Walking for Blackberries

Sharp flashes of brightness hide behind branches and foliage. Shining in the sunlight, the fruit lay dark against the green leaves of the hillside vines. Wild blackberry harvest is coming.

Being new to this area, I hadn’t known exactly what would spring from the vines I had been walking by for almost five months. First, I saw the woody clipped vine, then small new green buds, then tangling arms of leafy berry vines. Knowing USA’s Pacific Northwest is famous for its berries, I hoped for the exotic salmon berry. But I also knew that blackberries were better at growing in the wild. Then, as I saw the black globs mounting bigger and more numerous against the vines, I knew I could celebrate the abundant blackberry, tart and sweet.

But I didn’t know the berry-picking etiquette in this neighborhood of hillsides owned by everyone. For several days on my walks, I watched people inspect the vines. A few days later, the first neighbor returned with baskets. A day after that, I counted eight different pickers taking berry bounty from three different areas of hillside vines. On my next walk, I brought along my own small basket.

I knew to be careful. As a child, I had picked wild berries in the hills of the Northern Sierra Range in California. As an adult, I savored the Southern Sierra mountain berries. The vines guard their sweet fruit with hairy stickers that sting with more fury than their size should be able to hold. Did I see my neighbors wearing gloves? I should have remembered that little trick to berry-picking. But my small supply of fresh-picked berries gave me only one sting. I escaped home with a nice supply of shining blackberry harvest. Berry, berry good.

Today, I walk again along the sidewalks that border the berry hillsides. I haven’t brought my basket, thinking that berry harvest is a rapid season and I may have missed my chance for a second pick. I turn onto a slightly different path than my usual and begin a walk around a gravel section of a neighborhood park. There are vines alongside the path here, and I notice the dark berries have been harvested. But as I walk closer, I also see that a second offering of green globs hide behind the leaves, waiting to ripen. Berry goodness will deliver a second offering, just one more welcome to the neighborhood.

Walking small

An American friend who lived for years in India tells the story of her first successful experience wearing a Sari, the traditional Indian women’s clothing. She was tightly wrapped into the fabric by a Sari expert. When she complained that she couldn’t walk in such a confining garment, the expert said “Take smaller steps.”

I am living this advice right now. It might be a philosophical outlook on life, or a good recipe for putting one foot in front of the other. No matter how I look at the moral of this small story, it fits. My walks now call for smaller steps than I am used to. Even the territory I cover is small compared to walks I have taken in the past.

I take a step and appreciate things I wouldn’t have seen five months ago. I remember the place where the bunnies hide, where to get the best view and how to avoid the crack in the sidewalk from all the past times I have come this way. I know how fast the plants grow and where the roots of the biggest tree loop over each other in a braid. Smaller steps give me the chance to be grateful for some simplicity in life and the fact that I can still get up and go.

There are so many things to look at when I am looking for details. Just three feet away hovers a huge bumble-bee-like creature. Its chubby body stays suspended mid-air. Two tiny frogs jump out of the wet grass, and bounce into the weeds. Weed or unknown local plant? Or both? If I study the growing things for a moment or two – or three –  I can activate my memory enough to investigate with my northwest plant guide when I get home. It’s a luxurious feeling, taking my time and slowing my steps.

 I notice I am measuring in units much, much less than a mile. In front of me is a curving stone path and I wonder if I can build something like that in my own yard. Three paces uphill and I see the berries are ripening on vines that have been growing since early spring.

Maybe I can even have a walk in my mind, and maybe that can be enough. So many great walks are there for the imagining. Or even remembering. Inside my head is a mental recycling plant that lets me enjoy rambles twice. In fact, it’s a good investment: Next time I go on a walk in a new place somewhere far away, the routine won’t be such a rusty old process.

Is your walk philosophical, real, or a nice blend of each? Is it long or short, and does it change with the seasons? Stepping out of our usual habits isn’t all bad – it’s something to think about next time we put one foot in front of the other.

Long walks or short, large steps or small, it’s up to each of us to keep going in our own way. Maybe we can’t make the Saris of the world adapt to us, but we can do small things to adapt to the world. If I can hear a great story from a friend along the way bringing me laughter and making me think, all the better.

