Much like New York, Quito is a city with sirens, graffiti, and dark alleys. People move through the sidewalk in crowds while music blasts from passing cars. Enticing smells float from brightly lit bars and restaurants while small shops see a steady stream of people come and go. It’s different from the United States, but the night scene is incredibly familiar.
After passing through the darkening city, we pulled up to a small hotel. We received our room assignments and lugged our suitcases up two flights of stairs. The atmosphere is much thinner this far up, and our hearts were pounding wildly from our brief burst of energy. At this point, we just wanted to get settled and go to bed– our flight landed an hour later than expected, and another 45 minutes to the hotel meant that we weren’t sleeping until two in the morning. Luckily, my roommate and I were rewarded with a quaint room that was perfectly sized (for me, at least!).
Because I didn’t feel like pulling my suitcase up another flight, I offered Michelle the loft (and the double bed!) that was upstairs. I took the small bed on the first level. Since breakfast was being served in only six hours, we tried our best to get to sleep– it wasn’t too hard… warm blankets + exhaustion = out cold.
After waking up, we trekked down the stairs and across a small courtyard to the main branch of the hotel. In the daytime, it’s a completely different place! Dark green ivy crawls up the walls and bright red flowers add strategic pops of colors.
Tables and chairs are placed outside on small balconies and further down on the grounds. It’d be a great spot to enjoy the weather and drink some tea! We passed them, though, and went inside, finding tables filled with fresh fruit, juices, coffees, teas, granola, and much more.
After eating and gathering a few things, we walked about five minutes to a nearby museum that displays artifacts from indigenous Ecuadorian groups.
You know how Europeans came to North America and interacted with, or sometimes oppressed, the Native Americans? The same thing happened to indigenous Ecuadorian peoples, only with the Spanish. We heard more details about Ecuador’s past in what served as a medium-sized lecture hall nestled in the museum. Ecuador’s history is absolutely fascinating, and what’s even better is that in 2008, Ecuadorians made a constitution that promotes values of equality for all groups of people. This includes indigenous people, but also extends to women, to those in the LGBQT community, and even to nature!
After a couple of lectures, we were finally allowed to take a tour of the museum. Our guide was friendly, funny, and extremely knowledgable.
“Have you ever seen a sculpture with coffee-bean eyes?” he asked while pointing to a statue. “Have you ever wondered why their eyes are like that?”
“It’s because they’re high!”
We laughed. “No, really,” he continued, “the shamans do this in order to see and make sense of their visions…” a lengthy explanations about different types of shamans, purification ceremonies, and indigenous history followed.
After the museum, we had lunch at a place called Crepes & Waffles (you only get one chance to guess what they served). It was a bit embarrassing being in such a big group (there are almost thirty of us total), because we attract a lot of attention. Still, eating lunch at that small place was a fun experience, and once we finished we had the chance to walk around the city a bit.
Within the hour we were off on a bus tour. It was one of the highlights of my day. Quito has an amazing blend of decrepit and meticulously cared-for buildings. You can see a traditional and modern styles sitting right next to each other. But more striking than that is the streets– and the way everyone drives! Everything seems incredibly steep and narrow. I would love to shake the hand of every Ecuadorian driver. Navigating the maze-like roads is not for the faint-of-heart.
While on the tour around the city, we had a few chances to take photos. We were gradually climbing the mountains and ended up getting some absolutely fantastic views.
Seeing the city in this way made me realize that Quito is HUGE! It seems to stretch out forever.
While up on this particular mountain, we had the chance to climb up a statue of a winged Virgin Mary. Ecuador is a very Christian country, but they differ from the Christians we might think of in America. For example, the snake in Ecuador is revered– it’s said that he can travel to the underworld, become wise by learning there, and travel back up again to share his knowledge. For this reason, there’s a snake at the feet of the Virgin Mary statue.
Eventually we made our way to Ecuador’s main plaza. Many of the buildings that surround the plaza have government connections; one has housed previous presidents, another is called the Archbishop’s Palace (although he doesn’t stay there any more– according to our guide, he “doesn’t get as many visitors nowadays”). Oh, and in the next week or so, the POPE will be making a visit to Ecuador, stopping to speak at the Plaza while he is there.
We ate dinner in the Archbishop’s Palace, which has been partially been converted into a classy hotel. After that, a taxi quickly took me and a few others back to the hotel, where we can unwind and prepare for tomorrow.
So far, Quito has been absolutely amazing. The people here are warm, friendly, and accommodating– especially to such a loud and obvious group of tourists. The air is fresher, in a way, and the mountains are so much bigger than anything I’ve seen before… they provide a great backdrop for when you’re eating outside.
There are a lot of small differences that I’ve already noticed, too, like not being able to flush toilet paper (you have to throw it in the trash can!) or the fact that natural light is prevalent (electric lights are used a bit less). Also, the food here is fantastic, even for a vegan, and I don’t think I’ll get over how great the fresh juices are.
Tomorrow, we’re headed out at eight in the morning to observe some schools around the cities. It’ll be another very long day, but I think it’s going to be pretty amazing.