October 30, 2016
One of the things that made the most lasting impression on me was the total lack of brands. No McDonalds, Wendy's, Costa or even Taco Bell anywhere. I don't think I saw one single brand the entire time I was there, even in the airport, nothing, none. No hotel chains, zero, zilch. Not even Vodafone signs outside shops and random buildings which is all I remember seeing in India during my last overseas adventure with Mark.
No shopping centres, no supermarkets. Everything was owned and operated by locals, and virtually exclusively Ecuadorean, the (unbranded) coffee was delicious everywhere – and everyone was passionate about their own country and produce. Proud that their bananas were from local trees, and boy did they taste wonderful. In the UK, we're used to bananas being plucked before they are anywhere near ripe and chilled to within an inch of their life in order for them to be ‘ready to eat' once they've been delivered half way around the world.
What was more impressive was that this didn't mean it felt anything like a third world country – it was lacking in preconceived notions of western wealth maybe, but modern and contemporary in its own back street way. This ‘only in Ecuador' feeling added to the richness of the experience and the wonderfulness of Ecuador.
Oh, and the first thing I learnt, from the Ecuadorean minister for tourism, in the first seminar I went to on the first Sunday – Ecuador has beaten every other country in the world to be judged as the worlds most empathetic country.
Findings were based on the way people reported their compassion and tendency to see others' point of view and links between empathetic feelings and various personality traits and ‘prosocial' behaviours, such as volunteering and charitable donations. Not bad for a country that in many peoples eyes would be described as ‘poor'.
Note to self – the UK features nowhere here ?
Somewhere outside Quito there is a dusty old place.
In this dusty old place there's a line on the ground.
That line marks the equator.
Sitting on the line on the ground there's a beaten up old sink.
If you pour water down the plug hole while the sink is on the line it goes down the plug hole without spinning.
If you move the battered old sink 2 metres away from the line to the north and pour water down it, the water spins anticlockwise (as we all remember from our childhood).
If you move the battered old sink 2 metres away from the line to the south and pour water down it, the water spins clockwise.
This morning, before convention time – we took a crazy cable ride to the top of the world at the summit of Cruz Loma. The Teleferico cable car, which rises from the already high 2,950m to a heady 4,050 metres, only takes 8 to 10 minutes and covers a distance of 2500 meters. The view of the city is spectacular, as is the scene called The Volcanoes Avenue and opens up a view of 14 different peaks of the Andes stretching off into the distance. It's a sight that's never to be forgotten and a good example of simple technology opening up a view that would have been out of reach for most before the cable car.
What made the ride to the top of the world even more interesting, was sharing the cable car with the legendary Clare Short, in our 4 person cable car.
Whilst the ride was only 8 minutes or so, you could hear her passion for the common themes of the Habitat 111 convention we were all attending, of promoting equality, welfare and shared prosperity, especially for women throughout the world, was extraordinary.
Sheepishly telling her of our projects and determination to promote the health, welfare and well-being of children (I was was brave enough to say throughout the world) completely resonated with her. She excitedly put it into the context of helping women step up in the world will automatically bring benefit to children everywhere.
Surreal sharing this short experience and staggering view with her though.
It's quite full on here in Quito, including having just had my phone stolen : ( Never a good start to an adventure, but on the bright side, Vodafone have blocked it and its been reported to the police so will get it sorted on insurance eventually.
In many ways it will be a relief not to keep being distracted by the small screen this week as there is so much to take in and learn from all that is going on in this small but inspiring corner of South America. But it will be tricky for Mark and I to keep in contact in and around the huge conference (52k delegates and participants of one sort or another!) so I will probably get a cheap little local phone to keep in touch.
The lack of a phone is going to make communication on here a little more tricky, so will update as soon as I can. The views are unbelievable and unlike anywhere else in the world, so I will endeavour to add new images and more stories as I can. In the meantime, adiós.
If you've flown to Quito from sea level, you may feel a little woozy, sleepless and lethargic – normal symptoms of the acclimatisation process the body goes through over a few days as it adjusts to reduced levels of oxygen at altitude. Symptoms, which might also include breathlessness, needing to urinate frequently, fatigue and strange dreams, will abate naturally if you rest and avoid alcohol and sleeping pills.
Never one to shirk the opportunity for an adventure, when my good friend Mark Merer mentioned he was going to a UN conference in Quito, Ecuador on sustainable development, I jumped at the chance to join him. Mark is the inspiration behind a fabulous new sustainable housing development in Somerset which is at the pinnacle of sustainability.
The extra carrot was that next year the UN have proclaimed 2017 to be the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, which is at the heart of everything we are involved in. Surely I can find something of relevance to us I thought.
The first challenge was a flight on Colombian airlines to Bogota, a challenge in itself and then a short hop over to Quito which sits at the top of the world in Ecuador.
On arrival we were warned of the altitude and sparsity of oxygen, but only now as I was flicking through Mark's copy of Rough Guide to Ecuador earlier tonight did I get to this section –
Bugger, bit late to get that bit of advice ……… : )