Ecuador, Colombia & Venezuela:
‘All Nations Quest’ (episode 5)
……. and how I eventually discovered Bhutan.
After another terrific view crossing the Andes we descended into Quito, Ecuador. Ecuador’s 30 active volcanoes rivalled their political scene for volatility. In full view from our aircraft window was Mt Cotopaxi. At 5896 m it is the world’s highest active volcano. Fortunately it had not erupted since 1877. It seemed a stones throw away from our Airbus A319. Landing at 2800 m altitude was bliss after the rigours of La Paz and we were in a jovial mood.
Most famous for the Galapagos Islands, which were sadly not on our flight path, Ecuador is also well-known for straddling both sides of the equator. In fact, just out of Quito city is the Museo de Sitio Inti, an outdoor interactive museum showcasing the earths physical characteristics at the equator, and that’s where we headed. For example, water spirals down a drain clockwise in the northern hemisphere, yet spirals anti-clockwise in the southern hemisphere 2 metres away! Right on the equator it doesn’t spiral at all and just goes straight down!
We interviewed Jose Manuel Tuainca for our children’s dreams book, a young lad about 13 years old who refused to smile for the camera. Jose was dressed in colourful native costume and was demonstrating a local weaving practice at the museum.
However, with the camera packed away he grinned, displaying an appalling set of rotten teeth. It turned our Jose’s father had died when he was very young and his mother lived far away. The good folk in the nearby village looked after him. His dream was to be a teacher, although he had never been to school! We slipped him US$20 to help him get to a dentist, feeling quite inadequate – not for the first or last time while photographing children on the Quest.
The ‘All Nations Quest’ waits for no man and after the museum we enjoyed a quick taxi ride around Quito city before heading back to the airport and our short Avianca flight to Bogota in Colombia.
Back in 2002 Bogota wasn’t the safest place to raise one’s head. Cocaine Baron’s, drug cartels, emerald dealing, FARQ rebels and guerilla fighters, to name a few, challenged the intrepid traveller. So, we had carefully planned to transit through here on our way to Venezuela. Bogota city appeared, from the air, to be a rather attractive looking city, full of leafy parks & surrounded by rolling green hills and Fresian dairy cattle. In hindsight we would probably have been safer stopping there the night than in Caracas, Venezuela!
Bogota airport was therefore ‘it’ for us, as far as Colombia went, and our child interview was with the delightful Ana-Maria Salazar, 11 yrs, who’s dream was “to be a singer like Britney Spears’. She may by now have changed her mind judging by Ms Spears current situation.
I was looking forward to Venezuela, full of steaming jungles & anacondas, and even the ancient Aeropostal Boeing 727-200 didn’t dampen my spirits as we flew out of Bogota and on to Caracas.
Were we in for a shock! Caracas was beyond crazy. Frenzied driving, polluted, very dangerous streets and very scary. The recent discovery of oil had turned the country from an economic backwater to the richest country in South America. Only problem was none of the new found wealth was finding its way down the food chain and nothing was being done for the poor except the widening of the gap.
From the moment we touched down, to the moment we departed next morning, the citizens of Caracas we came in contact with were surly and unhelpful. We couldn’t wait to leave.
We had now been on the ‘All Nations Quest’ for 10 days, visited 10 nations, travelled 9,513 kms and on 9 different airlines. Plus we were in good shape!
‘All Nations Quest’ (episode 5). To be continued.
Bhutan Travel Expert James Irving
James has worked in the travel industry for over 40 years & has been involved in the leisure, corporate, group, sport, incentive & wholesale travel genres.
James loves rugby union, and keenly supports the Queensland Reds and the Australian Wallabies.