A week after setting foot on Ecuadorian land I feel at home. I had no expectations whatsoever so I can’t say I’m pleasantly surprised, but I still am in a way.
The first thing I did was I walked around old town.
It’s quite pretty with all of its churches and nice little squares, but it’s not what will leave you flabbergasted if you’ve spent much of your life in Europe.
I love mountains and the fact that Quito is surrounded by them makes this city much more exciting for me.
Traffic in Quito is madness with a European eye. It is very dangerous, but much more efficient at the same time. Buses don’t always stop for instance, people jump on and off while in motion. Red light in Quito essentially means that you should slow down a bit and if there are no cars coming you’re free to go. Forget about the pedestrians’ right of way on zebra crossings. To be honest, I like this madness as much as it irritates me.
Buses are almost always crowded and anything can happen on them. People may start singing or playing the trumpet at any moment.
There is no fair beating on buses. The charge is only 25 cents, but everybody pays. The other day I got on the bus and was looking for the guy selling tickets, but couldn’t get to him and then forgot about it. I got off without paying, unaware that I didn’t. Next thing I saw was the ticket guy running after me. So I gave him the quarter and apologized. Very efficient system and good for employment too.
La Carolina Park is where people go running and do gymnastics in the morning. By the time I got there, I had bought a panama to save me from a heat stroke and sunburn. Which it did quite well. Unfortunately it doesn’t help to blend in as locals don’t wear hats. They don’t need them.
Naturally, I had to climb the mountain right by the city. It’s called Pichincha and it’s almost 5000 meters high. There is a cable car that takes you right up, but that would have been not much of a challenge, so I just walked from my house. I didn’t have a map or a specific idea as of where I was headed, I just walked uphill towards the peak. What I didn’t know was that after crossing this highway, I’d find myself in the slums of Quito.
Children playing, skinny dogs rummaging through rubbish, a man taking a piss on the pavement while his wife is waiting for him, high walls and stink.
From the way they looked at me, I could tell that a white, European looking person walking in shorts on his own was a rare sight here. And yet, I didn’t feel threatened for a minute. Apart from a bunch of vicious dogs that would bark at me really loud.
It took a long time to find a path leading up to the summit, but I eventually did. I must have been at least 4000 meters up when I decided that it was a nice first attempt and turned back down.
I came down on a path that lead me to the property of an old farmer. I “asked” him for the way to the city and he let me pass through his yard, which probably saved me a good few miles. As he lead me through his land I saw his family working in the fields while a stereo system was playing loud latin tunes. The ubiquity of music is incredible, especially in this poverty stricken neighbourhood. You can’t walk a hundred meters without hearing a bit of salsa. As we got to the other side of his yard, I thanked the old man for his kindness, who seemed to have been very pleased to have helped me.
Not speaking a word of Spanish is definitely a drag here as very few locals speak English. But after a week, the greatest inconvenience it caused was I had to eat sweet bread with tuna for dinner once.
On the upside, there are quite a few expats living in Quito. Within just a week, I met a dozen people who I had something in common with.
I went on a trip to the Cotopaxi volcano with some of them. With its 5,897 meters Cotopaxi is a true beast. Our destination was a smaller summit in the area, which was still around 4500 meters. The beauty of the landscape is breathtaking.
The volcano was behind clouds when I was there so I had to steal this one from Wikipedia.
After such a first week, I’m looking forward to the rest of my days in Ecuador.