13 February 2010

La Compañía de Jesús, the Jesuit College and La Condamine's bronze rule

10/2. This morning Sebastián had come by bus; so, we walked to thé bookshop of Quito: Libri Mundi to look for a bird guide, which they didn't have. We took a taxi to the historic center of Quito, the Plaza Grande o de la Independencia, where Daniel, the friend of Sebastián joined us. Nearby we visited the Church of the Society of Jesus (Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus, an impressive baroque building built by Jesuits. Once inside, a young guide started to explain us its design of naves, transepts, crossings etc. But I was more interested in where the Jesuit College was, about which I had been reading in Neil Safier's book. Somewhere there La Condamine had placed a bronze rule with inscription on one of the walls (see p. 42 in "Measuring the New World", 2008). 
The beutiful building (all gold inside) of La Compañia de Jesús

Our guide was not offended and brought us past the gold-leaf adorned chapels to a kind of office, where we met - Oh, ¡qué suerte! - Juan Carlos Pinas, a museologist who's hobby was....La Condamine! He knew all about the subject, but was nevertheless pleasantly surprised when I showed him the book of Neil Safier. So, he showed us around in "el salon de Grados de la Universidad San Gregorio Magno de los Jesuitas", once a chapel, now a beautiful exposition hall with many old maps and instruments of the time of La Condamine and later: a microscope, compass, telescope, octant, barometer, but not......a pendulum. For both the bronze ruler (which La Condamine had originally placed on one of the walls of the Collegio Maximo) and for pendulums we had to visit the Observatório Astronómico in the Alameda parc.

Left: The museologist Juan Carlos Pinas of the Unidad de Conservacion, Fundación Iglesia de la Compania.
Right: the beautiful exposition hall, once the Salon de Grados de la Universidad San Gregorio Magno de los Jesuitas.

After having seen this beautiful exposition, which also impressed Sebastián and Daniel, Juan Carlos Pinas brought us to his office in the Colegio Maxima de Quito, past the rooms where La Condamine had resided (incognito) for many years.

Behind those windows La Condamine found hospitality of the Jesuits for many years.

In his office Juan Carlos showed us a beautiful book with information on La Condamine's stay in the Jesuit College. One of the things I briefly read in the book (which I bought; I sent it by post to Holland) was the acknowledgement that the presence of La Condamine had greatly stimulated the scientific activities of some of the Jesuits there. An interesting story, told by Juan Carlos was that one of the members of the expedition, the technician and mapmaker de Morainville, had made paintings (see below) which were sold in order to get some money. Apparently the expedition members run out of money several times during the 7 years of their stay.
Left: When the upper floor was built in the 19th century, the bronze rule of La Condamine was displaced, but not lost.
Right: One of the paintings of Monsieur de Morainville.

On the roof of the Colegio, Juan Carlos pointed out where the meridian went through which the expedition had measured. Satisfied, we left the Colegio and went to the nearby plaza, Palacio del Gobierno for a good lunch.

Left: From the roof of the Colegio the Iglesia Sicalpa(?), one of the points of the measured meridian.
Right: Lunch with Hilbert, Daniel, Sebastián and Conrad.

After lunch we walked to the Parque Alameda, where we took pictures of the principal expedition members and visited the Observatório. Here again there were many interesting old tools exhibited. We saw several ingeneous pendulums, but all seemed to be of a later date. An official told us that the pendulum used by La Condamine to measure the gravity had been lost. But at least we saw the bronze rule (varilla metalica) of the length of the pendulum on a marmor stone with inscription on observations on the pendulum's motion.. It doesn't seem to be the same rule as shown in the book of Neil Safier (p. 42), but the inscription described in his book must be the same. I hope my friend Henrie W. will, once again, help me to translate the latin text.
After heaving read for years about the statue of La Condamine in the Alameda parc,
we are finally there!

Statues of various expedition members. La Condamine is not represented very intelligently.
Would the artist have known that La Condamine was not popular among the Quitoenians?

Left: a 19th century pendulum in the Observatório Astronómico.
Right: the bronze rule giving the length of the pendulum used by La Condamine. 
It is probably the precursor of the standard meter in Paris.

11 February 2010

Camino de Orellana and the valley of Yaruqui

9/2. The taxi driver looked at the address and promised us that he would "bring us down". And down we went from our hotel in Quito's center to Guápulo, down an old bumpy road named the Camino de Orellana. This was the very road Orellana took when he went on his expedetion in 1581 to the Rio Napo and then down the Amazon.

