Archive for May, 2004

Dowbrigade’s Guide to Ecuadorian Politics

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The tenuous
truce
between political and social sectors here in Ecuador,
for the purpose of presenting a civilized facade for the duration of
the Miss Universe pageant (next Tuesday, June 1) is in danger
of collapse as rumors swirl of immanent dictatorship, massive resignation
or firing of the government, the possibility of a military coup or
the forceful removal of the President by the Congress. The government
of Col. Lucio
Guiterrez is hanging by a thread. In a way, it is refreshing that things
are getting back to normal in Ecuador – the "truce" was unnatural.

Let us try to recap the labyrinthine situation in a brief summary.  The
current President, Lucio, was an Army Colonel who participated in an
abortive coup four years ago,after which he served some time, quit the
Army, entered politics and got elected, without any discernable support
in the Congress, the established political parties or the traditional
centers of economic and social power.  He campaigned on an anti-corruption
platform and won largely because of the support of the millions of neglected
Indians in the Andean highlands.

Now, 16 months into his 4 year term he has alienated just about every
group in the country, the national indigenous associations (the aforementioned
Indians) are claiming he betrayed them, calling for his ouster, and have
declared June 17 the D-Day for a national "Indian Uprising". His anti-corruption
campaign is in tatters, as virtually every original member of his government,
largely inexperienced Army colonels like himself, have resigned in disgrace.

The first to go was Patricio Ortiz, his first Minister of Social Welfare,
who was caught diverting humanitarian aid to victims of a volcanic eruption
into his private Swiss bank account. A few months later Carlos Arboleda,
Minister of Energy and Mines, resigned for "personal reasons" which,
according to knowledgeable sources were related to kickbacks for the
awarding of oil and gold contracts to foreign companies.

Ortiz was replaced by Patricio
Acosta
, the "strongman" of the regime,
who everybody expected to stick it out til the bitter end. He was fired
last week after the US State Department canceled his visa to enter the
US, along with his wife’s – she was refused entry at the Miami Airport
and put on the first flight back to Ecuador. Although the US government
refuses to divulge the reasons behind the visa
cancellations
they may
have something to do with his naming a known drug dealer to head the
Ecuador version of the DEA. Acosta has been replaced by Antonio Vargas,
an ethnic Indian and ex-head of the largest indigenous organization in
the country.  The current head of that organization, and most of
the Indians in the country, accuse Vargas of "selling out" and Lucio
of trying to divide the Indian power movement, which has called for his
resignation and threatened a national "Indian Uprising" for next month.

Meanwhile, Lucio has appointed his brother as the head of the government’s
Congressional block, and sent his cousin, a legislator, to attack the
real political power in the country, ex-President Leon Febres Cordero.
LFC, as he is known, has transcended mere presidential levels of power
and has been running the country from the shadows for years.  According
to Lucio, he is currently "knocking on doors" and offering the presidency
to a variety of possible puppets in anticipation of taking Lucio down.

Poor Ecuador! The country has had 10 presidents in the last 10 years,
including the first and only woman to occupy the position.  She
lasted less than 24 hours. When Ecuador took the desperate and radical
measure of trashing their national currency, the Sucre, and adopting
the US greenback as the coin of the realm, they thought it would draw
a flood of international investment capital attracted by, we suppose,
not having to deal with complicated currency exchanges.

But what prudent investor is going to sink his capital in a country
where Presidents reign for less time than Miss Universe and where the
rules of the game can change faster than the lineup at the local movie
theater?

The saving grace of Ecuadorian politics, and the factor that makes it
a fascinating panorama for up-close observation by a political junkie
like the Dowbrigade, is the essentially non-violent nature of the Ecuadorian
people. Throughout all of these uprisings, coups, national strikes and
internecine warfare, people are almost never actually hurt or killed.  The
resign in disgrace, go into exile, sometimes spend a little time in
prison.  But in terms of institutionalized violence, Ecuador can’t
hold a candle to its neighbor Colombia, Israel or even the United States
itself.

