When I was in Ecuador towards the end of August last year, Cotopaxi looked as though it was gearing up to some serious action: there were huge clouds of steam and ash erupting, and the countryside downwind was white with ash. The National Park was closed and I saw people moving out of their homes, all their belongings on the back of a truck. Farmers were having to move stock because the grazing was inedible. It was a spectacular sight, and kept me glued to my hacienda window as I hoped that it wouldn't/would erupt properly.
I kept checking back after I got home, to see how it was going because my guide, David, who lives in Quito, was seriously worried about what a proper eruption, of rocks and magma, would do even there, miles and miles away. It's been rumbling on at about the same level ever since - 'de-gassing', the scientific report describes it, which reminds me of the young woman in my Inca Trail group in 2008, a chemist who cheerfully referred to incidents of personal 'off-gassing' as we walked. There's been nothing worse than a few tremors and some glowing at night, the steam and ash slowly diminishing, and I was wondering if the locals had returned to their homes and farms and livelihoods. Happy ending, I was thinking.
And then they had this earthquake. Not Cotopaxi-related, but huge, and shallow, and killing lots of people, many of them in Guayaquil. That's Ecuador's biggest city, of 3 million with, our candid guide Letitia told us, around 2000 homeless people. It's a port, which always means there's a dark side to a city, with lots of nationalities resident, and she told us sternly to take care there. "We have an aggressive programme of security," she said, without elaborating. It was certainly a bit unnerving - and puzzling - to see a car with a window sticker reading 'My best gun is God'.
There were some grand old buildings there, along the waterfront and around the fine colonial basilica, with lots of statues - Simon Bolivar featuring strongly - but a lot of it is fairly new, thanks to regular fires throughout the city's history. There were people everywhere, sitting, walking, selling stuff like single glasses of Coke, slices of sour mango with salt, shoe shines. Kids in neat uniforms did homework squatting behind their parents' stalls, others played in the fountains. What really took the eye though were the huge frilled iguanas high up in the mango trees in front of the basilica, as well as on the ground, taking very little notice of us.
Though Letitia made it feel a bit edgy, what we saw was a pleasant place full of relaxed people who seemed friendly and curious about us. They'll be edgy now, though.