Ecuador Trip:  Quito

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Intro
Having studied Spanish in Mexico and then in Austin, Texas (at Berlitz) I was trying to decide on my next step. I was all set to book a trip alone to the Yucatan when my friend David told me he was going to Ecuador for five weeks to climb volcanoes and work on his Spanish. So I scrapped my plan for Mexico and decided to join David.

Quito Booking my flights was a bit of an adventure because the really cheap flight involved a stop in Bogotá, Colombia. Rationally I figured that it was probably safe despite the fact that the FARC had recently expanded its activities to the capital city. Equally rationally I figured that the actual physical safety level was less important than perceptions of the safety level -- specifically my mom's perceptions. So, with that decided, I chose the slightly more expensive flight that went through Guayaquil, Ecuador.

I met up with David at our temporary home, the L'Auberge hostel. It was owned by French people and run by a team of quite responsible and friendly Ecuadorians. At $5 a night it was a serious bargain. Breakfast was cheap; dinner was pretty good; laundry was left and returned at the front desk; and there was even a pool table! Only two downsides. Downside #1: my room was a classic third-world death trap, on the fourth floor of an amusingly ramshackle structure atop a series of very rickety flights of stairs. The closest thing to an emergency exit was my window onto that four-story drop straight to asphalt. But I accepted that risk and even adjusted to the serious traffic noise. Downside #2: the globalista freak-shows that were our fellow guests. Endlessly rambling on about helping the Ecuadorian people by attempting to shut down all economic development in the country. Happily cheering on Ecuador's failed statism. Oh well, we managed to put up with that as well.

Quito is divided into an old city and a newer sector. The old city has some of the better known tourist sites (i.e., the cathedrals), but it is quite unsafe for tourists. The newer sector is where the tourists congregate in cheap hostels, restaurants, dance schools and language schools. David had located a very good Spanish teacher named Irina. She was working at one of the language schools during the day but tutoring for the Israeli embassy at night. So in addition to providing excellent tutelage, she gave us some interesting on gossip on the embassy including tidbits about how the new ambassador had confronted the local Israeli and Jewish communities with the fact that he was not Jewish, but Druze. Irina also took us out salsa dancing one Friday night at her favorite Cuban place.

Otavalo Having gotten settled in Quito we started to explore outside the city. Our first trip took us out to the Otavalo market, which is a great place to buy craft goods. The Otavalan community is a prime mover in the international Andean guys with pan pipes industry. When you walk through the Fourth Street Promenade in Santa Monica, or down Sixth Avenue in New York, or ... wherever else!, and see those guys playing that echo-y music and selling Andean crafts and CDs, there's a very good chance they're from Otavalo. Ever thought to yourself that all of those Andean handicrafts look like they come from the same factory somewhere? The Otavalans probably make those goods. Anyhow, the quality is high, the price is right, what's not to love? We bought blankets, panama hats, rugs, and other goodies.

La Mitad del Mundo Our second trip began with a stop at La Mitad del Mundo -- the equator! First things first we grabbed the obligatory equator-straddling photographs:
I Walk The Line

And then we did the smart-ass version:
Smart... Ass 

Next we wanted to do make some empirical observations of the coriolis effect, which causes the vortex in toilet flushes to spin in different directions on different sides of the equator. Would it still work within mere feet of the equator? So we dropped by the twin public toilets sitting right across from each other along the equator. Here's the view of clockwise swirling in the south:
Flush 3 -- Check Out That Motion, Baby!

And anti-clockwise in the north! On the Internet there are some coriolis effect-deniers (OK, they're everywhere: like here and here), but our experiment worked perfectly. I'm a coriolis effect-believer!
North Flush 2

Pululahua From the equator we caught the bus, headed down the road a bit, and then walked up to Pululahua. This long-extinct volcano has a massive crater that is now filled with small farms and lots of interesting greenery. These two pictures give you a sense for what it's like to look down from the rim:
Pululahua Overlook

Pululahua Overlook

And a bit of moi:
Pululahua & Matt

Then we hiked a steep trail down into the crater, past some local mountain bikers, past small fields of corn, down this road:
Pululahua Road

It's really amazing to descend into this crater because the surrounding terrain is extremely dry. From desert terrain you drop instantaneously into lush greenery. (And then you stop and take a picture of David):
Pululahua & David

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