Playing Tourist in Ecuador Before the Work Begins

by Daniel Kertesz
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This is my first trip out of the country. I’m headed to Ecuador, which isn’t that long of a flight. However, with the three-hour layover in Atlanta and time spent in immigration (I was one of the last people to deplane), the entire day was eventually shot traveling.

I was a bit surprised as we prepared to land. I’m accustomed to U.S. airports being separated from the city, at least by a good stretch of grass or forest, but when I looked out the window and saw cars, businesses and homes streaming by as we approached the runway, my initial thought was, “Are we actually landing in the city?”

I had the luxury of being forewarned that the airport itself is located smack-dab in the middle of Quito. They weren’t kidding, yet I wasn’t exactly expecting to see cars practically beside the runway itself. All in all, it wasn’t a bad trip out here.

Since it’s Saturday, we have the day free and we decide to soak in some of the culture and see what Quito has to offer.

Merchants selling newspapers and trinkets on the side of the road were pretty commonplace, and even one person selling papers decided it was beneficial for him to remain in between the lanes of the road even though the streetlights were green. Jugglers would run out in front of stopped cars to put on a show in hopes of receiving payment for the performance.

Our first stop was the Plaza de Independencia, home to the Governor’s Palace. The plaza was packed with people milling about. Children offered to shine shoes for $1, tourists were taking their photographs with the statue located in the center while police stood watch ensuring nobody crossed the chains meant to keep people off the statue itself, and people selling various wares from food to cloth were all commonplace.

Walking through the streets of the old city, you could smell the fresh herbs packed in huge burlap sacks and soups cooking on portable stoves set outside the doors of shops. You could hear the sounds of the various musicians strolling the sidewalks. Ancient (by several hundred years) cathedrals loomed above us as we continued our trek; we entered one. I was in awe. The walls were adorned with gold and old faded paintings while the ceilings seemed to stretch up to the sky itself. The place was huge.

Quito's Winged Virgin

Upon exiting the cathedral, we could see the statue of the Winged Virgin off in the distance. From our understanding, that’s one of the best places to catch the view of the city from above, so that was our final stop of the day. Atop the statue, we could see from one corner of Quito to the other. The city wrapped around the edges of a mountain and disappeared from view, so I’m not quite sure how much further it went on. Storm clouds began rolling in at this point, so we called it a day and returned to the hotel.

On Sunday we took off and headed out to a soccer game. Being a fan of watching soccer on television, but not following any team (much less attending a game in person), catching the game between Liga and Barcelona was nothing short of amazing. There is a strong rivalry between these two teams, strong enough in fact to warrant plenty of security, including riot police.

Whenever any player on a team flopped, fell or was legitimately injured, fans from the stadium launched rolls of toilet paper, receipt paper or just plain trash out into the field itself. Periodically, someone on the sidelines would rush out to clear off the garbage, but after a while it appeared as though they gave up. Neither team scored a point, but throughout the entire game, a steady thumping of drums was audible and fans of both sides loudly sang chants for their team. It was truly an enjoyable experience, and one that I’d like to have again.

Tomorrow we begin our work, which involves collaborating with youth in the community on a Web site.

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