Thank you, Ann

Walking the urban forest

It’s heaven-sent. During this time of boundaries closing tight, someone had the foresight to keep pathways open. A person I don’t know, about 20 years ago, designed an urban forest to help me today celebrate the natural world. More precisely, someone made it so the forest that was already here wasn’t swallowed up entirely by new homes. I am a lucky sort today, because that space is where my walk takes me.

The pleasure of being able to step from concrete sidewalk to crushed granite path into soothing coolness gives me a moment to pause. It’s a quiet walk, no others within ear shot. Perhaps it’s the time of day – mid afternoon – when every creature takes a rest.

Except me. With each step into the shade, the distant freeway traffic hum, the occasional whirr of small airplanes, the in-and-out of neighborhood inhabitants, all these usual every day sounds are muffled, then fade, then are gone. A simple quiet surrounds the magic of light passing through a split branch of moss-covered old pine, the tender changes in green from tiny leaf to stem to vine, and the delicate yellow and pink of blossoms I haven’t yet named.

The route is adventurous. The trail veers down and makes me evaluate my mountain climbing skills. It’s a mini-mountaineering escape in a twenty-minute time capsule. Other walkers have slipped, leaving their mud tracks in three-foot long skids. I decide to scoot over to the edge. I side-step my way down, cushioned by a layer of old pine needles, crushed brown leaves and the wisdom of being in my sixties with no desire to see if I can recover from a slide down 30 feet of forest. Luckily, this particular path is kind. It exits the forest onto a separate side street and into the neighborhood without needing a return hike back up the slick incline.

But not before I walk through the section I have named Fern Gully. How did these living things survive an ice-and-cold winter? They sit to the side of the trail, ferns more delicate than the tatted-lace doilies my grandmothers’ mothers used to make. Right now, just entering full summer, they have uncurled finger-tipped leaves with hairy undersides in shades of the forest that change as the sun passes by.

Now, the trail feels like the backward beginning of my stroll: into the full sun, onto crushed granite, then hard cement sidewalk. It’s easy to think that the walk, so simple and small, was just a mind’s adventure, just a moment to escape a worried planet. I wonder if I’ll be able to find these peaceful footsteps next time I need an escape. But I smell the lingering pine and cedar, and don’t have to look back to know it’s really there.

As my walk ends, I step through a baracade of trees that reach up 100 feet and into my backyard. The fat leaves of a tree I still cannot name hang down to shield the sun. Climbing onto the small hillside of my back yard, I am home.

Thank you, urban planners. You made today’s walk a welcome relief  in an up-and-down world.

 

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Walking around a lockdown

 

It’s time to get up from my old chair, step out from a front door that is new to me and take an everyday walk around a locked-down neighborhood. The neighborhood itself is beautiful, and wonderful to explore. We have hills to keep us in shape, streets to walk, and glorious weather from sun to misted rain. There is even a forested neighborhood park that makes me believe I have moved far away from civilization.

But I have moved to Olympia, Washington and straight into a stay-at-home order. Like most everyone in the world, I seek some sense of normalcy, so I continue my daily walks. Now, instead of new cities and countries and continents, I explore near-by streets, and if I’m lucky, a new path through the close-by forested park.

Today I head out through my backyard onto a cut-off hilltop that I have named Pixie Woods. A tiny grassy meadow circles a large water tank, and trees – probably a dozen whose names I do not know – grow everywhere. I look straight up from my footsteps and I see limb after limb and leaf after leaf and beyond that, blue sky. I look down to my shoes and see moss and lichen and ferns and hundreds of small growing things. They might be weeds, but are so delicate that I cannot imagine anyone wouldn’t want them growing in profusion, as they are doing now around each of my footsteps. I am from a place of perpetual drought, so the faint color in the pin-sized flowers make me feel protective – how do these fragile growing things survive?

I pass through the small park and walk on a main road that takes me up to the top of the hill I live on. Overlook Park is here. Today clouds near and far hide Mt. Rainier, an icon  I had assumed I would have visited by now, two months after I moved to this place where there is so much to explore, but not right now, not for anyone, including me.

