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  • Fifty years ago, Hunter Thompson blazed a trail across South America that I'm currently following. Seven years ago yesterday, he shot himself in his home outside of Aspen. I remember feeling the irrational regret that often fills me at the death of authors, artists, politicians, and others I look up to — like maybe I should have gotten in touch, should have written a letter or something. Maybe just said thank you and asked whatever questions were on my mind. I don't believe in the doctrine of untouchability when it comes to public figures. I like to try and engage with people I admire, to try and form relationships, however tangential. I guess that's what I'm doing with Thompson right now, here in South America.

    At the moment, I'm stuck in Quito. An appointment I'd tried to set up with the American consulate in Guayaquil fell through last week, and they instead directed me to the embassy here. Lucky for me, I was already in town. Unlucky for me, Quito has been celebrating Carnaval for something like five days now, and the embassy observes President's Day on top of it. The multi-day holiday break has left me high and dry. I can't leave town until I can set up a meeting; I can't set up a meeting until work resumes in the Ecuadorian capital.

    Ironically enough, Thompson had the same troubles in Guayaquil. "...[W]e just finished a five-day lull having to do with Ecuadorian history," he writes in one letter, later published by the Observer. "These holidays are maddening: every time you turn around they are rolling down the store fronts and locking the offices."

    The streets of Old Town have been quiet this week, the store fronts indeed rolled down. So yesterday I took a walk through Parque La Carolina in the business district for a look what the city's 2.7 million people are up to on their days off. Quito has some of the nicest public parks of any city I've visited. Parque La Carolina is a 165-acre showroom for the vast infrastructure of fun, the kind of place that urban planners fantasize about. The playgrounds are immense, complete with merry-go-rounds, a small Ferris wheel, a spinning gyroscope ride, and every imaginable variation on the jungle gym. Armies of vendors sold ice cream, chorizo, ceviche, and pastries. Teenagers in paddleboats sucked face shamelessly. Ecuadorians love volleyball, and dozens of teams were playing over raggedy-looking nets, high sets of monkey bars, and ropes tied between trees. Families attacked each other mercilessly with bottles of messy spray foam called carioca, a Carnaval tradition. Needless to say, there were no fewer than 10,000 fútbol games, raging across every open patch of dirt, concrete, and grass.

    But the graffitied airplane was really the pièce de résistance. The stairs and slides (along with the killer paint job) seem to indicate that this is an official playground component. Still, the fact that it can only be accessed by crawling through a small tear in the surrounding chain-link fence suggests that there's more to the story. The plane was swarming with kids and teenagers — climbing on the wings, hanging out the windows, walking across the fuselage. It's a lawsuit waiting to happen in the US, but the quiteño moms just looked on placidly from the ground, staring up like helpless stewardesses during some bizarre passenger rebellion.

    I had woken up grumpy about my situation with the embassy, but a few hours walking through the park put me firmly in the Carnaval spirit. I gave in at night and walked down to the hang-out district for a beer. When I came home, I was covered in carioca foam.

    To keep up with new stories from the Hunter S. Thompson Trail in South America, follow me on Twitter.
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