First impressions of Quito, Ecuador

by Kim on August 19, 2012 · 37 comments

Finding ourselves in the back of a cop car in Quito

On our first full day in Quito Brian and I decided to explore the city on foot, walking from our hostel in the Mariscal District down to Old Town.

Quito is a big city. I’m not sure quite what I expected, but in a country the size of Nevada I guess I just assumed that the cities, even the capital city, would be quaint.

Our walk took us through the Parque la Alameda, past the Presidential Palace, and around the old churches and regal buildings that have stood for over 500 years. From afar we could spot the Virgen de El Panecillo, a 40 meter (141 foot) tall replica of the Virgin of Quito, which overlooks all of the city, and I was captivated. “Let’s walk there,” I said to Brian, pointing high into the hills.

A view of Virgin de El Panecillo from Old Town Quito

At some point I had read or heard that the walk up the stairs that lead to the statue can be dangerous. As we neared the stairs I stopped a policewoman and in broken Spanish asked if it was okay to walk up. She nodded yes and we were on our way.

Three minutes later we turned to see the cop I’d spoken with and another policia flagging us down. When they caught up to us the woman said, with limited English, that the stairs were not safe. “Danger!” she said, gesturing with her hands. “Robbers!” She pointed to the man with her and I discerned through our choppy communication that her el jefe (boss) would help us reach the statue safely.

I assumed the man would flag a taxi for us but before long Brian and I found ourselves in the back of a cop car with three Ecuadorian policia. As the car turned left when I knew it should have turned right, I quickly scanned my brain for warnings of corrupt police in Quito.

But my gut told me that we were okay and indeed we were. As the kind officers drove us up the hill they peppered us with questions- where were we from? what had we seen of their country and, oh, wasn’t it beautiful? We told them it absolutely was. The man in the front seat handed us a tourist booklet and the woman in the back flipped through it, pointing to destinations we should not miss.

When we reached the base of the Virgen de El Panecillo the policia made us promise we would take a taxi back down. We swore we would. “Enjoy Quito,” they said as they pulled away. All we could say in response was “Gracias, gracias, gracias.”

The view of Quito from El Panecillo

Quito has a bad reputation, but aside from dodging the robbers on the steps up to the Virgen de El Panecillo, I have not felt unsafe or threatened in any way. There are policia everywhere and the city seems intent on cleaning up it’s image so that tourism can continue to thrive. That said, Brian and I take precautions. We don’t stay out very late, we don’t wear anything flashy, and we don’t carry any more money than we need.

A day trip to the Otavalo Market

Yesterday Brian and I boarded a bus and rode two hours on the Pan-American highway to the town of Otavalo, located high in the Andes, which has hosted a daily market since pre-Incan times. At the market, vendors sell food, clothing, paintings, weavings and all variety of crafts. The indigenous people wear traditional clothing and take great pride in the beautiful art they are selling.

Women sit in Otavalo’s town plaza. The woman on the left is wearing traditional clothing.

Brian and I excitedly roamed the market, trying our best to take in the sights and sounds. I’m a sucker for colorful clothing and jewelry and found myself completely enchanted by the experience. In the end we walked away with colorful bracelets, a ring, a necklace, an alpaca scarf and an alpaca blanket woven with all the colors of the rainbow. 

An example of the colorful things for sale at the Otavalo Market

Showing off my new bracelet

Visiting the Galapagos?

Since we’ve arrived in Ecuador everyone asks if we are going to visit the Galapagos. We’d not planned to visit because it is very expensive. I’m not sure if it’s just the thrill of finally! being! here! but we have changed our minds and spent this morning searching for a last minute deal. We think we’ve found one which will have us in the Galapagos this Tuesday for eight days. However, our tour agency cannot confirm the availability of flights until tomorrow and, even so, the chance of landing a flight at such a late hour is only 50/50. We’ve got our fingers crossed that the flight will come through. If not, it’s off to Mindo.

Quito’s Sunday Ciclopaseo

On Sunday’s here in Quito an organization called ciclopaseo shuts down 30 km (18 miles) of a major road that runs north to south through the middle of the city. Ciclopaseo’s mission is to promote urban cycling, sustainable transportation and community. 

Brian and I put on our running clothes and hit the street with what seemed like every other person in Quito. We ran past Carolina Park where dozens of soccer games were in progress and a gigantic group of people danced theatrically under a pavilion to YMCA.

Ciclopaseo passing through the Mariscal District

We ran past supermarkets and movie theaters and banks and thousands of families out enjoying the equatorial sun. You wouldn’t have been able to wipe the grins off of our faces if you’d tried.

The beginning

Last night at dinner Brian and I were talking about how the beginning of anything- a new job, a move to a new neighborhood- is always filled with mistakes and the awkward reality of figuring things out. Months later you look back at yourself in that new period and think: I didn’t know shit!

We know that that is exactly where we are now, but we are honestly enjoying the process of learning. Each time we make a mistake, like boarding the wrong bus or forgetting to settle the cab fair before getting in the cab, we just shrug our shoulders and say to each other “well, now we know.” It is not necessarily comfortable not knowing what we’re doing the majority of the time, but this is how we learn in the world, no?