In fact, it would all be great public theater if not for the fact that
millions of honest, regular people are being held down and locked into
poverty and underdevelopment by a handful of crooked politicians and
endemic political instability. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight.

article from El
Universo
(in Spanish)

 

Adios to Banos

2

The volcano
was angry last night. On our last night in Banos, through a light but
persistent drizzle, the loud booming blasts echoed up and
down the valley as Mount Tungurahua, still in activity although not immediately
dangerous, let off gas and smoke in a sort of geophysical indigestion.

A least a dozen times during the night the powerful explosions shook
the Andean air, louder than dynamite, keeping us awake in anticipation
of our dawn departure back to the coast of Ecuador. At 6 am we gave up
on sleep, rose from under the comfortable covers in the pool-size cabana
in the Hotel Sangay, downed our daily dose of pharmaceuticals (Lipitor
for cholesterol, Atenenol and Lisinopril for hypertension, a Mega
Vitamin with anti-oxidants called "Super Crusader" and a healthy dose
of codeine in anticipation of the all-day bus trip down to the Pacific
Ocean), and headed across the street to the Ba?s of the Virgin.

Even at that hour the baths, located directly across from the Sangay
and under the veil of a hundred-and-fifty foot waterfall, were full of
locals and vacationers getting an early start on the day. They open every
morning at 5:30 and cost $2 for foreigners like the Dowbrigade, $1 for
Ecuadorians and 50 cents for kids and seniors. Without a comment on the
inherent discrimination we plopped down a couple of Sacagawegis and headed
for the hottest of the half dozen pools of mineral water.

The steam rising from the pool blended imperceptibly with the smoky
fog from the low-lying clouds that blanketed the town.  We were
the only Gringo at that early hour, but over a hundred Ecuadorians were
easing into the pools, showering under the icy fresh water streams diverted
from the glacial runoff, or chatting on the cement benches around the
perimeter of the establishment. However, only a half-dozen were in the
pool we entered, the hottest of them all.  It was obvious why; the
water was just at the borderline of tolerable.  We felt our skin
turning red and imagined this was what it was like to be a lobster at
a New England clam bake.

As we gazed out over the town and mentally bade it a fond adieu, as
always just until we could figure out a way to get back here, our glasses
started to steam up and we grabbed them from our face, with a bit more
force than intended. One lens popped out as we fumbled to catch them
before they disappeared into the murky green pool.  Luckily we were
successful; otherwise we would probably still be there searching vainly
and waiting for them to drain the bath. We decided it was a good time
to pack up and hit the road.

A quick cold coke to replace some of the bodily fluids the baths leeched
out, and back across the street to the hotel, more clearly visible now
in the early morning light and lifting fog. In the hotel parking lot,
which had been empty when we arrived last Tuesday, there were now several
dozen cars, trucks and vans, including one giant tour truck belonging
to a European climbing expedition, 30 feet long and packed with tents,
pitons, ropes and assorted other mountain gear, a Land Rover pulling
a trailer with three Moto-cross type bikes, mud encrusted and dangerous
looking, and a number of vans from tourist agencies in Quito, the capital,
three hours away.

We rinsed off in the shower of our room.  Norma Yvonne had the
bags packed, so all that remained was to lug them to the dining room
for the excellent breakfast; cheese and vegetable crepes, melon, watermelon,
apple and pineapple slices, fresh-baked bread with honey and guava jelly,
papaya and passion fruit juice, coffee or tea with water or milk.Then
down to reception to pay the bill – $160 for four nights, four breakfasts,
two lunches and a dinner, numerous phone calls. Use of the tennis courts,
whirlpool, sauna, turkish bath, home theater and computer center included.
About what we had expected, although we had forgotten the 22% tax and
service charge, bringing the total hit on our Visa to $195. One of the
few tourist towns in the world where we can afford to stay at the best
joint in town, we thought as always.

Taxi to the terminal, and an hour-long bus ride to the regional crossroads
of Ambato, arriving there at 9:15.  After half an hour wait, an
ancient but serviceable Mercedes Benz touring bus, probably retired from
some more civilized route in the Alps and imported as junk into Ecuador,
pulled in and we got on. This would be our viewing platform for the harrowing
descent from the heights to the sea for the next 12 hours.

