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Posts Tagged ‘Quito’

The weather.  Quito is in the 50s-70s year-round, which I think is just about perfect.  Not too hot.  Not too cold (I don’t own anything warmer than a spring jacket).  And if I want more summery weather, the coast, with its 80- to 90-degree heat and humid ocean air, is only 5 hours away.

Locro de papas

Locro de papas

Soup.  Lunch always starts with a bowl of soup.  There are hundreds of different soups here.  I start to go through withdrawal if I don’t eat soup for a few days.  Guess I’ll be cooking lots of soup in the U.S.

Almuerzos.  As I said, lunch starts with soup.  Then comes a main entrée of protein, rice, and probably some sort of salad.  Then a small desert.  And fresh juice.  And probably coffee if you want it.  All of this costs $2 or $3.  These hearty home-style meals are such a great value.  If I find a $3 lunch in the U.S., it’s probably going to come in a greasy fast food bag.

Cheap taxis.  Most of my taxi rides in Quito cost a couple bucks.  Inconceivable in the U.S.

Seeing the Andes every day.  Sure it will be nice to live somewhere with a little more oxygen, but I won’t see views like this every time I leave my house.  I love the mountains.  They make my heart fill with awe at how grand this world of ours is.

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Buen provecho.  It’s common in smaller restaurants to tell other patrons to enjoy their  meal, even if they don’t know one another.  I love that strangers wish each other “buen provecho.”

Tropical fruits.  I’ve discovered so many new fruits here.  Uvillas.  Pitahaya.  Granadilla.  Tomate de arbol.  Taxo.  Naranjilla.  And other slightly less exotic fruits, like mango and passion fruit and pineapple, are common, fresh, and affordable.  So delicious.

Latin music.  It’s everywhere: in stores, on buses, blasting out of cars and apartments.  My day is filled with a soundtrack of salsa, bachata, merengue, cumbia, vallenatos, pasillos, Latin pop, and reggaeton.  I know I can listen to this in the Twin Cities, but it won’t be so prevalent.

Greeting strangers.  One of my earliest impressions during my first week in Ecuador happened when I was staying at the Embassy’s temporary apartment while looking for my own housing.  I was leaving the complex and a little boy ran by me on the sidewalk.  He was maybe 6 or 7, and obviously in a hurry.  But he still said “Good afternoon” when he passed me.  I thought that was exceptionally polite, especially for a little kid.  But I have since learned that people greet each other more than I am used to, especially in more rural areas.  But even in the big city, if you enter an elevator with someone already in it, you’d better say hello (and “see you later” when exiting).  Getting in a taxi?  The first words out of your mouth better be “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” or “Good evening,” even before asking the fare or stating an address.  Got a quick question for a sales clerk?  Same thing.  I really had to work hard to remember this, and STILL forget sometimes.  But as someone who tends to focus on tasks rather than on relationships, this custom has been really good for me.

IMG_3417No seasonal eating.  Seasonal eating seems to have really become a thing in the U.S.  And I think it’s a good idea – eating food that is in season means it tastes better, is fresher, and was probably grown locally or shipped shorter distances.  But I realized that this concept doesn’t exist in Ecuador, because everything is always in season here.  If I want strawberries in November, I can get them.  If I want a tomato in January, I can find a juicy ripe red one.  Do Minnesotans even eat produce in February???  Guh.

Easy travel.  It’s pretty cheap and easy to travel around this compact (and DIVERSE!) country.  I’ve gotten to visit a lot of great places here: Tena and Yasuni in the Amazon region; Quilotoa, Vilcabamba, Baños, Cuenca, and Bolivar province in the Andes, and the Galapagos islands.  There are so many beautiful, fun, and interesting places I will miss having in my backyard.

Physical contact.  Greetings in Ecuador are a small kiss on the right cheek (or a brief cheek-to-cheek touch), often accompanied by a small hug or touch on the back.  When I go back to the U.S. and shake hands to greet people, or, more likely, just smile and nod after an introduction, it feels incredibly cold to me.  Now I understand what my Latino students complained about when they came to the U.S. – it’s cold.  I’m really going to miss these warm greetings.  I don’t know what I’m going to do, since I have such an overwhelming urge to kiss everyone hello or goodbye now.

