Between my visit to Colombia and preparing for a Galapagos trip with my family and Lindsay during the week of Christmas, I have stayed in the city of Quito for the past couple of weekends. As great as traveling around Ecuador on the weekends has been, it is nice to spend more time getting to know the city. I’ve stayed busy as well. I moved apartments so I could have roommates, I went on a city tour, and I took another hike up the nearby Pichincha Volcano. I have also been catching up with people from home. One questions that pops up a lot in those conversations is “How are the people?”
That’s a great question, and there is an easy answer. They have been amazing.
You may hear stories about pickpockets and there are areas that can be sketchy, but that is going to be a hazard of visiting almost any big city. You always hear warnings before travelling. Even though I am a foreigner and speak very broken Spanish, people have gone out of their way to help me out when I’ve been confused. They have been willing to take the time to speak with me and are extremely patient with my comprehension of the language (They are still not patient drivers…don’t expect a taxi to stop for a crosswalk).
This week, I want to share a few stories from my interactions with people here.
I could not start without thanking my local coworkers. When it comes to tolerating my Spanish, they take the cake. Since my first day in the office, they have told me about the places to eat near work, told me what food to try (and to be careful around if you’re a foreigner), helped me with my new language and been great to work with on top of that. Most of my initial interactions were limited to my high school Spanish, so we have come a long way since I was basically a broken record who walked in every morning saying “Hola, Como Estas?”
If I mention people who help me practice Spanish, I would be remiss if I did not include the Uber drivers here. Ubers cost only a couple bucks to get most places, so I am guilty of using them a little more than usual. Also, my Spanish classes start at 7:30 a.m., before work, so I like the extra time in the morning. And what better audience to practice my Spanish than an Uber driver? Uber drivers are the new bartenders, the best strangers you can talk to about anything. Uber is relatively new in Ecuador, starting late summer of this year. There are still some “legal issues,” so to look less conspicuous, Uber drivers will ask you to sit in the front seat. With the name Victor (common in Ecuador) popping up in their phone and a Greek skin complexion, I’ve had a couple drivers confused once I start speaking.
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, I took another hike up Pichincha. Loyal readers will remember my first hike up the volcano. I had another free Sunday, wanted some fresh air and decided to give it another go, this time aiming for the top. Once again, I started the hike solo with podcasts in tow (I finished S-Town, let me know what you thought if you listened). I started much earlier and acclimated to the air and I was determined to make it to the top this time.
After reaching the point I had hiked to previously, I could see the last part was a tricky and rocky climb to the summit. It would have been difficult alone. Thankfully, a local couple arrived at the spot the same time. Knowing we had to keep going up, we worked together to figure out the best way to make it to the top. Once there, a couple other groups were relaxing around the top with snacks galore. Before I could even sit down, I was offered chips, candy and other items. I had packed extra mini-bananas (there are like 10 different kinds of bananas here) so I had plenty to contribute to the impromptu picnic. Sharing food here is a very common practice, so if you ever are invited to eat with an Ecuadorian then be prepared to leave full.
My final story comes from a couple weeks ago, when I was returning from a visit to Papallacta, the hot springs and spa outside of Quito. (Full blog coming soon). It is located around two hours outside the city by bus, and I began the day later than planned. After a day of relaxation, I did need to try and figure out a way home. I asked the front desk employee about the bus schedule, and was advised that the next bus wouldn’t leave for another hour. It was already close to seven, and it gets dark here early. I was considering taking a pricey cab to play it safe but that’s when a family came up to me and asked where I was going. I told them Quito and they offered to help take me to a much closer city.
While I know I am not supposed to hop into cars with strangers, I got good vibes from Marco, his wife and teenage son. It pushed my Spanish to the limit, but I had a great time getting to know them. No matter the language, everyone can enjoy a conversation centered on food and dogs. After getting to their city, which was around 30 minutes outside Quito, we saw the buses were not running anymore. I was going to grab a cab at that point but they insisted on driving me all the way to Quito. I couldn’t thank them enough. We still keep in touch too. They let me know they make some of the best Hornado (roast pork) in Ecuador and they have insisted that visit for dinner sometime soon to try it. #VidaLaVic