Very soon after leaving Ambato we crossed the Continental Divide, which
is only a couple of hundred kilometers from the Pacific Ocean in this
part of South America.  Everything east of the ridge of the Andes
flows down into the Amazonian jungle, and eventually, several thousand
kilometers later, into the Atlantic Ocean. We settled into our seats,
ready to be enthralled as always by the panoramic views, the glimpses
of life in the Andes, the quick succession of climatically and culturally
distinct zones as we lose altitude, and the amusing graffiti scrawled
and painted on walls and rock faces along the highway.  Why, just
in the first 30 minutes we saw "Lucio (the President) – Traitor", "Legalize
It (no clue as to what "it" was), and "Yankees Out of Iraq" (probably
not the baseball team).

We are back on the beach now, sweating up a storm and looking forward
to tennis with the Mayor tomorrow morning.  But we know we will
be back in Baños soon, as we have been constantly returning since our
first visit 32 years ago. Anyone with a chance to visit this little piece
of heaven on earth would be a fool to pass it up.

The Catholic Factor

1

Today’s Boston Globe has an interesting piece on how Catholic politicians
(mainly the Kennedys) have handled thorny issues (mostly abortion) and
how that might apply to the Kerry candidacy.

The Dowbrigade takes an anthropological point of view on this one. In
our survey of the cultures currently present and functioning on the planet,
we have found a range of moral norms ranging from the view that a human
life
begins
absolutely and inviolably at the moment of conception to groups that
believe that it is permissible and in fact morally imperative for parents
to
terminate
the
lives of
their children up to the age of puberty, if the situation warrants.

It seems rather radical to adopt as public policy one of the extreme
points in the spectrum of  cultural solutions to the age-old problem
of what to do with unwanted children. We rather tend to agree with the
Supreme Court that the first trimester is a reasonable weighted median.  Weighted
rather far to the conservative, even fundamentalist side of the scale,
to be sure, but after all, for all of its exuberant hedonism, the United
States is still a deeply conservative bastion, at least on a global scale.

Several months later, Kennedy gave his famous speech at Rice University
to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. "I believe in an
America where the separation of church and state is absolute," Kennedy
declared. "I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am
the Democratic Party’s candidate for president who happens also to
be a Catholic.
I do not speak for my church on public matters — and the church does
not speak for me."

But Kerry’s struggle is quite different from Kennedy’s. To begin with,
Catholic voters as a group are no longer reliably Democratic. In 1963,
Kennedy received an estimated 80 percent of the Catholic vote, but today’s
polls show Catholic voters evenly divided between Kerry and George W.
Bush. What’s more, whereas Kennedy was attacked by Protestants who worried
that his religion would inappropriately affect his politics, John Kerry
is being attacked by Catholics who feel that his politics have inappropriately
affected his religion.

from the Boston Globe

Fujimori Flees Following Advice From Fortuneteller

1

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) – A fortuneteller told Peru’s disgraced ex-President Alberto Fujimori (newsweb sites) to flee in 2000 and warned him of the huge corruption scandal that caused his government to collapse, a videotape showed on Wednesday.






 

The video was given anonymously to lawmaker Anel Townsend and partly shown on Peruvian television.


It showed Fujimori, now in self-imposed exile in Tokyo, knew his control was slipping after ruling for 10 years and consulted a clairvoyant.


Fujimori asked if it was viable to flee to Japan or the United States, the female fortuneteller said: “It would be good.”


Additional juicy details from the Ecuadorian press claim that 1) the fortuneteller in question was an Israeli woman named “Jennifer”, and 2) that she was recommended to the ex-President of Peru by the ex-President of Ecuador, Jamil Mahuat, who was also kicked out of office


The Dowbrigade will try to dig up more details on this one as well


story from Reuters


story from El Commerico (in Spanish)

Scandal of the Day

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The scandal of the day (all week, actually) here in Ecuador concerns the Ecuadorian Minister of Social Welfare, Patricio Acosta, whose wife, despite carrying a diplomatic passport, was denied entry to the United States over the weekend at the Miami airport and unceremoneously put back on the next flight to Ecuador.


