After Guayaquil, I spent four days in Quito. Quito is a high altitude city, the second highest capital after La Paz. I found it interesting that Ecuador would choose to have its capital in the mountains when it has a coastline – logistically, it means that overland travel is cumbersome and takes longer. It is also a work out to get around the city centre on foot as there is a lot of uphill walking. But I really liked Quito and stayed longer than what I had planned. Like many people, my main reason for going through Ecuador was to get to Colombia, as crossing from Ecuador is much easier than crossing from Peru.
I had originally planned to leave out Ecuador as it has a reputation as being one of the more dangerous countries in South America. I hung out with an American guy, Brody, who’d had a lot of trouble in Quito. The night before I met him, he’d been drugged in a bar and had no memory of what had happened. He’d also been mugged at knife point on a separate occasion. Both incidents had occured close to our hostel, which was in one of the safer parts of Quito.
But he was someone who had trouble making sensible choices – once I had to talk him out of withdrawing money from a street ATM, even though that was exactly how he had been mugged in the first place. Aside from having to take extra precautions with taking out money, I didn’t feel that Ecuador was particularly unsafe.
The only time that I felt like I had to be more cautious was on my second day in Quito, which fell on a Sunday. Sunday is a strange day to be in Quito. Like most other cities in South America, many businesses close and there is not much to do. But Quito is different in that Sunday is the day that most police have the day off and there is a ban on the sale of alcohol.
I had expected to spend the day at the hostel, not doing much, but Brody invited me to a party his friend was having. He was sort of vague about the details but told me we would go soon.
I was reading a book in the common room when an African guy came up to me and asked if I knew where Brody was. Because I knew everyone at the hostel, I was sure he wasn’t staying there. I wondered how he got in because there was a door system where you had to buzz reception.
Brody had complained to me about black drug addicts who had hassled him in the street and at the time, I had thought he was exaggerating. But I now wondered whether one of the junkies had snuck into the hostel. Then I thought perhaps he was the drug dealer that Brody knew.
After an awkward moment had passed, I asked him if he was a friend of Brody’s. He was. After listening to Brody complain about black people, I didn’t think he was the sort to have black friends but even so, I was embarassed that I had made a racist assumption. Luckily, the guy didn’t seem to pick up on my confusion.
The three of us walked to a cornerstore that was still selling alcohol, then caught a taxi to the party. It was at a really nice hotel in the centre of town. First there was a barbeque on the rooftop, which had great views of the city, then we went to the bottom level where there was a pool and a sauna. The guy who threw the party was an American who was working in Quito and most of his friends were also expats who were working or studying in the city.
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. It was obvious that the day would be taken quite seriously by Ecuadorians as the restaurants had hung up decorations days in advance and in general, South American men are very romantic. Throughout the day, I noticed a lot of men and women holding flowers and gift bags. I even saw one middle aged man carrying an extravagant heart shaped balloon, which was made up of smaller heart shaped balloons.
The start of my day was fairly boring; I went to the bus terminal to buy my ticket to Tulcan for the next day. As taxis are quite expensive in Ecuador, I got public transport. The girl at the hostel told me to take two buses but I ended up having to take three and it took over two hours one way. Each time I had to change buses, I got really confused and had to ask locals for help. Fortunately, most South Americans I have met have been incredibly hospitable and despite the language barrier, eager to go out of their way to help.
Later that night, I went to trivia night with Brody and his friends. Brody was acting very strange towards me, stranger than usual. He wasn´t very good at being subtle. When we first met, he only spoke to me, even though we were sitting in a group with other people. It sort of felt like we were on a date, because he’d abruptly asked me a series of questions as though he was trying to work out if I was someone he would date long term.
As it was my last night in Quito, I guess he figured he didn’t have much to lose. In a strange way, I was attracted to him even though he was sort of a hipster. When we went back to the hostel, everyone had gone to bed and we had the common room to ourselves. We kissed for a while, but he was really terrible at it and would not stop talking. He told me that he didn’t want to have sex, that he just wanted to cuddle, and that was fine by me as I had no desire to sleep with him.
Today I got the bus into Tulcan and crossed the border into Colombia. I’d read that border control was very slow but there was no one else waiting so my passport was stamped straight away. Then I got a taxi to Ipiales, an ugly town near the border, where I am staying the night before moving on.