Terms of endearment.  Sure we have these in the U.S. (hon, sweetie), but they’re just soooooooo gosh darn prevalent in Ecuador, particularly on the coast.  I love that sales clerks and taxi drivers call me mi niña (my child), mi hija (my daughter), señorita (miss), mi princesa  (my princess), mi preciosa (my precious), mi reina (my queen) or mi vida (my life).  I once got this text message from an admirer: “Hola mi reina como q chevere q viene esta semana mi vida y q tiempo se queda ha mi princesa asi q podemos salir cuando llegue si y como esta q hace mi princesa soy alexander mi amor este es mi otro numero mi vida y disculpe xq recien le escribo si corazon bello un beso mi vida.”  That’s a lot of affection squeezed into a few lines of text.

The salsa scene.  In December 2010, when I was still in Turkey and preparing to move to Ecuador, I made a list of resolutions for myself.  One of the goals I wrote in my journal was “I definitely want to find a place in the salsa community!!  My goal is to have friends to go out dancing with, help me practice, and improve as a salsa dancer.”  And I can proudly and affectionately say that I accomplished this.  I really have.  I can go to any salsa club in Quito and be confident that I will know at least one person there.  I know a lot of salseros.  Most of my friends are salseros (whom I will miss dearly).  I’M a salsero.   And while I know that there are lots of opportunities for salsa dancing in the Twin Cities, and I look forward to getting involved in THAT community as well, I also doubt that it will be the same.  From what I’ve seen in the metro area salsa clubs, falta sabor.  I will fiercely miss salsa dancing in Quito.

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Estephy.  Man, this one is hard.  This one…  it encapsulates just about everything on this list, and more.  When I first came here, I noticed that people often shortened my name to Stephy (pronounced Estephy with the Spanish accent).  It originally struck me as odd, since I hadn’t been called that since kindergarten.  But I learned that Ecuadorians are quick to diminutize names to show affection, and I now love this.  Almost everyone here calls me Estephy.  I no longer feel that it’s childish – I find it endearing.  In fact, I feel like Estephy represents the Ecuadorian me, as if I now have two versions of myself.  Estephy speaks fluent Spanglish.  Estephy rides the bus and negotiates with taxi drivers and shops in markets and likes hearing  Latin music everywhere.  Estephy takes time to greet people and says hello with a kiss on the cheek.  Estephy wears leggings and skinny jeans and large earrings.  Estephy is flexible with ambiguity and sometimes a little late.  Estephy speaks with Quiteño intonation.  Estephy loves to eat fanesca and encocado and ceviche and chulpi chochos and empanadas de viento and mote con chicharron.  Estephy has a lot of friends in Ecuador (voy a extrañarlos una bestia!).  Estephy whips her hand to show emotion.  Estephy dances like a Latina.  And I feel like when I move back to the U.S., I will go back to being Stephanie.  Estephy will always be a part of me, but I worry that she will fade away.  In Ecuador, Estephy has thrived.  In the United States…quien sabe?

“Familiarity does not breed contempt. On the contrary the more familiar it is the more rare and beautiful it is. Take the quarter in which one lives, it is lovely, it is a place rare and beautiful and to leave it is awful.”
— Gertrude Stein

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A few months ago I met an Ecuadorian chef at a dinner party.  I was charmed by how passionate he was about food, and excited to learn that he owns a restaurant in Quito.  But not a run-of-the-mill restaurant.  A restaurant without regular hours.  A restaurant not open to the public.  A restaurant where you must make reservations three days in advance to allow the chefs time to plan and prepare a multi-course tasting dinner for you.  I finally had the opportunity to eat here with my colleagues from the Embassy.  The place settings gave us a hint as to what we were in for: two-and-a-half hours and twelve courses of gastronomic delight.

1.  Bread

The bread came with 3 dipping sauces: a spicy passion fruit aji, a garlicy beet dip, and a pumpkin seed pesto.  I was in love with the beet dip, and I don’t even like beets!

2.  Appetizer

The most perfectly tender octopus ever, served with a red-pepper sauce.

3.  Soup

Sancocho, a plantain-based cream soup with shrimp.

4.  Appetizer

A crab gratin.

5.  Soup

Creamy avocado and cheese soup.

