Saturday, March 17, 2018

Protesting the President ~ in Quito, Ecuador

Tomorrow is Labor Day in Ecuador, and we hear that there is to be a demonstration in Quito.  In the main Historic Square.   The one in front of our hotel.

This comes out, you must understand, in snatches of information because, of course, the hotel staff does not want their guests to be unnecessarily alarmed.  Plus there's a language barrier.

It goes something like this:
Them:  Tomorrow is  Ecuador Labor Day, there will be a gathering  in the Square.  

Us:  You mean, like a  celebration?
Them:  Um, no, not exactly a celebration.  

Us:  You mean like a parade??
Them:  Um, no, not exactly like a parade.

Us:  You mean like???? 
Them:  Um.......more like a demonstration.  

Us:  You mean like a protest?
Them:  Yes, there are some who are protesting the current President.   

Us:  Ahhhhh, the light dawns.

This is a small boutique hotel; a converted mansion, it’s just lovely.  There are just 31 rooms, I don’t know if they’re full  or not, but I DO know we heard many of the guests talking in the hotel restaurant about “getting out of town” for the day;  we are more curious than afraid, plus we were out for a day trip to the Equator just yesterday; so we decide to stay put.   If you’ll recall, were in Barcelona on Catalonia Days, where Barcelona citizens plus an extra 150,000 people gathered to add their voice to those who wish to succeed from Spain;  and it was a sight to behold, a "real" cultural experience.  (See the post “Catalonia Days”)

May 1 dawns, and even before we leave our room we can see the audio tent go up and we hear the music and loudspeakers start blaring.  We decide to go “out” to find coffee and breakfast, as opposed to our hotel dining room; our intent is to be tucked back safely on the fourth floor terrace overlooking the square to watch all the action.

The staff is ever gracious as we are leaving this morning.  We have already met the hotel Manager (oddly enough, in a town of 2 million people, we were at the same  restaurant ("It's Urko") the evening before for dinner ~ where I made friends with the owner, who was friends with our hotel manager, and introduced us).   He politely inquires as to our plans; when we tell him we’re just going out for breakfast and then will be returning before the “festivities” begin, he offers to send one of the hotel cell phones with us.  “Just in case you need anything”.   Hmmm.

We say “Buenos Dias” to the armed police guard at the door as we leave (hmmm);  and we decide to stick close, just popping into a little cafĂ© on the square (where the green umbrellas are in the upper left of the photo)

 The restaurant is charming ~ 

And breakfast is good ~ it’s local fare, Mr. C has fried eggs over a corn mash of some kind.  I have mesa & eggs cooked in corn husks.  They raise several types of corn here, and it’s served in some form or fashion with almost every meal.  (Is that supposed to look like a chicken foot??)

Ecuadorian coffee is excellent, and we are lingering a bit while watching the action in the square start to accelerate.

These gals are ready to sell their wares to the coming crowds.

And stilted figures seem to be popular.

The march has begun uptown somewhere, and will conclude here in San Francisco Square, with just an estimated arrival time of arrival.

So now the crowds are starting to line the steps and the terraces of the church 
to jockey for the best view; 

Some of the early protest  marchers go past in groups on the side streets; 
(again with the stilts).

Now the police presence starts to build ~ 

All the streets have barricades and are lined with policemen; the music starts to build and the air is starting to feel electric.  I have been lulled by the lack of people in the square itself, but suddenly I realize that this is being strictly controlled, the police are not letting anyone into the square yet, not until the marchers arrive.  And it dawns on me that, if we don’t get the heck out of here, we might just very well be trapped!

Since this was not-at-all what we had in mind, Mr. C rushes in to pay our tab, and we are off like a shot through the square.  Every time somebody sets off a fire cracker (the big cherry bomb kind) I jump a mile. 

We  scoot back to our hotel entrance, which……….is locked up tight, and barricaded to boot.  Hmmmm, but of course it is!   Those big ole' wooden doors are not just for looks.  The guard at our hotel's front door (who's armed with a machine gun) points and says (in Spanish) that there is a side entrance around the block.  He must have read my face -- I was suddenly panic-stricken!   

‘Cause he escorted us, ever so calmly, to the delivery entrance, around the corner and half-way up the block, through the locked gate, speaking in Spanish to the two policemen at the gate and the (armed) guy in the guardhouse to let us in.   And when I say "armed" -- I mean machine-gun armed, not some wimpy little pistol.

 Whew.  I was nervous, I won’t lie. 

Now we feel like we’re in a James Bond movie, navigating the back stairs and locked doors and delivery entrances

  'Till we are, at last, safe in our beautiful hotel, 

albeit the back door entrance!

