Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tropical Dutch: Part 2

Suriname is in South America. But it’s one of those countries that many people couldn't locate. Ecuadorians often point out that although many Europeans don’t know where Ecuador is, it’s not as bad as it is for Suriname, where even people on the continent aren't sure where it is.

Suriname is on the East coast of South America, bordering the ‘the Guyanas’, Brazil and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s only 1,660 miles from Quito to Paramaribo, the Surinamese capital, fairly close in continental terms. However, culturally the countries are very different. Ecuador is Latino, Suriname is Caribbean. Different food, different music, different history.

Suriname is a former Dutch colony, as such the main language spoken is Dutch. However, due to the various waves of transatlantic slavery and immigration to work the Dutch plantations, there are now several distinct cultures present in this verdant, jungle-country.

This includes a large Black population, including villages set up by escaped slaves. Also of course, Native American groups, the original inhabitants of the continent. But there is also an easily identifiable Indonesian population, as well as Indian and Chinese communities. These diverse groups have kept their cultural identities, and fit together to make a generally harmonious Suriname.

A mosque in Paramaribo

I spent a week in Paramaribo attending a conference. I’m now on my way home to Quito, writing this blog in the airport of one of the other former Dutch colonies, Curacao. 

Roti, Indian based food is very popular in and very good in Suriname

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Otavalo is a mainly indigenous American city in the sierra of Ecuador, a few hours north of Quito. Due to a public holiday we had an extended weekend and decided to visit. We have been before, but it is a charming city, and worth repeat visits, and also it is the best place in Ecuador, and probably in South America, to shop for handmade textiles. Many of the villages around Otavalo have their own styles of woven bags, clothing, blankets etc. Literally cottage industries, the wares are sold on the daily markets in the city. Because you buy direct from the manufacturers, the prices are both fair and low.

Otavalo's main market on Plaza de Ponchos, covered in plastic to keep the rain out

However, we hadn’t banked on the start of the rainy season. Otavalo sits in the shadow of some major volcanoes. One of them Imbabura, has great significance in the local Quechua religion and is personified as ‘papa’. It is said that when it rains, it’s papa urinating. If so, he urinated on us, and everybody else in Otavalo, for most of the weekend. 

An Otavalito reading Condorito. This is the traditional clothing for males in Otavalo.
Two symbols of colonial resistance in Otavalo, Rumiñawi the Inca general who bravely but unsuccessfully fought the Spanish conquistadors, and Simon Bolivar who eventually beat them nearly three hundred years later. 

Plaza Bolivar, Otavalo, when the sun eventually came out, an hour before we left. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Quito Earthquake

Within ten minutes of my plane  touching down at Quito´s Mariscal Sucre airport, it was closed. There was a pretty big earthquake nearby. It only lasted about 5-10 seconds, followed by another about 20 seconds later. It was enough to nearly bring the screens down in the airport, well severely shake them anyway, severely shake everything in fact. In addition the power was cut for a few seconds, plunging us into darkness and resetting all the computer systems. Apparently the new multimillion dollar airport doesn't have uninterruptible power supplies.

I was waiting in line in passport control when it happened, at about 3pm local time. The tourists in the que didn't seem very surprised, perhaps they were expecting strange things to happen in a foreign land. But the airport staff were visibly shocked.

It was a quite a powerful quake, I´ve felt a few, in fact every three weeks or so when living in Tokyo, but this was the strongest. Apparently it was only a 5.1 on the Richter scale, with an epicenter in Calderon, Northern Quito. That´s probably why it felt to strong to me, Calderon is only only about 5 kilometers from where I was. I took a taxi from the airport to my office at the university. Listening to the radio en route, they are reporting damage to roads and houses, particularly around the epicenter and one of the main routes into the city, the Guasamin tunnel is closed.

From the taxi windows, visibility was low, it´s the dry season at the moment so everything is dusty. The earthquake threw the dust into the air creating a false fog effect. You can even taste the dust in the air now. Sitting in my office, my normally good view of the Andes mountains is just a grey dust cloud.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tropical Dutch (part 1): Curaçao

The island of Curaçao, a former colony of the Netherlands and nowadays part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is a long way by canal barge from central Amsterdam. Apart from being Dutch, Curacao is also part of the Caribbean, and geologically part of South America. In fact, it's only about 40 miles away from the northern coast of Venezuela. Conveniently for me it's Dutch heritage means it has direct flights to Schiphol airport in the Netherlands, thus providing one route for getting to Europe from South America. Which is what I'm doing. In this case there is a layover, of two weeks, on a Caribbean island. Damn.

