Our first moments south of the equator began with some turbulance — and it had nothing to do with our airplaneś trajectory.
Our window-seat neighbor had just kindly asked if I could move yet again so she could yet again visit the restroom, and after 15 hours of traveling about 3,500 miles from Duluth, I was a little disoriented and accidentally knocked a small glass of water directly into Sarah’s purse. (Nice move, bud.)
It was bad enough that I had to save the iPod, camera and cords from the water destruction. But what made it worse was that the snafu came at the exact same time the stewardess was addressing passengers with English directions to the Spanish-only customs forms.
How’s that for impeccable timing?
Pessa was patient with my fuck up, and we later pieced together the correct customs answers. It ended well, but it surely wasn’t a good omen as we entered a foreign land.
Pop. 15 or 1.5 million?
Luis, a guy from our immersion school, seamlessly picked us up at the airport and escorted us via van to our homestay deep in the middle of Quito, Ecuador.
Our first impression was how eerily quiet, dead even, the city of 1.5 million residents was just before midnight on a Monday. Each storefront was covered with a steel drop-down door, and the streets were barren save some sketchy-looking characters and a random teenage boy with a torn shirt and a dazed look.
Sarah held my hand, turned to me and said, “We’ve only got each other.”
I gulped and said, “You’re right.”
Luis obeyed the traffic laws, while others defied them. Our van was cut off numerous times and other drivers simply ignored the red lights. The ride was an immersion lesson into the heightened awareness needed to navigate the streets of this capital city.
Home sweet, um, home
Upon our arrival at our homestay, familia Campana, it looked anything but a home. Graffiti covered some walls in the neighborhood and steel doors clamped shut businesses.
Across the street, two men appeared to be trying to break into a business. Luis seemingly ignored them and hopped out to ring the home’s bell.
For a few minutes, no one answered, and I couldn’t help by think, “Shit. What if no one answers?”
Then about a minute later, a red-eyed and frizzy-haired woman came to the door. She introduced herself as Lorene and escorted us inside into her first-floor apartment. She spoke some indecipherable instructions, save for some non-verbal cues about how to get a steady stream of water from the shower and to not drink the water from the tap but rather slurp the aqua in the blue thermos in the kitchen’s corner. She said breakfast would be served at 8 a.m. Bienvenido.
When we entered the room, we immediately noticed a visitor. No one was lounging in our bed, but a centipede was scurrying up the wall. I tried to kill it before Pessa noticed, but no luck.
We threw down our heavy packs and tried to gather ourselves after a 17-hour, 3,500-mile journey to another continent. We had made it, but it was tough to deal with because it wasn’t exactly what we had expected … although we didn’t know what we had expected.
Not quiet Quito
On our first day in Quito, we awoke when the city did – at 6 a.m. An array of sounds jolted us from a much-necessary slumber. The cacophony was motorcycles, trucks, barking dogs – and holy shit – car horns.
Our bedroom window faces the garage, which is separated from the street by chain gate, meaning it’s an echo chamber. Lets just say: we wouldn’t make the mistake of not wearing ear plugs to bed again.
By 8 a.m., we were having breakfast with our new madre, Lorene, and our new Belgium roommate, Len. Our Espanol-only conversation was stilted at best, but both Lorene and Len were very friendly. Receiving a warm welcome certainly made us feel better after a less than appealing entry.
By noon, we had (just barely) successfully commandeered our 30-minute walk to the Yamapuma Espanol Escuala. Pessa and I had to be very alert when we crossed streets to not get hit by other pedestrians, cars, buses, or mopeds. It’s not as congested as what I’ve heard about India, but you must be aware.
Each street corner was a gathering spot of electrical wires, a scene reminiscent of pictures of Baghdad.
In the light of day, the city possesses a healthy, friendly pulse with strangers greeting you with “buenos dias” or “buenos tardes” depending on the time. Street vendors offer fresh fruit, a shoe shine, newspapers (espanol only, unfortunately) and other snacks. The city is bordered by jungle-green mountains to the immediate west and also offers a nice mix of colonial architecture next to more modern designs.
After a blurry-eyed four hours of struggling to conjugate espanol verbs, the day’s highlight came around the dinner table with Pessa, Len, Lorene, her daughter, Mabell, and Mabell’s boyfriend, Jorge.
We ate a bean and rice soup for starters and a small steak and potatoes next to a bed of rice which was topped with a fried banana.
The best part was that Pessa felt compelled to join the clean-plate club. (Good girl.) The next best part was the fried banana. (A unique texture; same sweet flavor.)
To not feel like a complete mute at dinner, I decided to ask the familia about getting futbol tickets. My question about if they were fans stoked a heated,yet joking, debate between Lorene in support of her favorite team, Liga of Quito, and Jorge in support of his favorite team, Barcelona of Guayaquil, Ecuador. The debate between Lorene and Jorge trumped those between Vikings and Packers fans.
I didn’t get an answer to where to buy tickets and I understood less than 10 percent of what was said, but the back and forth was highly entertaining.