As I mentioned, I didn't have any internet-enabled devices with me, so I just took notes by hand in an old steno pad. This means that sometimes my scribbles are somewhat cryptic, so I was having trouble translating this bit of wisdom: "Toilet paper - one swatch. Laughed a lot."
I had to ask Joyce, and we began to re-visit our vari0us encounters with the sanitary facilities, but this one didn't click right away. Then it struck me. It happened on either the first or second day in Quito, before we went to the bathroom anywhere else in Ecuador. It was probably after dinner in the Japanese restaurant, and Joyce said, "Go to the desk and ask for more TP," or words to that effect.
My Spanish sucks, which is to say, were it not for my knowledge of Italian, I wouldn't have any clue at all. So I worked out a sentence that seemed to me like, "May I have some bathroom paper?" But for some reason, this elicited an offer of a tissue. I mean A tissue, not even a box. So I attempted, "The OTHER kind of bathroom paper," which elicited a wad torn off a roll they had behind the desk. At this, I gave up, because if she understood what kind of paper I needed and wouldn't give me any more than that, I didn't know how else to get it. But she had given me another idea: the box of tissues in the bathroom was a suitable substitute, so we let it go for the night. So I thanked her for the wad and went upstairs to show Joyce what I had accomplished.
That was just a little sample of the tissue issue in Ecuador. We learned a great deal about the servicios hygenicos on our little trip, and the very next day, when we went to visit Cotopaxi, we had several more lessons.
Of course we have traveled in enough places NEVER to go anywhere without tissues. We have used the most primitive facilities in places like Kenya and the San Blas Islands, and have gone tactical many times. But, silly us, we still prefer a good, old-fashioned ceramic pot with a seat you can sit on, a door that closes, a functional flushing device, and gratis papel del bano. Oh, yes, I learned it pretty darned quick.
So it was off to Cotopaxi National Park (or whatever the official name of it is) with our new private guide, Jose-Luis, a long-suffering young man with excellent English. He picked us up in a 4-wheel-drive Chevy which had air conditioning, but not a lot else, especially, not enough room for five people. Luckily we got in first and I grabbed the front seat, and the couple we collected after were skinny. They were, in fact, military skinny. Army skinny. Triathlon skinny. And there still wasn't really enough room for them in the back seat with Joyce. They were just lucky my fat ass wasn't back there, too.
We drove out of Quito on the Avenue of the Volcanos, because you can see seven of them as you drive along it, including the only one in the world directly on the Equator. It was foggy so we didn't see any of them at first. Jose-Luis said there was no point going up Cotopaxi until after noon when the fog would likely burn off, so we went for a hike around a lake instead. Honestly, it wasn't much of a lake, but that's not Ecuador's fault. It has shrunken drastically in recent years due to global warming, which is also why a snow-capped volcano is more rare than it once was.
Now, when I say "hike," I mean a brief walk accompanied by a lot of gasping. There's not a lot to see, except some neat flowers. Here are some.
1. Coco mate tastes like piss, and is served in terra cotta cups of hot water.
2. After you drink the piss-flavored tea, you go to el bano where you can rent some papel del bano. Actually, you buy it, or you buy the privilege of using the toilet.
3. You may not put the paper INTO the toilet, Instead, there is a lovely basket of used toilet paper that would gag a maggot. I confess, sometimes I was a good citizen of the world, and sometimes, not so much.
a. No soap
b. Liquid soap
c. Community soap on a stick.
Of course we were carrying some sort of germophobe gel so that got a lot of use.
In the first picture, you can't see the Refugio because it's hidden in the fog. Instead, you can see the parking lot below and the crater above.
In the next one, you can see an orange box, which is the Refugio, taken from the parking lot when the fog parted. Don't forget to click the pictures to make them large enough to see the details.
The crater is the dark spot, and the reason it's dark is, it's too steep for the snow to adhere to it. Keep in mind we are right on the equator here, and it's late May.
So Jose-Luis and the Army triathletes set off up the volcano, Joyce lay in the car gasping, and I ran around and took pictures. I'm not saying it was easy; just barely possible. And even Joyce roused herself when a family from New Jersey pulled up next to us and offered to take our picture. See how happy she is!
And this next one is just the clearest of all my shots.