Equinox in Ecuador

Happy Vernal Equinox, the day of the year when the sun is directly over the equator. Its direct rays are northbound, coming to warm the northern hemisphere for our local summer.

Balancing an egg on the equinox, when the sun is directly overhead, is supposed to demonstrate the temporary lack of the Coriolis effect. That this is true is thoroughly debunked around the internet. In March of 1997, though, while on the equator in Ecuador, I saw it done. Was this man just good at balancing things? Was it a trick egg? You decide. I’m believing my lying eyes. Regardless, a bit of good fun.

MOD Women

While Michelle Flournoy has apparently taken her name out of the running for U.S. Defense Secretary, it’s worth noting that there are currently five female Defense Ministers in NATO: Italy’s Roberta Pinotti, Albania’s Mimi Kodheli, Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen, Norway’s Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide and Jeanine Hennis-Plasshaert of the Netherlands. That’s a record.

There are also female Defense Ministers in South Africa, Montenegro, Ecuador, Kenya, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Guinea-Bissau.

Proximity to Power

This is Cecilienhof, once home to a German crown prince before being used as site of the Potsdam Summit in August 1945.  Look, this is THE NEGOTIATING TABLE. These are THE SEATS in which the big three sat, Truman in the high-backed chair, center, Churchill in the similar one, left, and Stalin, right.


Stalin’s desk. It’s the very desk he sat behind in this very building. In the original, uninflated sense of the word, that’s pretty awesome.



Exception: Proximity to power is not always seductive. When Argentine President Cristina Kirchner came calling on Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa in Quito, her entourage bumped all of us from the club floor in the Sofitel Quito. That busted up our happy hours with, among others, the KLM Cargo pilots who ferried flowers to and from Amsterdam. We had had to take cocktails with the hoi polloi on the ground floor.

Not seductive.

I like to think the collective pox we and the pilots cast on the Argentine President contributed to her troubles today.

Reading Around the Web

Looks like my second book, Visiting Chernobyl, is on track for publication by the end of next week. The day it’s up on Amazon I’ll excerpt it here and send the first chapter to everybody who signs up over on the right (Go ahead, sign up now). While I’m tending to that, here are a few entertaining, well done or arcane things to spend some time with:

A Night under Concrete: Albanian Tourism Project Puts Beds in Bunkers

Tom Christian, Descendant of Bounty Mutineer, Dies at 77

How a high school-educated drug smuggler built a fleet of submarines—in the middle of the jungle

The Enclaves and Counter-enclaves of Baarle

I Went on the World’s Deadliest Road Trip

Bad Blood: The Life and Death of Alexander Litvinenko

Getting to Shore at Sea

Shadows in Greece

The Russia Left Behind

The death of a language

Why Navalny Is Winning

Liquid History

Rainy Day Reading

We've been a little scarce here at CS&W as we try to finish up some longer-form writing and get set for a trip to Rapa Nui that's about a month away. More on that as we get closer.

For now, here are ideas of interest from all over, if you're so inclined:

– Not long ago, my pal Rick Lewis moved to Cotacachi, Ecuador. He blogs about it at brokedownpalette.

– Alfred Molon, a Dane, has some 23,000 photos here, from much of the world.

– Albanian Tourism Project Puts Beds in Bunkers, from Der Spiegel.

– Kebabistan, a Eurasianet food blog, is worth a look.

– Update on the state of things in Ukraine, from Salon.

– The Enclaves and Counter-enclaves of Baarle, on the Dutch/Belgian border, from Big Think's Strange Maps.

– And you might have seen that the British have invaded nine out of ten countries, from an upcoming book.

No Trains, Planes, nor Automobiles

Here's a repost, with kind permission, from the blog brokedownpalette. It's written by Rick Lewis, who is CEO at La Casa de la Mujer de las Américas, and is living for the moment in Cotacachi, Ecuador.

