Well, I have safely arrived in Quito and made it through my first week! However, I can’t believe it has only been a week; I feel like I’ve been here for a month, so much has happened!
Here is a summary about each of my first few days. I will also post a photo gallery!
Thursday, July 5th
I arrived in Quito at about 10:30 pm and went through Immigration and Customs without a problem. A friendly man sent by my program named Arturo picked me up and drove me the 45 minutes from the airport to my hostel for the night. I arrived a day earlier than the other volunteers (because flights were over a $100 cheaper to do that!). It was called Hostal Arupo, which is the name of a traditional tree found in Ecuador.
Friday, July 6th
When I woke up Friday, I ate a delicious breakfast in the hostel and then remembered I had no idea what I was supposed to do or where I was supposed to go, since I had arrived a day early and was alone. Fortunately I was able to get in touch with my program coordinator here in Quito name Diana. She told me that someone would pick me up at 3:00 and then I would ride to the airport to pick up another volunteer, and then we would both be taken to the volunteer house in the far north of the city. I had to check out of the hostel at 12:00, but they stored my luggage so I had three hours to explore Quito on my own.
My hostel was in the Mariscal district of Quito, which is about a mile and a half from the historic center of Quito. I had no idea where I was going, but I had read on Trip Advisor about a place called “The English Bookshop” where a friendly expat named Mark sold excellent used books and gave excellent advice. After some wandering, I found the bookshop. I met Mark, who was very friendly. He explained that he was originally from near London but has lived in Ecuador for the past 31 years. The book shop was cozy and had a brilliant selection, and I will definitely be going back. Before I left, I asked Mark if he knew a good local restaurant for lunch, and not only did he give me a great recommendation, but he walked me down the block to the restaurant and introduced me to the owner!
There I had my first Ecuadorian lunch. It was both delicious, and a bit mysterious. In my soup there were huge chunks of chicken, including what I correctly identified as whole chicken feet. I had no idea how to eat it!
After lunch, I went back to the hostel, where the driver, a friendly man named Franklin picked me up. We talked in Spanish the whole drive to the airport, and I was surprised how much I remembered and how quickly it was coming back to me after not having used it for 4 years. (It also helped that Franklin spoke very slowly and clearly for my sake.)
At the airport, we picked up the other volunteer, named Jonah. Then Franklin drove us to the volunteer house in the north of Quito and showed us our rooms. Then he kindly walked us down the road to find something to eat for dinner. We went to an Ecuadorian pizza chain called Pizza Hornero, and Jonah and I got a cheese pizza to share back at the house. Then Franklin left for the airport to pick up two more volunteers. He left the keys with us and told me and Jonah that we would need to let him and the other two in when they got back around midnight.
Saturday, July 7th
On Saturday the four of us woke up at the volunteer house at 8:00. Our program coordinator Diana would be picking us up at 8:30 for breakfast and then a tour of historic Quito.
Diana works for a company called EcuaExplorer, which is the in-country program that partners with various coordinating organizations from around the world. My organization was Performing Arts Abroad and I would be working in Quito, but the other three volunteers were doing different things.
Jonah would be going to Riobamba for medical work, Sarah would be going to the coast to work with sea turtles, and Lauren would be going to the Galápagos Islands for conservation work. But for the weekend, we were basically a family.
Diana arrived at 8:00 to make breakfast for us. We had some delicious fruit, toast, and an egg casserole. Next, she drove the four of us to the historic center of Quito, where she took us on a tour. It turns out that she is also an officially licensed Historic Quito Tour Guide! We saw learned about the history of Quito, tasted delicious food, and visited stunning buildings and churches.
After that, we went to the Museo del Intiñan, which is the “mitad del mundo,”or middle of the world! It is the local museum that is actually in the right place, unlike the big tourist monument a few hundred meters away. Diana left us because it was only a short walk to the volunteer house. Our guide Niko was fabulous and told us about the indigenouse populations and how they discovered that Ecuador was in the middle of the world thousands of years before technology using the sun and stars. He also showed us some cool science experiments that changed based on whether they were performed on the equator line or not on it. And, we all took a picture in the exact middle of the world!
After that, we went first to the grocery store, then returned to the volunteer house. Then we decided to go into Quito for the evening, since it would be the only opportunity for the other three to explore Quito at night, as they would be in other places.
