If I hadn't traveled alone to Ecuador, I wouldn't have met Ariana, a sweet six-year-old who sings one heck of a Christmas carol. I met her dad Agustin towards the end of my 10-day vacation. A travel agent in Quito arranged for him to drive me to the monument and museum at Mitad del Mundo. That is, the middle of the world. That would be the equator.
She told me he didn't speak English but that my Spanish was good enough. Ha!
He picked me up in the morning and as he drove, we conversed in Spanish. Somewhat. If you count pointing and nodding. If I had been with other people, I wouldn't even have tried.
When we got to the museum, he told me he'd wait for me in the parking lot. I toured the exhibits. The museum feels touristy - maybe because it's full of tourists - but I learned a lot about indigenous people around the country.
I found Agustin and asked him to drive me to the nearby Pululahua Crater. This time he came with me and we hiked part way down, skidding on the dirt path occasionally. I could feel the temperature variations from the various micro-climates found at the crater.
Agustin pointed out a trail visible on the sides of the surrounding mountains. It's for hikers who tramp around the crater. Two people and a horse walked past us, headed for the bottom, where some houses sit here and there.
Four hours later, Agustin dropped me off where I was staying. He didn't take my money, since he was coming back later to take me on a nighttime tour of the old city. He told me I could pay him then.
When he showed up, Ariana, one of his three daughters
was in the front seat. She was the only one not too shy to meet the
American. I was a bit of a novelty. An American, number one. But also, one who could
speak some Spanish.
I told Ariana my name and asked her how old she was. All in Spanish. That led her young mind to believe that I could understand everything she said. So she started prattling on rapid fire about the cathedrals we were seeing and the ghosts inside and lots more that I couldn't tell you about because I had no idea what she was saying. Which is true sometimes of English speaking six-year-olds as well. I tried to laugh in the right places and say "si" and nod and smile.
Agustin drove up Cerro La Panecillo, a steep hill upon which the Virgen de Quito statue sits. The huge statue of the Virgin is surrounded by vendors selling ticky tacky goods. Like any normal child, Ariana began asking her dad to buy her something. Over and over. He said no. Over and over.
We walked to the edge of the parking area and gazed up at the stars, and out toward the lights of the city. La Catedral, La Merced, San Francisco Church and other Quito churches and cathedrals were lit up in bright colors.
When we returned to the car, Ariana was comfortable enough to sit in the back with me. I got her to sing a Christmas carol she had learned in English in school. It went something like this:
"Dashing through the no, in a one hor open leigh..." Hm, someone's going to have to return the "s's" to her English.
Very adorable, her show-and-tell.
Then I tried out my first joke in Spanish. Street signs
in Quito display a pair of black legs in motion to indicate a crosswalk. I
pointed to it and said something like: "Mire, los pantalones crucan la
calle" which I hoped meant, "Look, the pants are crossing the street."
She laughed. Either because she thought my joke was funny. Or I said something entirely off base. Who knows? When she pretended to be on a horse, I kept asking her, "Donde esta tu caballo. No puedo verlo," which I hope means, "Where is your horse? I can't see it." She got a kick out of that one too. And then I asked her father why he didn't buy her a horse. We all giggled.
Before they dropped me off, Agustin drove to a hotel where his wife worked so he could introduce me to her.
The whole day cost $25. But I gave him much more than that. Because that's what he and Ariana had given me. Much, much more than a taxi service.
Photos: Ellen Perlman
San Francisco Church.
Agustin and Ariana