As of writing this, I have been in Quito, Ecuador for less than a day. Although I am new to this city, I am pretty sure I will be calling it a second home by the end of these three weeks. Just to acquaint everyone with this city, here are a few facts. First, it is the second highest capital city, 9,350 feet. Since most of my readers are from Michigan, our highest point of elevation is only 1,979 feet. Today has been spent mostly getting used to the altitude but thank goodness none of us have had any serious problems (mostly just a lot of huffing and puffing when climbing up the sometimes almost vertical streets). Secondly, Quito is at the middle of the world and boasts the Mitad Del Mundo, a tourist attraction where you can stand with one foot in the southern hemisphere and the other in the northern. Now back to what I have been doing for the last 10 hours.
Arriving last night in Quito was a blur. Our plane landed around 10:30pm GMT and the sight was amazing. There was a lightning storm which would momentarily light up the landscape and even allowed us to see the coast way off in the distance. Customs was a breeze and then it was off to find our driver who our Professor had kindly arranged since she was arriving at the airport around the same time. Our driver was amazing, although I cannot for the life of me remember his name. His wife was waiting for us in his van and we waited with her till our Professor arrived. Through our conversation with his wife, we received our first crash course in everything Ecuador. From politics, to education, to culture, to the weather, we talked about everything. We were all exhausted at this point, but managed to hold a pretty sophisticated conversation almost entirely in Spanish (although there was a decent amount of Spanglish and gesturing). When we got to our hostel around 1:30am (which is so beautiful I am tempted to refuse to leave tomorrow) we crashed but still made it to a 9am breakfast (who can say no to desayuno gratuito, a free breakfast).
The night before we had made plans with out driver to go to the Mitad Del Mundo (Middle of the World) the next day. So today after taking a quick walk to get acquainted with the area, a man named Marcos showed up to take us there. Marcos was fantastic!! Part driver, part tour guide, part amazing human. After realizing what level our Spanish was at, he made sure to talk in a way that both challenged us but wasn’t too advanced. During an almost one hour car ride there and back we learned so much about Quito and Marco. I am so surprised that even with the language barrier, I am able to have in-depth conversations that go beyond the weather or tourist stuff. One particularly interesting part started with a conversation about fútbol and ended with him explaining why North America and South America should be one continent. Besides the beauty of the city and the interesting sites, learning about the people has been my favorite part. If you are willing to listen, strangers will tell you all about their lives, opinions and beliefs. It is vastly different from the small talk that I experience in the U.S.
Back to the Mitad Del Mundo, Marcos took us first to a crater that had been created by one of the inactive volcanoes in Quito (there are 16 active volcanoes). The Pululahua Crater(which I may never be able to pronounce) is one of only two inhabited volcanic craters.
As we looked into it we could see a patchwork of farms lying far below the volcano. Finally we made it to the Mitad Del Mundo and stood between the southern and northern hemispheres. This is actually 240 km from where the line actually exists but for photo ops this place was the best! Finally after our first day at such a high altitude, a siesta was necessary when we returned to our hostel.
Around 5 we decided that a real Ecuadorian dinner was the way to finish off our spectacular first day. Mama Clorinda was recommended by Marcos and we decided to try it out. After a few wrong turns we made it to Plaza Foch which is crawling with bars, clubs and restaurants. We stuck to the restaurant recommended to us as it served comida típica (typical Ecuadorian food). I had heard a lot about fritada which includes fried pork (not actually fried but it is cooked in water and its own fat), fried potato patties with cheese, avocado, a boiled corn salad and beets. It was incredibly good and makes me excited to try more of the Ecuadorian specialties.
All of this in one day and the program hasn’t even started. tomorrow I meet my homestay family and couldn’t be more excited to settle down in one place for a while. If you have read up until now you are incredible as I am sure there has been much rambling! Muchas gracias y hasta mañana!