After the whirlwind trip from Cali, I slept for almost 10 hours straight in the most comfortable bed I've had this entire trip. I have been staying in Tumbaco, a town in a valley to the east of Quito, with a friend of a friend, Maria, and her family. Their home is a beautiful log cabin duplex of sorts, very rustic feeling.
Quito itself is situated on a high plain between two mountains of the cordillera (Andes mountain range), the most famous known as La Pichincha. One of the interesting things I've noticed about giving and receiving directions in Latin America is that it is rare to use the instructions “right,” “left,” “east,” “west,” etc. Rather you hear people saying “sube aquí” y “baja allí,” meaning go up and then go down, typically gesturing with their hands one way or the other. For example, we go up to Quito and down to Tumbaco. This makes it a little complicated navigating around a new city, especially one as hilly as Quito.
Thursday morning, I rode with Maria up to Quito where we dropped her 14 year old son Pedro off at school and headed to her boyfriend, Juan's apartment. Juan lives very near the centro histórico of Quito, and has an incredible view of the city and mountain range from his balcony. I quickly determined that Quito is by far the most beautiful city I have traveled to thus far, a sprawl of both colonial and modern buildings cradled from the west and the east by majestic mountains. If the clouds lift in the morning, it's possible to see snow-capped peaks, and as the sun sets between 5:30 and 6pm, the shadows across the mountains are incredible.
Juan, María and I spent the morning walking around downtown, peeking into various cathedrals, people watching in the plazas, and navigating the steep cobblestone streets. One of the main plazas in front of the national palace was packed with people. It was here in the plaza that we “met” the Ecuadorian president (I figured I should make it a goal to meet the presidents of every country I go to ;)).
While I'm not much of a museum goer, I did really appreciate the Centro Cultural of Quito, a beautiful building with a central courtyard and some cool exhibits on Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda.
Later in the afternoon, María and I picked up Pedro from school and headed back “down” to Tumbaco. We cooked up some pasta and vegetables for dinner (my body was definitely craving vegetables!), and I joined María's mother for her nightly visit with María's grandfather, Nicolás, who lives up the street. At the age of 94, Nicolás is actually a well-known novelist in Quito and has published three books. We had a lively discussion of his writing career, tastes in music (he loves Argentine tango), and family history. He was quite witty and animated though he had lost most of his sight- visiting with him was truly a pleasure, and it made me miss my own grandparents even more.
Yesterday morning I reunited with Renee and Simon, the Australian couple I had met at the hostel in Cali. We really get along well and it was nice to reconnect with friends. Our mission? To go to “La Mitad del Mundo,” “half the world,” otherwise known as the equator. (I guess the people of Ecuador figured it would be confusing to call it by the same name as their country!). While the equator is only an hour north of Quito (down from Quito) by car, our trip involved catching several different buses, some quite full. One might think a bus that had a big sign saying “La Mitad del Mundo” would take us there, but no, it just took us to a corner where we had to run and catch another bus. I will say the people of Quito are quite friendly, very willing to give us directions to the next stop. I had some very nice conversations with people sitting next to me, everyone from an 11 year old who told me about her school day, to a 74 year old who told me about her travels with senior citizens around South America.
Finally we arrived at La Mitad del Mundo. As we expected, it was a classic tourist trap, but it was still cool to stand in two hemispheres and take some entertaining pictures. We did hear that the marked equator was actually a few hundred meters from the actual equator, but oh well.
On the way back from the equator, I parted with Simon and Renee to figure out the public transport in another part of town where I was to be meeting up with some co-workers of Paul and Carol, my Bogotá friends. We had scheduled this meeting to discuss some days of volunteer service I will be providing in a couple weeks. I was proud of myself for finding the place and then finding my way back toward Tumbaco.
Last night, Juan, María, Pedro and I planned to go to a concert of the Quito symphony orchestra in a gold-laden cathedral downtown. Unfortunately, by the time we fought through traffic and got back into town, the line to get into the church was a few blocks long, and we were only able to view the concert from a screen on the steps of the church. The music was still beautiful though and we sat for a few songs listening.
I actually didn't mind missing the concert because we ended up walking in a beautiful area of town called La Ronda. Quaint cobblestone alleys, colonial style architecture, glowing street lamps, street musicians, and rich hot chocolate- I was a happy camper.
I'm going to end this entry now because I'm getting a little bus sick. I'm currently on a windy road heading across the mountains on my way to Santo Domingo. I made the decision last week to meet up with a group of American doctors, nurses, PA and pharmacy students on a medical brigade through an organization known as Timmy Global Health. We will be working in the community for a week, attending adults and children alike. I admit I was on the fence a bit whether to take a week and $350 out of my trip budget to do this brigade, but they begged me to join and I think it will be a positive experience. Plus part of the reason I made this trip was to volunteer along the way and I don't want to lose that goal… More to come soon!