The rumors about the how and why behind this embarassing setback are swirling around the political and social circles of Quito and Guayaquil.  Some say the US government is investigating both Acosta and his wife for corruption and money laundering.  Other

The Road to Banos

2





Our escape from Quito and bus trip to Banos was as exciting and as exactly choreographed as a chase scene in a blockbuster action flick, except, of course, no one was chasing us and we never broke 50 miles an hour.  We arrived at the Quito bus terminal, a vast, multi leveled cement catacomb seemingly built into the side of a mountain at exactly noon. Finding the agency “Banos Express” was easy; there was a nice new bus just pulling out as we hopped aboard. We were literally still getting seated as the big Mercedes diesel left the dock and headed out of town; had we arrived 30 seconds later we would have had to wait at least an hour for the next bus.


We were still in the outskirts of the urb when we witnessed our first spectacular surprise.  As we were approaching the city-block sized factory of the Chaide & Chaide, Ecuador’s major mattress manufacturer, in a busy industrial district at the southern extreme of the city, someone on board yelled, “Look, flames!  It’s on fire!”


Luckily he was not referring to the bus, but to the mattress factory, which was indeed going up in flames.  The fire was obviously out of control and recently started; while the flames shot 30 or 40 feet into the clear blue sky, workers nonchalantly strolled out of the factory, unaware of the seriousness of the situation. Cops on the corner stared in confusion, uncertain what to do.


As the bus pulled slowly past the factory, just a few meters from the flames, the heat became intense.  Passengers started yelling at the driver, “Hurry up!” “Keep going!” and “Don’t stop!”, obviously good advice.  Not only did we hear a series of explosions as we pulled away, but we were practically the last vehicle allowed to pass the site. Out the back window of the bus we could see the cops shutting down the street hand herding rubberneckers away in anticipation of the arrival of the firemen. We read in the paper the next day that although, thankfully, no one was killed, the entire district was shut down for several hours while they brought the blaze under control.  Again, had we arrived 30 seconds later we would have been trapped for at least a couple of hours.


The bus was full, the surrounding countryside visible above the city skyline was a bounty of beauty, there was construction going on all around the edges of the city. We could hear a caconaphy of fire and police sirens as we pulled away. Fifteen minutes into the trip, the buildings started thinning out and the green hills, shrouded in wispy clouds, became more visible.  The cobalt blue sky was festooned with fluffy cumulous clouds, cartoon shapes and gigantic cloud liners riding the ridge the road followed.  Behind us an ugly black smudge of smoke marked the mattress factory fire.


The rolling hills along our route are divided; farms below and forests higher up. Although the road is decent, the shocks on the bus are not, and it is hard to write on the bouncing bus, just as it is hard to read some of our notes now, the following day, as we transcribe them.


The farming areas outside of town are a patchwork quilt in shades of green as the twisty road descends into a valley. Alongside the route we can see roadside produce stands, mountains of bananas, corn and many cows in the fields.  The land in this section, close to the city, is divided into ranches and villas, obviously owned by rich farmers and merchants. Painted white wooden fences and cruder strands of barbed wire separate pastures and planted fields, little knots of habitation along the roadside, houses of brown brick and cement or cinder block (known here as hormigon), painted in the Ecuadorian style only on the side facing the highway, left raw and unfinished to American eyes on the other three.


The produce being sold and transported changes from district to district.  Here it is watermelon and long plastic bags of Andean limes. The predominant trees are scratchy pines on the right, tall eucalyptus on the left. The larger ranches and fincas are gone, now, away from the rich suburbs, we see stores and modest homes with corrugated iron roofs, businesses selling farm equipment, plows, tractors and backhoes. 15 miles out of Quito and still a thin column of black smoke can be seen behind us.


For moments the bouncing of the bus makes it impossible to write.  We close our eyes to the afterimage of sun streaking through rain clouds on the higher hills to the left and listen to the weird Andean pop music the driver has on the bus radio, like a lite romantic cross between salsa and rumba.


30 minutes out, the rain hits the road, briefly, without obscuring the sun – sun showers as we cross the dividing line between Pichincha province and Cotopaxi. The fields here are speckled with little yellow wildflowers, making them look like an impressionist painting in the pointilism technique, Monet maybe. As we approach the city of Latacunga we pass a flatbed truck staining under the weight of two army tanks under blue tarps, their cannon sticking out at each other and crossing over the middle of the flat bed.


