Sunday, March 25, 2007

a short stop in Quito

The honeymoon is over and I’m now in Miami, just having returned from Ecuador, and waiting to head off to my next assignment and adventure in Bolivia.

Mark and I flew from the Galapagos to Quito on Saturday afternoon. We found a room in the Antinea Hotel, a beautifully furnished hotel owned by a French-Ecuadorian couple and listed on the Quito Cultural Heritage Sites. While we liked our beautiful, though chilly, room, the owners seemed to be out of town and the service wasn’t very personable.

We had a full day to spend in Quito on Saturday. I had been there about five years ago, but it seemed much prettier than I imagined. A large and long city, it’s at an altitude of over 9,000 feet, ringed by mountains and low-lying clouds.

We decided to check out the teleferico, a new cable car that transports passengers up the mountain for a beautiful view of the city. During the 15-minute ride, we climbed to 4,100 meters. From there, one can hike another three hours to a mountain peak, but we decided not to try that without acclimatizing first. So we enjoyed the beautiful views, looking down at the clouds and the cluttered, hectic, historical city.

From there, we visited a cultural center and took in some exhibits – photographs of natives of the Andes, a contemporary artist, Quito history told through wax figures.

Driving around the city, we saw young men playing soccer on a narrow strip of land between two freeways, the ball running down the slope into oncoming traffic. I found it hard to get my bearings in the city. The various storefronts, the bus stops, the parks with statues, the multiracial population, all seemed to blend together. After my bad experience in Nicaragua, I was quite nervous taking taxis. Every time we got into one, I imagined the driver pulling a gun on us. Luckily, all of them were OK and the majority seem to work within an official system, in a cooperative, where someone is tracking the taxi’s movement. It was definitely helpful to be traveling together with Mark. I hope that I will have a car and driver in Bolivia so as not to be subject to the taxis on my own.

We found lunch in a little local joint in a commercial center. On the second floor, several small cafeteria owners served up set meals of the day to local vendors and workers. We were the only foreigner there and I was glad to have a little exposure to local life – even if it meant we couldn’t drink the bright pink drink or eat the fresh tomato slice. Our meal, including a drink and soup, cost $1 each.

In the evening, we headed to the Café Libro, a place we’d read had a bohemian atmosphere, as well as dance lessons available that night. For an hour and a half, we studied tango, with two talented and very patient teachers. And while we stumbled quite a bit on our first effort, we managed to get an 8-step routine down. All of the other attendees were Ecuadorian. I enjoyed being in such a mellow environment and participating in an activity together with locals.

And then, morning arrived and it was time to go. We fit a lot into a short period of time, and made lots of lasting memories. But at the same time, it seems to have gone quickly.

No comments: