Quito is huge, crowded and a long city (from south to north), on a very high altitude, with houses built on hills. Unfortunately I don’t have time on my arrival for sightseeing ‘cause after a short visit at the EDIFICAR’s office and at the mall (where I had my first Ecuadorian meal: chebice – cold seafood soup and fried bananas), we go directly to the hotel. We spend the next whole day at the office for a training and at evening at the mall again, where at the restrooms don’t have toilet paper inside the cabins and neither toilet brushes, as in my hotel room (which has a funny ‘Google translate’ message on the bathroom’s door: Please do not throw role in the health ☺. And they have a good reason for writing this: as I read in a Lonely Planet guide, the plumbing system in Ecuador has a low pressure and you might clog the system if you put paper into the bowl. And the level of water inside is quite high, which gives you an enormous pleasure to hear and feel a few splashes. I’m closing the parenthesis and the subject as well).
I miss the school Christmas celebrations and teacher’s party because I have to go to Quito for the visa and for the big meeting with the “Time to teach” volunteers. Both take place on Monday, so I have a whole weekend to visit the city. I travel by night so I arrive in the capital around 6:30. And it’s so cold! I got used with the Amazonian warmth and just to watch the WhatsApp pictures and videos with snow from my friends. Around 08:30 a car comes to pick me up (like a boss) and drops me off at a nice hostel, a B&B actually (paid by the foundation) from the La Mariscal neighborhood, the party zone of the city with many bars and active nightlife. I have a small garret room just for me and hot water!!! What a feeling! After three months you start forgetting how good could it be. I meet other volunteers here (80% are from South America) and I’m heading alone for a little city break. I wander the streets of Mariscal with old colored houses and some parks with high platans and cypresses, I visit a souvenir market with handcrafts, colored clothes and long haired local artisans (as the Peruvian buskers who sing in different cities of the world) … and it starts raining. I enter the house of culture where a wonderful concert takes place. There are some school orchestras playing classical music which sounds quite different with the South American influences and lively and brisk rhythms accompanied by maracas, bongos and “chiki-chiki” sounds. After a good almuerzo (lunch) in a bohemian cheap place, I start the keyboard adventure. I have to find a new one for my tablet ‘cause is something wrong with the cable plug. In Macas I’ve found them too big or too expensive, but it seems the situation to be the same here. I could not buy just the cable and a new keyboard like mine is around 15-25 $. I spent 15 lei (4$) for it in a Carrefour from Romania. I arrive in the student’s neighborhood where I find better prices, but not the dimension. After intense searches, I’m lucky enough to buy one with 10 bucks 🙂 . And I want to thank one more time my dear colleagues for the tablet; it’s a very useful present! I don’t dare yet to spend 40$ on a battery for camera. I’m waiting to find a Chinese model and there is no rush now. I’m thinking to have a spare one for my travels. I find instead something else I had in mind: a library with three shelves of books in English. The prices are high too, but I take the cheapest and, in the same time, the most interesting one – worth 7$ for Dracula, right? The rain is gone, the evening is coming slowly and the historic center is waiting for me. Wonderful city! No wonder is the first one inscribed in the UNESCCO world heritage. It’s impossible not to be fascinated by the sloping streets, baroque style houses, colonial influences, squares, parks and plenty of churches, one more beautiful than another. My first impression in Plaza Grande is that I’m in Barcelona and if I close my eyes and listen to the guitar group, I am somewhere in the south of Spain. But everything is in the same time different: the already well known long haired indigenes (Quechua), the vendor women traditionally dressed shouting to advertise their products, the delicious street food, and of course carols, toys, costumes and masks. Everywhere on the streets there’s a mystic scent of palo santo (holy wood. Bursera graveolens) and I’m happy! I take the way back home also afoot, searching for a bar (I’ve spotted a couple of them which seemed to be interesting, one of them named Lennon). I feel safe even if it’s dark. Actually I don’t see many people around (everybody’s probably partying right now). I raise an eyebrow hearing a metal concert from a basement (not for free unfortunately) and to see a group of punkers with huge mohawks. A capital-city, as everywhere, is a totally different world! And the surprise continues in my neighborhood – dozens of rocker groups and many rock bars! It doesn’t mean they don’t have their bimbo girls and fancy clubs too. I missed the Metallica concert in Quito one month ago, but I won’t miss the chance now to listen something good in a nice place. But it’s not easy. Many bars don’t let you in without documents (not even with a copy), others have just beer and others don’t have bar seats and it’s awkward to suddenly join others’ table. I finally find a seat on a bar in a place with a concert upstairs, but I save the 5$, I add one more and buy a Bloody Mary – bloody expensive and salty, but the ambience is all that matters: nice music and people and I’m talking with the bartender, a cool granny 🙂 What a day!
