Thursday, March 28, 2013

Meet El Señor Balwinder Singh from Ecuador (South America Omnibus 1)


When I told Balwinder Singh that I am a rookie writer, he begged me, “Please write my story. ”
He was weeping.
I assured him, “I WILL. ”
27 years ago Balwinder Singh was a youth. He was not so rich in India. He was married with 2 children and life was difficult in his village in Jalahdhar, Punjab, because he had little education and little land. Like all other Punjabi youths he also dreamed of going to USA and sending money back to his home so his family can build a typical Phagwara Style Bungalow, at its top a water tanki in the shape of Jumbo-Jet and painted over it USA flag.
Yeh ho na saka
In those days, an agent from Punjab offered him to take him to USA.

Ecuador Columbia border

His parents sold a piece of a land and borrowed some money at 50% annual interest (2. 5% a month & compounding each month) to pay for his illegal passage to USA. He along with a others boarded flight for Vietnam and then to Cuba and then to Ecuador. Agent was able to send some of them to USA bound airplane and once on-board his sub-agent took away their passports.
At USA these people were bound to be caught at airport and since they had no identifications or passports, Immigration had no choice to detain them till their identity is established so they could be deported to their own country. Once they were in detention center, their relatives in USA recruited them a lawyer and he initiated Political Asylum procedure based upon manufactured stories and facts (as usual).
They applied for political asylum (standard modulus operand in those days.)

An active volcano on the way
They were set free till hearings last for several years.
But Balwinder Singh was not lucky to be in that group of six.
AND
Nothing lasts forever.
One group entered in USA and Uncle Sam (USA) was not happy about it.
Uncle Sam has no habit to let something like this happen again.
This trick only works only once at a particular route. Uncle Sam imposed stiff penalties on the airliners that brought any illegal aliens.

Local people at Church Plaza in Ecuador
So other members of the group was unable to board on the flight from Quito airport. Agent asked for their families in Punjab for more money and then more. Group was taken to Columbia illegally and tried to put them on the plane to USA at Bogota Airport they all got arrested there. Agent extorted more money from their families and bribed his way through Bogota Agents, to get them out of Bogota Jail. They again arrived in Ecuador and then more money was required but no money came from Balwinder Singh’s home because there was none left. Lands were already sold, house was gone, lender refused further loans.
Balwinder Singh was stranded in Ecuador.

River separating Columbia and Ecuador
Agent left him to rot in Ecuador.
This is a Long story but I must weave this story in my Ecuador travel because after all this is a Ghumakkar site.
Three days ago we left Cali (Columbia). We arrive at Ecuador border after spending several days in the small towns of Columbia on the foothills of Andes Mountains. By the way Cali is famous for the most beautiful women in the world and indeed this statement is correct to the best of my own knowledge.
Cali is also famous for most powerful drug cartels in the world.
Since Columbia is a hub of Cocaine smuggling, we pass through intense searches at several road blocks and at the border. We get our passports stamped for exit from Columbia and walk to the bridge and enter in Ecuador and face more searches and scrutiny of ourselves and our backpacks.

A snow covered volcano
Finally this ordeal too is over and we hail a shared taxi to the Ecuador town of Tulcan this is barely 7 kms. Tulcan also turns out well designed typical Spanish city with straight avenues intersecting straight streets. Tulcán is known for its hot springs, deep wells, and a topiary garden cemetery (the second in the world) created by José Franco (José is spelled as Hose). This city is the highest in Ecuador, at 2,950 meters above sea level. We are in high territory for the last 3 days and it is bit cold here.
All Spanish cities have large open areas in the centers of city where people hang around. Boys and girls meet.

A juggler show in Ecuador
This large open area is usually in front of some grand cathedral. Spanish city centers require another post so may be some other time.
At the city center we ask for Cheifa. People give us direction to Cheifa. Chinese restaurants are called Cheefa in South America.
Chinese immigrants arrived in South America in 19th century, who took a four-month trip from Macau. They settled here as contract laborers or coolies.

At the Columbia Ecuador border. The church named: La Iglesia de las Lajas
Other Chinese coolies from Guangdong followed. One hundred thousand Chinese contract laborers, 95% were Cantonese and almost all male, were sent mostly to the sugar plantations from 1849 to 1874. After the termination of slavery they became a major labor force until the end of the century. Gradually they assimilated in the general population. In all large South American cities one can find a Chinese restaurant (Cheefa) .
Cheefa are a bit more expansive than South American restaurant. In South American restaurants pork is used in almost all preparations.

