news from quito

i’ve been in quito for a few days, and lacking a address, I thought i’d write an email to send to everyone about the trip so far. i’ll also post this on my “blog” at (it will certainly be an improvement on my twice-a-year updates).

quito is a bit daunting, being the largest and capitol city of ecuador. it’s in the middle part of the country, called the “sierra.” The people who live here are called “serranos.” There are two other important parts of the country: first, in the west on the coast (associated with the city of Guayaquil) is the “costa,” and to the east over the Andes at the headwaters of the Amazon is the “oriente” (which just means “east”). The sierra is associated with more conservative mores than the coast (think of quito as the dallas of ecuador, guayaquil the austin). However, the sierra is also associated with *no mosquitos*, which is a huge benefit. If there were mosquitoes, I would right now be taking anti-malarial medicine with side effects including enhanced sun sensitivity, “vivid dreams,” and “possible psychiatric manifestations.” But at least you don’t get malaria.

Quito is at an altitude of 8000-10000ft (there are lots of hills), and so it takes a little while to get used to the affects of the altitude (I had a headache for two days which has only just really gone away this morning). You have to get used to the idea that if you carry something heavy upstairs, even though it doesn’t bother you in Austin, you’ll be huffing and puffing here. Our activities so far have mostly been finding a place to live and socializing with friends of my father’s. The first night we spent with a flower farmer, the son of an engineer my dad knew when our family lived in ecuador about twenty-one years ago (I was like 6 mos old at the time, apparently). Flowers are the fourth-largest export here in Ecuador, trailing oil, bananas, and shrimp.

The next day we went to a neighborhood called Mariscal that he suggested would be good because it is where many of the spanish schools and hostels are located. We looked around at a few places and eventually settled on a place where we get a room with two beds and a shared bath (with hot water!!!) for $5/night. Not bad at all, considering my rent at 3006 came to about $23/day.

On sunday we drove out with another friend of my fathers, a civil engineer with a bilingual family (spanish and german, no rest for the weary english speakers) to the foothills of the andes and had a picnic. it was gorgeous. I took pictures, but I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to upload them given the extremely slow internet connections that are the norm here. Update: Ive posted a few pictures on During the picnic we were informed that we were living in the most dangerous part of quito. Great, we thought, as we’ve already committed to a month’s stay. Honestly, it doesn’t feel that dangerous to me, and we’re not carrying our passports or airline tickets or credit cards, so it should be okay, i think. If we get mugged they’ll get my cash and a little bit of my belief in the basic goodness of human nature. Suprisingly, the buses are considered the most dangerous places, because of the crowding and the ease of creating a distraction. we have no where to go as yet that is far enough away to demand a regular bus ride, though, and even if we do we’re not in for the nightmare that doug had/is having, since all of the buses basically go down or up one of two roads.

The food here is good. The way it works is that you have a little breakfast, a huge-ass lunch, then a snack around dinnertime. There is a nice symmetry to it, I think. We haven’t sampled too much of the indigenous cuisine, but I’m sure it won’t be long.

This morning we are headed to our first spanish lesson with a private teacher at the house of the civil engineer friend (henceforth “Hugo,” which may or may not be his real name. Okay, it is). He’s teaching Jeff and I for $7/hour, which is a deal even here. I’m looking forward to the classes, though in all honesty living in a hostel where no one speaks english, going out with friends who don’t speak english, and of course dealing with a general population that doesn’t speak english has already put the spanish part of my brain into high gear. I speak well enough to get by in conversation, but I make a lot of mistakes. I’m sure I must seem charmingly handicapped.