I am lamenting too much. In the midst of an earthly microbe showing us how powerless we are, everyone in my household is healthy. That, all by itself, should give me more comfort than I have ever deserved. Even the tiny weeds with their shy flowering bits should give me hope.

So, my walk is grateful. Really, truly filled with gratitude, even if I have to force it just a bit. Because day after day, the same walk can become boring in its beauty. Maybe I haven’t, by some good fortune, been infected with a virus, but I have always been infected with restlessness and that large failure of simply being human. My mind keeps craving a walk to Tumwater Falls, to Priest Point Park, and to the Nisqually Nature Reserve, all close-by but for now, off-limits. So I take a deep breath, and in good moments, am satisfied with the smallness of this neighborhood, beautiful and safe.

I walk back up to my new-to-me front door, and practice patience. This unknown home town will still be here in a little while, when it is safe to explore.

 

 

Finally, back with the worldwide walking group of the famous RJo!

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The Comic Relief of Violet and Doris

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I’ve been trying hard to find a fit and suiting place

to hide my head into the sand somewhat in disgrace.

News I tend to see in print and even on the screen

seems too often to display us all as just plain mean.

 

Search I did and then some more, but little did I find

to give me much hope for a loving humankind.

So I did what people have done always and again.

I found out my own response, wrote it down and then

 

put it onto a new blog with hope to inspire

a few laughs and grief relief enough to light a fire

of hope and cheerfulness or maybe just some fun

because if we don’t laugh a bit, we’d be happy-un.

 

Here’s a link to a new blog I hope will bring you cheer

or if not, at least a moment you won’t have to fear.

Please meet Violet and Doris , smile upon your face.

You’ll find they do exist online in a happy place.

 

https://violetanddoris.wordpress.com/

Not-Walking Antarctica

 

 

 

For ethical reasons, perhaps we shouldn’t have gone. For financial reasons we chose to go the cheap way, by cruise ship. For companionship, we went together, even though it was Bruce’s idea, completely his idea, his idea from the beginning and thoroughly his idea to go in the first place. His reasoning went something like this: having already put our feet onto the earth in six continents, we should visit the seventh. We’ve done other faulty things for less well-thought reasons before. And so, for adventuring reasons, we did go.

Here’s the story (and remember, this was entirely Bruce’s idea):

We settle in to the massive ship, and I am torn about being here. Is it comforting that we have so much protection from the elements and the rough seas? The ship is completely full, and over-run with older people carrying large amounts of camera equipment, Audubon guides and Sir David Attenborough’s audio books. I learn that there is a naturalist who will be making presentations as we get closer to Antarctica.

Before we go to sleep the first night, there is a grumble in the atmosphere of the ship: A slightly unsettled blip in the inter-personal current. I think it is just me getting used to this place, just me getting my sea legs.

The next morning, long after the time when I could jump ship and swim to shore, we get a revised itinerary. It will take us longer than anticipated to get to our destinations, so our first stop, at Ushuaia, Argentina will be shortened. There is a vague explanation that is mumbled around the ship – an engine is not working quite right. And we are heading to one of the most turbulent oceans on the planet.

The stop in Ushuaia is even more brief than expected, due to weather or winds or engine trouble. Once back on the seas, we are told that it will take us longer than expected to reach Antarctica, due to weather or winds or engine trouble. We entertain ourselves with visits to the naturalist’s programs. Each one is entertaining and so crowded people are sitting in the aisles. What else is a ship full to do?

Passengers begin to emerge who know a thing or two about oceans and engines. I hear people complain about ship-shape upkeep and the seriousness of less-than-perfect engine function in the middle of a rough sea.

We do make it to the shores of Antarctica.

The continent itself is thrilling. Ice, snow, rock and ocean. Completely gray and white, with a bit of astounding turquoise when a piece of sunshine hits the two-story ice just right. Overwhelming in a black and white movie style, Antarctica spews its coldness into view. It seems to me a world apart from everything I know. It is unthinkable that I am here.