Norma Yvonne, who is a bit high-strung at the best of times and has a low fear threshold, keeps time to the music by tapping my hand, and clutches my arm and squeezes every time the bus breaks hard or tries a passing maneuver on a curve. We are now on the wide valley floor, flat grassy fields on both sides.  We pass an Ecuadorian Special Forces military camp, which explains the tanks.  Over the entrance is a sign – “Avenue of the Immortals”. Men in uniforms are coming and going in jeeps and on foot.


We enter Latacunga, a typical Andean market city, produce markets and stores for farming supplies, modest houses and schools, soccer fields, pharmacies and stores selling electrical appliances, mechanic’s garages and building supplies.


Out of the city now and into a zone of dairy farms and roadside stands selling homemade cheese. Norma is singing along to the radio – she knows all of the words to all of the songs popular before we stole her heart and Shanghaied her to the States 10 years ago.


We pass a sign reading “Entering Salcedo – 2,876 meters above sea level” a district famous for its flowers, honey and ice cream.  Ice cream stores on every corner, sometimes five or six in a block.


Since we are on the Panamerican Highway, the main North-South highway down the spine of the Andes, a route known in this area as the “Corridor of Volcanoes”, there is really no undeveloped land alongside the road. The route is lined with homes, businesses and access roads leading to higher, smaller towns, capillaries of capitalism.


Now we are entering Ambato, one of the larger cities of the highlands and only 45 minutes from Banos.  This is a real city, with large lots dedicated to the sale of cars and heavy farm machinery, a university, airport and major league soccer team. When the bus stops to let off passengers near the train station a flaming gay guy sitting on the top of a cement bench, seeing our camera, shouts “Take my picture! Take my picture NUDE!” Norma thinks he wants to grab the camera and tells us to close the window.  We don’t, but keep the camera clutched below window level.


The road winds up, out of town, 45 minutes now to Banos. Passing grain elevators and a cement factory, a huge San Pedro plant with a hundred arms and certainly containing enough mescaline to float a thousand-man rave.  On the outskirts a tourist zone featuring pizzerias, handicraft stores, hippie-influenced cafes. For one brief instant we pass a loud radio tuned to the same station as the bus radio and experience a sort of surreal stereo, right ear out the window, left ear aboard the bus.


Quickly we fly through a town consisting almost entirely of two lines of stores on either side of the road selling locally produced denim products, jeans of all sorts and labels, including Levi’s and designer tags (fakes of course), skirts, jackets, purses and shoes, popular with smart shoppers both national and foreign.


During this last stretch, the smaller highway between Ambato and Banos, we finally leave the incessant commerce behind, and pass through true countryside. The road winds and twists downward through the hills, plunging through a sea of green, steep rocky facades and terraced farmer’s fields, occasional signed businesses like “Luna Bonsai”, a Japanese botanical garden. The road keeps dropping, as Banos lies at a comfortable 1,900 meters above sea level, halfway down the far side of the Andes towards the hot, humid treasure house of the Amazon basin, less than an hour from the true jungle.


At the entrance to Banos capitalism reappears in the form of billboards advertising hotels, restaurants, vacation complexes, banks. We have arrived, after an overlong absence of 3 years, at one of our favorite places on the face of the planet – A Little Piece of Heaven on Earth – the city of Banos, Ecuador.

The Road to Banos

ø

Our escape from Quito and bus trip to Banos was as exciting
and as exactly choreographed as a chase scene in a blockbuster action
flick, except, of course, no one was chasing us and we never broke 50
miles an hour.  We arrived at the Quito bus terminal, a vast, multi
leveled cement catacomb seemingly built into the side of a mountain
at exactly
noon. Finding the agency "Banos Express" was easy; there was a nice new
bus just pulling out as we hopped aboard. We were literally still getting
seated as the big Mercedes diesel left the dock and headed out of town.