The Camino de Orellana

The taxi stopped in front of the old church of Guápulo and with a lot of excuses the driver explained that we had to walk back up the road, a good exercise in breathing. But there we were cordially welcomed by a tall, slender figure, the friend of Norbert Vischer, the first couselor of the German Embassy, Raymond Dequin, who had invited us for breakfast at 7:30 h. "Dequin" is not a french name but a Prussian word for dike. Although we first entered a huge but empty room, it soon became clear why he had asked us to come there. The house on a steep slope, was surrounded by balconies overlooking the valley of Cumbaya, where we had been yesterday. Raymond showed us around in this beautiful villa and in his fantastic garden with the highest palmtree of Quito (a "wax palm") and many other interesting trees like the Quito-palm and the "tomato-tree" (see below).

The beautiful house and garden of Raymond Dequin

Raymond agreed that the way Quito was built on many hills resembled Jerusalem. It appeared that he knew a lot about Israel, the Arabic world, where he had lived in his youth and about the Islam. So, while enjoying the delicious yoghourt, porridge and huevos fritos Marguarita served us, we discussed the "legitimacy" of Israel and whether and whether this legitimacy was slowly fading or not. We talked about the Ecuadorian political reaction towards "Copenhagen" and could have talked the whole day, if Raymond did not have to bring us back to the hotel, up the steep Camino de Orellana.

At the breakfast table: Hilbert showing Raymond where to find La Ciénega,
a múst for a German counselor....

Back in hotel Antinea, Sebastian came to bring us again to the University in the Cumbaya valley, where we had an appointment with the geographer Carlos Mena. Because he could only receive us in the afternoon we decided to drive to the valley of Yaruqui, where La Condamine had erected his controversial pyramids, both for his triangulation measurements ánd for the glory of "European science". 
Daniel Carrasco, a friend of Sebastián who had joined us, asked the owner of a house under construction with a high, flat roof, whether we might take pictures from there of the Yaruqui valley. This time we were less lucky, but the friendly owner showed us where the Cotopaxi was lying behind the clouds. But at least we could see the Pichincha!
Sebastián, Daniel and Hilbert on the roof of a house
overlooking the Yaruqui valley

While Hilbert was taking pictures of the panorama, the heat and the noise of the nearby traffic prevented me from having the philosophical reflections Humboldt had when overlooking this valley: "How many things exist that man cannot see" (Chapter 1 of Neil Safier's book "Measuring the New World", Chicago University Press). For us, however, at this stage of the trip, there were too many things we cán see, with too little time to digest.....

Our view of the panorama of Yaruqui valley.
To the left the Cotopaxi behind clouds; in front the Pichincha mountain.

Upper frame: "Vue de la Base mesurée dans la plaine d'Yarouqui, depuis Carabourou jusqu'a Oyambaro" (1751). Note the roof of a house similar to our roof above.
Lower frame: a recent overview taken from the same point, somwhere near the town Yaruqui.
(from "Los Caballeros del Ponto Fijo", A. LaFuente & A. Mazueco(?). Libreria de la P. Salesiana).

Back at the University we were received by an enthousiastic Carlos Mena, who confessed that he would very much like to join us on our trip. He borrowed us a real GPS, the robust GeoExplorerII of Trimble Navigation Lim., 1996. So, finally, we know our position: 0o 12.2' S; 78o 29,4' W and 2799 m hight.

Hilbert and the geographer Carlos Mena 
(Director, Maestría en Ecologia Tropical, Universidad San Francisco de Quito), 
who kindly borrowed us his GPS  GeoExplorerII.

Back in the hotel we had a rest before Sebastián came to drive us to his parents house. There we were cordially welcomed by his father and mother, an uncle (painter) and another uncle (silver smith) and their wives. They showed us a movie about indian life in the Esmeraldas, the province governed by Vicente de Maldonado at the time of La Condamine.
We sat at a beautiful table with very colourful and tasty dishes, most unknown to us. Here, we also ate the sweet fruit of the "tomato tree", we had seen at Raymond Dequin's house.
The parents thanked us very sincerely for the way we had received Sebastián in Holland; thanks I accepted also on behalf of Tanneke and Bart who supervised Sebastián in the Molecular Cytology Laboratory. We left the house with the warm feeling of having experienced a South American hospitality so cordial and different from our European one (see also the blog "Bogotan experinece" posted 15-4-2007).

