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The other side of the mountain...

Shell, Ecuador, 23 Julio 2012

I'm sitting in the consulta, or my own little borrowed doctor's office, in the outpatient side of the mission hospital.  It's pretty slow for me this afternoon, but that's only because there happen to be a fair number of practitioners here today.  This morning was mostly routine stuff - well-baby checks, a yeast infection, shingles, lab results for an expectant mom.  Nothing to write home about. ;-)

After a good night's sleep and a good breakfast (and most importantly coffee!) Sunday morning at a little inn in Quito, we headed out on an approximately 5 hour drive from the capital in the sierra to Shell in the oriente region. The weather was fairly clear on the way out of the city.  We went down la Avenida 10 de Agosto, the main drag named for the day the movement for South American independence began in Quito in the early 19th century, through the modern part of the city to the PanAmerican Highway.  Once we got above the city, we stopped to look out over the old colonial part of town nestled right under the sleeping volcanos.

There's something romantic about driving down the PanAmerican highway through the Andes.  The snow-capped peaks of the volcanoes were swathed in patchy clouds, the mountainsides at lower elevation apparently barren.  We passed through many interesting towns and villages - one an indigenous pueblo full of Quechua folks in traditional dress, one with hundreds of greenhouses on either side of the road full of tomatoes and tobacco, one in the cool mountain climate with heladorias (ice-cream shops) on every corner selling the multicolored frozen treat typical of their city.  The rocky mountain terrain speckled with agave and prickly pears gradually gave way to more and more green until the mountains themselves seemed to produce water with dozens of cascadas tumbling down into the rivers in the narrow valley below.  Contrasting all the verdant growth, as we crept along the side of the mountains there was evidence of houses destroyed in lava flows from eruptions in recent years.  

We stopped for lunch in Baños, a town known for its hot springs and mineral water.  From there we drove literally through the Andes, through long tunnels and along winding roads overlooking the multitudinous waterfalls.  The air is much thicker, as we have descended about 6,000 feet overall, and much heavier with moisture.  Even so, it's not oppressively hot, just wet.  Being over 3,500 feet does help with temperature regulation.  The terrain around Shell is a bit more level - something of a plateau with a view of the mountains through the clouds.  The hospital compound is very nice with lots of flowering plants around the whitewashed buildings.  Our reception was warm, the accommodations comfortable, and the hospital busy but not too.  

This afternoon I hope to venture into town and snag some groceries as well as get a bit of the lay of the land.  Tomorrow I'm on call, so I may have an entirely different perspective on things after that! 

Strange but true: In 2000 Ecuador adopted the US dollar as legal tender.  This helped stabilize their economy, makes it easy for American tourists, but also makes Ecuador a hot spot for money laundering.  Who knew?



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 24th, 2012 01:43 am (UTC)
Sounds like a wonderful start to a new adventure. :)
Jul. 27th, 2012 11:51 pm (UTC)
Indeed. :-) Thanks for reading!
Jul. 24th, 2012 10:01 am (UTC)
There's something romantic about driving down the PanAmerican highway through the Andes.

You bet your bottom dollar there is...I've been to some fabulous places but just driving through the Andes takes the biscuit! (Or do you say cake?)

The hospital sounds idyllic so let's hope it stays that way espcially with the 'not too busy' bit...and just think how crisp and clean your dollar notes will be if they're laundered...
Jul. 27th, 2012 11:52 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'd say cake. Then again I have a very different definition of biscuit. :-)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )