dock, our take-out spot, was across the White River from where the Buffalo River empties into it. We chose this as our end spot at the suggestion of Dirst Canoe Rental, which shuttled my truck from Buffalo Point to here. It avoided a half-mile upstream paddle on the White, which could be flowing big time if the Bull Shoals Dam 10 miles up the river was open. Or, we could have paddled downstream on the White five miles or so.

Riley Dock mapBut to get to Riley’s Dock, all you had to do was turn left as you came into the White, paddle 200 yards or so upstream and then drift across the river onto the far side of Smith Island. The dock would be nestled behind a smaller island on the other side. My left turn did not work and I ended more out in the White than I wanted to be. But I remembered Jack, our canoe pod leader on the Willamette River trip in Oregon, telling us about making your kayak into an airplane wing: Angled upstream across the river and with water pushing against your kayak on one side but not on the other, you’ve created a vacuum that keeps planes up in the air and your kayak pushing upstream against the current. And it worked. Still had to paddle, but I rounded Smith Island and headed for home.

Ian made the left turn, got high enough upstream to turn right and dash across on a downstream slant, arriving at the dock just before me.

DCIM100GOPRO
Riley’s Dock

Great people at Riley’s Dock. Five bucks to back the truck down the boat ramp to unload kayaks, and they offered a warm, dry cabin for us to change out of wet clothing.

Tide stick
Ian’s tide water marker a yard or so off the river.

Ian had set out tidewater stakes at our campsite the night before to see how far the river might come up. No noticeable change when we got up this morning, but the folks at Riley’s Dock said the rise in the river was now in Ponca, 130 miles or so up the river.

“It will be here this afternoon,” they said.

Toad
Two toads slept under my tent the last night.

And boy did it. I dropped Ian in Springfield, MO, for his flight back to Seattle, and he messaged me later that the river had gone up 12 feet that day. With or without ground cloth, my tent would not have had a dry spot big enough for the toads that jumped out from under it this morning.

We hit it just right. We started on April 29, when the river was dropping below six feet of gage height – above that and rangers recommend only experienced paddlers on the river. It kept dropping on April 30, but then look at the line shooting up on May 1, almost to 18 feet by the end of the day. We’d have been in New Orleans by the end of the week.

Buffalo River feet gauge

 

 

 

 

A calm day with no haystacks in sight

Second day on Buffalo River, Arkansas, Part III — We were up early – around 6 a.m. – but spent a long time at breakfast, getting our gear in order, loading the boats and finally launching around 8:45. We had pored over our maps and figured out that we had paddled up Big Creek on the first day while searching for the Cold Springs schoolhouse, which we never found. The paddle upstream was a hard one, probably because Big Creek is the second largest tributary to the Buffalo River adding nine percent of the full load. Still, it was nice to figure out where we were.

Some wind today but the current kept us going whether we paddled or not. A couple of ripples that kept us on our toes but nothing like at Clabber Creek Shoal on the first day.

Elephant
Standing in front of Elephant Head. I think I am looking serious because of the huge responsibility of taking the selfie.

We used Elephant Head rock as a place we would know exactly where we were on the map. How could anyone miss a 210-foot high rock shaped like an elephant? We paddled another mile or two and stopped in front of Grayface Bluff. Ian suggested we set up the tents first, and it was a good thing we did as we retired to them as some big-drop rains fell on us.

DCIM100GOPRO
Our second camp, up high in the sand and rocks.

Once outside in the evening, Ian put his book away and watched the buzzard and occasional eagles overhead. “I can read anytime, but when can I watch buzzard playing in the thermals on a bluff over the river” We wondered if they were scouting for carrion to make a group meal or if they were drifting back and forth over the bluff for fun, which is what we agreed we’d be doing.

 

Why are there haystacks in the middle of the Buffalo River?

(Ian admits the sound in the video above is terrible, but what I am saying is we are starting a 30-mile float trip on the Buffalo River in Arkansas and the bridge behind me was underwater in the 1982 flood.)

The guidebook describes the Clabber Creek Shoal as the “wildest rapids of the lower river.”

That’s a lie.

It’s the wildest rapid on all 135 miles of the Buffalo River in Arkansas, from Ponca down to the White River. I know because after my third trip there recently, I have floated all those miles over all those rapids.

The book “Buffalo River Handbook” by Kenneth L. Smith, talks about Clabber Creek Shoal current going right, then left, don’t get swept into the right bank and don’t get swamped by the haystacks.

Haystacks? Odd thing to have in the river.

Since then I have learned that “haystack” waves are not like the riffles, wave trains and strainers and stags I had glided happily over or have avoided on previous trips on the Buffalo. Haystacks don’t move downstream as you do; they stay right there where some underwater rock – or rocks – put them.

I, in my ignorance and hubris, figured I’d have no problem. Even a 275-prop will come down if you aim your tackle low enough.

No problem avoiding the right bank. On to the haystack waves, bow first and over the top as I always once did. I got up and over one. Sloughed through another and looked into the base of a Cecil B. DeMille wave. Sometimes the prop runs over you, and the Red Sea wave wins no matter where you aim your attack.