The colorful feast dish. In the center the parents of Sebastián.

09 February 2010

Universidad San Francisco

8/2. Throughout the night, after visiting the Cotopaxi yesterday, I heard the full concert of the frogs in the nearby swamps from 10 in the evening till 5 o'clock in the morning. Then the birds took over, a sign that it would soon be light. Apparently, one has to get used to sleeping at a hight of 3200 m. In the morning the Colombian coffee and the fried eggs made us soon feel better.

Sebastian came to bring us to the Universidad San Francisco near Quito. Now the sun was shining and we hardly recognized this road we had driven two days ago in the rain: it was a beautiful road through a Switzerland-like landscape.

The campus with nice gardens and buildings and the many students reminded me of that of Be'er-Sheva, also with respect to (and Hilbert agrees) the many elegant students.

The beautiful campus of the Universidad San Francisco

This would be the "science-part" of our trip: Telling an interested audience how we think that the cells in a bacterial population keep their average size constant, I had to breath deeply between the slides. 

Between the slides I had to breath heavily....
At right our host Sebastian Robalino Espinosa, former student at Molecular Cytology

After the talk we had lunch with Gabriel Trueba, the director of the Instituto de Microbiologia and with Sebastian. As Gabriel was not only interested in the bacterial cell cycle but also in our trip, he kindly introduced me to the geographer Carlos Mena. He explained to me that my new touch screen google-telephone did not have a GPS. He then offered me a real GPS for our trip. We should come tomorrow again to fetch it.

Sebastion Robalino, myself, Gabriel Trueba and Hilbert 

Sebastian brought us to Hotel Antinea, an old villa close to an area in Quito with small pubs and restaurants.

An impression of Hotel Antinea

08 February 2010

Arrival in Quito – “tempo doeloe” at La Cienega

6/2. In the airplane we didn’t speak spanish yet. But I met a french couple (physicians, amateur bird-watchers and experienced travellers) who knew about La Condamine. Telling them about our journey, they asked how frequently such a tour was organized….. They had experience with mosquitos and gave some good advices about “votre seule ennemie”.

When we flew back from rainy Guayaquil to Quito, the wheather cleared but the clouds remained: we couldn’t see the high volcanos. At the airport we were welcomed by our host Sebastian. He saved me by walking véry slowly and offering us a good cup of colombian coffee. 
Downtown Quito reminded us of Bogotá, with its big malls, the taxi's and huge buildings.

Driving out of Quito reminded me of Jerusalem, also built on mountains with in between large roads full of traffic. It took Sebastian quite some time to get out of the town in the pouring rain.

The road south went slowly up, until there were no large trees anymore. The agricultural landscape now reminded me of the Golan Hights where we drove a month ago (see blog of December 2009). But here, we saw our first lama! It took some time before Sebastian accepted our pronunciation: "dzjama".

Finally the road went down again and we reached Lasso and at the end of a side road there it was: La Ciénega. How impressive! It stimulated Hilbert to draw.

Entrance and rear view of La Cienega

In every aspect this Hosteria reflected the atmosphere of "Tempo doeloe". We dined like kings, with Chilenian wine and with a servant standing at our table ready to help or answer questions.

Tempoe doeloe at one of the many fire places in the Hosteria

7/2. Exactly at 8 o'clock the guide Alex Cadena (born in Latacunga) came to fetch us in his 4-wheel drive for a trip to the Cotopaxi (5987 m and still active). The vulcano was hidden by heavy clouds and at the desk they wished us good luck...But we were véry lucky and while driving around this magnificent mountain we saw the top for more than an hour! For the first time now we walked over the Páramo, the vegetation Antoine Cleef had told us about. 

The cloudless top of the Cotopaxi

The car brought us to 4500 m. It would take us at least an hour to walk to the refuge, 300 m higher up. Luckily (?) we were wise enough not accept the invitation.

Hopefully my colleagues at UvA will be able to give some names....

Just outside the entrance of La Ciénega was a stone comemorating the visit of La Condamine to this magnificent place, now 300 years old. At that time there must still have been a "ciénega" or swamp which was dried by the now huge eucalyptus trees on either side of  the entrance road.

La Condamine visited this place one year before leaving for the Amazon