As we leave the continent, it is announced that we won’t be able to make our next stop, Elephant Islands. Bad weather, landing conditions, faulty engines.
That night, it is announced that we won’t be able to stop at The Falkland Islands. The next morning, we learn we won’t make the last stop in our itinerary, Puerto Madryn, Argentina.

During one lunchtime, Bruce – the one who wanted to be here – and I step into the buffet, and walk right into a security guard. Security guard? It’s not like he announces himself, but just by standing where he is standing and looking like he does, I know that’s what he is.

Then I notice that the buffet’s seating area is packed shoulder-to shoulder with passengers, and the multi-lingual speech is getting louder and louder. The windows are fogged up with the charged emotion that did not come from lunch’s sliced roast beef sandwiches. People are speaking in animation and high-emotion. I am uncomfortable and Bruce is nearly laughing. He asks the security guard what is going on while I sink into the background, losing my appetite.

It seems a joining of forces is occurring – the Argentine passengers and the larger tour groups (from the Philippines and from China) – have come together to sign petitions of formal complaints about the condition of the ship and the restructuring of the voyage’s schedule. They think this mechanical problem was foreseen and that we all have been defrauded and that King Penguins will be lost in the fray if we passengers don’t receive some recompense for having lost the opportunity of a lifetime.

I don’t know where to look for fault – the cruise line for skipping 3 out of 4 planned stops and running a huge ship on a faulty engine, the passengers for being as selfish as I didn’t want to be in booking this trip, or Bruce, whose idea it was in the first place.

We make it back to Buenos Aires, a safe place in any comparison, and nothing ever comes of anything. The petitions signed by every passenger (probably twice by most), the formal complaints to the governments and the companies involved, the simple violations of the rules of civility in promising one thing and delivering something quite different – nothing ever happens. It remains just one more life experience. Sometimes we just don’t get what we expect, but we do get something.

I got a continent I would never have seen by myself, and a never-ending story to recap time and again with the partner and love of my life. It was, after all, all his fault.

Walking Ushuaia, Argentina

I have been traveling through South America for a month at the point I reach Ushuaia, Argentina.

I think I know what to expect from the entire continent, in a general way. I’ve seen beauty and been shown gracious welcome. I’ve had the humbling experience of traveling by land through many border crossings and standing in line at two of those crossings for over 6 hours. I have braved city bus systems, fallen over several sidewalk irregularities, practiced my Spanish language, eaten food that did not agree, and enjoyed many meals that did. I have done all of that and am surviving – even loving the priviledge of being able to put my feet to the ground in places many people can’t imagine ever seeing in person.

But all my experience, as well as my abiding stereotypes, gives nothing to prepare me for this small city at the edge of the world. I begin my walk at the harbour, facing the downtown area and looking up to the surrounding jagged mountains.

I walk across the street to the visitor’s center. It seems no single nationality nor one language has a lasting claim to this place. I remind myself to speak Spanish, but I lose count at nine languages that seem common: Spanish, of course, and English, also German, Mandarin, Italian, the English spoken in Australia (!I know they can say the same about American English!), at least two Eastern-European languages (I think Polish and Hungarian?) and another tongue I can’t identify at all.

Across one street is the downtown area. It seems retailers find this place especially enticing, as brand-names from all over the world have built-up a presence here in this town of a bit over 50,000 souls. Hard Rock Cafe, for heavens’ sake, is here. It is apparent to me as I step into the city center – all two-square blocks of it – that something is going on here that should remind me that it is never a good idea to walk around with my stereotypes.

Whatever my expectations were, instead, I am greeted by: Upscale mountaineering retailers, luxury leather goods, specialty yachts, space-age small planes.

But even with the connection to the world’s marketers, Ushuaia remains a part of its pristine geography.  Even during this summer walk, snow is visible on the sharp peaks surrounding the bay, signposts warn of impending bear visits, the mirrored quality of the icy water reflects puffy clean clouds, penguins live nearby.

