PART ONE : Hola Quito, Life as a Ecuardorian and Journey to the Centre of The Earth
"Hola!, I have spent my first week in the new territory of Latin America, crossing South America off my 'world's continents visited list' and it's pouring with rain here in Ecuador at the mo - which figures because it is the rainy season after all being mid October, it's rocking! - down pours happen the same time every afternoon hence being on the computer confused by the keyboards here which are kinda weird. Well they are spanish keyboards after all so I cannot do certain British symbols and things but oh well you'll get the gist of what I'm writing.
Well I arrived in Quito, the capital of Ecuador in the central Pichincha region last weekend having to wear a doctors surgeons facemask through the airport which was pretty weird and fortunetely finding a girl working at the airport who spoke english (Thank god) and managed to hook me up at 2am with going to stay with a nice Ecuadorian lady Rita who she knew in town. She told me she regularly took travellers into their home and showing this girl alot of gratitude and for a fee of $10 she took me across the city to Eldorado, a suburb of South Quito to Rita and her families apartment to put me up for the night in a spare room ( I was soooo beyond-a-joke tired after nine and a half hours from London to Atlanta and then five hours Atlanta to Quito flying - I was soo happy just to sleep anywhere) bless her she even came out to meet me in the street in her night wear and took me out on the balcony to show me Quito, the city at night with the lights and silohuette of the mountains in the background. As beautiful as it was, I've never craved a bed so badly before.
Rita let me stay in her house for the week with some other volunteers who were studying spanish and volunteering down at a local childcare centre, full of hilarious stories around the dinner table. My home is a three storey apartment overlooking the Andean Mountains awaking to the sounds of the Sunday morning lady screaming the name of the local paper trying to sell it and the stray dogs that roam the streets. They actually kept a dog on the roof of the apartment and at night could hear his wimpering and pitter patter of his feet so was no ghost! Rita calls us down for breakfast and dinner shouting "Coffeeeeeeeeee!" which I guess is probably the easiest thing for her and I was pretty straight forward in telling her my vegetarian ways in my limited spanish 'no carne' she got the idea, the sweet senora.
I have spent the first week trying to get my bearings of the city and avoid being knocked down by this CHAOTIC traffic, just like Ghana, no one uses the brakes just the horn. I have started attending Guayasamin Spanish School which is for 4 gruelling hours from 8:00 to 12:00pm a 20 minute walk from Rita's in to the Mariscul Sucre'New Town' area of Quito. Most main roads in Quito are named after important dates in Ecuardorian history like 'Ave de 6 Dicembre' not too sure what the importance is but must be something for a main road to be named after it. Spanish school is challenging, I am enjoying it but struggling a bit with the grammar, but in truth is not exactly my best area in English either but trying my best anyhow. I get homework every night ha! (have not had that in a while! but its good for me) but the school does put on some excursions and activities for us which is cool. Quito has two areas, the new town and the old town. The 'Old Town' is really the historic, cultural and colonial part of the city which I prefer and the school invited us on a tour of it to see the churches and other sights of significance. Riding the local public transport is pretty interesting but you gotta be smart to outwit the pick pocketers, but nah its not too bad. My teacher at schoo is Juan and we get on very well have a laugh during class, he even took my shoes to the tailor to get fixed for me which was mighty nice of him and to the market to practice my asking skills - I have actually managed to buy some things at least which is a major achievement when I actually got what I wanted. On one occasion around town we took a detour into a hair salon and both ended up having our hair cut ha! for like two dollars! its so cheap out here its unbelievable, only in Latin America your money goes a long way. I've been going back to the Old Town often and heading to the El Centro massive markets where I bought myself an Ecuardorian football shirt. The more I find I can go around and buy things and function normally, the more comfortable I can become. It's not very easy to live in a world where you're incompetant so I think my confidence is building up slowly. I'm trying to pay more attention in school.
In my first week, I have taken my first Salsa lesson which is alot of fun but makes you really sweaty! It's really fun to the see the guys from the school also coming along to give it a try, very entertaining! but the Latino's know how to dance. The weather shifts to and fro, its usually hot in the morning and then rains in the afternoon but thats what happens when you are nearly 3,000 km above sea level in the mountains! I have already suffered from a Altitude cold at the weekend and 'cotton mouth' where you get really dehydrated and your mouth dries up ekkkk, but its pretty normal to adjust to it.
