A Travellerspoint blog

Quito: Week Two

Culture, Cotopaxi and the Center of the world...

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Hola mis amigos, I’m still here in Quito, and have just finished ploughing through my second week of Spanish school. It’s been quite an eventful week for me, and although I have hardly any pictures to show for it, I write this blog as a memoir for me to look back on during the many years to come.

My hermano de otro madre (brother from another mother) came back from Mexico over the weekend, so this week for me has been an interesting mix of historical culture, and local insights into the nightlife of Quito. Aside from viewing the change from lightness to darkness over the top of the city from the panoramic viewpoint of Guapulo over a hot cup of Canelazo, I have also now visited the historical old town of Quito, the majestic volcano Cotopaxi, Mitad del Mundo/ center of the world, and had many other experiences.

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Rewind to Wednesday, when I took a stroll around the historic town in Quito, together with Luis, the owner of the school, and several other students. It was not only a good cultural experience, but we went in the late afternoon and only finished our little tour in the evening, and so were able to capture the different colors of the Ecuadorian sunset in combination with the unique architecture of the buildings. We stopped at a small café twice during the tour, once to have a cup of coffee with Humitas, a local dish of ground corn with cheese, and the second time to try canelazo, a drink typical of this region, slightly alcoholic, with a strong taste of Naranjilla, a local citrus fruit. After the tour, we met up with my “brother” Diego in la Mariscal, and headed off to a hip salsa bar for a little dancing. Great music, and it was full of awesome dancers, I only wished they’d played a couple of bachata or cha cha songs in between for a change of pace.

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*On a funnier note, when in the taxi from the old town to Mariscal, I conversed briefly with the driver about the scores of the football game blasting on the radio, after which he thought I was Chilean. I’m not sure if I should be flattered or insulted, but it’s definitely not the accent I was going for…

After completing my classes on Friday, I headed up the road to the house of my mother’s mother, to join the rest of the family and some other students for a “movie night”, complete with homemade popcorn… in Spanish of course. After watching not one but two movies, we retired to the living room where Daniela, a German student from my school, made us traditional raclette for dinner.

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Again it was a busy fun-filled weekend for me. On Saturday, I took the school tour to the Cotopaxi volcano, one of the highest active volcanos at 5,897m above sea level. Of course with my tendency towards altitude sickness, I did only the day tour to the refuge and glacier to 5,000m. Still, it was a beautiful day with a clear sky and totally worth it.

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And as a final applause to the end of my week, I visited Mitad del Mundo, the supposed center of the world at latitude and longitude 00 ͦ00’00”. It was an insanely hot day, making me feel almost as if I were back in Singapore, sans the humidity. We went first to the museum to look at different scientific experiments to test the differences in gravitation balance of the Earth’s center, such as balancing a raw egg on a stand, and then proceeded across to the (very touristic) monument to spend some time watching the display of traditional dances in the plaza, and of course to take the obligatory photo of the giant phallic symbol on the equatorial line.

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Tip: Speak Spanish as fluently as possible to the taxi drivers or they’ll charge you extra, walking in groups at night is safer, and it’s a good idea to make at least one local friend. Chao for now!

Posted by jessho 20:13 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quito: Week One

Spanish, School and Super-cool Sights

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I arrived in Quito on time, and thankfully the officer didn’t ask me for a return or exit ticket which I didn’t have. Upon exiting the customs area I found a sign with my name, held by an ecstatic Ecuadorian woman chattering away in Spanish. Meet Stella, my host mum.
After having met the rest of the family at the house, I learned pretty quickly that if I was to go anywhere on my own in Latin America, I was going to have to pick up the language as quickly as possible. The home-stay experience so far, I have to say, has been fantastic. I get my own room, 3 square meals a day, hot water showers, wifi, and a houseful of people willing to practice Spanish with me even though I could only speak in very “Me Tarzan, You Jane” type phrases. Plus it’s a mere 20 minutes’ walk from the school.

The school was also a pleasant surprise. They have modern classrooms, with many weekly activities to help orientate you and provide interaction amongst students. This week, I joined the salsa class, cooking class and one of the weekend day tours. The teaching method is also very stimulating. My teacher, Cecelia, starts with a full Spanish conversation, switching to English only to translate each unknown verb. It is very progressive, and yet interactive at the same time. By the second day she has me learning reflexive verbs and took me for a walk around Mariscal and the local markets to learn conversation about traffic, people and food. By the third day she has me translating Spanish love songs, and by the fourth, learning to speak in future tense. By the end of class on Friday, I’m ready for a bit of a trek around the town.

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Together with Becky, an English girl who stays with Stella’s sister, we head over to the café at the Ethnological museum for the best cup of Chocolate con Leche I’ve ever had. After, we visit the Mercado artisanal la Mariscal, and then walked to the Mirador de Guapulo for a great view of the south of Quito and the old monastery.

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On Saturday morning, I headed up to the north end of town with some friends from school to catch the teleferico (cable car) up to 4100m, and then walked up another few km to just shy of 5000m to Pinchincha. Well… they walked. I meandered. I’ve never been great with high altitudes so I figured I’d take it easy, not wanting to get sick my first weekend there. It was quite a trek, and so after we came down we just stopped by one of the parks to see the local artists’ display of paintings and handicrafts before heading to our respective homes for an early night.

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Sunday was my scheduled day tour to Laguna Quilotoa, and the tour left bright and early at 7am from the main square in town. On the way to the laguna, we passed by, and stopped to take pictures of the majestic Cotopaxi volcano, as well as a local indigenous market in a nearby town.

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The Sunday market was an enticing mix of sights, sounds, and smells: A vast array of colors along the many stalls offering their wares, the sweet citrus scent of mandarins of the many fruit stands mixed with the wafts of cooked food coming from the kitchen area, and the surprising and distinct doof doof beats of “gangnam style” blasting from a nearby stereo. We also stopped by a local farmhouse used for breeding and housing guinea pigs, potentially to sell for kooy, the local delicacy of the whole roasted rodent.

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Laguna Quilotoa

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By the time we arrived at the laguna the sun was scorching, and the slippery skid down to the bottom of the crater for a quick dip in the water was sounding increasingly enticing. Of course by the time I got down there it was a bit chilly for a swim, but the spectacular view of the lagoon on the way down, combined with the local flora, and an odd sighting of a family of llamas, made the trek totally worthwhile anyway.

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Tip: Pay $8 and grab yourself a mule for the trek up, it’s a slippery slope and the mule ride is an experience in itself anyway.

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And I guess that’s it for my first week in Quito, phase 1 of many to come… stay tuned for next week!

Posted by jessho 20:07 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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