Ecuador/Columbia border
We preferred to eat in Cheefa because we can understand its menu and we tell the patrons that we are Buddhist vegetarians so they prepare pure vegetarian food for us.
On the way to Cheefa, a police car stops us and again a cop checks our passports, then he gives us a ride to the restaurant. We have good lunch there. Ecuador currency is United States Dollar and country has become severely expansive and not many tourists visit here due to high cost of travel and living in general.
After lunch we took a bus for Quito, capital of Ecuador. Bus stops after some kms. and again everybody gets down for the drug inspections. Custom inspector targets us especially. He checks our backpack, all the lining, our shoes and all the lining in the shoes and if any hidden cavities etc. I wonder what is a big deal when people can transport just anything through the villages and wilderness. But these checking are focused upon extortion. They want to catch someone and then extort money. They also plant drugs at one check point and then catch the victim at the other point. We kept a strict vigil over our belongings. Even after each check, we double checked our belongings to discover if anything was planted over us.

La Iglesia de las Lajas
Finally bus is on the highway and terrain is desert like now but high altitude plateau. Bus makes a quick stop in the town of Ibarra and then continues towards Quito. On the way we cross Equator some 15 kilometers before Quito. Since bus is climbing in the cold dry desert and moving very fast. I ask the conductor to inform us when we are near equator and he tells us but bus speeds through that place. I vaguely remember that there was some sign at that spot on desert slope. Anyway tomorrow we will be visiting the Equator monument.
Quito is a wonder town. It is in between a very long valley between the mountains. In the very depression of the valley is Quito International Airport. From most of the town one can see air-crafts landing and taking off.
Bus brings us in the city center that is also hilly area. There we see Sadar Bazar Delhi like markets selling plastic wares and other things. In the streets we find a hotel and take a room. It is evening and to make the use of the remaining sunlight we come out of the hotel and wonder around the old streets. All old buildings are of Spanish colonial style.
We have a cup of coffee in an old but elegant café. People are walking around but none is making much purchase due to the high cost of things.
Everything is very expansive here. At night we return to our hotel.
===============================
Day 2, Visit to Equatorial Monument.
Equatorial Monument (Ciudad Mitad del Mundo)
City on the middle on the earth.
Right in the path of the Equator, where it crosses South America’s western coast, lays this small country, Ecuador, the land of the Equator.
Could anything sound hotter in Quito – the capital of Ecuador?
What a surprise then to hear that Quito, Ecuador’s capital, is called the “City of Eternal Spring”! “Eternal Hot Summer” certainly seems more suited to a place only fifteen or twenty miles south of the Equator. But Quito is not only a city of the Equator. It is also a city of the mountains.
Two parallel ranges of the Andes cross Ecuador from north to south. Between them lies a high plateau which is crossed from cast to west by other mountains. These mountain ranges of Ecuador are like a great ladder lying on the ground.

Plaza in Quito
The two north and south chains form the sides while those from east to west are the rounds. The plateau varies from 7,000 to 9,500 feet above sea level, and Quito is at the greatest height. Quito is surrounded by volcanoes in the south and west and several are still active.
Quito is one of the most gripping cities in Ecuador. Nestled in a long, narrow valley in the Andes, between the Volcano Pichincha to the west and the Machángara River Canyon to the east, Quito enjoys a spectacular natural setting.
Quito’s altitude, at 2820 M (9252 feet), Quito is higher than Shimla or Mussoorie. It is only 25 kilometers from the Equator so Quito does not suffer through long winters on this Mile High City.
On the contrary, Ecuador’s capital enjoys mild days and cool nights almost year-round. When travelers arrive at Quito by air, many arrive in shorts and beach wear assuming that since it’s on the Equator, it must be hot, and then the first step out of the airport gives them a crisp, cool Quito welcome.
Right around the very center of our great earth, half way between the poles, runs the Equator. On that imaginary line the rays of the sun beat straight down and the heat is severe.
Next morning we set out to visit Equator Line. There is a monument made on the equator, it is called Ciudad Mitad del Mundo. We ask people at bus stand and they direct us towards the bus.

Basilica in Quito
We both know some halting Spanish language so getting around was just a bit hard but not impossible, like in Brazil where Portuguese is spoken. We catch the bus, it runs in the valley and crosses the airport and comes out of the city, and conductor asks us to get down at an intersection.
There we catch another colorful mini bus in the dry mountains. After some kilometers it enters in a small town of Nono that reminds me of the small towns in Andhra Pradesh. It makes a left and after 2 kilometers comes this monument Ciudad Mitad del Mundo.
We get down from the crowded bus.
“I saw an Indian restaurant on the way,” Harsh declares.

Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, Pole is at the Equator.
I gape at his face in disbelief. Since we arrived in South America, two weeks ago, we haven’t seen any desi and out of the blue and in this obscure area how can be an Indian restaurant.
I was also looking out form the window of the bus and how come I myself missed the Indian restaurant.
Harish says, “It was an ugly building, and some layman painter made the sign – Hotel Delhi – but some ugly picture vaguely resembling Taj Mahal was painted over the name. ”
We decide to visit this restaurant at lunch time and hopefully food won’t be ugly.
We pay a small entry fee and enter in the monument.
It was believed that the equator passed through this site.

