Now that I am almost out of Ecuador, I thought it would be a good time to write a bit. I`ve been busy, and whenever I have time to use the computer I usually try to write some fundraising letters rather than write in my blog. By the way, if you are reading this and are interested in donating to my bicycle ride across the US (called Bike and Build) in order to raise money for the affordable housing cause, you can go to www.bikeandbuild.org/donate
So the last time I wrote, I was heading up north. I ended up stopping and staying in Chiclayo, Peru with Mom`s friend`s husband`s cousin who has been living there off and on for 27 years. After an overnight bus ride, Henrik met me at the bus station and we went back to their home and had lunch with his wife, Patty. They are extremely nice people and it felt like home. Unfortunately I wasn`t feeling the best, so I took a 4 hour nap at their house and never saw much outside of their house.
The next day, I jumped on a bus to head to Ecuador. The border was about 6 hours from Chiclayo. I avoided going to the border crossing in Tumbes since I had heard and read horror stories about that border. I am definitely glad I did, since the border I went to had almost no one there, and it was the smoothest border crossing I have had. (Sometimes borders can be a pain). However, nothing great happens without a downer. A few hours later, we were driving on a dirt road and we had to stop because a truck carrying corn was stuck in the mud. Almost 3 hours later, they got the truck out. It was funny to see the police`s involvement (or lack of involvement) in the whole situation. They came for about 30 minutes, kind of watched what the people were trying to do, and they seemed to be there just for show. Then, long before the truck was out, they took off (I think they were bored). So around 2am I finally arrived at the destination of Loja, Ecuador. Got a taxi to the hostel and passed out.
A funny thing about Ecuador is that they use the US dollar as their official currency. This makes converting prices easy! It`s kind of strange to see the actual amount I am spending. Some things are surprising in a good way and other in bad ways. One thing that I don`t understand is that they also print off their own coins (and also use our coins). Not sure if they are allowed to only do a certain amount and how this affects inflation (since they have the US dollar value but are only accepted in Ecuador, it even says US dollar on the coin). Either way, nice to have a familiar currency!
Loja is a small city in the southern highlands of Ecuador. It`s a nice little city, but not a whole lot to do. I had a lot of things to do on the computer, so I think I was in an internet cafe for about 9 hours in the 24 hours I was there. Needless to say, I didn`t do much in Loja. I did eat Mexican food for the first time in a while and got my white Adidas shoes shined to a nice bright white (afterwards the worker tried to tell me that he meant $2 for each shoe, not $2 total…needless to say I only paid the schemer $2).
I then made my way to Cuenca, Ecuador`s third biggest city, also in the central highlands. Coming into the city, I saw something that I already loved about the city. On this main street, there were several street food vendors selling pork. But not just normally selling pork from a grill. It was literally like a big pig roast where you have the whole pig up cooking. So on this main street, I saw at least 8 big pigs all stretched out on a pole as they cut off pieces for the customers. Apparently they also do it with guinea pigs but I unfortunately didn`t see that.
I went to a recommended hostel in Cuenca called El Cafecito (the little coffee). Funny place. It`s a cafe and restaurant but also a hostel. Not only that, but the rooms to some of the dorm rooms go directly from the cafe. So when you leave your room to take a shower with your towel, soap, and shampoo, you might walked right past a couple having a nice date. I met some Europeans in the hostel and had a fun night out. The following day, I had a walk around the city. Very beautiful architecture in the city. Nice churches, nice little markets, and plenty of good and cheap food. I found a Couchsurfer to stay with, so I ended up staying with her the second night. We also went out that night as I tried to dance some salsa. As they say in Spanish, ¨Poco a poco¨, little by little.
The following day, I took an overnight bus to Quito, Ecuador`s main city (although the second largest to Guayaquil). It was honestly a pretty brutal trip to my hostel. The bus ride was pretty bad since people were getting on and off the entire night so it was difficult to sleep. We got to the bus terminal at 4:45am, so for safety reasons I wasn`t going to leave until it was light. So I sat in a freezing terminal for 2 hours. At 6:45, I walked to get the metro only to find I am 30 minutes from the center. In an absolutely cramped metro bus, I tried to hold onto my bags as people shoved their way on and off the bus. To top it off, I get off the bus and it`s raining. I was happy to get to the hostel and get a shower and some sleep.
After some rest, I took a walk around the historical center of the city, the old town. I am stunned with the beauty of this city. It`s in the central highlands with an altitude of about 6,000 feet, and it is surrounded by hills and mountains if you go out a bit further. Never would I have thought Quito, Ecuador could have architecture like this. It`s full of colonial churches, spacious plazas, tiny cobblestone streets climbing the hills, and a huge basilica set on a hill overlooking the old town. You would never think you are in Ecuador, really.
One thing I like to do is find a good local restaurant, usually called a menù or almuerzo, which is a set menu for lunch. They give you a soup and a main with a drink, and they only have one option. It`s extremely cheap and efficient. Eating alone there is no problem since you get your food and are done within 10 minutes usually. But what`s great about the local places is that usually it`s just locals, and the owners are happy to have you. Striking up a conversation with them is fun and they are always genuinely friendly and asking about you and where you come from. When I find a good one, I love going back the next day, and the next day. I find a good one in the old town of Quito and went back a few days in a row. I love that connection with the people. And when they ask me if they will see me tomorrow, it definitely pulls me back in!
One thing I did try at one of the local restaurants is their local chicha, which is different from the chicha in Peru. The chicha here is made from oats and cinnamon. The woman at the local restaurant made sure I knew what it was, even bringing out the oats to show me where it comes from.
The only problem with coming to Quito in this time is that it is the end of the rainy season, so it has rained each day that I have been here. The good side of that is that everything is very, very green. A nice change from the dry areas and deserts I was in for a few weeks in Chile and Peru.
The other night, I found a mall with a movie theater and felt like a relaxing night, so I ended up going to see the movie called All Good Things. This was the first time I had been to a theater in about a year, so was cool to go to. Not a bad movie, either.
Last night, I ended up going to a concert of 2 extremely popular bands here, who are Calle 13 and Manu Chao. Manu Chao is French but extremely popular in South America. He sings in French, English, and Spanish. The concert was in the soccer stadium in the center of Quito. A lot of people and a great atmosphere for a concert.
Before the concert, I went to the mall across the street and got some Subway for the second time in my time in South America. Funny that a footlong costs $6.50 here. It`s easy to see that only the rich people in the city are going to this mall and paying prices like these. As well, they had all the stores you`d see in US malls like Armani Exchange, Guess, and others.
I am about 60 miles from the ecuator right now (which I am heading to visit today), so you`d think it`d be extremely hot, right? Well, because of the altitude, it`s much colder here than in Chicago right now. Each day has been about 60 degrees and rainy. I always thought this area would be 80 degrees at least every day, but I think it only might get up to 80 in the dry season during the day. Funny how some things are as you never would`ve imagined.
Overall, I have loved my time in Ecuador. The people are friendly, the cities I have seen are extremely nice, and it has a huge variety of landscapes in a small area. You can drive about 10 or 15 hours and go from the beaches on the coast, to the highlands (volcanoes and mountains reaching 18,000 feet), and then over east to the Amazon jungle. Unfortunately I only have time to see the highlands, but I am extremely impressed with what I have seen. I never imagined Ecuador to be as nice as it is. Needless to say, add it to my list of places to return to. Unfortunately (and fortunately), this list is a never ending list along with places that I want to go that I haven`t been to yet. I am not sure if there is enough time in this life to do them all, but at least I will never be bored!