Quito: Dangers and Annoyances

Posted on April 10, 2011

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First thing’s first. This trip would not be happening if it wasn`t for my already well-thumbed copy of Lonely Planet. The book is a gift from God. Yet one aspect of it can be truly misleading, to the point that I have now resolved not to read the relevant section ever again.

Read the ‘Dangers and Annoyances’ section with regard to Quito, Ecuador’s capital and second-largest city, and you would be forgiven for thinking you were about to step of  a plane in lawless Baghdad. Over three paragraphs, the travel book goes into the kind of detail that would make even the boldest traveller seriously consider asking for a redirection of his flight. In my experience, however, there was nothing particularly fearsome about Quito, and if one practiced basic common sense (i.e. do not walk alone at night, drunk, in dodgy neighbourhoods) then trouble was unlikely.

Yet I wasn´t aware of this when my 17 hours of travelling ended at 6pm local time last Monday. Arriving into a horrendous storm only heightened the drama. Thunder and lightning welcomed me to the city, and as my taxi driver somehow navigated his way through soaked roads past incongruous yet obligatory McDonalds and KFCs, I did rather wonder what I’d let myself in for. After dumping my bag in my cell-like hotel room, I braved the streets of the Old Town on an unsuccessful search for some food that wasn’t from KFC or similar chicken joint. Unsatisfactorily-fed and over-tired, I crawled into bed and waited for morning.

With the sun, Quito did not seem as intimidating. After a good meal of goat stew and rice for breakfast, I perched on a bench in the city’s main square, squinting at a map and plotting a route. I met the eyes of an equally-confused fellow Englishman, and we resolved to see the sights together, a process that was not as long-winded as one might expect. After admiring the architecture of the Old Town and the juxtaposed sprawl and grandeur of the New Town, I withdrew for a nap, agreeing to meet my companion for a drink or three in La Mariscal, the infamous traveller’s ghetto, that night.

La Mariscal both bemused and disappointed, but you could not help but be infected by the bustle and joviality, especially so early into my trip. After watching the local team on television scraping a draw against Argentine outfit Independiente (Ecuadorians are football mad), we played beer pong and settled for a night in a shoddy nightclub playing both western hits and local fvaourites.

By the time I stumbled to bed that night, however, I had resolved to quit Quito the next morning. Something about the city hadn’t quite clicked with me, and I felt I had achieved all I could, in spite of having been there mere hours. I need to get on the road, and so was awake early the next morning to check out of the hotel and hit the road south, to Banos.

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Posted in: Experience, Travel