We head straight for the terrace to see all the action.  We are four floors up, and we are sharing the birds-eye view with our new manager buddy; someone from Police Intel; Military Intel; the largest newspaper in Ecuador; and two TV stations.  
Oh, and us.  There’s the two Americans, too.

Now the Protest Marchers start to arrive.  
This happens gradually,in groups.  

Each group seems to have their own gig; different banners, different objections, different message, different delivery. 

Some with flags; and then there’s a group who all have white balloons, which they release simultaneously.  Cool effect.

There’s a younger group with a drum cadence – they are the most boisterous (‘cause they have the most energy at that age -- no matter what country you're in!).  There’s a group that inflates some kind of puppet.  I never could  figure that one out.

The police and news helicopters are circling, and there’s a couple of huge drones buzzing about. 

This guy came in for a closer look when he spotted me photographing him.

The police presence increases.  Now there is a layer in full-on riot gear, shields and all, in addition to the yellow-vested police officers, posted at each street junction.

It’s all very exciting!

I can see how those news correspondents get all caught up in being on the front line!   Except for the being in danger part. 

All the while, our manager is “on cue”.  He has his staff deliver refreshments, rooftop.

Their signature drink, a refreshing fruit drink, heavy with florals.  I've no idea what this is, but it's heavenly.  Never had anything like it before or since.  

Later, hot empanadas make their appearance.  Stuffed with pork, served with a spicy passion fruit dipping sauce.   Delicious.  Then some dessert empanadas, served with a sweet jam.  (Ecuador has the most amazing array of fruit of any country I’ve ever seen.  Benefits of being situated on the equator!).  

The Manager tells us that he has an evacuation plan in place; a back-up hotel to lodge his guests, if need be.  We are ?  Reassured?  Nervous?  Uncomfortable? (probably all of the above) to hear this.  

Soon it hits it’s peak, as these things do.   The band strikes up the National Anthem, everyone raises their Ecuadorian voices.  Then the young and the restless light some torches, then they light their effigy and make a small bonfire. 

 Fire is always so dramatic, don’t you think?

But even then, all remains peaceful.  These are people who just want their objections to be heard.  Nothing was out of order; there was no violence of any kind; in fact, there was zero disrespect to the police or those in charge.  



Now we are winding down; the local vendors start to appear with their food wares to sell to the crowd; corn of all kinds is sold here ~ popcorn, roasted corn (sort of like our corn nuts); plus soups and ice cream and even cotton candy! and the like.

The church doors open wide, and the Catholic entourage pour out the door, many bearing huge baskets of fresh fruits on their heads or carried in baskets at-hand.   I meant to ask what this ritual meant in particular, but I neglected to do so.  

The band strikes up, and off they go, it's their turn to march through the streets.
The Protesters too, all start to break off and leave in groups just as they came.

During much of this time, Mr. C has been talking to our Manager friend about what this is all about;  what lies at the heart of the dissatisfaction; what do these people want, what kind of change are they seeking.  What has caused the current President, very popular when he was elected, to fall out of favor with some; who are these folks, and why the change in attitude.  Lots of information about the economics of living here. 

Honestly, it was some of the best education we could have hoped to receive in a foreign country.  We feel privileged to have had the opportunity to take part, if but from a distance, in such a cultural event.  Where the rubber meets the road, but in a foreign country.

As we were chatting with some of the other staff that evening, and I mentioned that it had been such an interesting day, he asked where I was  from, and did we have things like this in our country; which I thought was a very intelligent  thing to ask a foreigner.  I answered in the affirmative, of course.  It’s part of democracy to be able to speak your mind.   (Minus the looting and rioting.)   And sure enough, we awoke the next morning to news of a protest in Seattle, Washington.   

Democracy at work.  Around the world.  


  1. I just love to read your writings,vyou always put the reader right there

    1. That's a great compliment......'cause if you're not smellin' the empanada's, well.......then I'm not doing my job!

  2. This article is exciting, frightening, packed with amazing photos that also tell the story!

    I’m so happy I get to read your blog as I am not as brave as you to travel as you do!

    I particularly enjoy that you took time in all of this going on around you to noticed the server all dressed just so fine attending to the guests on the roof top. And you took his photo! You capture the moments!

    Love your writings and photos!

    1. The little moments are what makes the experience, at the end of the day. We are always adventurous, but also careful......these things are not to be taken lightly, especially in a country where we do not speak the language. But we DO feel like it's educational to observe and participate when possible ~ political climate is part of the culture, after all. We've learned a lot in our short travels.....


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