We were still in the outskirts of the urb when we witnessed our first
spectacular surprise.  As we were approaching the city-block sized
factory of the Chaide & Chaide mattress factory in a busy industrial
district at the southern extreme of the city, someone on board yelled,
"Look,
flames!  It’s on fire!"

Luckily he was not referring to the bus, but to the mattress factory,
which was indeed going up in flames.  The fire was obviously out
of control and recently started; while the flames shot 30 or 40 feet
into the clear blue sky, workers nonchalantly strolled out of the factory,
unaware of the seriousness of the situation. Cops on the corner stared
in confusion, uncertain what to do.

As the bus pulled slowly past the factory, just a few meters from the
flames, the heat became intense.  Passengers started yelling at
the driver, "Hurry up!" "Keep going!" and "Don’t stop!", obviously good
advice.  Not only did we hear a series of explosions as we pulled
away, but we were practically the last vehicle allowed to pass the site.
Out the back window of the bus we could see the cops shutting down the
street hand herding rubberneckers away in anticipation of the arrival
of the firemen.

The bus was full, the surrounding countryside was a rock of beauty,
there was construction going on all around the edges of the city. We
could hear a symphony of fire and police sirens as we pulled away. Fifteen
minutes out, the buildings started thinning out and the green hills,
shrouded in wispy clouds, became more visible.  The cobalt blue
sky was festooned with fluffy cumulous clouds, cartoon shapes and gigantic
cloud liners riding the ridge the road followed.  Behind us an ugly
black smudge of smoke marked the mattress factory fire.

The rolling hills along our route were divided; farms below and forests
higher up. Although the road was decent, the shocks on the bus were not,
and it was hard to write on the bouncing bus, just as it is hard to read
some of our notes now, the following day, as we transcribe them.

The farming areas outside of town were a patchwork quilt in shades of
green as the twisty road descended into a valley. Alongside the route
we could see roadside produce stands, mountains of bananas, corn and
cows in the fields.  The land was divided into ranches and villas,
obviously owned by rich farmers and merchants. Painted white wooden fences
and cruder strands of barbed wire separated pastures and planted fields,
little knots of habitation along the roadside, houses of brown brick
and cement, cinder blocks (known here as hormigon), painted in the Ecuadorian
style only on the side facing the highway, left raw and unfinished to
American eyes on the other three.

The produce being sold and transported changed from district to district.  Now
it was watermelon and long plastic bags of Andean limes. The predominant
trees were scratchy pines in the right, tall eucalyptus on the left.
The larger ranches and fincas were gone, now we saw stores and modest
homes with corrugated iron roofs, businesses selling farm equipment,
plows, tractors and backhoes. 15 miles out of Quito and still a thin
column of black smoke can be seen behind us.

For moments the bouncing of the bus make it impossible to write.  We
close our eyes to the afterimage of rain clouds on the higher hills to
the left and listen to the weird Andean pop music the driver has on the
bus radio, like a lite romantic cross between salsa and rumba.

30 minutes out, the rain hits the road, briefly, without obscuring the
sun – sun showers as we cross the dividing line between Pichincha province
and Cotopaxi. The fields here were speckled with little yellow wildflowers,
making them look like an impressionist painting in the pointilism technique.
As we approached the city of Latacunga we passed a flatbed truck staining
under the weight of two army tanks under blue tarps, their cannon sticking
out and crossing over the middle of the bed.

Norma Yvonne, who is a bit high-strung and has a low fear threshold,
keeps time to the music by tapping my hand, and clutches my arm and squeezes
every
time the bus breaks hard or tries a passing maneuver on
a curve. We are now on the wide valley floor, flat grassy fields on both
sides.  We pass an Ecuadorian Special Forces military camp, explaining
the tanks.  Over the entrance is a sign – Avenue of the Immortals.
Men in uniforms are coming and going in jeeps and on foot.

We enter Latacunga, a typical Andean market city, markets and stores
for farming supplies, modest houses and schools, soccer fields, pharmacies
and stores selling TVs and microwaves, mechanics garages and building
supplies.

Out of the city now and into a zone of dairy farms and roadside stands
selling homemade cheese. Norma is singing along to the radio – she knows
all of the words to all of the songs popular before we stole her heart
and Shanghaied her body to the States 10 years ago.

