Before the day trip, on Thursday, we went to a little neighborhood called Guápulo for drinks. Peter’s teacher told him about it. It’s way up the side of the mountain, near a cathedral. We had an address but the cab driver couldn’t find it. He almost killed a motorcyclist when he took a one-way road the wrong way. That was scary. Anyway, the cab driver gave up (there’s only so much a cab driver will do for six bucks) and dropped us off in front of the cathedral. We had to figure it out from there. We wandered around for a while and it was pretty desolate and I was thinking, “Oh, this can’t be safe.” We asked one person for directions and they said the place we were looking for was behind the cathedral, but the only thing behind the cathedral was this dreadful looking flight of steps. So Peter said, with some authority, “We have to climb these.” (Honestly, I think he knew that if he hadn’t said it with authority, I wouldn’t have done it.)
Now, imagine your worst nightmare of steps, through what looked like a mini-forest/garden, zigzagging straight up. Now, add to that nightmare a very thin atmosphere due to altitude.
It was worse than that.
We started out OK, but about half way up, I considered hurling up my lungs. Even Peter was huffing and puffing. Unfortunately for me, turning around and going back down was a lot worse of an idea than continuing to go up, thanks to my rickety knees. It was a 20-minute climb, straight up. We got there and lo and behold, the street we were looking for was there. How he knew it would be there I have no idea. I dragged ass up a bit more of a hill and we found the place we were looking for. It sure seemed special after that climb, I’ll tell you that much. The area was a little bohemian. Apparently, folks just go there for the view and the drinks. Buses stop running up there at about 6 pm so you have to want to be there. The folks who live in Guápulo don’t go to these bars; only tourists and locals out on a date. The two bars we went to were nice, the music wasn’t the crappy music we’d been hearing (they even played Sting’s “Roxanne” and the whole bar was singing it in poorly pronounced English. “Roxzain….”) and the outside seating in both places overlooked Quito from wayyyyy up. We couldn’t see too much of it though because it was foggy, but enough to know we were high up. Oh, and the air smelled great. Down in the old town, most of the air is thickened with soot from busses and cars. (Zero emissions standards.) Up there, it was fresh and sweet, albeit a bit thin. To get home, we had to call a cab. Some of the more inebriated locals helped us out. While we were waiting, Peter was talking to them in Spanish. At one point, he told them he was here to study Spanish, to which they replied “But your Spanish is so good!” I now understand how all those foreigners in New York feel when they say their English is bad and I’m like “Really? It sounds fine to me” and they just shake their heads.
Oh, and at one of the bars, I saw a UFO! OK, maybe it wasn’t really a UFO, but it was damned weird. I was sipping my hot wine, looking out over the valley and there was another mountain top waaaaayyy over there and I saw some flashing lights. I at first thought it was an airplane, but the lights were flashing here, then there and then over there, all close together, but not a straight line like a plane would make, and then, poof, gone. It was very strange. Since I like the idea it was a UFO, it was a UFO.
And that was the night Peter got sick. We’ve been to Mexico together twice and I lost my guts three times (twice on the last trip) and he was fine even though we ate most of the same stuff, and here he was doing fine, but I guess he shouldn’t have eaten the fruit at the bottom of his hot wine. Poor thing. He comes out of the bathroom and, very seriously and very clearly says, “I’ve been poisoned.” He said it like he was a king and one of his sons wanted his throne. Then he went back into the bathroom. See, I’m used to having my digestive system flip into reverse or hyperdrive, but he’s not and it kind of threw him, yet he was only out for the day, Friday. I made him a big pot of chicken soup (the lady at the mercado tried to sell me one of those crazy half cleaned birds with the feet and the cracked egg on the inside… ewwww) and he was more or less fine for our day trip the next day, thought he did feign weakness for the better part of the day so I had to carry our bag of stuff.
We took a day trip to Otavalo, which is a little more than 90 minutes north of Quito, just above the equator. Every Saturday, there is a huuuuuuuuuge indigenous market. It was pretty cheap to get there and back, around $16 total for the both of us and a huge chunk of that was just getting to the bus station in the morning, which cost us about $8. Turns out, we could’ve taken a trollibus for 25 cents, but we didn’t know that. We figured that out when we got back though.
But think about it; it’s nearly the same distance as the Catskills are from Manhattan and we all know how much that would cost to do without a car. The bus to Otavalo cost two bucks each, one way. Their trollibus, which is used like the subway, is only 25 cents per ride. And the distance from the station to old town, which is where we are, is looooong. It’s like a 25-30 minute ride. Hell, the trip to Otavalo costs nearly less than a round trip on the subway to Grand Central! You seriously don’t need a car here if you live here.
