We arrived in Quito at around 5pm and caught a cab straight to our hotel in the old historic centre of town. We checked in and walked up the stairs to our room. It was only at that point that the altidude hit me.. Who would have thought a set of stairs could prove such a test of physical endurance!
My first night’s sleep in Quito was not the best I have ever had. Every three breaths seemed to be punctuated by one enormous deep intake of breath as i tried to come to terms with the altitude. However, It was like being attacked by the Boston Strangler.
Eventually the morning arrived. We were up early to register for our first Spanish lesson at the local language school, Yanapuma. We met our teacher who’s name was Edinson. He seemed a nice enough chap. I informed him that the sum total of my Spanish language experience was garnered from watching Sesame Street as a child. The gauntlet was laid down!
After completing our first class we then went to meet our host family who we would be staying with for our two weeks in Quito. Their four storey house was located somewhere between the Historical town centre and La Mariscal, the modern part of town with lots of bars .
Our host, Yolanda who is probably about 60 (a young woman to some of you out there) welcomed us in to her “habitacion” and introduced us to her three sisters who were all roughly the same age and all pretty friendly. We were also introduced to Yolanda’s other homestay resident, Tracy from the USA. It turns out that Tracy was also studying at the same language school, so we would get to know Tracy a little more over the next couple of weeks.
Yolanda and her “team” arrange breakfast, dinner and also do a weekly laundry run, all for $20 a night. Result! However, the shower was interesting.y See picture to get the gist. The shower head had live cables coming out of the wall. It wouldnt be so bad if the shower was warm, no, its mostly stone cold. If im gonna get electrocuted I want to at least pop my clogs in a hot shower!
Other than the shower everything was pretty good. We’re in a good part of town. Though I must say our walk to the language school in the morning which runs alongside the local bus routes is good and bad. Good in that you can catch a bus to town pretty easily and bad in that you’ll likely need an iron lung by the time you’ve finished your walk. Anyone who has moaned about the Euston Road in london about pollution ought to think again. I could eat the diesel for breakfast on our morning walk into central Quito.
The busses pass us by with their conductor’s leaning out of their windows shouting information and instructions to the passengers as they come to a halt . Then, as a plume of smoke fills the air they’re off again rumbling down the road dragging their dark clouds behind them.
As we’re walking along our journey finally opens out into broad open boulevards. We come across our first monument. A statue of Simon Bolivar who fought against the Spanish in the Latin American civil wars.
Now its downhill all of the way. Lots of noise from the traffic and people peddling products from their stalls.
By now we’re on Guyaquil road which takes you through the heart of the old town. We turn right and enter our language school, walk up the stairs and we’re there. Let the learning begin!
a few observations about my time here in Quito and a little more broadly, Ecuador.
I knew very little about Ecuador before I got here. Although the usual stereotypes are in play, the gulf between rich and poor or the relatively poor infrastructure. Though it does feel like a place on the up. There appears to be investment in technology and roads. There are also probably more cafes and bars with free access to wifi than somewhere like London as well.
The people that I have met who live here seem genuinely excited about the future. This thought is probably well founded as the Ecuadorian government recently changed the rules on what their cut of thier own natural resources would be with multinational companies. The cut went from 11% in their favour to 80%. That’s quite a change!
The city of Quito is situated right in the heart of the Andes at around 2,600m and set within a bowl that contains peaks that surround it as high as 4,500 metres. Some of these peaks are accessible via cable car, which provide a magnificent view of the city.
The city has a faded charm but is fairly accessible by foot and pretty safe too. We’ll, apart from one spot in particular, which, was subject to a plague of robberies. This spot was the ***** monument on top of a large and very steep hill. You could access it by road or you could tackle the thousand or so stairs by foot that took you pretty much straight to the top. The trouble is that by the time you reach the top you are completely knackered. This is where the dastardly robbers ply their trade. By the time you’ve reached the top, they can stroll over and relieve you of your valuables. You of course have nothing left, energy wise to put up any meaningful resistance. It must be one of the easiest robbery spots in South America. Needless to say we didn’t take the stairs, we went by bus.
Quito also has a sizable population of prostitutes. They seem to be everywhere in the old part of town, hanging around outside KFC and empanada stands and outside our language school. They even mooched about outside museums. Not a traditional hunting ground for punters I would have thought. They came in all shapes and sizes. Fat, thin but mostly short and not really blessed in the looks department.
Something else in Quito that is ubiquitous is the number of public parks that are available to stroll through. I was really impressed by the number and quality of these great spaces. They varied in size and aims. Some focused on boating, others were just straight forward green spaces and the Largestvparque **** had almost everything you can think of – tennis courts, football pitches, bmx tracks, restaurants and even DC3 sitting there next to the football pitches! There appeared to me at least to be a real investment in time and effort into these spaces.
Ecuador is major exporter of coffee. However, it is also the worst place in the world (so far) that i have ever been to for a drink of the black stuff. Almost without exception every bar, cafe or restaurant sells instant coffee and not the real thing. This has been pretty disappointing. From what I understand Ecuador exports almost all of its coffee.
You have three choices when it comes to food:
1) cook yourself
2) go to a restaurant. Though to be honest the food here is pretty average
3) Try one of the street vendors. Though bear in mind that in doing so you are playing a game of Russian roulette with bochalism!
We on the other hand were fortunate to have home cooked food from our host family each each evening so were pretty lucky.
Most weekdays were pretty similar – going to school and studying in the evening then dinner. It was at the weekends that we got to explore avaliable more.
Next stop, Cotopaxi and Ottavalo Market