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    Posted April 24, 2014 by
    Quito, Ecuador
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Travel photo of the day

    Auditory Observations at Latitude Zero


    Ecuador’s Street Sounds


    Auditory Observations at Latitude Zero


    Here on the Equator, cities like Quito, Ibarra, Otavalo, Cotacachi, Loja and Cuenca all have the morning rise and shine routine in common. In every city I have visited in Ecuador, the story seems quite similar.


    Here’s a question many tourists must have asked themselves: which comes first, the rooster or the ice cream? It depends on the morning. Mornings begin with one of these two different “wake up calls.” The gravely, heavy throated cock of the walk letting the city dwellers know the sun is up. The alternating sounds of electric bells jingling an obscure children’s tune (remember the neighborhood ice cream truck) relentlessly calling young and old to the street. It turns out that the ice cream truck I heard was really a propane delivery driver hawking its wares.


    One or the other will definitely start one’s day. As I mentioned, it depends on the morning. I stay in city center where the action is. Having grown up in a large city, the hustle bustle gets to me. Each city’s central district is reminiscent of another, so being in the middle of the action is like being right at home.


    This, my first trip to South America was an education in “sun’s up” rituals. The morning I heard the call of the rooster for the first time it was just before 6 am. My initial thought was, “where am I, Key West?” Each visit there was ripe with a clutch or two of roosters and hens. Then memory took hold. With 12 hours of sunlight each day, Ecuador’s sunrise and sunset are set between the 6’s, give or take depending on the time of year. Morning seems to come early when it’s been dark for 12 hours, and the call of the rooster is patiently .


    The first morning I heard the children’s chime of what I thought was an ice cream truck stunned me. “Children are not even awake yet,” I told myself. “Who’s pushing popsicles on kids this early?” When I peered out the window to verify my disbelief, I was befuddled by the image of a flat bed truck loaded down with propane tanks. Atop the cab of the truck rested a loudspeaker blaring out an odd jingle repeatedly as it slowly made its way down the street. You see, propane is the key energy source for heat, hot water and cooking. Nearly every shopkeeper (and apartment dweller living above) has a need for it from time to time. I guess there are no pre-set appointments for delivery in Ecuador; it’s bought it when it’s needed. I’ve counted as many as four trips down the street on an average day.
    As for other sounds of the street, there is a cacophony of ungainly reverberations from which to be entertained. Shopkeepers begin opening up their stalls and stores around 7:30, so the banging and clanging of roll up doors and security gates lend their tunes. Deliveries come by way of automobile for a great many of these small business owners. It seems that car alarms are quite the novelty here in the center of the world, and they all seem to be wired to the ignition. That’s expected, however here the alarm doesn’t automatically shut off when the car is turned on or off. It must be done manually with a push button. Most drivers either ignore it or have grown immune to its racket. I’ve lost count on how many times a day I have heard the “help, I’m being stolen” series of sirens, whistles, buzzers and electronic distress signals. Must be a local thing.


    What seems like a small army in disjointed formations, the children begin their morning parade to school. Dressed in androgynous matching garb, these high-spirited young people seem immune to the heightening clamor of boys taunting girls, girls giggling at the ridiculous boys, others play-fighting and still others walking quietly arm in arm. Slowly they make their way past the myriad of shop windows displaying everything from shoes and clothing to baked goods and snack foods. The crow of the rooster continues. No one notices but me.


    As the day gets further underway, traffic begins to build as well as those on foot making their way to work. Taxicabs, which make up the close majority of vehicles on the road, go whizzing past each other. Letting out a sharp rap on the car’s horn is a matter of course, just in case the slower cab next to, ahead of or driving too slow decides to change pace or direction. The occasional bicycle taxi labors past, delivering not only passengers, but also picking up and dropping off supplies and recyclable cardboard, plastic and what not. Men with pushcarts make their way down the street, calling out for their particular products or services, adding to the din. Passenger vehicles of all shapes and sizes join in the mix as well as city buses. Another call from my feathered friend can be heard over the street racket. A dog barks in reply. Each one of these drivers is acutely aware that time is of the essence, and that if they wish to get where they are going, driving offensively is the rule of the day. Horns call out all manner of warnings; watch out, changing lanes, going around you, step back on the curb, get out of the way.


    After observing leapfrog scramble of morning traffic a couple of times, I determined that the lane lines painted on the roads must have been some crazy social experiment that simply failed to rise in popularity. No let up throughout the day, with lulls between 10 and 12, and again at 2 until 4. The rooster has given up for the day, as well as the propane sellers. Things begin simmering down around 6 pm. The rush hour traffic clearing out of city center is refreshing. At this hour it is almost quiet enough to hear one’s thoughts. The rooster is napping, and the dogs must have found their way home. Local teens out for something to do raise the auditory din with their contributions to the urban opera shortly after the dinner hour. The bark, bark of a pair of large canines rises above the din, then fade out. Street corners and in front of Internet Café’s seem to be the places to congregate. The chatter and laughter seem almost surreal after a day of superfluity in sound until eight or so, then things calm almost to silence. There is little more than dogs barking infrequently, the honk of a horn, the screech of a car alarm and an occasional laugh from giggling girls. Street vendors cooking on portable stoves shout out their offerings to the few still out on the street, but even that does not last. By now, their calls are hardly noticeable, fading into oblivion. Before too long, it is as quiet as a tomb, not yet 9 pm.

    There is just enough time for a bit of sleep with dreams of roosters, dogs, cars and kids.

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