Ecuador, part 7 – back in Quito

You know you’re ready to leave a country when the idiosyncrasies that you once found endearing are starting to grate. Having multiple radios playing in a confined space and the general lack of cleanliness are becoming noticeable, and I’m not making as much of an effort to speak Espanol, so off I go! I’ve just breezed through check in and gotten my seat switched to a window with a little friendly chit chat and I’ll be saying my final adios to Ecuador shortly.

On Sundays, some of the major avenues are closed off for biking

On Sundays, some of the major avenues are closed off for biking

I don’t think I ever really described Quito. It’s a sprawling city of about 1 million people (I think) that stretches about 10 or 15km in a general north-south orientation with mountains to the east and west. It appears that about 95% of the city is comprised of simple 2 story buildings and 2 lane streets. In fact, when you head to or from the airport, you weave through these tiny serpentine streets for 20-30 minutes, without ever hitting any kind of major avenue or artery, before you suddenly emerge on the highway.

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The best area of the city, and the most touristy, is the old town which is littered with 17th century buildings, cathedrals, and large plazas. My hotel was located right between the old town and the business district  which made walking the city very easy. I also figured out just yesterday that I was located in the embassy district with the French embassy just 2 doors down, which explains the constant police presence outside and the road being closed to vehicles. It wasn’t the Hilton but for $20/night including a good breakfast, it certainly was a damn good value.

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One thing you notice immediately are all the roads with ‘date’ names – Avenida 24 de Mayo, Rue 18 de Diciembre, 5 de Agosto etc… there seems to be no end to them. I’m not sure even Ecuadorians even know the significance behind all of them. Another thing I noticed on the weekends was a plethora of kids who claim a block and offer to watch your car for a reasonable fee of about a dollar. Although they’re friendly and they like to help tourists with directions, its still extortion. You’re not paying to have your car watched, rather you’re paying to not have it vandalized by these seemingly good willed little demons. It’s a pretty transparent scam but whaddya gonna do.

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I spent my last day in Ecuador taking the gondola up to the Teleferico, at a dizzying 4100m or so. Coming directly from the coast, that’s a ton of altitude gain in a single day and although it would’ve been nice to hike the 2 hours up to Rucu Pichincha at 4600m, it would’ve been a breathless affair at best and an altitude sickness inducing ordeal at worst. As someone who’s experiences altitude sickness before, I opted to hike back down to Quito, finding my way through picturesque agrarian fields by dead reckoning. I beat a nasty but brief thunderstorm by mere minutes and I was glad to not have encountered it up high on the Rucu Pichincha.

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Once the deluge passed, I wandered the streets of the old town looking for an interesting bite to eat. I stumbled upon the Vista Hermosa restaurant – known for excellent cuisine and the best patio view in town – and figured it was worth a go. It did not disappoint. My timing was perfect and, due to the recent rain, I had the rooftop patio and its 360 degree views of Quito entirely to myself. The deep blue sky above was punctuated by dramatic puffy cumulus clouds with god rays shining from the setting sun in the west. You just cant plan things like this. I really had just stopped in for something small but I figured it would be a crime not to have a full meal with an opportunity like this so I ordered one of the house specialties – lamb with roast potatoes and avocado salad – and I savored every delicious bite as i watched the day wind down in Quito. It was truly a spectacular end to my day in Quito and my trip to Ecuador. My fine dining experience cost me a whopping $20, including a generous tip.

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I’m not really sure how to segue to this but I suppose the topic does naturally follow dining to a certain degree. Most westerners will be mildly amused to discover that toilet paper doesn’t go in the toilet in Ecuador, it goes into the little open garbage can next to the toilet. I couldn’t help but think of the open sewers of medieval times that caused wonderful things like that black plague. The stated reason is that it causes clogging, which makes no sense since toilet paper breaks down in water, but I’m guessing that there are still plenty of areas of Ecuador where toilet paper is substituted with whatever is on hand (eg newspaper) and its just easier to have a single straightforward policy. I followed this rule pretty liberally.

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Note the camera and bottle included in the things not to throw in the toilet

Yet another thing that amused me was how hardy some of the bugs are. They just wont die. You swat a huge moth, get guts all over your towel/book/magazine and yet you look on the floor 5 minutes later and it’s gone. Its straight outta resident evil. I learned to kill them, then kill them again, and then kill em real good a third time just to be sure. I also learned the art of opening crown caps on beers without a proper opener. I can now pop em in just a few seconds with a room key.

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Just about to board my first housebound flight to Houston, Texas. By the time you read this, ill be home once again, which sounds pretty good right about now.

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