It flicked my kayak over to the left, and I remembered two things as the kayak turned: Stay with the boat and don’t lose your paddle. Fortunately, all my belongings were well attached. Dry bags, water jugs and carabiners all held to my new shock cords. My hatch cover leaked some, but tent, sleeping bag, camp chairs and coats (a bit damp) all stayed aboard.

The only things dumped into the river were unattached: the map case, my Stanley coffee thermos and me.

I pulled myself up over the overturned boat with my paddle in hand and peeked over the hull to see my thermos headed for the goal line. Kicking for shore with two legs and one arm as down the river we went.

Ian, my partner, took his kayak to the left of the haystacks, stayed upright and then did things in the right order. First getting the map case, then the thermos and finally towing me and kayak the last few yards to shore.

DCIM100GOPRO
Mostly wet and checking my fogged binoculars. Photo by Ian Gunn

The underwater camera seems to be working fine, but looking through the binoculars (in the pocket of my life vest, which I was wearing) is like examining a one-celled animal swishing around on a fogged microscope slide.

Up until then, the trip had gone swimmingly. We launched at Dillard Ferry, upstream from Buffalo Point, and got to what we thought would be our first night’s camping spot at noon. So we decided to push on to the second night camp spot. We needed the rescued maps and Ian’s GPS to try to find it, and never did. But it’s hard to get lost when the river is pushing you downstream.

First camp
First night’s campsite.

We found a great campsite but unfortunately followed some awful campers. Fire still smoldering, cigarette butts everywhere, soap and other trash strewn around and the TP flowers nearby with their white and brown blossoms.

Rekindled the fire, dried out clothes in sun, cooked, ate, read and to bed in skivvies – although the long johns are nearby.

Also see “Clobbered at Clabber Creek

DCIM100GOPRO
Cruising by Painted Bluff. Photo by Ian Gunn.
DCIM100GOPRO
Not a haystack wave in sight. Photo by Ian Gunn.

 

Traveling in the land of long-sticked squeegee poles

Long stick

Traveling in the past couple weeks in the land of long poled squeegees where you can mop the suds off your truck windshield without standing on your tire or reaching through your opened front door. Out of the short-sticked cities like Seattle, Denver, Wichita, Omaha and Kansas City, and out into the Midwest countryside to visit Huntington, OR; Flagler, CO; Fall River, KS; Iola, KS; and Chadron, NE, in a two week drive to a float trip on the Buffalo River in northern Arkansas.

Flagler
Camping near Flagler, CO.

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.”

Thank you, Walt, and I’m sure you would appreciate a trip across America to look at the country and “check on the crops,” as my parents and grandparents used to say before starting out on each evening’s drive.

From driveway to driveway clocked 4,047 miles across 13 states, listened to all my songs from “Nada de Nada” by Braho to Paul Robeson’s version of the “Song of the Volga Boatmen.” Became a fan of Michael Smerconish on Sirius Radio and wondered how long a stick Mark Levin was sitting on. That yelp, that nasty attitude.

Farmers just poking their heads out to prepare grounds for planting. Past fields of green wheat, corn stubble and one large field of uncut soybeans, perhaps not worth the harvest expense when penciled against the crop prices undercut by tariffs.

Fall River
Sunrise at Fall River State Park, KS.

Oil wells starting in Russell, KS, which led to the question: What are they pumping into? Never anything there that looks like it could hold as much as a 55-gallon barrel. Underground?

Also went against the advice of the President and took a big risk of cancer by driving through the wind turbines near Sylvan Grove, KS. But worth it to get out of southern Wyoming. Every land has something of value, something worth looking at, but southern Wyoming from Evanston to Cheyenne may come the closest to that know-nothing description used by transportation planners and realtors: “vacant land.” All I can say for this trip is that it wasn’t snowing and Interstate 80 was open.

But enough of criticism:

“Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,

Strong and content I travel the open road.”

Because of a late rain on our river trip (more in a later post), I was on the road a day early for my return trip but not early enough to reach my favorite Indian casino in Sloan, IA, the WinnaVegas Casino Resort, before dark. (How can you see America in the dark?) A large casino in a large field where patrons the last time I was there were talking about harvesting corn while a short lady threw tens from arms that barely cleared the rail around the dice table. They bet hard tens, I stayed on the pass line.

MapsWithout the planned trip to WinnaVegas, that meant I could strike out anywhere on my path back to short-sticked Seattle. Getting out the maps, I noticed that U.S. Highway 24 goes all the way across the state of Kansas.

Route 24 was a big deal in my childhood and an even bigger one later when its expansion looked like it would go through our farmland. My bumper sticker showing a highway sign of Hwy. 24 with a prohibited mark over it perplexed many in Seattle. But that battle is over and done with, and there will be no remorse, no hard feelings here.

“They pass, I also pass, any thing passes, none can be interdicted,

None but are accepted, none but shall be dear to me.”