It's pronounced cur-a-sow, the bit under neath the second 'c' in Curaçao  makes it an 's' sound.
Being so close to Venezuela, there is a strong Latin American influence on top of the already strong Dutch influence. The local language, Papiamento is a creole containing bits of Spanish and Dutch but based oddly on Portuguese, perhaps as a consequence of the slave industry based here which fed the huge demand for slaves from Brazil.

Many of the large colonial buildings that remain in the main city Willemstad are a consequence of the slave trade in the Caribbean. In fact there is a very good black history museum in Willemstad that focuses on the slave trade, it's located at Kura Hulanda, the site of a former slave yard and merchant's house.

Rather dutch looking buildings in Willemstad, Curacao

There are also some excellent deco style buildings in Curacao. 

And pink flamingos
Nice beach, shame about the leviathan. A huge cable laying ship at Caracas Bay, Curacao. Closer to shore there are families swimming and sunbathing. 

Caribbean Dutch (part 2) will be from Suriname, when I go there in November.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Back in Ecuador

So I´m back in Ecuador. In fact I've been here since late January. I rushed over from Japan where I had been teaching for two years at Chuo University in Tokyo (I had two blogs then, one in English about my experiences, the other in Japanese, about my research).

I´m now a professor of psychology at Universidad San Francisco de Quito, the highest ranked university in the country. Although that may say more about the standard of the competition than the achievements of the university per se. Ecuadorian universities barely feature in the list of the best in Latin America. When it comes to the best in the World, the best of Latin America barely feature.

The academic years overlap between Tokyo and Quito, so even flying over here, I arrived nearly a month late. In fact, I arrived on a Thursday evening and began semi-coherent jett-lagged teaching the next morning, already 4 weeks into the semester.

On arrival I found out that despite my super-human efforts to get here, nobody had arranged an office for me. In fact my arrival seemed almost a surprise. Eventually, after four weeks of complaining, I got somewhere to work, in fact quite a nice office. I share it with two others, a historian called Anna and a pot plant called Allan. We all get on fine, though Allan is a little needy at times.

And we've bought an apartment. By ´we´ I mean Helen, my wife and I, not Allan and I. It´s best to keep work and home life separate. It's a small flat with a big view over Quito.

Quito from our apartment
I've been working almost continuously since I got back, nevertheless there have been a few opportunities to explore the country at weekends. Probably the most interesting event in Quito since I arrived back was Easter week, as in many Latin American countries this is marked with various catholic parades. In Quito many people carry large crucifixes around the city. Some demonstrate their faith in other ways.
Cacti crucifixes during the Easter parades in Quito
I also had an opportunity to visit Ingapirca, the best preserved Inca ruins in Ecuador. These are not well known in comparison to the globally famous Machu Pichu in Peru. We visited during the Inti Raymi festival, an Inca celebration to the Sun God.
Inca ruins at Ingapica

Indigenous American music and dance at the the Inti Raymi festival in Ingapirca
It´s good to be back in Ecuador, it´s an interesting place. But I do miss Tokyo a little. That's a great place too. This is the problem with travelling around the world, you end up being nostalgic for so many different places. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

To be a Brit in Ecuador again

This blog will be active again in a few months. I'm going to return to living in Ecuador after two years away in Japan. I will be teaching Psychology at an Ecuadorian university.

Japan is OK, everything works, there is virtually no crime, it's clean. Ecuador is the cultural antipodean point: nothing works quite how it should, crime is ubiquitous and it's frequently a bit dirty.

But somehow it has so much more to offer. 

So it will become my home again in 2014. 

The city of Quito, seen from afar
The city of Manta, seen through blue

Otavalo Animal Market, a bird's eye view

Monday, March 26, 2012

Last day as a Brit in Ecuador, last blog

I came to Ecuador 20 months ago, to the day. Now it is time to leave. I have a flight to Tokyo tonight. Well actually flying to Tokyo from Quito is quite a complicated trip, and even though I leave tonight, a Monday evening, I won't arrive until Thursday morning.

I came to Ecuador for the adventure, to free us some time for writing and to get some teaching experience. I arrived without a job or even a place to live. But it all came together somehow. I'm leaving with a store of memories, university level teaching experience and I've managed to get six manuscripts accepted for publication (1,2,3,4,5,6). I've even got a research project started.

If you want to continue to read about a Brit in Ecuador, luckily somebody else has started doing it. He lives in Quito too, and bizarrely he is even using the same blog title: (the other) A Brit in Ecuador.

Or to follow my exploits in Japan, I'll be writing for a new blog, Gringo to Gaijin

Hasta Luego, Pet


About Me

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I am a British academic who teaches and researches internationally. I have a PhD in Psychology from University College London and I'm an honorary research fellow of the University of Sheffield. During 2012-2013 I taught Psychology and conducted research at Chuo University in Tokyo. However, I am now based in Quito, Ecuador, where I am a professor of psychology at Universidad San Francisco de Quito.