My last few days in Quito
Trip Start Sep 28, 2006
99Trip End May 04, 2007
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On Tuesday, I finally visited the South American Explorer's Quito clubhouse. After having been in Quito for 5 weeks, I caved in and paid the year-long membership fee two days before leaving. So stupid, I know! I would have joined earlier, but I had heard mixed things and hadn't gotten the chance to check it out for myself. I just wanted to get some info on Peru and perhaps buy a guidebook for Bolivia. However, the staff of course wanted to get me to join and won me over after giving me a tour and all kinds of info about their organization. I will only be using their Cusco and Buenos Aires clubhouses, but I still think it will pay off in the end. I can receive mail at their locations, get all kinds of discounts on hotels, tour companies, food etc throughout the continent as well as on the guidebook I was planning on buying, free internet, and most importantly storage for my stuff while I do the Inca Trail (much safer than leaving my things in my hostel). I am sad I didn't join sooner--the Quito clubhouse is really really nice, and the people there were incredibly friendly. Membership costs 40 bucks for students--yes, I know, I am no longer a student, but STA travel didn't seem to care this past August when I showed them my Spring 2006 NYU continuing education ID card (from my Spanish course) in order to get my International student card. I have actually saved quite a bit of money so far from my ISIC card. It definitely is not as useful down here as in Europe, but still worth getting if you can. Between my Inca Trail discount, the guidebook discount, and the other discounts SAE offers I am sure I will make most of the money back in the end. SAE certainly has a wealth of useful travel info and is a great way to meet other travelers as well as to get your bearings when you first arrive. I am certainly planning on going straight to the Cusco office when I arrive on Friday morning, and will spend a couple days after the Inca trail chilling in the guidebook and trip report library to figure out my next move.
Tuesday also was Halloween of course, and although Ecuadorians do not actually celebrate it there are enough gringos floating around Quito that the Mariscal becomes one massive party (well, guess that's not so different from any other night). Every club was promoting some sort of Halloween event, there were several street fairs, and some people were even in costume. I definitely felt a little nostalgic, thinking back to my Halloween in NYC last year (I was a "sexy boxer," which basically involved big boxing gloves that I borrowed from my kickboxing teacher, stilettos, a short black silk slip with pink lace trim and matching boxer-like robe, and a long bright pink wig. There's a picture on my myspace page). I met up with Brandon and his Ecuadorian sister Diana at No Bar, and later on some more school friends showed up. It was quite amusing to see the bartenders in costume. One dressed as a gladiator made me the most disgustingly sweet mojito I have ever had, and I tried to get him to fix it but he kept insisting that mojitos were supposed to taste like that. Oh well. It did it's job, as did the cuba libres I bought thereafter, which became particularly apparent when some woman stomped on my big toe with her stiletto. It didn't hurt that much when it happened but then an hour later I looked down and saw blood everywhere and a huge chunk of skin missing. That's the beauty of alcohol I suppose. No pain! We all had a great night dancing for hours on end, and although it was not my last night in Quito, it served as a great send off.
My flight on Thursday was not until 8:30 pm and I was basically all packed and ready to go, so I was able to hang out and relax my last afternoon in Quito. First I dropped by Amazonas to participate in the weekly cultural activity and to say goodbye to my old professors. Thursday was a big holiday in Ecuador, Day of the Dead I think it is called. Traditionally, families visit a cemetery and leave food for the deceased, who they believe eat the food later on. The typical foods for this holiday include colada morada, a thick, hot, syrupy drink that is purple and made from corn, pinneaple, strawberries, blueberries, and other fruit, and sweet bread in the shape of a baby. After having been gone for almost two weeks, it felt strange to be back in the school. It was particularly awkward when Gustavo (the head of the school) asked me where I had been this week, as I was not supposed to be staying with my family after Monday, but I just said I was in Mindo which wasn't exactly a lie. I had hoped that my family wouldn't charge me for my three extra nights, since I was gone Sunday and Monday and so many days for which they had been paid. But I was not surprised when Maria approached me Wednesday night (since the family was going on vacation early Thursday morning) and asked me to pay her 12 dollars a night. A little expensive, but considering the convenience I didn't really care. I bought her flowers to thank her for welcoming me into her home, and we exchanged addresses. So overall, despite some ups and downs, things worked out with my family.
Brandon walked me home from school, and on the way asked me if I was excited and/or anxious about leaving Quito. The answer was of course yes, since the unplanned, backpacking part of my trip is finally beginning and I am freaked out beyond belief, but honestly for the past few days I have been feeling like I did right before I left Santa Cruz for Quito--incredibly numb, somewhat in denial, a bit scared, and a bit sad. I obviously knew that I was about to fly to Peru, do the Inca trail, and would soon be out and about on my own without an itinerary, but nothing felt real yet. As much as I was dying to leave Quito, it was nice staying in one place for awhile and making some good friends. I will miss that sense of comfort and familiarity.
My last few hours in Quito unfortunately were not as laid back as my afternoon. I had underestimated how much time I needed to do some last minute organizing and thus was running around the house like a maniac for 30 minutes trying to get all my stuff together and eat some food before my uncle Gustavo came by for the keys and shortly thereafter the cab to take me to the airport. Thankfully, I was ready just as both cars pulled up at 6 pm, said goodbye to Gustavo and his mother and hopped into the cab with plenty of time to make my flight to Lima. Just my luck, the cab kept stalling and we almost didn't make it to the aiport. Glad to know that calling a cab is more reliable (usually it is safer than catching one on the street)! Ha. I particularly loved how the cabbie tried to make me get out near the aiport entrance sign, which is a good 5-10 minute walk from the actual entrance and in a dicey part of town, because the car had stalled again. When I refused to leave he had to get out and push the car across the intersection. I felt bad, but at the same time I wasn't about to start wandering around in the dark with all of my belongings.
Getting to my gate also was a huge hassle. I waited forever to check in, not because there was a long line but rather because there were only two agents at their desks and a ton of other people who seemed to work there but preferred to chat with their co-workers rather than do their jobs. Not suprising. I tried to change my flight from Lima to Cusco (I have to spend the night in the Lima airport--fun!) from a 4-hour circuitous flight leaving at 7 am to a direct 1 hour one leaving at 6 am, but was sent to another line where I waited forever only to be told that I could only change it in Lima and that I had to wait once again in the original line. By the time I finally checked in and paid the 38-dollar airport departure tax, I had to run to security and to my gate in order to make boarding. At least the 2-hour flight to Lima was easy. I sat next to a young, nice Irish couple, Mick and Ali, who have been traveling for awhile and are also doing the Inca Trail on Monday, so we swapped travel stories for most of the time. As Cusco is a small town and all the trekking groups camp near to each other, I am sure I will run into them again.
As we took off the numbness started to wear away and it finally hit me that I was leaving Quito. I am psyched to have so much freedom, but am still having trouble grasping the concept that after the Inca trail I will have 5-6 months to do.....................................????