Our Routine Here in Quito

Monday through Friday: Wake up at 7:30 am and try to make our own coffee. Apparently, Ecuadorians are not huge on coffee, which is strange considering they grow so much of it. If you go into one of the little places to eat—and they’re all pretty much ‘little places to eat’—they’ll make you a hot steaming cup of… brace for it… INSTANT COFFEE. That’s their idea of coffee. Blech. Ever had café con leche with instant coffee? No? You’re lucky. I don’t even have the words to describe how bad it is so you know it’s awful. And woe is you if you forget to yell out, “Sin sucre!” before they dump at least three tablespoons of sugar into it. There’s no coffee pot in this apartment so I’m still experimenting with a decent method for making coffee without having to buy something. Monday’s coffee was a disaster; muddy and tasteless, though still better than instant. Tuesday’s was better, but still pretty bad. I might have to google “how to make coffee without a pot” to get some ideas. We do have this stuff we bought in the mercado outside Bogotá. I may have mentioned it but it’s chocolate, coffee beans, and some toasted grains ground up into a powder. You add it to hot milk and it’s awesome, but sadly, it’s not enough caffeine for me to stave off my caffeine headache.

Back to our routine…

While Peter is in the shower, I try to make some breakfast, usually eggs. The only thing to cook with is a stovetop. Literally, it’s just a stovetop. It’s four burners fueled by a propane tank under the plastic table it rests on. Let’s examine that last sentence again: propane tank, open flames, plastic table. What could possibly go wrong? I wonder. To light the stovetop burner, you need matches. The matches here are something special. They’re not stiff and they’re made out of plastic. They’re the flimsiest things you ever saw. Lighting one is an adventure. You have to get the timing just right or you’ll burn the finger you’re pressing the match with. Anyway, eggs are bought loose. They don’t refrigerate them and they don’t sell them in cartons. The first time I bought a half dozen, I put them in my bag and gingerly walked the two blocks to the apartment, praying nobody would knock into me.

The milk is sold in one-liter plastic bags for about 80 cents USD. I couldn’t figure out why there were clothespins in the kitchen until I bought the milk. You have to fold the top over and pinch it shut or else there’s a real mess. Even then, I put it in a plastic bowl to keep it upright. It’s inconvenient, but practical from a waste standpoint.  I looked all over for one of those short plastic pitchers that are actually made to hold the milk bags. I even went to this store that sells everything from toilette paper to small motorcycles. (Seriously, right in the aisle that sold soap and shampoo, there was a small motorcycle on the top of one of the shelves.)

Oh, trash. Haven’t figured that out yet. There are no bins for the building. No real bins in the apartment either, apart from the poopy paper bin in the bathroom. There was one night where lots of little plastic bags littered the street and the next morning they were all gone so I have to assume it was a trash pick up. It confused me because they were all little grocery bags tied in knots at the top. No real trash bags. We’ve taken to just dumping ours in the public bins as we walk to class, though neither one of us has brought up the removal of the poopy paper trash. It’s getting full. Which one of us will have the cajones to take it out and leave it on the street?

The shower bears mentioning. There’s no hot water in this apartment. There is, however a hot shower. How do they do such a thing? Well, I’ll tell you. They have the most dangerous looking on-demand gizmo I’ve ever seen attached to the showerhead.

As you can see, it’s a big white showerhead with wires running out the top, along the water pipe and into a hole in the wall. When you turn on the water, the lights dim. I feel like electricity so close to water can’t be a good idea, but I could be wrong. And there’s a trick to using it. You can’t let the water run at more than a dribble or the thing can’t make enough heat. Any more water than that and the water comes out freezing cold. Now, if any of you have seen me recently, you know that I’ve completely neglected my hair for the last year or so. (I’m beginning to look like Cousin It.) I can’t seem to get myself to trust someone to cut it so I’ve just let it grow and grow and now, it’s down to the bottom of my rib cage. How long do you think it takes dribbling water to get THAT all wet? Forever, that’s how long. Forget about getting all the soap out. Jeebus. I’ve taken to washing my hair every other day and then, only the roots.

Anyway, Peter finishes his shower, fusses with his hair, eats his breakfast and runs out the door to make it to Spanish class for 9 am. Now, I have two hours to clean up the mess I made in the kitchen, the mess he made in the bathroom, the mess we made in the bedroom and maybe do a load of laundry or wash the floors or something else hideously domestic before I have to shower and go off to my two hour Spanish class for 11 am.