It all leaves me a bit out-of-sorts. I walk through the downtown and out into a more residential neighborhood. It is cozier here, and I find a bench on a pie-shaped park to sit and watch pelicans on the bay. I wonder what it is that has me so befuddled. I take a walk wherever I go; today should be no different. I am here today, and tomorrow venturing by ship to Antartica, but I find that Ushuaia is pulling my attention. On the cusp of viewing the continent that so few people ever see, it is this little city that makes me stop and think.

It feels more like home than I expected to experience in a place so far away from where I live. There is a California calm here, a confident idea in the streets that no town, anywhere, does life like it’s done here. I sit on a suburban bench, at the extreme southern tip of my connected continent, and I feel like I am living in the middle of California Cool. I think maybe that is not such a good thing.

But then, I remind myself, Ushaia knows itself better than I do. My own California calm takes over, and I decide to just let it be. Ushuaia seems to be doing just fine defining its own character, at its own pace. I’m the one that needs an attitude adjustment – and I hope I leave my stereotypes behind as I venture farther south.

 

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Walking Buenos Aires, Argentina

Listening to visitors pronounce ‘Buenos Aires’ is enormously entertaining. People from Britain say ‘Ahhhres’, giving the word the sophistication it deserves. People from the USA say ‘Air-rays’. It’s a simple switch for them: just adding ‘rays’ to the already familiar word ‘air’. Curiously, travelers don’t seem to confuse ‘Buenos’, but there is already enough intrigue about the city. Buenos Aires itself is even more entertaining to travelers than its name, and everyone should visit.

This is my second time in the city; the first being over 40 years ago. I don’t dance the tango, I don’t eat pondorous beef meals (though the person walking next to me might like to.) But, now as 40 years ago, I find endless ways to entertain myself. This is one city where anyone can feel like a Porteño – a resident of Buenos Aires.

Some cities are strategically breath-taking, placed in an area of great beauty, like Bogotá, Colombia. Others may be located in a convenient area, like Panamá City, Panamá. Some communities spread like wildfire, consuming geography without apparent logic, like my former hometown of Pasto, Colombia. And some cities, like Buenos Aires, plot their own thoughtful development with grace and beauty, replacing topography with a vibrant and classic style that begs people to visit and effortlessly impresses them when they do.

We arrive from Lima and I pull out our hotel information. I am not always good at selecting places to stay. We are thrifty sorts, and like to get as much for our money as we can, but while we look for safety and value, location of the hotel is always our first concern. Can we walk to the places we want to see? Are there restaurants and stores close by?

The taxi driver knew the hotel right away, without the need for an address, which is a credit to him, and gives me hope that this time, I picked well. It is a hot day in Buenos Aires, and we drive into a neighborhood with a canopy of green extending over the city streets. The taxi pulls up along a shaded sidewalk to a shiningly clean hotel with ornate stately features. Melia Recoleta Plaza. It is classically beautiful, and I decide immediately that if I only explore this one building while in Buenos Aires, the trip will have been worthwhile.

The hotel has taken over a structure that was once a rooming house where Eva Peron lived. With curving staircases, gleaming wood accents, polished marble tile floors, this place acts as a living museum. Placards placed on framed photographs tell the history of Peronista Argentina. In black-and-white, next to the period architecture of the building itself, a history lesson begins before I unpack my bags in the room.

The area of Recoleta is home to our hotel. Even if tourists didn’t need to visit Evita’s grave in La Recoleta’s cemetary, they should come to see this neighborhood. The graveyard itself is a walking history tutorial, with cultural lessons displayed on tombstones. Decorations and poetry add details. Outside the cemetary, the shaded streets and the welcome of the cafes make walking a simple pleasure here. Carrying our map, we are stopped several times by residents who offer help with directions. One recommends that we visit the artisan fair in the park. We do, and find a huge gathering of craftpersons and shoppers. We are entertained for hours. Since I have decided that visiting Buenos Aires requires more than seeing the interior of the hotel, I now wonder if I really need to leave La Recoleta. The area is peaceful and inviting, surely sufficient for any visit.