We took an Uber into the city to the Mariscal District, which has many bars and restaurants. We ate at a beach-themed restaurant called Azuca, where in the section we sat the entire floor was sand! I had a delicious shrimp ceviche, which is a cold seafood dish that is typical in the coast of Ecuador. After dinner we went to a discoteca to do some salsa dancing (or at least attempted to). Everyone else in the discoteca was Ecuadorian and they did some impressive salsa dancing. We couldn’t keep up, but it was fun(ny) to try. We got some strange looks, so I think we at least provided some entertainment for the locals. It was a fun day and night getting to know Quito!
Sunday, July 8th
Today we woke up early because a bus would be picking us up at 6:30 am to go to the Quilotoa Lagoon and Crater. First, the bus picked us up, driven by a friendly man named Gonzalo, and then it picked up Diana and four other volunteers who had arrived the week before. I was excited to meet them, because all four of them were also at Sinamune.
We picked up the others, named Zach, Cosette, and Megan. (Unfortunately the fourth, Paige, was sick.) Zach is from the US and is about to start his senior year of high school; he came to work with Sinamune because he wanted to do something that he had never done before. Cosette and Meghan are both music majors in Wisconsin. Cosette is double majoring in Flute Performance and French, while Meghan is double majoring in Violin Performance and Religious Studies. They both just finished their fourth year and have one more year remaining because of their double majors. (I found some kindred spirits!) Paige is from the Bahamas but goes to school in Texas where she studies dance.
The bus ride to Quilotoa is about three hours, but we stopped a couple times on the way there. First, we stopped at a local indigenous market, where Diana introduced us to many of the typical fruits of Ecuador and bought some for us to try. I never knew there were so many delicious fruits that I didn’t even know existed! I’ll have to do a whole other blog post about the fruits because they were so interesting to see and to taste.
Next, we stopped at the Cañón del Toachi. Diana called it “The Grand Canyon of Ecuador.” It was beautiful, and there were many precarious ledges to balance on and take pictures.
Finally, after a bit more driving we arrived at Quilotoa. The lagoon was formed by the collapse of the nearby Quiltotoa Volcano. It is at almost 13,000 feet. The way it works is that you arrive at the top and then descend down into the crater and then back up. It is only 1.7 km down and then back up, but it is so steep that it seems much farther! It was a difficult hike, but a lot of fun. There is also the choice to take a horse back up for $10, but I preferred to walk. Honestly, I almost think that the way down was more difficult because of trying to balance and not slip and fall! The way up was more strenuous but less precarious. I also took a picture with the most adorable alpaca wearing glasses! He looked so intelligent!
After finishing, we all went to a nearby restaurant for lunch. I am learning that the traditional Ecuadorian lunch is a glass of fresh-squeezed juice, a soup of some kind, and then a main plate with a meat, and rice and beans or something similar. The lunch was delicious. After lunch we got back on the bus and drove the 3 hours to Quito. First the bus dropped off Diana and the other volunteers and then it continued another 30 minutes north to drop us off at the volunteer house.
By this time, we were all hungry for dinner. So the four of us (Jonah, Sarah, Lauren, and I) went wandering around down the street. We happened upon a pizza place called Pizzeria Pancho that smelled and looked delicious, so we went in. The server welcomed us eagerly and sat us down. He was very patient with our slow Spanish. We ordered cups of the fresh-squeezed juice of the day and a large cheese pizza to share. It was so yummy and rivaled most pizzas I’ve had in the US! When we finished our meal, something unexpected happened. Our server came to our table and asked if he could please take a picture of us because his boss wanted him to. We were confused and asked why. He told us that we were the very first gringos to eat at their restaurant, and they wanted to take a picture of us to put on the wall! (The volunteer house, despite its proximity to the Middle of the World Monument, is located in a very local area of Quito.) We thought it was so funny! The others told me I have to go back to see if they actually put the picture on the wall. I will definitely go back because the pizza was so good and the server so friendly.
So far, I am loving Quito, but I am sad that the first friends I made are leaving for elsewhere in the country tomorrow morning. We were all talking to each other about how crazy it is that you can get to know people so well in just two days, but that is the magic of traveling with strangers. They all leave early tomorrow morning and then Diana will pick me up at 8:00 to take me to Sinamune for my first day! I can’t wait! Hasta mañana!
Thanks to all for their prayers and thoughts! And thank you for reading. I am working on finishing writing about this past week at Sinamune; I will post it soon! There is just so much to share and I don’t want to leave anything out. This week has been much busier than expected and I have been going to bed very early because I have to wake up early. Also, I am adjusting to the altitude. In reality it hasn’t bothered me at all (other than the tiredness which could just be from traveling), but Diana told us that we could blame all our problems on the altitude haha!