Over a week in, and I finally got around to doing some touristy things. Mia—a Princeton friend—flew up from Guayaquil, where she’s been working this summer. If she had told me in September that we would next meet in Ecuador, I would have a hard time believing it, but there we were!
After a night that left me blissfully filled with knowledge of the latest marching band drama, we woke up this morning and headed to the Teleferiqo, a sweet trolly to the top of one of the mountains that looms over Quito. My utter inability to catch my breath or walk a quarter mile without stopping was a big reminder that this was the highest altitude I’ve ever ascended to, at least outside of a pressurized cabin. Like most places, Quito looks a bit better from a distance, but what was really fantastic was gazing out to snow-capped peaks and the sierra, criss crossed with rivers and farms and pueblos. While the spectacular view itself made the whole thing vale la pena, it didn’t particularly hurt that, on our cable car down, I sat next to one of the chief negotiators of the Yasuní-ITT protocol, and scored his e-mail address.
In the afternoon, we elected to go to La Mitad del Mundo—the Equator—despite full-well knowing that it was going to be cheesy. It turns out that, in Ecuador, the country’s namesake is not just celebrated with a monument, but an entire village with a planetarium, a daily faux-indigenous sun ceremony, karaoke, and, of course, an army of people selling curios. We snapped a few obligatory pictures (much like in that terrible Mandy Moore movie, one has to commemorate being in TWO PLACES AT THE SAME TIME) and went back. Once again, though, luck was on our side, as our bus was trapped for a half-hour by a sweet festival and parade, which—rather appropriately—included several marching bands.
Saturday night we met up with some of Mia’s friends who had traveled up from Guayaquil. It was nice to actually spend some time with locals outside of the context of badgering them about Yasuní—although apparently Guayaquil-ians speak a lot faster than Quito-ians (wow, those are both extremely awkward words), as I could hardly understand a word. Speaking of awkward, Mia and I went to a discotec later in the evening, which, despite exposing us quite hopelessly as gringos, was nonetheless a hoot—I hadn’t had a chance to bust out my salsa moves since the summer after Freshman year, when Flagstaff’s “Salsa on the Square” was the place to be on Wednesday nights.
Sunday found us in Quito’s Old Town, a fabulous expanse of narrow cobbled streets, open plazas filled with adorable old men and street performers, and about a church a block (those Spaniards really had religion). We took photos with the Presidential Palace Guards, went to the Central Bank Museum—with presented a rather tragic/comic portrayal of Ecuador’s road to dollarization—and, of course, watched the World Cup, basking in the Pan-Latino enthusiasm for Spain’s victory.
There are moments when I like to think that, by merit of the fact that I’m doing research, I am ‘different’ kind of extranjero here. At the same time, though, it’s nice to occasionally admit that things that are touristy are often that way because they are actually really fun and cool. I was definitely sad to see Mia go today, and it’s a bit of a jolt to be getting back to work.