Last weekend me and a couple of students from school got out of the city and figured out how to take a bus where I sat on the floor because there were no free seats, up to the Northern Highlands of Ecuador into the Imbabura region to a town called Otavalo which is the bustling traditional crafts market for Ecuador to practice my bargaining skills and was a great experience mingling with the rural Ecuadorian crowds and stall vendors and I didn't too bad either, managing to buy a few things from the practice with Juan, a nice blue alpaca jumper and a pair of red andean trousers to add to my wardrobe plus a brown beaded rosemary necklace of a crucifix which I had to use body language for to explain what I wanted haha....I love markets, they're so much more fun negotiating prices and the goods are actually made by locals making them more of an unique authentic souvernir.
Later in the day we read about a waterfall called Cascada de Peguche and was keen to set off and find it asking locals directions and being followed by a small puppy along the railway track. We eventually found a waterfall of some kind without signposts then hiked to it through the bush getting bitten by mosquitos - great. We nearly missed the bus back to Quito, failing to jump on the last bus leaving the waterfall before 5pm but with our combined bargaining skills we managed to persuade a passing taxi - very lucky! paying a whopping $2 back to Quito. One thing I've noticed here is however many hours it takes to drive somewhere on buses, that's how many dollars you pay.
Its so much better to get out of the city and see the real culture.
On Sunday, we took a trip to El Mitad de Mundo 'The Middle of The World'. Well Ecuador does mean 'Equator' right? so it would be a sin to pass up on an opportunity to go to the middle of the earth. Its a big complex on the barron highway which quite frankly looked like the world had ended itself. The park is of course a huge tourist attraction with a big tower/pillar type thing centred in the middle with a red line going through the middle 'Ecuador Latitude "0' marketed as the middle of the world but in fact if you listen to the locals the real line of the equator is a 1km walk away from the complex - nice secret, guess they got their calculations slightly off so away we went to check it out following another group of travellers. A small, more discreet exhibition than it's false neighbour, they only ask you for a small fee for you to come in a look at their education boards and exhibits. A lady was talking to a group of tourists around a sink so I stuck my head in and eavesdropped as she was showing the water flow switching from anti clockwise to clockwise on each side of the equator.....mmmmmm
And there it was the TRUE line of the equator, I had to walk along that big think red line. Was weird to feel the forces either side of you swaying you into the northern and southern hemispheres of the planet, defintely felt some tingling and magnetic forces there. The force was with me....
Another awesome thing was to prove to myself that you really can balance an egg on a nail. Surely it couldn't be done, they say, but at the Equator where forces are working with and against us its possible - amazing! I did crack it (not the egg) but the myth after my fifth attempt. Wow.
Sitting in a taxi back to the city, of course the afternoon rain was coming as the grey skies clouded over us and starting to stream down the window - I looked and a motorcycle caught my eye riding alongside the taxi. It was driven by a man with a slight unusualness about it. He also had his wife, son and daughter riding on the back with him plus a load of lugguge, none of them wearing helmets. There's no concept of danger out here and noticing us all looking at them, the man smiled, glinting his teeth at us before disappearing into a tunnel - MENTAL THINGS YOU SEE HERE
Next week is my last week of Spanish School and I'm moving to another host family to further my experience here. I went to see a host organisation near the school who's fixing me up with a lady named Carmen and her family in a different part of Quito near Le Parc Carolina so I can hopefully practice my spanish more. More salsa classes after school and also an Ecuadorian cooking class that should be interesting. I wanted to take a train ride next weekend to Boliche National Park where you can ride on the top of the carriages but apparently you cannot do it anymore booo!!!! but I will see what I will do for my weekend, theres a cable car you can take to the top of the volcano in Quito for an awesome view called the Teleforico, something you have to do apparently and everyone raves about Cotópaxi mountain around Quito.
I am planning to leave Quito for the Amazon rainforest on the 26th where I have to travel to a jungle town called Tena to gain access to the forest to start my conservation project so lots of prep for that and the spanish of course always needs some work. .........well thats it for my first week, thats some highlights so better be off into the South American rain and have a go at my homework he he.......