Saturday is sunny! In the morning I walk some kilometers through La Floresta neighborhood, colorful and with many graffiti. I go up and down on slopes to visit Guápulo church (which means big potato), but it worth the effort and with no any big backpack I feel like flying. I also reach the Metropolitan Park which is actually a huge forest (good for camping). Around is a museum too, Capilla del Hombre, but I don’t have time for it cause I meet Raluca to visit the historic centre by day. Of course everything should begin with some nice street music (on harp) and a 2,5$ traditional lunch (yahuarlocro and llapingacho) in a traditional place (with umbrellas and tables outside), with a very kind traditional waitress. The centre welcomes us with the same guitars, vendors, “holy wood” and also with some rain, but the churches give us shelter and also the opportunity to participate to a couple of wedding ceremonies. In the evening we visit the presidential palace, which is really nice (and free) and watch a Christmas concert in a church. It’s another great day but it could not end without a small drink in a rock bar. I don’t know how come I could not find the yesterday bar anymore (and I didn’t drink much), but after some refusals because of the lack of passport, we are welcomed by a very nice longhaired barman in a small place, with classic rock and cheap caña shots.
On Sunday we give up our initial plan to go to Quilotoa (a famous lake inside a crater) ‘cause Google told us we would need some more time for it, so we go to Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World) instead – the place where the equator line passes, the reason why the country has its name. And the weather is OK so far. It’s quite cold during the night and in the morning, but when the sun shows up, here’s the closest place from it – my nose it’s already burnt. And here I am, one leg on one hemisphere, one leg on the other, above both equators, because, yeah, there is the old one measured by some French hundreds of years ago and the ‘authentic’ one, calculated by the American technology with the GPS. Both are interesting, both have entrance ticket, but the second one is by far the best. Just 500 m away, it’s less known by the public, but offers you a unique experience. If you have to pay more to see the planetarium and go up inside the monument at the “touristic” Mitad del Mundo, the ticket price of the last one covers a guided tour of Inti Ñan indigenous museum, a chocolate tour (degustation included) and some experiments and physical phenomena unique at the equator. I found out many interesting facts about the sun and gravity, but also about different tribes of Ecuadorian Amazonia or about the existence of the pink dolphins (yeah, they are real!). We also meet Lis, a girl from Venezuela recently moved to Quito, who joins our one day tour. And as a bonus, we are rewarded with folkloric Andean dances with traditional colored costumes and llama woolen pants and some Inca rituals for Pachamama (Mother Earth). I am always fascinated by everything related with ethnography, culture, tradition and this day it is not an exception. To continue in a traditional manner, I tried for lunch trotter soup and finally cuy, thinking of my childhood’s guinea pig. Delicious! And I’m glad in these kinds of places you’d find just local dishes and less picky tourists. Of course there are also expensive restaurants with pizza, pasta etc. By the way, did you know that pene in Spanish means penis? Well, I didn’t when some teacher ladies asked me if I know how to cook; I told them I can prepare a delicious meal with penne and white sauce for them. Ups! Raluca has a better similar story. She enters the shop and asks the vendor: “Usted tiene pene?” “Pene?” “Si, si, para comer”:))))) (“Do you have a penis?” “Penis?” “Yes, yes, to eat”) and comer in a slang means to f**k. I have also found that Catalina in Venezuela means pussy and Kata in Shuar, dick (there are pretty common names in my country). And talking about tourists, I get amused and sad at the same time when I read comments or different articles written by some Americans who say something like: ”For just 60 bucks we hired a taxi for Mitad del Mundo”. We took two buses 0.25$ each. Unfortunately, because of them the locals charge you more, in a market for example. If you’re white, you’re gringo, and this means you have money. This is the mentality here, in Africa too. We paid other 25 cents till the junction to Pululahua. From here you walk about half an hour up to the gates, you go down other 30 minutes and the ascent back takes you about one hour. What is this place? Something amazing! One of the two inhabited villages inside a crater in the world. We are very lucky (as always) or better say