As far as Spanish class goes, Peter is doing well and I’m struggling. I had a dream the other night where I had to go back to high school as a junior and I was completely flummoxed. I was yelling “But I’m 47 years old! I shouldn’t even be here let alone as a JUNIOR!”  ‘Nuff said.

After Spanish class, we get a big lunch at one of the local places or at the mercado while we do our grocery shopping. At the mercado, they have this fried sea bass thing that is amazing. It’s super meaty. Anyway, the local places have these fixed lunches where you get a soup called concho de whatever is in it, some sort of entrée, some fruit juice and sometimes a desert all for less than $2 per person. It’s hit or miss. Sometimes, it’s amazing. Sometimes, it’s really not amazing. Today’s was not amazing. There was a chicken soup that tasted fine, but the chicken bits were the parts of the chicken I don’t enjoy seeing at the other end of my spoon. Today’s soup had {gulp} chicken feet in it. Two of ‘em! Damn things looked like they were giving me the finger. I refused to eat any broth below the level that the feet would be exposed. Even now, when I think of it, ewwwwwww, shiverrrr.

The second course was just a fried chicken filet over rice with a potato. (I’m beginning to think they consider potatoes a vegetable because they always serve them with rice. In my book, that’s just redundant.) And the desert was sweet meringue with strawberries. They also always give you some lettuce and sliced onions on the side but no way in hell would I eat that. I thought the juice might be OK so I took a sip, but it tasted too watery and not knowing where the water came from, I didn’t drink it. But hey, the whole thing was only $2. We’re hard pressed to spend more than $4 total on our lunches for the both of us. (Here, they would write “4$” instead of “$4”. Makes more sense the way they do it, no?)

Then, I go home and try to wrap my head around my graphic novel I’m drawing (chapter four is eluding me) interspersed with periods of memorizing vocabulary and Peter goes off to do his Spanish homework and work on his book chapters. (Oh, he just got accepted to present a chapter of his book at a big conference in Las Vegas at the end of August. I can’t go with him because Brandon will have started school already. Huppy better behave himself in Las Vegas.)

Then, at some point, I start to cook dinner; it may work, it may not work. I find that if I try to cook something I’m used to cooking, it’s a dismal failure. When I just play with what I can find at the mercado, it’s pretty good. For instance, I cook beans all the time at home, so one night I tried to cook dried beans. I have no idea what kind of beans they were. They looked like a cross between garbanzo beans and dried peas. I diligently soaked them over night, then boiled them for nearly three hours and you know what? They weren’t cooked. SO, I let them soak again over night and boiled them for a few more hours and guess what? Still tough and undercooked. I gave up on them. Any bean you have to cook for six hours is no bean I want to eat. It was like cooking stones. Obviously, that dinner was one of my failures. We went out for pizza. One of the big winners was the one I described in a previous email, with the potatoes, chorizo and hot peppers. Also, down here, avocados are served with everything, which makes Peter very happy because he’s an avocado nut. When you buy them at the mercado, the ladies in the stalls pick them out for you. Absolutely, positively DO NOT touch and squeeze them yourself. The ladies get muy muy upset when you do that. I thought the one was going to slap my hand. Anyway, they have a knack for picking out just the right one and here, the soft avocados are not all black inside like in the states. I have no idea why.

Now, washing dishes is tricky because the water is scary. I boil a lot of water so I have hot water to clean with. There might be some way to extract it from the bathroom thingy, but I’m too terrified to touch it when it’s running to see if this button on the front of it makes the water run into the hose that’s attached to the showerhead. Anyway, so I boil the water and when it’s hot, I pour two-thirds of it into a big plastic bowl with soap in it. I wash all the dishes, rinse all the dishes with the tap water and then, because I’m terrified of the water, I add a capful of bleach to the boiled leftover water and rinse everything with that.

Seriously, this water freaks me out. If we ever moved down here, I’d have to ask you all to pool your money and buy us an under-the-counter water purifier as a going away gift, ‘cause, like, Man.

After everything is cleaned up, we may settle in and watch Farscape (I brought the digital files with me and we watch it on Peter’s computer) or we try to find some place that’s selling beer or wine or their other local favorite, hot wine. We have thus far failed at finding any sort of bar in Old Town. Peter is refusing to give up though. You can take the boy out of New Orleans….


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