Un Po-Quito

That’s right — it’s QUITO, ECUADOR!

Quito, Ecuador. Shannon K.

I think this  description [below] of Quito, provided by Shannon K., perfectly sums up what I anticipate living in Quito to be like (minus a couple unfortunate stomach aches, and probably some very freaky insect or bird encounters). It’s un poquito de Quito, just a tiny snapshot of a visit to the second highest capital in the WORLD.

Plaza in Quito. Shannon K.

For those of you who do not know, I have accepted a job with V!VA Guides and will be moving to Quito, Ecuador at the end of May. It’s EXCITING!! And, yes, a blur of other emotions and thoughts, but I’m totally doing it, and I’m going to give it my best shot. Of course, I planned a couple big trips this Spring (to Italy and Argentina) thinking I was going to be unemployed, which has made my life quite complicated and chaotic lately, but it’s good to be busy! I just wish busy didn’t include repeated trips to One Police Plaza, next to the Brooklyn Bridge, where I have to return in ten days (the day before I go to Italy) to pick up my letter of good conduct for my Visa (fingerprints: check! Getting hardcore hit on by a cop while getting my fingerprints: double CHECK). I can’t stop thinking about Ecuador and the big move these days, but I refuse to pretend I can predict anything about what life will be like in Quito. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you’ve just got to buckle up and go for the ride when it comes to changes this big. Sometimes you’ve got to go all-in, and see what happens.

Quito Street. Shannon K.

I remember my first day of college. I had been placed in the steep and rocky Mt. Katahdin day-hiking group for my pre-orientation trip (known as “Pre-Os” at the WONDERFUL Bowdoin College, these are the optional trips that we could do to appreciate Maine and bond in small groups the week before college officially began). Before going to Bowdoin, I had lived in the same apartment my entire life and gone to the same school for 12 years: change was not part of my life, and I liked it that way. Going to Bowdoin — in MAINE, of all places — was a HUGE change for me, and I was, admittedly, TERRIFIED!

Sure enough, I did everything I could to prepare. I got every piece of clothing on the suggested packing list, made myself a special ride-to-college mix that would flip my anxiety into excitement, and was ready for all college had to offer — I thought. When I arrived on campus, I headed straight for the sign-in sheet. They said “Great, well have fun backpacking and canoeing!” I said… “Uhhh, what?? I’m on the day-hiking trip…” and nervously showed the nice sophomore volunteer my letter from Bowdoin stating that I was, in fact, on the day-hiking trip to Katahdin. She checked her list, twice, and said, “Oh, well, we have you signed up for the Flagstaff-Bigelow backpacking and canoeing trip and, because of the canoeing, that trip has an even number of people so we kind of need you to do that one or someone won’t have a canoe buddy…” GULP. There I was, prepared as can be for the ONLY thing I could possibly  prepare for during my first week of college, and everything I had so carefully anticipated was being tossed out the window.  Much to my surprise (and my mom’s, who knew my resistance to “change” from a young age), I just took a deep breath, and said,  “OK! Let’s do it…”

The next couple hours consisted of me emptying my entire backpack, getting a new one, rummaging through the Bowdoin Outdoor Club for every piece of equipment from tent parts to cooking parts to waterproof clothes, with my awesome upperclassmen guides, Kazia (who, it turns out, is still awesome) and Jeff (who is also awesome, and is a doctor with the Navy). When I met my group, most were ex-boy scouts, had done several NOLS trips, or worked at Patagonia in their hometown in Montana. There I was, the NYC girl in Maine, who had been signed up for two trips and packed for the WRONG one. I was INCREDIBLY humbled when everyone in my group decided to reach into their own bags and lend me a pair of socks, a quick-drying shirt, some took a pot out of my backpack because my pack was too heavy and didn’t fit properly, and all these strangers (who quickly became friends) did everything they could to make me feel comfortable, welcome, and as prepared as I could be.

In the end, I don’t think there could have been a better way to start my college experience. I had to immediately toss all my pride out the window and take things as they came. As prepared as I thought I was, I had to go with the flow and challenge myself in ways I had never been challenged before. And these people I had JUST met were right there for me from the first moment, ready to help and support me however I needed it. It was a lesson that has stuck with me, and I am taking it with me to Quito.

Now, let’s all learn a little something about one lovely lady’s trip to the city of Quito, which -although I’ve never been- is about to become my home.

In October 2008 I traveled to Ecuador to meet a friend who was starting a three-month tour around South America. Quito is a very walkable city, and the Old Town, with its narrow streets and beautiful architecture, was my favorite neighborhood.

Quito street. Shannon K.

You can’t skip the Basilica del Voto National. If you can manage the hike up the (very) vertical road to the church, then you’ve already won half the battle. And, as an added bonus, good luck beating altitude sickness [Quito sits at an altitude of 9,200 ft].

Basilica, Quito. Shannon K.

The second challenge is reaching the top of the church’s tallest tower, and in order do so, unsuspecting tourists must walk across an old wooden plank just below the cathedral’s ceiling to get to the opposite side, where you climb up a scrawny staircase (think submarine boat stairs) that offers no protection from a fall whatsoever. My fear of heights prevented me from completing the intimidating journey up the final tower, but I have no regrets since my views of the city from the first three viewing points were fantastic.

Cathedral View, Quito. Shannon K.

You’ll need a snack after that adventure (and a stiff drink), and I highly recommend the fruit salad at Fruteria Monserrate. Fruit salad may not sound exciting, but this was one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten!  It consisted of lots of yummy, fresh, tropical fruit and it had this fantastic raspberry sauce drizzled all over it, topped with freshly whipped cream.  It sounds completely unimpressive, I suppose, because it is so simple, and yet it melts in your mouth and tastes so good. I would eat there every day if I could!

Quito, Ecuador. Shannon, K.

We wrapped up the day in New Town where we sampled the national beer in Mariscal Sucre. Ecuador’s national beer sadly lives up to its poor reputation, but when in Rome…

View of Quito. Shannon K.

We eventually learned how to navigate Quito’s bus terminal (harder than it sounds), how to get pick pocketed on a bus (much easier than it sounds), and were reminded of how to say “I’ve been robbed” in Spanish (it’s good for laughs at the police station). A word of caution- taking the bus in Ecuador is not for the faint of heart. I recommend shutting the curtains during the particularly rough patches and saying a prayer to the travel gods.

Montana View from Bus. Shannon K.

It is difficult to believe the locals when they tell you that their mountain roads (with hairpin turns) are safe, especially after you’ve passed an identical bus hanging perilously off the side of a 10,000+ ft cliff. That being said, and as long as you don’t look down, you’ll be amazed by the beautiful countryside.

City and Countryside, Quito. Shannon K.

Memories of the stressful bus rides will melt away once you get to the rainforest (that or you’ll quickly repress them).

Hammocks in the Amazon. Shannon K.

Tena, Ecuador. Shannon K.

We hiked, swam in lagoons, climbed waterfalls, learned about the wildlife, and navigated river rapids. We also learned that jungle bats don’t take kindly to travelers climbing through their cave.

Bird of Paradise flower. Rainforest, Ecuador. Shannon K.

The rainforests are definitely worth the harrowing bus ride- so make sure not to miss them! ENJOY ECUADOR, TAVEL!

Quito. Shannon K.

NOTE: All the photographs in this entry were provided by Shannon K. THANK YOU SHANNON! Cannot wait to spend a few weeks with this girl in Argentina 🙂

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