But I do explore farther. El Ateneo Grand Splendid is just outside La Recoleta. In 2019, it was named the most beautiful bookstore in the world by National Geographic. When I walk into the store from the sidewalk, I wonder about the hype surrounding this famous place. I like bookstores, and have high expectations for the well-known ones. This one opens up from a fairly normal city street. It’s fine. But number one in the world?

And then I see the interior and understand. It’s so filled with architectural beauty that it’s difficult to focus on the literary works of art. This is just one more spot in Buenos Aires that can occupy an entire visit.

Of course, there are more. The walk to a popular shopping street, Calle Florida, from our hotel is a long one. In the heat, I wonder if my insistance on walking everywhere is wise. But how else do I see the sights I want to see at the pace I want to see them? The reward is in the shops along the street and the vendors with their goods on the sidewalk. And, of course, along the way, we stop in the shaded parks near the Casa Rosada, where the city’s political history has unfolded.

Every neighborhood we pass through and each restaurant and shop we enter, we encounter friendly, helpful Porteños. When we take a short break to sit in the shade of Plaza de Mayo, twice people approach and offer help with directions and recommendations. It seems to me the people of Buenos Aires want us to visit and enjoy the city they very obviously love.

That is the lasting impression I take with me from our second visit. I can stop worrying about pronouncing the name right. The important thing to remember is that Porteños love their city. This emotion spills out to welcome visitors like myself. 

Walking Quito, Ecuador

 

 

A cab from the bus station takes us toward the center of Quito, where we will be staying for several days. With over two million residents, it is no surprise that this city has neighborhoods of normal busy-ness, where life goes on along graffiti streets with too many vehicles. I think we are driving through most of these neighborhoods on our ride today, and marvel at the new yellow school buses, the traffic lights that impose order and the general rush I notice in the streets. We pass through bleached-out urban spread and then up-up-up to the high plateau of historical Quito. 

Once we reach Hotel Casa Gardenia, in the center of the city and settle in, my impressions change. Urbane, international, less hurried, welcoming.

But all those descriptions of Quito – the bustle and the serenity – surprise me. 

The last time I was here, traveling in a pack of two or four or six hamburger-starved young Americans, we sought out Rusty Burger the moment our feet hit the last step of the bus. We ate hamburgers translated into the South American experience and called them glorious. We stayed at a ramshackle hostel that was often packed to the brim with Peace Corps volunteers – like ourselves – and young back-packing world travelers from countries I had never been to. The streets of Quito I came to know 40 years ago had been a mixed-salad of old cars, old horse carts, aging homes inside tall stucco walls, and newer buildings along one section of a street near the hostel. It was a small landscape that I came to know well. I visited the historical section of the city only once or twice, after I had eaten my fill of homesick hamburgers.

Today, our hotel, built into an ancient building, lies along a curving and narrow cobbled street, and is guarded from that street by a thick wooden door from Colonial times. But inside, a modern glass-and-chrome structure offers a massive picture window that frames the entire central square in one gorgeous view. A storm approaches as we check-in, then passes by, cleaning our perspective and setting up our visit to be just as new and refreshed as the view itself. 

Our location offers an easy walking-tour visit to old Quito. We start out holding a tourist map and head down, down the narrow street. It contracts so much at one point that we have to yield for cars. At another passage, the sidewalk has steps that simply dissolve into a gutter from the 1700’s. We walk through a tunnel of stonework from that era, as modern cars compete with us for space.

Then we are at the central square. People call it the Grand Square (Plaza Grande) and Independence Square (Plaza de la Independencia). Ancient stonework continues from the street, but the square itself blooms with color from plantings of flowers mixed with grassy sections and lush trimmed bushes. People are everywhere: walking along, and sitting on the grass and on benches. Massive two- and three-storey buildings line the square, each with a historical purpose: the cathedral, the presidential palace, a grand hotel.

The building that attracts us most is the Archbishop’s Plaza, and the reason we choose this place is predictable. We are in search of food. Inside this former residence of Quito’s archbishop is a beautiful warren of tourism. The interior of the building holds several patios, one with a quintessential fountain, another with a zigzagging covered walkway. There are hallways linking the interior patios and enough entrances and exits to confuse any visitor. And there are restaurants.

