Quito, first days
Today marks my 2nd day in Ecuador, Quito to be precise, the country’s capital situated 2,700 meters above sea level in the Andes mountains, just 15 miles south of the equator.
The flight from NY was short, maybe too short (because after an hour of sleep i found myself wishing it was one of those long restless flights, where you can sleep until you can’t sleep anymore so you walk around the plane 20 times just to keep your legs from going numb). The flight was direct to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city near the coast in the east and close to the origin of Ecuador’s #2 import….bananas (crude Amazonian oil is #1)
The flight to Quito takes about 45 minutes, the distance between the cities is slightly more than 400 km. Outside Quito airport i waited for someone from my school to pick me up but no one came…. so after an hour i left, taking a pseudo taxi to the new part of the city where i hoped to find internet and the address of the school… had i felt less stress these past days i might have actually written their phone number and address before i left.. My taxi was actually a family consisting of a padre, madre and a bebe. My Spanish is not good enough to ask what they were doing outside the airport, but i managed to understand that he’d worked in IT before the economy forced him out of a job and that his taxi work supplemented his wife’s teacher salary to support their family of 3 young children.
After nearly 2 hours of exhausting meandering i found my school and was led to the volunteer house where i’ll be living alongside 15 other 20some year olds from Sweden, Holland and Germany. My room has two beds and two windows, the latter forming a right triangle which is ideal for a breeze, although Quito’s cool mountainous air is polluted by the unrelenting exhaust from its busses. The worst offenders are the long red busses that drive along 6 of December boulevard, named after the date that the first Spaniards arrived and began colonizing the country.
This morning, i arrived promptly at 9am for my first Spanish lesson (not a minute early or late, which is really worthy of compliment since i’m always always late for everything) and met my teacher, a guy who never smiles. After an hour of conversation about me, he started using the equipaje (blackboard) to list the uses of “ser.” For every 3-5 minutes that he spent writing on the blackboard, i doodled flowers in my notebook, looked out the window, imagined my plans for the rest of the day, felt sorry for myself because i was hungry, considered my prospects for learning Spanish and the methods of other teachers, before we spent a minute discussing how to properly state your religion and the time. Practically speaking, the blackboard was a waste of time. So i asked him to focus on conversation and use his notepad to sketch difficult words for me. But he never smiled, even at my half-witted attempts at humour in Spanish…
In the evening i went to a salsa lesson at the school which began well enough with my feet and hips coordinating sucinctly to the rythmn of the instructor. And then….. the movements got more complex, and the pace faster, and my body hotter, and i just lost interest, starting to move like a scarecrow would in strong winds. And then….one of the Ecuadorians pulled me aside and very pedantically, and sweetly, taught me the steps. Later, he led the lesson, partnering with me and a tall Norwegian girl (at once), guiding us and spinning us around. I think it was the most fun i’ve ever had dancing a structured dance…
On a less positive note, i’ve been hearing many bad stories about theft in Quito. “Don’t walk alone at night!” “Always take a taxi!” Last night i walked alone until 9pm and may have even seen a robbery. Many hotels in the neighborhood have armed security outside, uniformed men with large rifles. One story that happened recently disturbed me. A gringo with nothing of value on him besides his clothes was accosted by robbers recently who simply took his clothes, leaving him to go home in his underwear and socks. Another story, this one from Isabel in Buenos Aires happened last weekend to her friends. One girl was going to visit the another in a doorman locked building. She rang the intercom and the girl inside opened the door, but as she did so two armed men barged into her apartment and bound both girls, stealing everything of value in the house.
Theft… a way of sharing, albeit a relatively unpleasant one :(