Quito suburbs
However, according to readings based on the World Geodetic System WGS84, used in modern GPS systems and GIS products like Google Earth, the equator actually lie about 240 meters north of the marked line. However this site was selected based upon magnetic readings those are still true. Magnetic center line on the earth and actually center line on the earth are a little offset.
Toilets flushed in the northern hemisphere apparently spin counter clockwise, in the southern hemisphere the water spins clockwise — this is supposedly caused by the Coriolis Effect. This theory can be tested in Equador and in the monument. They have toilets build at both sides of the equator and one can see these theories are true.
Coriolis Effect deflects the rivers the right in northern hemisphere and in the Southern Hemisphere where rivers deflects to the left. That’s why boats tend to stay at right in the rivers in Northern Hemisphere to avoid grounding and reverse if true in Southern Hemisphere.
Cyclones and storms are also affected by Coriolis Effect. Basically, wind flow around high pressure (anticyclonic) systems is counter-clockwise in the Northern hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern hemisphere. However since we look at the sky from below so we see reverse in the sky.
Well, at Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, there is nothing special except the mental satisfaction that we stood on the equator and walked across it several times. At noon we begin walking towards this Indian restaurant that Harsh sighted. I am not sure if he really sighted it or may be his imagination was doing overtime on the Equator.
It is a beaten road with footpath at both sides, and emerging market at both sides just like India where market starts taking birth at every road.
People in Ecuador (as well in Peru) are poor and they try employing themselves by selling something in front of their homes or in the streets. At each third home, someone is found selling grilled chicken, or corn cobs or candy for kids etc. This street market intensifies in the evening.
These two kilometers of walk was very pleasing. Not many trees grow here at this height. At 9500 feet altitude it is not hot but slight cold at noon. We were observing the street activities of the country side people.
And then suddenly this shack of the restaurant comes.
So indeed this restaurant exists.
Balwinder Singh’s restaurant.
There was a curtain, and we walk past it. Inside is very dark and also poorly decorated with the colorful rags hanging on the walls, sewed and manipulated in such a way to appear the wedding tents in India. There is a door, probably to the kitchen with another rag like curtain hanging. I can hear the voices behind it.
I lift the curtain and try to adjust my eyes because kitchen is lighted bright with the sunlight from the windows in the back.
There is a very pregnant Spanish woman aged 40, and several small children, a another Spanish woman aged 30 (pregnant woman’s sister), and an old lady (mother of both women. )

A donkey in Ecuador
I look at them and they all look at me. Time stops. Nobody speaks a word. I am stunned at the slum condition of the kitchen that is their dwelling area as well.
I don’t know what to say or what to make.

Llama, this animal resembles with Camel. It is found in South American heights.
Is this an Indian restaurant or what?
A picture of Mother Mary and Guru Nanak Dev is hanging side by side on the mud wall in the kitchen.
Pregnant woman finally speaks up, “Punjabi?”
“sí. ”
“Es usted de la aldea de Balveeeeeeeeeendr?” [Are you from Balveeeeeeeeeendr's village]
Now Harsh is also standing with me. We both are bewildered.
I ask, “¿Quién es Balveeeeeeeeeendr. ” [Who is Balveeeeeeeeeendr?]
Again we all are in stunned condition. Even all children are looking at us, they all are wearing rags and some’s noses are running.

Quito old town area
Pregnant woman has tears in her eyes.
“Por lo que no son de su pueblo?” [So you are not from his village]
“No, no es de su aldea. ” [No not from his village]
“Senyor. Por favor, tome asiento en la sala y os traeré té indio. ” [Senyor, please have a seat in the dinning hall and I will bring Indian Style tea for you. ]
“¡Muchas gracias. ” [Thank you very much]
We sit in the dinghy small hall smelling of utter poverty.

Alapaca roaming in the square of Quito
We are not hungry anymore but want to get out and run.
I place a 100 dollar bill on table and prepare myself to sneak out but the misery of this place is binding us.
So we stay and wait for the tea that we don’t want anymore.
To be continued. . .

1 comment:

  1. Bloody Punjabi idiots go everywhere in the world, ruining their own lives as well as the lives of their families and lives of other NRI. Many Punjabis turn to crime killing other legitimate Indian, or anyone who appears to look similiar to them. IF you are a South Indian, black skinned, you will escape. Many of these Punjabis have destroyed the name and integrity of the Indian passport and bringing the bad reputation upon other ethnic groups. They should be deported back to India.

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