The entrance to the bus station was under repair and our taxi couldn’t get into it (that kind of weirdness happens a lot here) so he just dropped us off nearby where all the locals were flagging down the collectivos. We thought the bus to Otavalo was a collectivo, so we stood there like a couple of gringo idiots, waiting for a bus that said “Otavalo” and waving our arms like crazy people when we saw one. After two busses to Otavalo blew past us, we sort of figured out there wasn’t a collectivo and had to march up the hill to the station to buy tickets. The trip to Otovalo was the typical white-knuckle ride on a winding road that hugged the edge of a cliff. Though, we did get a glimpse of a snow-capped mountain. Once in Otavalo, it was a five-minute walk to the market.
The market was overwhelming. The trick to the market, to any market really, is to walk around until you have shopping fatigue and everything looks the same. THEN you start to shop. At that point, you’ve seen everything so the different stuff really jumps out at you. Most everything is sold by the indigenous and about a third of that is hand-made by them. Unfortunately, the stuff I really liked that they made was too small for me. Like, they had these adorable winter caps, bright colors, really lovely, but every single one of them was too small for my head. The indigenous are a Lilliputian people. I would say the average height of the men is about 5’5” and the women are hard pressed to be much over 5’2”. Most of them hover around 5’. But they all have lovely long, pitch-black hair that they braid or otherwise tie up with extremely colorful woven ribbons. They are a beautiful people. Really. I get so tired of the western media’s version of beauty; the full lips, the big eyes, the more or less infantilized face, it’s just god-awful to me. These people are absolutely lovely; strong lines, unabashed smiles, and the most beautiful caramel-colored skin you ever saw.
As far as our purchases, we both got wool ponchos and I got a purple purse. I look ridiculous in my poncho. Damn thing makes my head look teeny-weeny but I don’t care. I’m going to rock that thing in Clayton, Missouri while I walk my dog. The poncho, of course, looks better on Peter.
He also got a really cool hat. The indigenous here all wear hats, the men and the women. Most of the hats look very expensive and a lot of them have feathers on the side. Peter’s hat wasn’t that expensive is lacking feathers, but it’s basically the same shape. Of course, it looks great on him.
We also bought a wall hanging as our own souvenir. The two old people who sold it to us said they made it (yeah right) and that it took them about 12 hours (for sure).
Peter, the most discerning man on the planet with a bullshit meter more sensitive than anybody I’ve ever met, fell for it, hook, line and sinker. Whatever, it’s pretty cool, has bright colors and will brighten up a very dark corner of our hallway outside of the bathroom.
We almost stayed the night, but decided against it. The only thing really worth staying for was to watch a cock-fight, which I had no interest in seeing and I think Peter was only interested because some famous anthropologist/sociologist named Clifford Gertz wrote a whole book or something on cock-fighting in Indonesia.
We got home at about 8 pm and went to a bar called La Vista Hermana for a few drinks. It’s the top floor of one of the taller buildings and has a spectacular view of Quito and its gazillions of church steeples. Quito has way more churches than Brooklyn. We were both exhausted and the next day, after walking around for a few hours, I came down with a fever that was, oddly enough, not due to food poisoning. Everybody on the bus to Otavalo had a cough or the sniffles or something. I suspect I got a 24-hour bug from one of them. It wasn’t too bad, I cracked 100°F for only a few hours. Now, I’m just tired. No big whoop. Peter took good care of me and we watched “The Matrix” with Spanish subtitles. I now know how to say “son of a bitch” in Spanish!
In case you’re wondering how we’re figuring all this stuff out, we’ve been using the Lonely Planet series of travel books. We’ve done Fodors and Frommers and the lonely planet is probably the best. It’s for folks like us who don’t have a lot of cash. Even though the other two suggest bargain spots, they’re more for people with a decent credit limit and some real money. The funniest thing about Lonely Planet is if you go to whatever the book recommends, you’ll see a bunch of other ‘Lonely Planet’ people, most of them American, but some are German, French and whatever. We’re all there with our big travel book, trying to figure out how to order whatever the book recommends. It’s really dorky.
Lonely planet has only steered us wrong a few times. And then, it’s sort of obvious why. Like when we went to Toronto, they recommended this B&B that turned out to be way out in the suburbs and in some guy’s house. The only thing we could think of is something must’ve “happened” between the owner of the house and the writer of that recommendation. It worked out for us, but we watched one couple pull up and just sort of stand there, scratching their heads, and then they drove off.
Oh, and one more thing: it finally rained here in Quito! It didn’t last long. The day started out with a bright blue and sunny sky and then it clouded up by about 3 pm. It rained for about an hour in the afternoon and then it was done. It washed a lot of the pee off the sidewalks and that’s a good thing.