Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cayambe, Ecuador

From Asuncion, I went to Quito, Ecuador, with my friend Juan Carlos. You can read about this in my blog Free as in Freedom. We reached Quito on 5th May and were there till 10th. But in-between we were invited to visit Cayambe, where Rafael Bonifaz's father is the Governor (they call him Mayor). We went on 8th to Caambe and returned to Quito the next day. But this was perhaps the most memorable part of my visit to Latin America.

On 8th morning, Charles Escobar, with whom we were staying, went out on a visit with his family, and told us that Quiliro would be coming to pick us up. Quiliro turned up in a taxi at about 8 am and we went to the office of an association of electronics engineers where two or three people were waiting for us. Rafael Bonifaz soon joined us. We were discussing largely Free Software and how it was adopted in India. As we talked, Juan spoke about the encounter in the office of intellectual property and said how he wanted them to disappear. I disagreed and explained how the IP regime came about to help society and why it is still important in some respects. I gave the example of the Aranmula Kannadi and explained how the know-how could have come into the public domain if it could have been patented. This led to an argument which, I thought later, could have been avoided. I should, perhaps, have been more in control of what I spoke. I felt that Juan was demanding virtually impossible things and that would reduce the possibility of someone sympathetic to our cause listening to us. Happily, Juan does not seem to have taken offence at my verbal assault. We then left with Rafael to his native place in the mountains of Cayambe.

Rafael selected a long route that went through the mountains so that we could see some beautiful sights. And were they beautiful! I got to see some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen! And we stopped on a couple of occasions just to take photographs. I am yet to see the photos (they are still in Juan's camera) but I wonder whether they have really been able to capture the beauty of the place. Finally we turned off the road (the Pan American Highway) into an old place that has apparently been turned into a kind of hotel with food and accommodation. Rafael's father was waiting for us and we sat down on one of the benches that were arranged on the verandah inside. My answer to his first question "What would you like to have?" reflects the beauty of the place. I said, "Nothing. This place alone is good enough". Yes, the courtyard was paved with smooth stones and the whole place looked like a beautiful picture! And the weather was cool. making it a very pleasant experience. Rafael's father started with a brief history of the place. Apparently, it had once belonged to his great grandmother. She was disinherited because she married a Peruvian guy. But she could buy it back because of some circumstances that forced the family to sell the land. There stands a very old church that was the first building to be built there some four hundred years ago.

We were soon joined by the Director of school education and a technologist and they wanted me to describe how Kerala migrated to Free Software (FS) and why it happened in Kerala. I virtually repeated my presentation at the Free Software Asuncion conference and answered the questions about "why Kerala" as well as I could. Along with Rafael, we then discussed strategies to migrate the schools to Free Software. My strategy was to influence the natives, who were apparently a n important part of the population, But it turned out that teachers were already asking for training in FS because they had got some computers with FS. The only thing that apparently had to be done was to provide training to them and show them a few applications that can be used for teaching and learning.

By this time it was night fall and getting rather cold. Rafael lit the fireplace, and this was my first experience sitting in front of a fireplace. We were shown our room, which was wonderful with wooden floor and very old wooden furniture. All of us had dinner together and Juan took several photographs. There were apparently several other people staying in the place who all came for food around the same time. Rafael then showed us the place from where we could connect to the Internet. I preferred to use a desktop computer there while Juan went to collect his laptop. We sat there for a long time. By the time we decided to go to our room, which was not late by any standards, the whole place was in darkness and we had to depend on Juan's mobile to give us some light (mine was already out of charge). In the room we were discussing for a long time about Western music before we went to sleep.

The next morning, we got up and quickly got ready because Rafael had told us that we would go to his brother-in-law's pet project, the equator monument. But he (brother-in-law, Cristobal Cobo Arizaga) appeared while we were having breakfast and explained to us why the present method of drawing maps with the North on top is unscientific. He said that the North star is actually temporary and would change over a few thousand years. In the map with North on top, the map divides countries into top and bottom countries. He said that the only direction that was permanent was the East, where the Sun always rises. Therefore, he said, maps should be drawn with the East at the top, and that would give equal importance to all countries to the North and South of the equator. He explained how the ancient people of the region had identified the exact position of the equator and built a monument there, which is not largely destroyed. He said that they needed to observe the heavens to calculate the time when the seeds have to be sown and the yield has to be harvested.

I had a different take on the last part. I felt that humans were perhaps driven by curiosity always, as we are today. My feeling is that people intuitively knew when cultivation should be done, when rains would come and things like that. We see this happening even today in regions where modern education has not corrupted the minds of people, and in animals who hibernate or migrate. They don't have any need to observe the heavens and do calculations to determine when to hibernate or when to start moving to another part of the world, often very far away. I believe that the ancient people also had this intuitive knowledge. Modern humans tend to think only in terms of logical analysis whereas there seems to be a lot of evidence to show that human beings depended on their intuition for many things in life. But Cristobal didn't seem to understand what I was trying to say or to agree with me.

We then went to the monment which they had built exactly on the equator and the view from there was simply fantastic. At one point of time, the clouds were arranged in such a manner that the hills in the background looked like a picture. Again Juan took photographs but I wonder whether they have succeeded in absorbing even half of the beauty. And I am sure this is not because of the photography skills of Juan. I think one needs to really be there to fully enjoy the beauty of the place. Juan purchased a DVD-CD set for $20 from there, the money going for the maintenance of the site. The DVD contains a video explaining all the ideas, but the commentary is in Spanish though it has subtitles in English. This makes it difficult to see the video because one has to concentrate on the subtitles. I thought it would be good to dub it in English.

From there we returned straight to Charles' place. Quiliro had invited us to go to see the pyramids, but we decided not to because we wanted to take some time off and catch up with our email and things like that. So we returned to Charles' house and Rafael went back quickly because he had a family meeting to attend. Thus ended a wonderful part of the trip to Ecuador. I hope to put some photographs here as soon as Juan uploads them to the Hipatia gallery.

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