A new city, a new country, a new hemisphere.
It took about 16 (uncomfortable) hours to bus from southwestern Colombia into Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Border formalities were average, but processing was pretty miserable because of the 30+ minute queue outside, in the icy, mountain morning. The temperature was in the upper 30's with a breeze—my body shivered uncontrollably as I silently cursed the open-air Colombian immigration office.
Busing through northern Ecuador offered up some absolutely amazing views of the landscape. My gaze was locked to the bus window as the mountainous topography of the country unfolded before me.
I once thought that Guatemalans were the masters of farming on unimaginably steep terrain—Ecuadorians blow them out of the water. At one point my travels took me past a sweeping landscape that hosted a very tall, volcanic mountain. At its base, a lake, shimmering in the morning sun. A town climbed higher and higher up the base of the mountain, eventually turning the entire side of the great mass into farmland, at the most remarkable heights. I've never seen anything quite like it.
So many of the Ecuadorian towns that I bused past looked so cold and sad. Rural, dirt roads seem to be the standard. People are bundled up, living in dull, concrete gray towns. I hear that the income levels of people varies greatly.
I'm getting impressed with the quality of the capital cities of South America. Central American capitals are notoriously dangerous, dirty, and best avoided. So far, this has not been the case on this continent.
mmmm… I'm back to using the U.S. dollar again—love that familiarity. For some reason Ecuador, just like Panama, mints their own coins (in addition to using the U.S. variety). They seem to be big on using the large $0.50 piece, and the golden dollar (that I rarely saw back home). Enjoyably, I've managed to slyly pass off all the extra Panamanian coins that I had left over from July.
This hostel that I'm staying at, Centro del Mundo (Center of the World), is a little nuts. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the large, old residential house in the middle of "new town" boasts a free rum and coke night. A large metal pot, like the type you'd cook whole lobsters in, is placed in the center of the TV room, with two dozen backpackers surrounding it. Cups and a ladle for the massive quantity of booze is presented, and the drinking begins. The social aspects of the experience are neat to witness—nothing brings a hostel together in conversation like a small room and free alcohol.
Quito is a large, friendly, developed city. Busing into town I saw the homes of the population spilling up onto the surrounding hillsides. For some reason it reminded me of a bunch of Lego's, stuck into the earth. The population density is noticeable (the highest in South America).
There's a well developed gas/electric bus system here, referred to as the Trole (trolley). On some routes the buses switch to the electric cables suspended over the roadway (San Francisco has something like this, no?). It's always ridiculously crowded (think Japanese metro).
One of the kids at the hostel showed me his repaired messenger bag. While he was on the Trole last week, a trio of sharply dressed women in business suits used a knife to slice open his bag, as well as the back pocket of his pants. I have the habit of keeping my back against something while I'm on the bus, so I only have to protect my three most visible sides.
Police and army are everywhere here—I've counted at least eight different types so far (most memorable being the Special Operations and Tactics unit spotted on the street, dressed in full tactical gear with black masks covering their faces). I don't mind it, but wonder what happened in the past to prompt such saturation.
Corn, which I love to eat, seems to find its way into many types of food here. I took a walk away from the touristy part of town and into a slightly more dodgy environment. On display I found at least half a dozen different varieties—the kernels are huge, wild.
I hit up my first market since departing Panama. I was pleased. Month after month, country after country, Central American markets offered up the same junk. Finally, I have some new crafts to look at. Here in Ecuador, lama wool products seem to be very popular.
Aaron, my buddy back in Medellín, was sporting a pair of slippers that I badly wanted (bought here). They're knitted yarn, like the blankets my grandmother use to make, with a leather sole on the bottom—perfect for walking around in the hostel. I picked a pair of white ones up for US$4—I think you could sell these in the States for a nice profit (I imagine people them wearing them with jeans to morning classes at university).
I hear there's quite a bit to do in the area, but I do know of at least two things I'd like to see. There's a visitor center not to far away where you can straddle the equator—one foot in each hemisphere—as well as a big festival in a town to the north, an hour or two back towards Colombia. Can't wait.