No Trains, Planes, nor Automobiles

InternetThe internet connection failed at home as I joined a few new acquaintances for a day trip to nearby Ibarra, the capital of Imbabura Province.  The city is ten times the size of Cotacachi, and for those who live here a necessary occasional destination for finding a serious hardware store or a real supermarket.  And frankly, the internet had been humming for much longer than I had any reason to expect.  It’s a wire that snakes out between the curtains, across the lawn, up and over a wall and into the neighbor’s front window 100 feet away.

Five of us gathered at the bus station alongside the central market and climbed onboard for the 40-minute trip to Ibarra, with no more agenda than seeing what was there for future reference.  Once underway, a conductor collected the usurious 45-cent fare as cheerful music played on the speakers.

In Cotacachi, I have learned, the buses between cities become the local buses when they enter the city limits, and most of them pass my house.  I could catch a bus to Ibarra by flagging it down across the street, and have another one drop me at home on the way back.  Or, I can stop any bus coming into town from anywhere and take it to the central plaza or eventually the bus station for just 25 cents.

Very few people have a car of their own here.  Gas is just $2 a gallon but import duties and licensing costs will seriously inflate the price of a car when plenty of inexpensive taxis and buses are everywhere.  There are a few train tracks in the area, but they are rusty and unused.  We later saw a handful of locomotives and cars on a side track in Ibarra, faded and corroded, their windows vacant stares, going nowhere.

Bus1The road to Ibarra is a modern four-lane highway.  The buses are not the stuff of legend, whose passengers carried live chickens and lashed wicker baskets on the roof.  These are big and reasonably comfortable, and when another one slammed suddenly into ours from behind, it was a clash of sturdy titans.  A puff of dust rolled through the interior as the bus slithered to a stop on the shoulder, and everyone filed out to inspect the damage and debate culpability.  A large majority focused quickly on the driver of the other bus, who seemed to have come up behind and rammed us, for no apparent reason apart from inattention.  Our back window was broken out; half of his wide windshield and most of the entry door were crushed.  No one was hurt.

It happens—but, according to the locals, not very often.  The buses are pretty safe and reliable.

Thirty years ago, most of these vehicles came from the Bluebird Bus Company in Mt. Pleasant, IA.  Each had already seen a full workhorse life as a school bus, grinding through the lower gears of rural routes in Montana or New Hampshire before being repainted and resurrected as an intercity rocket ship, careening on bald tires and shrieking brakes around the curves and terrifying precipices of the Andes.  Now that was an adventure.  When you peered over the edges of deep canyons, you could just make out the rusting hulks of Bluebirds in the underbrush a thousand feet below.   Their original kindergarten passengers were probably retired grandparents in California by then.  Whether a Bluebird ever died a natural death is something of a Latin mystery.

Ibarra-airportIt wasn’t long before the next bus to Ibarra came along and everyone jumped aboard, leaving drivers and the police to work out whatever came next.  Just as we pulled into town, the other transportation curiosity of the day showed itself when we drove right across the runway of the Ibarra municipal airport.  I looked left from the bus in time to see the tarmac stretching away into the distance, where a control tower perched on one side.

There was a consensus among the passengers that the airport isn’t much used any more.  You would hope so.  Viewed from the other end, it’s obvious that if a pilot could manage to ascend over the passing trucks and buses, there’s still the matter of the 16,000-foot volcano to be avoided.

I’d still opt for the bus.

– Rick Lewis

Mt. Cotopaxi and Quito, Ecuador – Wednesday HDR


HDR photo of 19,347 foot (5897 meter) Mt. Cotopaxi and Quito, Ecuador, with texture. Images combined and tonemapped in Photomatix, and finished in Photoshop. Click to enlarge.

In case you're new to textures, here (1, 2) are a couple of compilations of tutorials. You'll have to poke through them a little bit, but there are some good things to be learned. Here's a great collection of free textures I sometimes use.

But the best way to create textures is to go out and shoot some and blend them with your photo. Famous HDR proponent Trey Ratcliff will sell you textures and advice for $100 – $400, but there's no need for that. Just go out and shoot your own, and experiment.

See hundreds more HDRs in the HDR Gallery and lots more of Ecuador in the Ecuador Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.