22 April 2008

GENTLEMEN: START YOUR ENGINES

    No Fear!  No Fear!!!!!  The rules for driving here are very different than the rules to which most of us are accustomed.  There are lots of small cars with not a lot of power, lots of buses, and lots of heavily loaded trucks.  We´re now talking about driving in the Andes.  There are basically three kinds of roads: paved roads like the Pan American Highway (the “Pana”), cobbled roads (a piedra), and dirt roads (de tierra).  The Pana is the road that theoretically runs from Alaska to the tip of South America.  Don´t expect an autopista (four lane, divided highway).  It´s a twisting two-lane asphalted road with four-foot wide shoulders.  It´s an endless series of serious ups and downs, twists andturns.  Imagine an amusement park thrill ride for motor vehicles and people who are serious about thrill seeking.  Oh, I forgot the lines.  Of course there are lines.  There are yellow lines separting the driving lanes from the shoulders.  Double lines mean that it´s possible to see a little ahead, and that it´s safe for up to two cars to pass a bus or truck and each other at the same time.  Two lanes – three abreast.  No problema!  Two solid lines mean that you can´t see ahead and that passing could be really exciting.  There might be a bus coming around the turn, or maybe even a bus and a passing car.  Why wait for the straightaways?!!!!  I´ve never seen three lines, but if there were, it would be like the triple dog dare to pass!  Anyone can play the game that I´m describing.  Real men play this at night in the rain and fog.  You must be thinking that the papers are full of horrible, mutilating crashes, but they aren´t.  These people can really drive.  Everybody knows exactly what to do, and 99% of the time everybody gets back where they should be when vehicles pass. 

     Horn serve lots or purposes.  Buses use them to pass, to get people to move over, or to signal people along the side of the road  that they will stop to pick them up if given the appropriate hand signal.  Taxis also use their horns to signal that they are empty and will pick someone up if flagged.  They also use them quite a bit to signal their approval of a woman they deem to be attractive.  As far as safety is concerned, many taxi drivers hit their horn when approaching a four-way intersection.  Most vehicles roll through stop sign intersections, so it´s nice to know for sure that a vehicle is coming and has the right of way.  Pedestrians have about the same rights as people in New York City.  Discretion is the better part of valor when it comes to ambulating around the city.

A FEW WORDS ON THE WEATHER

     Most of us who live in the northern hemisphere think of weather in terms of latitude.  The higher the latitude the cooler it is.  Miami and Phoenix are generally hotter than Pittsburgh, New York and Cleveland, which in turn are hotter than places like Calgary and Edmonton.  It doesn´t work that way in the tropics.  Temperature is a function of elevation.  It´s a matter of how high you are (not like in the 60s!!!!).  All you have to do is look at a snow-capped volcano like Mt. Cayambe (5,790 meters).  Obviously it´s cold on top, but as you descend to the valley below, you pass through many micro-environments with different flora and fauna.  These micro-environments enable people in a single location to have a wide variety of foods that can be produced locally. 

     I´m almost right on the Equator (remember this is Ecuador – see our word?).  Most people think that it´s hot as hell here.  No way.  Down on the coast it is.  Sweat City.  Over to the east, on the other side of the Andes, it is.  But not UP here!  I´ve got weather most people in PA, OH and NY would die for right now.  Lots of clear days now.  Dry and sunny with daytime temperatures around 65 – 70.  Nighttime temperature around55, I think.  So when you think of Latin America, think elevation.

HARD TIME GETTING UP IN THE MORNING?

     This is the place for you!  Remember now: this is the city!!  The city alarm clocks start going off around 3:45 AM.  Those that signal the early bird specials are roosters.  Sometimes it´s a  rooster all by his lonesome.  More frequently two are engaged in a frenetic, Deliverance-type duel.  Remember the banjos?  Try listening to the no one-is-going-to-win duel at 4 AM.  These duels continue until 6:30 or 7:00 AM.

     Not to be outdone, every Catholic Church in the city (everybody is Catholic – there´s a church every few blocks) reasserts its dominion over the forces of evil and darkness.  Imagine a city-wide snooze alarm replete with bells and blaring songs to insure that no one will (or could) sleep past 7AM,  Let there be no slothful behavior here, my children.

 

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