We pass a sign reading "Entering Salcedo – 2,876 meters above sea level"
a district famous for its flowers, honey and ice cream.  Ice cream
stores on every corner, sometimes five or six in a block.

Since we are on the main North-South highway down the spine of the Andes,
a route known as the Corridor of Volcanoes, there is really no unused
earth. The road is lined with access roads to higher, smaller towns,
capillaries of capitalism.

Now we are entering Ambato, one of the larger cities of the highlands
and only 45 minutes from Banos.  This is a real city, with large
lots dedicated to the sale of cars and heavy farm machinery, a university,
airport and major league soccer team. When the bus stops to let off passengers
near the train station a flaming gay sitting on the top of a cement bench,
seeing our camera, shouts "Take my picture! Take my picture NUDE!" Norma
thinks he wants to grab the camera and tells us to close the window.  We
don’t, but keep the camera clutched below window level.

The road winds up, out of town, 45 minutes now to Banos. Passing grain
elevators and a cement factory, a huge San Pedro plant with a hundred
arms and enough mescaline to float a thousand-man rave.  On the
outskirts a tourist zone featuring pizzerias, handicraft stores, hippie-influenced
cafes. For one brief instant we pass a loud radio tuned to the same station
as the bus radio and experience a sort of surreal stereo, right ear out
the window, left ear aboard the bus.

Quickly we fly through a town consisting almost entirely of two lines
of stores on either side of the road selling locally produced denim products,
jeans of all sorts and labels, including Levi’s and designer tags, skirts,
jackets, purses and shoes, popular with smart shoppers both national
and foreign.

During this last stretch, the smaller highway between Ambato and Banos,
we finally leave the incessant commerce behind, and pass through true
countryside. The road winds and twists downward through the hills, plunging
through a sea of green, steep rocky facades and terraced farmers fields,
occasional signed businesses like "Luna Bonsai", a Japanese botanical
garden. The road keeps dropping, as Banos lies at a comfortable 1,900
meters above sea level, halfway down the far side of the Andes towards
the hot, humid treasure house of the Amazon basin, less than an hour
from the true jungle.

At the entrance to Banos capitalism reappears in the form of billboards
advertising hotels, restaurants, vacation complexes, banks. We have arrived,
after an overlong absence of 3 years, at one of our favorite places on
the face of the planet – A Little Piece of Heaven on Earth – the city
of Banos, Ecuador.

Banos – Bath House of the Gods

ø





In 1972 a decidedly hippyish and dangerously adventure-addicted Dowbrigade arrived at the mystical and legendary town of Ba

Clouds Over Paradise

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Although the natural beauty and fantastic food should be enough
for anyone, the Dowbrigade has unfortunately been so jaded by our decades
in so-called "civilization" that we often feel the need for more sophisticated
entertainment.  Therefore it was with some surprise and pleasure
that on our initial reconnoitering of the latest developments in town
(we haven’t been back to Banos in about three years), we discovered a
DVD rental shop with many of the latest titles and what looked like a
great collection of used paperback books in a new local coffeeshop.

We promptly rented "Kill Bill, vol 2". "Mystic River" and "Troy", all
of which came out after we left the States and which we are dying to
see.  As far as we know, these movies have not been "officially"
released on DVD in the US, so these must be pirated copies, a supposition
made even more obvious by the price; any three movies, unlimited time,
three dollars ($3.00), leave your driver’s licence as security. On our
way back to the Sangay, we stopped at the coffee shop and picked three
novels, not as new as the movies but ones we wanted to read, one Tom
Clancy, one John Grisham, and one Nero Wolfe.

However, not everything is as perfect as we would want it to be, even
in this little piece of paradise in the Andes.  When we went to
pay for the books we were told it was exchange only; we needed to trade
in a book of our own, plus pay $1.00.  When we explained we were
not carrying around any of the books we had already finished and offered
to pay $2.00 for each of the worn paperbacks, we were told, sorry, no
exchange, no books.

Then when we got back to our hotel room, we discovered that none of
the movies would play on our iBook! They were not even real DVD’s, but
extended play video CD’s, and try as we might we could not get Quicktime
player to fire them up, or convert them into a watchable format.