We have a hard time deciding which menu to choose, and end up taking a table on an upstairs outdoor patio and eat a wonderful humita ( similar to tamales.) Another rain storm passes as we eat, and the patter of the rain into the interior courtyard is exactly enough to bring a pause to the day, but not enough to change our plans.

After the meal, we continue walking downhill to the city market. The two-story concrete structure contains fruits, vegetables and every imaginable meat. Cascading boxes are hidden behind multi-colored produce: purple and yellow potatoes, orange- and white-speckled corn,  light red-skinned plantains. Because there are ingredients, there are also food stalls. Fresh juices, roasted whole pig, llapingacho (stuffed potato patties.)

There is so much more to see, and we have some days to catch our memories of this city we had loved. Forty years later, I am joyful at discovering this modern transformation of Quito. Eating hamburgers from home seemed important at one time. And maybe that is a good personal memory. But Quito itself is so much more than Rusty Burgers, and I am very happy to know that now.

 

Please join the Monday Walk with RestlessJo and friends:

Walking Otavalo, Ecuador

 

It’s been 40 years since my two feet walked this ground. The cement umbrella-ed artisan booths are still here. An aura of tranquil living impresses me – now as before – and it runs counter-point to the dramatic setting. Clouds still curl over the mountains. Something about the high-altitude air makes visitors feel they’ve never been clean before. But surrounding the market I remember from years ago are now rows and layers of canvas-covered awnings that expand the market to two or three times the size it was.

If you visit Otavalo, today as 40 years ago, it is likely for the artisan market. I had made the trip several times from my home in Colombia as a young woman in my twenties. I ate huge pancakes and drank my first kefir and orange juice in a hippie restaurant just across the square from the booth where I bought wool yarn for the blanket I would crochet. The hippie restaurant is no longer there, but before I venture out too far, my husband and I eat in a fabulous modern cafe. Then we set out to follow our memories. Will I find the same style of woven wall art that, 40 years later, still decorates our home? Will I find skeins of rough wool yarn, so natural that bits of dry grass and seeds are part of each creation?

Ruanas are still for sale, and as numerous. These long, sometimes very thick wraps of woven wool that have slits to fit your head through were ever-present and worn by everyone when I lived in the region. When I bought my own, from this outdoor market in Otavalo, and learned how to wear it with ease, I had finally felt at home with my South American experience.

Five times today, I circle the market, walking to relive my past. I stroll the rows across, and the rows up and down. I get lost in a tangle of tables where people sell items they no longer want next to the alley where you can buy sewing machines that were already second-hand when I was last here. Finally, I buy a new ruana, stash it in a bag, not sure if it is really the one I want, but knowing I need to go through this ritual.

On the few days of the week when there isn’t a market, the square in the middle of this town is empty, aside from the concrete circles with the odd umbrella covers. To me, these circular remnants are a wonderful touchstone, one thing that hasn’t changed, sturdy and reliable. Everywhere else I walk on this market day displays how the world has changed: cell phones and a million chargers for sale on top of a plastic folded table, warm wool sweaters and gloves and hats that are knitted by machine, wall-hangings in colors so bright I know there is modern chemistry in their dyes.

I want to buy some natural yarn, and think I will start a new project while we travel. I pick a craft woman, one among so many, and enjoy the back-and-forth of negotiations. The price is so good that I want to buy more than I can pack into my carry-on suitcase. I need a crochet hook, and can’t remember the word in Spanish. I try to describe what I want. The woman understands and takes me at a run into an alley where, in a brick-and-mortar shop, everything I could possibly need is for sale. The yarn I buy is soft and so warm my fingers are soothed just by the touch.

We walk to the odd-and-ends section of the market. My husband searches through tables and tables of screws and bolts, ancient watches, and finds a coin from last century to purchase.

It’s all a wonder: the stroll, the shopping trip, the search for memories.

I pull the ruana from the bag and put it on, walking away from the Otavalo artisans, comfortable again in this place of mists and mountains and forty-year old magic.

 

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