Sweeping views of the Andes and the chance to explore local markets, make Quito a 48 hour destination.
Before moving to Bogotá, I spent hours pouring over a giant map of South America. I circled cities like Buenos Aires and Cusco. I drew possible bus routes through Patagonia. The once pristine black and white map was filled with red stars and circles. But I had completely skipped over Colombia’s tiny neighbor to the south, Ecuador. It just didn’t hold the same appeal to me.
All that changed recently when my friend asked me to spend a weekend in Quito. He was there on business and had an extra few days to kill in the capital. He told me it was an easy, cheap flight, and it would give me a chance to explore a new city. A sucker for new stamps in my passport, I agreed.
Friday. I arrive at Quito’s new airport, approximately 18 kilometers and USD$25 (they use U.S. currency in Ecuador) from the city. Perpetually tired on Fridays from teaching grammar to 14-year-olds, I use my backpack for a pillow and take advantage of the hour-long taxi ride.
It’s 10:00 p.m and my friend Luis is waiting for me in the lobby of Hotel Quito, a large, clean hotel with views of the snow-capped Andes. After dropping off my things, we head to a nearby restaurant. Since we were staying in the north (the modern, business part of town), bars and eateries were geared toward foreign- ers. Everywhere was packed, and somewhat overpriced. However, we found a place called Lobosapiens that served empanada de cuy – crispy dough filled with chopped guinea pig, and creative cocktails. We shut the place down.
Saturday. After a breakfast of eggs and lulo juice, we took a 10-minute cab ride to Quito’s historic center. The “Old Town” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest and best-preserved historic centers in South America.
We started our walking tour at the Gothic cathedral Basílica del Voto Nacional. Built in 1926, the church’s towers look a little out of place among the 17th century chapels and plazas. Afraid of heights and feeling the effects of the alcohol and lack of sleep, Luis sat at a café while I made my way to the top. Several sets of steep stairs and a wobbly wooden plank later, I looked out over the vast landscape. Colorful colonial buildings were set against lush mountains and palm trees. An angel statue watched over Quito from the top of a hill. When I came back down, I made sure to show Luis pictures of what he had missed.
For the next three hours we roamed the cobblestone streets, poking our heads into stained glass and gold leaf adorned churches, listening to street music and watching women sell giant mounds of ice cream.
We stopped for lunch at Mercado Central. The market was packed with locals, and we sat at a stall called Corvina Don ‘Jimmy.’ We ordered what everyone else was eating: a huge hunk of fried corvina (a white, flaky fish) with rice. It was delicious, and came with a bowl of puffed and toasted corn kernels and limes.
After a much needed nap, Luis and I went to a house party. He was invited by a friend he met the last time he was in Quito. I was extremely nervous, as my Spanish leaves something to be desired, but the moment we arrived, we were greeted with hugs and kisses. People were patient with me. They spoke slowly. Some spoke to me in English.
Cocktails were passed around, then the ingredients to make our own ceviche – tilapia marinated in lime juice, large pieces of starchy corn, sweet potatoes and onions. Then came locro, a thick potato stew served with avocado and those addictive toasted corn kernels.
Sufficiently stuffed, I spent the next few hours learning how to dance salsa and exchanging contact information with my new friends.
Sunday. Since Luis and I didn’t get back to the hotel until about 4 a.m., we spent the morning sweating in the sauna and ordering food by the pool. The weather was similar to Bogotá, but the pool was heated and felt good when the sun was out.
I knew I should have been exploring Quito a little more, maybe visiting the Mitad del Mundo, taking pictures of myself straddling the equator, or riding the teleférico to view the city at 4,000 meters. But the hotel bed was comfortable, and Luis had to leave to go back to Lima, so I compromised and made plans with my new friend from the night before, Santiago.
After saying goodbye to Luis, Santi picked me up at the hotel. He told me he was making me dinner, and if we felt up to it, we could go out dancing. Instead, we spent the next few hours eating pasta, drinking wine and talking about what made Quito so great: its people.
Monday. On the plane, dressed for work, and just as tired as when I arrived, I thought back to my weekend. It was quick, and I didn’t do as many touristic things as maybe I should have, but it was just what I wanted.
When I arrived home, I took out my map of South America. I circled Quito in red marker, and decided that returning for a longer stay was now pretty high on my to do list.