Getting to Quito

We woke up early to take a taxi to the collectivo by the bus station. Collectivos are way cheaper than buses. Basically, they have a destination, you get on, you wait for them to sell all the seats and then off you go. They can be anything from a taxi to a minivan, to a minibus to a full, fledged bus. When we walked into the collectivo station, there were about ten windows of different collectivo companies, all barking out their destinations. The one we wanted was Ipiales. “Ipiales. Ipiales. Ipiales. Ipiales.” It was crazy. I have no idea why Peter chose the one he chose. Probably that guy yelled the loudest. The trick to not getting car sick in a collectivo is to sit in the front seat. They’re usually set up for two people to sit real close in the passenger side. Otherwise, winding roads, exhaust fumes and bumpy roads will do your stomach in.

Anyway, we got on and waited 20 minutes for him sell all the seats in his minivan. He had an old guy hustling for him too. It only cost like $2 per for 60-minute bus trip to Ipiales. Then we had to take another collectivo to the border town, walk across the border to Ecuador, hop a taxi to another bus station and hop a bus to Quito. The Quito part of the trip was about five hours at $5 a piece. It’s like $1 an hour per person. It actually ended up being longer because there was an accident and since all the roads are just two lanes, everything had to stop. The twisty curvy roads are dreamy on a motorcycle, not so much on a bus. Oh, and there was no bathroom. Imagine the panic.

The other thing about busses and collectivos is that they stop to pick up and drop off anywhere. None of that American nonsense “Oh, no, that’s not a designated bus stop. I can’t let you off there.” These people get door-to-door service if they live on one of the lines.

Oh, I forgot, there was a military stop about ten miles into the Quito bus ride. They got on, checked everyone’s paper work and that was that. Very polite.

We got to Quito and we were hustled off the bus pretty damn fast. The reason was one, they had to turn it around quick because of the accident. They lost a lot of time with that. And two, they didn’t want to hear us complain about where they dropped us off. Turns out, their destination was not the Quito destination we had read about in the book. It was on the outskirts of town. (Reminds me of the Ryan Air trick of flying to Frankfurt and ending up at an airport 45 minutes away, creatively called Frankfurt am Main or something like that.) Anyway, we had to take a cab to the old city, which is where we wanted to be. We shared with this older fellow named Richard. He was from Texas, around 70 and traveling the world alone. He’d been at it for a couple of years and still had a bit more to go. He had been all over Africa and was now doing the entire South American continent. He said he’d sold his company, paid off his ex-wives and was living on whatever was left. He was a bit of an oddball. “I tried to buy pot in Bogotá but the guy kept handing me cocaine. I couldn’t get him to understand I wanted to smoke, not snort.”

We got to Quito, found a hotel. Not a nice hotel mind you. There was blood on the walls (it looked like blood and for the sake of making this an interesting story, IT WAS DEFINITELY BLOOD), black mold in the bathroom and absolutely no hot water whatsoever… not that I even dared use the bathroom. I sterilized the toilet seat with my hand sanitizer. The bed was clean however (I checked) so for one night, it was OK.

Worth every penny of the $12 we paid for it.

OH, and toilets. I completely forgot to mention them. Down here, you can’t flush nothin’ down ‘em but number one and number two. All the toilette paper goes in a bin next to the toilet. Nasty. Apparently, the plumbing in most of South America is absolutely dismal.

So, anyway, we wandered around old town to look for a language school. (There’s a new town here that’s almost entirely populated by expats and tourists. We have NO desire to go there. It’s called Gringolandia by the locals.) We found Escuela de Español Quito Antiguo. It was run by Señor Freddy, a chubby, smiley fella who says “It’s normal” a lot. Peter negotiated four hours a day for himself, two hours a day for me and a $200 one-bedroom apartment, all for an entire month. Pretty good considering Peter’s Spanish is bad and Señor Freddy’s English is only fair.

When the apartment came up in the discussion, Señor Freddy looked to his friend, Johnny, who was sitting on the couch behind us, for some sort of confirmation that the apartment was indeed available. Señor Freddy told us that the apartment belonged to his wife who lived in Tokyo with their young daughter and that he stayed there when he was not in Japan. So I was very perplexed as to why he needed to confirm with Johnny that it was available.

The apartment is cute. Sunny, fairly clean (Senor Freddy is a guy after all) smells like fried food sometimes because of a tenant on the first floor and has the worst bed ever. The first night, we slept in it and I thought I was sleeping in a hammock. The mattress has a huge dent in it the shape of Senor Freddy’s corpulent torso. I have since propped the mattress up against the wall, put a comforter over the box frame and put the sheets over that. It’s now passable.

And yes, we checked Freddy’s references. While not particularly glowing, nobody said he was a crook. We checked out the only other school in this area (most of them are in Gringolandia) and it just seemed too hard-core AND it was at the top of the huge hill we’d have to climb every day. I’m not being a baby. It’s just that the altitude and the size of the hill put Señor Freddy in first place. We also looked for alternative apartments with a friend of Peter’s aunt Aurora and a friend of hers, an expat from New Orleans who dabbles heavily in real estate.  Everything seemed OK so we did it.

I have to say, Peter has managed to navigate this entire ordeal with his broken, yet improving Spanish. It probably sounds like “I need bed hotel room rent please.” But they all get it and if you preface it with “Mi español es muy malo” they’re very understanding. He got us from Pasto to Quito, (it went like clockwork too), got us classes and an apartment and didn’t get us ripped off.

It’s extremely lovely here. The weather is perfect; sunny and cool in the morning, slightly warm in the afternoon and cools down again in the evening. The people are wonderful and the accent is very easy to understand, unlike the Cubans. NOBODY understands them it seems. They talk really fast and truncate all their words, kinda’ like my Neapolitan grandparents. I’m glad to be out of Columbia though. Like the landscape of the country, those girls are extremely beautiful. Note to my single male friends; want to be stunned by beautiful women? Go to Bogotá. Note to my over 35 female friends: Stay the hell out of Bogotá unless you’re a supermodel. It’s not worth the feelings of inadequacy. The people here in Ecuador are more indigenous so they are less glamorous looking. They’re also sweeter, humbler and gentler in nature.

My other big adventure, all on my own, was trying to figure out how to use the little washing machine in the apartment. I couldn’t figure out the plugs in the back and was traipsing around this whole old town trying to find someone who could help. “Necisito un adaptador.” Three trips to a very understanding hardware store later, I got it working. Damned if I was going to do a week’s worth of laundry by hand. Oh hell no.

So, I’m sure you’re all bored by now so I’ll stop. This weekend we’re going to try to hit the biggest indigenous market in South America. (Gifts for all!) I’ll write more then.

I also just cooked my first meal in this kitchen, praying I’m not going to get us sick with this scary water. Potatoes, chorizo, onions, spring garlic and some mighty picante looking peppers, (They have black seeds. That MUST mean they’re evil) with a side of sautéed green beans. If we are messed up in about six hours, I’ll know it’s my cooking since I had some ceviche more than five hours ago and I’m still fine. (knock on wood, spit three times)

One more thing, I learned a new word that is actually Indian. It’s “yapa” which means Lagniappe which means “a little something extra” in Cajun Creole.

{sniff} Lagniappe. I miss my dog.

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