6.  Sorbet

Tomate de arbol with amaretto.

7.  Entree

Beef tenderloin in a shallot gravy, hominy souffle, and spectacularly sweet carmelized cabbage with balsamic vinegar and sesame seeds.  I especially liked the souffle and cabbage.

8.  Sorbet

Passion fruit with rosemary.  Sounds strange, but it totally worked.

9.  Entree

Quinoa-crusted shrimp and small potatoes stuffed with tomato and cheese.

10-12.  Desserts

A passion fruit custard, a blackberry mousse (DEEEEE-licious), and coffee-infused chocolate cake.  Three sweet endings to nearly three hours of edible enjoyment.

 

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Sunday stroll

We hiked up there!

One of Quito’s many attractions is the Teleferiqo, a cable car system that carries visitors up a mountain to great views over the city.  My friend Cristina thought it would be fun to HIKE up the Teleferiqo hill rather than taking the lazy way up.

So on Easter Sunday we spent the morning walking from Quito (about 9,350 feet) up to the viewing platform (13,450 feet).  It took a few hours and was a great way to spend Easter.  We had beautiful weather and enjoyed spectacular views of the Andean valley all along the way.  Not exactly a Sunday stroll, but definitely awesome.

photo courtesy of Mr. Aaron Colon

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Vaccination.
I needed to get a Yellow Fever vaccination during my first week in Ecuador.  While Yellow Fever is not present in the Andes, where I live, it is present in parts of Ecuador I plan on visiting.   Also, some countries (like Costa Rica, where I went for a conference in late January) will not let people enter from Yellow Fever-infected countries unless they show proof of having been vaccinated.  So, an Ecuadorian assistant from the Embassy (Luis) took me to a public clinic in Quito to get vaccinated.

At the clinic there were patients milling around the entryway, with no real receptionist or information desk in sight.  Luis asked someone where the vaccinations were and we were directed around the corner to a room with 2 nurses.  One of the nurses instructed me to expose my shoulder, dabbed what I presume to be disinfectant on my upper arm, and gave me an injection.  I showed them my international vaccine card, they stamped it, and we were done.  The whole thing took maaaaybe 2 minutes, and I never even sat down.  No line.  No wait.  No extraneous paperwork.  And NO COST.  WHAT?!?!

Visa.
Because it was complicated for me as a U.S. citizen to get an Ecuadorian visa in Turkey, I entered Ecuador as a tourist and then applied at the Ministry of Exterior Relations for the appropriate exchange visa.  This involved 3 trips.
The first trip was to apply for my visa and pay half the visa fee, which took nearly 2 hours, most of which was spent waiting my turn.
On the second trip I waited a little over an hour to pay the other half of the visa fee (why I couldn’t just pay it all at once I do not know).
The third trip I arrived just before the office opened for visa pick up.  I then sat and waited for 1 hour and 45 minutes because none of the officials were back from lunch yet.  WHAT?!?!  It was certainly annoying, but I have to say the other people waiting with me expressed their annoyance and frustration much faster and more strongly than I did.  That’s what happens when you spend 10 months cultivating patience in Indonesia.

The bad news: this is the one visa I’ve ever had that actually has my photo printed on it, and it’s possibly one of the most unflattering pictures of me ever.  The good news: I now have an Ecuadorian visa (unbecoming though it may be).

Vino.
My first weekend here I was invited to a wine tasting by a friend at the Embassy.  It was informative and tasty and a good way to meet some Ecuadorians, plus it morphed into a night out at a dance club.  Wins on all counts!  My second weekend here some friends helped me celebrate my birthday at a wine and tapas place, which also morphed into a night out at a dance club.  And while we’re on the topic of wine, I am still a little bit surprised every time I go to a restaurant and see alcohol on a menu, which pretty much every restaurant has.  I suppose that’s what happens when you live in Muslim countries for a year and a half.  PS – Despite how this paragraph may sound, I am not a lush.  Although I do enjoy dancing.

View.
Quito rests in a valley, nestled at 9,300 feet in the Andes.  It’s breathtaking, both literally (cuz there isn’t a whole lotta oxygen at 9,300 feet) and figuratively.  Here is the view from my apartment building’s rooftop terrace.  Am I lucky or what?!

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