I’ve spent my first three days in Quito mainly going from one appointment to the next, learning to negotiate taxis and buses, trying to figure out where to eat, or resting my aching feet. But I’ve also gathered a few random insights I thought I’d share here – like how to cross the street, how to get a big meal, and how much fun it is to sit around and chat with people (sorry, still no touristy photos – just a foodie photo!)
The Streets of Quito
When we cross city streets at home, there’s usually a little green guy that appears to let you know it’s safe to enter the cross walk. If the red hand is blinking, you can still probably get across in time, and even if you don’t, everyone will wait for you (although, some drivers may mutter curses under their breath).
Here, the little green guy that appears to let you know you can enter the cross walk is actually animated…and he’s running. I find that so hilarious. And so appropriate. Here, the little green guy really means ‘You have less chance of getting run over now than you will in about 10 seconds, but realize that you are still risking your life, so you’d better hustle.’ Pedestrians absolutely DO NOT have the right-of-way. Buses actually seem to speed up when people are in the street…And I’ve seen people hop on and off of buses that are still moving, albeit slowly.
Despite the black clouds emitted by those city buses, they’re much more tolerable than the ‘coal rollers’ back home. I guess the black cloud is much more diffuse from the buses, so you don’t end up breathing as much smoke. Also, the buses in Ecuador don’t smoke you out of spite.
I don’t want to become one of those people who is always posting photos of food – so I left my camera in my bag at lunch today (but notice that I can’t help posting a picture of yesterday’s lunch). Generally, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. A lot of places have a ‘menu del día’ which includes a beverage, soup, entree, and desert for somewhere between $2-5. You will find these places populated with locals between about 1:30 and 3:30pm.
This is THE meal of the day. Today I had a veggie soup (served with popcorn), a big plate of chicken, rice, and potatoes, and a bowl of jello for desert. All for $4. There really is no need for dinner after that. In fact, I felt like I had just eaten Thanksgiving dinner.
It might surprise you, but I visited a supermarket not long afterwards. I’m always fascinated by grocery stores in other countries. I love seeing what’s different, what’s the same, what is it that people really want to buy. Overall, things aren’t that different here – you won’t find peanut butter, you’ll pay $7 for a package of Oreos – 0r $2 for an Ecuadorian knock-off. You will also find your share of crazy fruits. I bought these miniature bananas called ‘oritas’ for a snack. They’re so cute!
Despite having to hoof my way across dangerous intersections and up steep city streets (imagine San Francisco sitting at 9500 feet), I’m being very well cared for, and the people I’ve met have made up for some of the exhaustion and confusion I’ve felt. The Fulbright staff are really helpful and are managing the bureaucratic stuff I’ve had to deal with (involves stuff like going to one office a couple miles away for a special piece of paper, then to another office for another special piece of paper – waiting in said offices for such pieces of paper – I’m sure it all makes sense to someone out there.)
More than anything, I feel really lucky in my choice of accommodations. My hosts, Annie and Fausto, are amazing – very helpful. For example, the other morning, Fausto insisted on walking me to the corner to help me flag a taxi (not just any taxi – you have to make sure you get one that’s totally legit!)
This afternoon, when I was tired of the city ready to hide in my room and tinker on my computer for the rest of the day, they invited me up to the house for tea. We talked for hours about politics, science, changes in Ecuador and the US, global warming, conservation – you name it. It was a great work-out for my Spanish-speaking tongue, and I feel like I learned so much more about Ecuador. I had a similar conversation with a couple from Madrid yesterday. These are really the kinds of interactions that make the world a smaller place. And that’s why I’m here!