Pachamama is with us, ‘cause the daily access to the village is until 17:00 and we arrive here 20 minutes later, but someone comes out and leaves the gate open. There is nobody asking anything (probably there is an entrance fee for tourists, otherwise I don’t explain the “prison” gates) and we slowly descent for the magic village covered by clouds. We meet on the way down old villagers on horse or afoot with an amazing physical condition. Thanks again to Pachamama, when we reach the village we enjoy a wonderful scenery with no clouds anymore. Going up is a little more difficult and I think this could be one of the reasons the Venezuelan girl decided not to have adventures à la Vese anymore, ‘cause she didn’t show up the next evening for the traditional daily drink. Being late and Sunday, we miss the last transport around here, but a nice guy (who heard about Hagi and met another group of Romanians, canoeists) gives us a lift to Mitad del Mundo. From here we take the two buses to Colón Avenue, close to our hostel and I have a revelation. From Colón (Columbus in English) we have words like colonialism, colonization and the country Columbia. I think because it’s Sunday all the bars are closed; in this case we buy some radlers (shandies) and watermelon kind of vodka, sip them on the sidewalk and go to sleep because the big day is coming tomorrow.
And it’s tomorrow already, Monday morning more precisely. A bus takes a part of us from the hostel to the ministry (of education, of course). We meet here the others. We are approximately 100 volunteers participating to this event, most of them established in Quito or around or recently landed. In total we are 320, living and teaching in different cities all over Ecuador. Most of them chose big cities but they don’t realize the beauty of Amazonia or of a remote place. The minister wants 2900 of us until the end of the next year (which I don’t think so, but good luck). It’s impossible to know everybody present here, so I introduce myself to the ones close to my seat, some from Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, US … as I said most of them are from South America. Some traditional dances, clips, speeches of the minister and foundation’s manager, a rushed lunch and hurry to the migration office to get our visa; it’s seems to be some missing documents, some calls are given, everything’s fine at the end. They took us a picture and inform us that in seven working days we’ll gonna have our working visas … Let’s see how much they’ll work on holidays, but seize the day till then. I have to enjoy the present and every nice moment, like the random meeting with an Ecuadorian, student in Manchester, in front of a street bookshop. Looking for some books in English, the vendor shows me the only three he has: one about sex, another about Christ and some stories. The student is also amused and tells me in a perfect English that he has many buddies and colleagues from Romania, good at computer science (many named Alex). He also offers me a book, about communism :p (never look a gift horse in the mouth). After we take our stipend for December (just a check actually) and reimburse the transport, we walk a little more tasting some good milk or coconut desserts and it’s already evening. They don’t let us drink at the hostel, so we play some cards till the rain stops and soon after we go to a rock bar, this time in a big group. Fun, songs, games, drinks (just some fruit vodka for me bought from a shop, ‘cause they have just beers here or 6$ shots) … such a pity there is just one night! Some playing cards before going to bed, good bye hugs and it’s Tuesday!
It is supposed to be a school day, but we have to go to the bank. Raluca took a day off and I decided it doesn’t make any sense just for two days (cause there are no classes on Friday) to go to Macas and back (I planned to spend the holiday in the north), so I will go to Raluca’s school instead. At the bank we need to cash the checks, but we have to be sure first this is the real world and not the future, ‘cause there are no employers but two guardians and the people queue for some screens. I initially taught there are ATMs or a kind of Western Union machines after seeing the earphones and thinking that you could talk with the one who sends you money, but no, you simply talk with a teller seeing her on the screen, sending and receiving the documents and money through a capsule like in a SF film. With all the security reasons it still kinda weird. Maybe I’m too old fashioned, but believe me the lack of a direct contact with a person freaked me out and I think this will be the future like very soon: robots, machines. And such a big difference is between the life conditions from the city and the rural areas.