Ecuador: The recap, part 1

Well, that was fun.

Especially with a little bit of hindsight.

Let’s recap, shall we?

We arrived in Quito on a Saturday afternoon, fresh from a 6 a.m., one-layover flight from JFK, during which I insisted on taking the two sleeping pills left over from my non-stop India excursion. It seemed like a good idea at the time, considering I was pretty beat from our 2:45 a.m. wake-up but too wired to effectively make up for lost time on my own. Sadly, though, the de-boarding in Costa Rica and surprisingly good in-flight french toast ┬ákind of made for a waste of an Ambien – especially for the girl who has to take two in order to calm the f down. I pity the person who had to help semi-woozy, semi-nauseous drugged me retrieve my bag from the overhead compartment.

The Quito airport itself is nestled in the heart of the city, which can make for some harrowing landing experiences, but a fast and cheap cab to wherever you’re headed. Actually, even if it was a long cab ride, say the 45 minutes to an hour it took us to get from our home base in Quito to the city’s South bus station, it would still be cheap: everything is ridiculously inexpensive in Ecuador. Like, really. $2.75 for a full meal, $9.50 for one night in a hostel. That kind of cheap. My inner jew rejoiced immediately!

My inner HGTV nerd also found cause for celebration after we paid the cab driver and made our way to the house we would be staying in in Quito. Said home belongs to Caitlin and Alex, two Wisconsin natives and former colleagues of my brother, Jake, who were kind enough to let three total strangers crash with them for four nights. Not gonna lie, any resentment or frustration I had toward Jake for stranding us alone in South America kind of disappeared once we saw Caitlin and Alex’s pad, complete with two guest bedrooms for Ben, Chelsea and I; a gorgeous terrace with views of the city and the surrounding mountains; and a living room bordered by a cozy fireplace on one side and and floor-to-ceiling windows with a gorgeous panoramic backdrop on the other.

We felt especially lucky to be staying there after hearing about Jacob’s former apartment, which was alternatively described as being “in a basement” and “in a garage.” He also apparently used a headlamp as his light source after dark. (Not sure if that’s a reflection on the quality of his landlord or just his affinity for climbing gear, but let’s just say it was a turn-off for this city girl.)

In contrast, Caitlin & Alex’s place was bright and spacious and just really comforting. We got to play with their two, totally insane cats, collapse into their hammock for impromptu reading sessions and make fun of Spanish commercials by the fire. It gave the vacation a really relaxed, warm vibe that I totally needed.

On Saturday afternoon, we had plenty of company too – Caitlin & Alex had a bunch of the teachers from the American School in Quito – former haunt of Jake – over to watch the world cup game. They even fed us: platters of roasted vegetables and grilled chicken breast, stuffed plantains and herbed mozzarella. And all the filtered water we could drink! I was a happy camper.

Ben, Chels & I were kind of itching to explore the city though, so we didn’t stay to chat with the gang for long. Alex plopped us in a cab (we were miserable at trying to communicate where we were going on our intro-level spanish) and off we went to Old City, with me snapping photos from the back seat.

We wandered along the plazas and narrow, steep streets, which were pretty much devoid of tourists.

The architecture is really beautiful and the layout of that portion of the city intriguing, but it was still a little creepy to be honest. I don’t know how to explain it – it just felt a little cold and strange. A few women warned me to be careful with my camera. It seemed like the threat of crime was always lurking a little bit under the surface, although I can’t say we were really scared, per se. More like wary, which definitely forces you to separate yourself from the city a bit, I think. You can’t just fall into it the same way you can in Rome or Madrid.

Still, the city feels alive. There’s bright colors and loud children and affectionate couples and stray dogs running everywhere.

They’re also very into ice cream down there, which they serve all sorts of ways, including all whipped together and doused in sugary syrup. Kind of like if the kid who always insisted on mixing his eye scream sundae into “soup” at your birthday party took over the entire market for frozen desserts in the states.

We weren’t the biggest fans of that variety but made it our mission to explore all the helado Ecuador had to offer in the days to come.

Next up: Ben, Chels & Rach take on a creepy South American tourist trap. Stay tuned!

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