So today we have our eyes peeled for any discarded books, or sympathetic
travelers who might be persuaded to part with one of theirs.  And
we have NO idea what to do with the movies…..

Surrealistic Dreams

1

In the dream we are sitting in the audience of a conference of super
computer geniuses, covering it for the Dowbrigade News, although we understand
almost nothing of what is being said in the presentations.

After the current presenter, who resembles a cross between Albert Einstein
at his disheveled best and Christopher Lloyd in "Back to the Future"
finishes
his speech, he asks for questions from the audience, and we, quite against
our will, raise our hand.

Someone brings over a microphone, and we hear ourself asking, as if
with the voice of another, "Uh, well, I just rented three Video CD’s
and can’t figure out how to play them on my iBook.  When I double
click on the CD Icon I just see four folders called and inside are files
with
formats I don’t recognize like .DAT and .NFS. How can I get these movies
to play on my computer?"

Einstein pins us with a withering look of absolute disdain and says,
"Young man, you are obviously at the wrong conference.  I suggest
you try something for computer illiterates trying to get started in the
field."

We stumble shamefacedly towards the ballroom exit, but as we go a kindly
and slightly familiar looking man comes up, puts his arm around our shoulder,
and says in a low voice, "Don’t worry about it, old Schleisermeister
is full of himself. I had that same problem myself – it’s really quite
simple.  All you need to do is…."

At that exact moment we were awakened by a loud snoring snort from Norma
Yvonne’s side of the bed. Somewhat annoyed and still half asleep we shoved
her shoulder and mumbled, "I can’t believe you woke me up, he was about
to tell me how to watch the movies…"

"Whaa?" sez Norma Yvonne.

We reach for the iBook to write this note. How can we get these movies
to play on our computer? Are we asleep or awake? If somebody writes us
with the answer, will we wake up before we can read it?

So Many Cicadas, So Few Recipes

1

The
question of why our culture has a morbid fear of some insects (spiders,
roaches, and locusts, for example) while cultures in, say,
Africa do not, is an interesting one. In part, no doubt, it is
due to the real threats some these species represent, like poisionous
spiders or crop-destroying locusts. In addition, the very concept of
billions or trillions of anything swarming over, around or on our soft,
fragile bodies is creepy. However, in the case of the cicadas, misleadingly
known
as
17-year locusts (they are actually distant cousins to true locusts),
it appears they have gotten a bum rap….

The cicadas of Brood X are here and singing like billions of tiny
boom boxes. Not everyone is thrilled, but I have to say that the bugs
don’t seem so bad to me. They may be breaking some sort of anti-noise
ordinances but they hardly qualify as a plague.

The largest locust swarm on record, Dr. Lockwood reports, was documented
from June 15 to 25, 1875, in Nebraska. Albert Child, who observed it
and made a careful analysis, calculated that the swarm covered 198,000
square miles and was a quarter- to a half-mile deep. Dr. Lockwood says
the damage supports that claim, and he estimates the number of locusts
at 3.5 trillion. Nationwide, at the peak of a major outbreak, he estimated
that there were 15 trillion locusts with a biomass approaching that of
bison at their peak.

from the New York Times

Style over Substance

ø

We
are forced to admit that President Bush’s address to the nation on
his Iraq disengagement was pretty damn good, at least by his standards.
Never a Praetorian orator, he has learned a trick or two over the years,
and now manages to keep that annoying smirk off his face at least 90%
of the time.

The elucidation of a 5-step plan to turn the country over to the Iraqis
is the kind of simple plot line the public can grasp and hang on to without
straining their mental muscles, even if is a fairy tale to rival the
Brothers Grimm at their best. And his brave proclamation of his intent
to raze the house of horrors torture prison was a stroke of public relations
genius, just the kind of symbolic gesture that could get Americans to
feel good about shitting on the rest of the world again.

Style over substance has always been the winning formula in American
politics. John Kerry had better upgrade his speech-writing team if the
Prez can pull these gems out on a regular basis. Note to John: the Dowbrigade
writes a mean speech, and is available…..

speech coverage from the
Boston Globe