Old Town Quito and Otavalo Part II

Trip Start Jul 19, 2006
Trip End Sep 19, 2006

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Sunday, July 30, 2006

We picked Azalea up from the airport on thursday night. Our bus from Latacunga got us there a little late, but Azalea was used to waiting in airports after her previous trip around China for a month before coming to volunteer in Cuenca, Ecuador. She graduated from Princeton in 2005 and after working a year in consulting is getting into a public health program to hopefully lead into med school. Brett knows her through a friend of a friend. When I asked her how I should describe her in this log she said "AWESOME".

We spent our first night at Nelly's house in Quito and Friday morning headed into the old town to tour some churches. I already described the churches in a previous Quito entry, so I'll save space here. I remembered a story Nancy had told me about the Plaza de San Francisco, where a particularly nice church is. I'm not sure if I got the whole story right and I think parts of it were lost in translation, but the general idea is that a priest had to build this church by some deadline but was not going to make it on time (why is there a deadline? who is enforcing this deadline?). The priest then made a deal with Satan to get the church built on time (what?). So Satan had all these demons building the church and, in exchange for its completion, the priest would lose his soul (ok, seriously, what is up with this story?). The priest somehow cheated the devil when the church was not completed by only one missing brick (I don't know why they didn't put the last brick in...I seriously think I have this story wrong). So that's why to this very day there is one brick missing from the church (ok, I don't believe this story...and I didn't even check to see where this missing brick was).

Anyway, we also went to the Basilica, the largest church here. It looks very European. I guess this is one product of the Spanish Conquests: traditional gothic buildings in a tropical mountain landscape. Also everyone speaks spanish.

Occasionally you will see a large blue heart painted on the streets in Ecuador. I wasn't sure what these were for but thought maybe someone was trying to decorate the city and make it look more pleasant and inviting. I had asked Nelly what the blue hearts meant before and she explained that they marked places where children had been killed by cars. That's not very pleasant or inviting. I don't know if it's only limited to children or if it represents where any person died in an accident, but either way it is a grim reminder to pedestrians that you certainly do not have the right of way here. I've seen at least 20 of those hearts so far, there was even one right in front of the Basilica.

If you ever need to buy a cheap suit, I would recommend going to the Plaza de Independencia in Quito. There was a store selling suits for $20. I would never buy a suit there, though. This is mainly because the store next door has a large sign saying its suits are only $19.99. Now that's a deal. Brett and I considered buying suits so we could go out on the town in style that night. We just couldn't rationalize the purchase in the end, though.

As it was getting dark, we decided to find a place to eat in our trusty Lonely Planet guide to Ecuador.

"La Cueva del Oso (The Bear's Cave) is the most elegant, and arguably best, restaurant in the old town, serving exquisitely prepared Ecuadorian specialties. The high, old-fashioned, pressed-tin ceilings and photos of old Quito add a touch of the past to your repast. $5-10"

Sounds good to me. We decided this would be our night out on the town. We called Nelly to let her know she shouldn't wait up for us.

La Cueva del Oso was everything LP said it was. This place was magnificently exquisite. It was such a contrast with the mess of carts lining the streets that sold fruits and sodas. Not only that, but it was empty. Completely empty. Latacunga empty. We walked to the unattended bar with its fancy, unattended bar stools. Nothing. We passed through the sleek lounge area and still could not find a single other human being. We finally ran into a waiter near the dining room. There were two people in this restaurant other than us, and the place was huge. There were at least 40 tables that we could see, and there appeared to be another room with more tables. We seated ourselves at a table in the corner and decided on some nice meals that were all under $10. We even ordered appetizers and wine. The service was superb. We decided this place had to either be the President's chill pad (based on the fact it's only a block away from the Presidential Palace) or a front for some drug operations.

After the best dinner of this trip, we found a cab driver and asked him to take us to a good bar. On our way there, we heard gun shots and the cab driver told us to lock our doors. The police were shooting at someone apparently. We were happy to be getting away from there. I asked the driver if the place he was taking us would be safe. "Yes, just don't go more than 2 blocks or it gets dangerous." We were going to the popular bar area in Mariscal Sucre. First came the hostels and bars, then came the tourists, then came an unbelievable amount of crime. Based on every source of information I could find, it is recommended to take a cab at all times at night, even if only going a block. That's pretty intense.

We went to a bar called Sutra that had a band playing very loudly. We had to pay a cover of $3 to get in (I would not have done this but for a misunderstanding when we went in...they just added this to our bill at the end where it showed up as "Admisión Extra Especial"). Apparently Extra Especial means you're right next to a band that is blasting in your ears. Talking was out of the question, but we enjoyed ourselves anyway as the band played a number of crowd pleasers including "La Bamba."

We finished the night at an Irish Pub where we had a few more drinks (I was very tempted to buy a Guinness, but it is far too expensive here...$6 compared to a $2 Pilsener). In general Pilsener can be found everywhere in Ecuador, and usually for only about a dollar for a large bottle. After sharing our deepest secrets over a few drinks, we took a cab back to Nelly's place.

The next day we took a bus to Otavalo in hopes of then grabbing a tour to the Cuyabeno area of the jungle (or Oriente, as they refer to the jungle in the east here). While exploring the market I ran into my friend Carlos again. I bought some shrunken heads from him and then told him about our plans to go to the jungle. He offered to take us into the jungle himself. He said he was from the jungle and would give tours through the jungle all the way into Brazil (this must be the 90 day tour he told me about when I first met him on the way to Mitad del Mundo). He said his tour would be cheaper than the tour we were considering($30/day vs. $40/day) and would be much more adventurous. I believed him. However, I decided we could settle for a little less adventure in a place that is already full of crocodiles, pirahnas, anacondas, and who knows what else.

We booked a trip with Ecomontes for a 4-day tour ($160) into the northern area of the rainforest. We were originally hoping to be farther south in order to avoid the Colombian border, but this was the only tour they offered. The two americans I met in Mitad del Mundo had done a tour in Cuyabeno before and had no problems (although they flew into Lago Agrio and took a bus from there, whereas we'd be taking buses the entire way). We had to book the tour quickly and then hop on a bus back to Quito in order to make it back in time to catch the 9:30pm bus direct to the Puente de Cuyabeno (this is where our tour guide would meet us upon arrival the next morning around 8am). Before leaving the office, I asked the tour operator if it was safe to be in that region of Ecuador near Colombia. I knew what answer she would give me because she was selling me a tour, but I just wanted to hear her say it was safe. I tend to ask people here questions even though I know their answer already.

"Yes, it is very safe. We have never had any problems with it."

Quantifiable Summary
Cabs around Quito: Usually about $2-5
Dinner at Cueva del Oso: About $15 total, an expensive meal for Ecuador
Bus fromQuito to Otavalo and back: $2, 2 hours each way
Ecomontes tour to Cuyabeno Rainforest: $160
Bus from Quito to Puente de Cuyabeno: $10, 10 hours
Still alive.
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