 Compared to one-lane rural roads in Northwest Ohio, 24 could handle barreling semis, brook no stop signs and travel on to Toledo in one direction and who knew where in the other. Turns out it may be the only thing that connects Toledo, OH, with Vail, CO. Hard to imagine someone in Vail building a road to Toledo. More likely the other way around.

“Don’t ride your bikes on 24,” my folks said.

“We drove on 24 in drivers’ training class today,” we said after scaring Mr. Bard half to death as we traveled further to getting our licenses.

So from Rossville, KS, to just past Menlo, KS, where I turned north to head into Nebraska, I drove on 24, a two-lane blacktop except where planners decided to take some vacant land from some farmer and add two more rows of concrete (Oops, I forgot. No more whimpering). With Mrs. Mabel Apple in the GPS forever telling me to turn left and get on Interstate 70, it was just like Mom saying, “Don’t ride on 24.”

But I did.

“Allons! the road is before us!

It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well—be not detain’d!”

(“Song of the Open Road,” Walt Whitman)

Route 24

Conversations on a train to Chicago

CutbankI’m headed back home for two days of hunting and fixing my mother’s cars. I’ve worked as a mechanic, but now I’m in school in clinical engineering.

Which is?

Mostly I will be fixing medical equipment, which might pay more to support my collection of several vehicles and my BMW motorcycle.

You might do some work on some of the equipment that helps me get around, something that might help with what diabetes has done to my legs.

What kind of treatment are you getting? How long you had it?

I got it from being around something very Orange.

ShelbyBet I know where that happened.

You’re probably old enough to know about Agent Orange. Saw lots of it in you know where.

You fully eligible at VA?

I am.

Had a friend that could never get to be fully eligible for MS treatment even though he ate lunch sitting on top of Agent Orange barrels.

Gotta stay positive though. You know how to count in Spanish?

How?

What do you call four gringos in quicksand?

What?

El quatro cinco.

You heard about Sven and Ole and their great fishing spot, right?

Tell me.

It was so great that Sven told Ole they should mark it. So Ole leaned over and painted a big X on the back of the boat.

You stupid, that won’t work; what if we don’t get the same boat when we come back?

Hey, we better give up our table for the next bunch of diners.

Let me tell you this though, the best ride is from Chicago to San Francisco – great views in the daylight rather than passing through the Cascades at night.

Night all.

Malta

Great day, huh? Waking up in beautiful Montana, larch trees yellow, snow on the ground.

Where you from?

Austin, but our daughter works in Seattle.

And you?

Taught Spanish in Mexico.

You won’t think there’d be much need for Spanish teachers in Mexico.

Also in Guatemala, Alaska . . .

Williston

I’m a TV camerawoman and when I was hired in 1992, I was the third woman to hold that job in my city.

Me? I wanted to be a forester since I was five years old. We were bombed out in our German city, and I went to live with my grandparents in the country. I came to America because of a woman, and I’m still with her 50 years later.

She on the train?

No, she’s a military kid and doesn’t like to travel, but I just spent a week on a 50,000-acre ranch, hunting deer in Missouri Breaks and Bearpaw forest. I carried both a rifle and a camera and only shot with the camera. I did my forestry training in Germany and hunting was part of it there. Hunting makes me feel more connected to land, following the fauna and the flora.

You always travel by train?

Mostly. I like to see the land from the ground up – not at 50,000 feet. And you travel on trains much?

I do, said the camerawoman. I don’t like that you can’t pull over to the side of the road if something goes wrong on a plane.

Let me show you some of the photos I shot of the deer. They always stop at the top of a hill and look back at what scared them before going over the top. So I “shot” this one right at the perfect moment.

And here’s one that we followed for hours.

And this one.

And this one.

And this one.

Maybe we should give up our table,

Red Wing

Here’s my theory on questions: When you drive, you can see the road and you can ask about it. But if it weren’t for the road, you would not be driving. So if it weren’t for the universe, you would not be able to ask a question about the universe.

And where does that lead you?

To my own mysteries, which are:

Number 1: Why does God hate trailer parks?

Number 2: Why do you never see old limousines? Really, you ever see one? Where do they go?

And lastly, Number 3: What did pigeons do before there were cities?

WinonaDid you hear that Hillary Clinton said all black people look alike?

She said it was a joke.

Yeah, but she made it sound as if race doesn’t exist.

It doesn’t, according to the latest National Geographic.

You need to get better reading material.

ColumbusLike what?

I just read a book by Tucker Carlson, whom I admire.

Can’t agree with you on that. He always seems off the news, talking about things his audience of one would like to hear rather than Mueller, investigations, etc.

Hey, he’s telling the truth about the Trump administration – the good economy, the . .

He had a good economy when he came into office. And there’s more than the economy. He’s taking down the American culture, what it has come to represent over more than 200 years.

And he wants to get us into a war because he knows that the wartime presidents are more remembered and admired.

That’s baloney. All I can say is that when I go to bed each night, I say “Thank God for Donald Trump.”

He’s a crass, a racist, incompetent . .

I say thank God for Donald Trump for what he’s done, but you’re a liberal and you don’t want to talk about it. So good night.

Chicago

 

 

 

 

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.