Quito, Ecuador

Latitude 0.22238°S Longitude 78.51250°W

Monday, December 2, 2002

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We are south of the equator for the first time!

We arrived in Quito in the evening and stayed our first night in the old colonial part of town. Despite our growing and justified dislike for large cities in this part of the world, Quito was convenient as a base for exploring the various destinations in Ecuador we were interested in such as Otavalo, Baños and the Galápagos Islands.

Faced with the exasperating breakdown of our digital camera just when we needed it most - for the Galápagos - we decided to stay close to Quito long enough to have Keiko's parents FedEx us an identical replacement which they had in Tokyo. (That was a major fiasco in itself.) The handicaps of travelling with electronics...

Our first impression of Quito and Ecuadorians was very good. Despite being a poor country, the city was clean, the roads were sane (compared to Panama), public transport clean and efficient, and the people were very polite and took care about their appearance. However, as we were to learn later on (by many anecdotes as well as personal experience), petty and violent crime has been on a sharp rise in the large cities such as Quito, and we were advised by many locals not to walk around most areas of town at night. Like San Jose in Costa Rica, by the end of our time here we were eager to leave and move on to the smaller, safer and more picturesque country villages.

We spent our first few days in Quito pretty casually, shopping around for last minute deals on Galápagos tours and getting Keiko's replacement camera sent on its way. We moved into a new and very clean hotel near the Parque Alameda, the Hotel Mediterráneo Real, which was family run and seemed trustworthy enough to use as a destination for the FedEx package. (But after a minor theft from our room on our last day, by one of their employees who cleaned the rooms, our opinions on this hotel somewhat changed!)

I won't dwell too much on the logistics of FedExing a digital camera from Japan to Ecuador while simultaneously trying to book a last minute Galápagos tour and visit surrounding towns, but basically, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, including (but not limited to):

  • An accidental misspelling of the destination address, which at one point made us think it had been delivered to the town "Qutto" in Columbia!
  • Having it arrive in Ecuador at the start of a 4 day public holiday in Quito, virtually guaranteeing a holdup in customs
  • The well-meaning (but potentially more import duty & sales tax inducing) inclusion of camera accessories with the camera, despite instructions to ship only the bare camera
  • A declared value of 1,000 Yen(=US$9), but an inexplicable failure by the bureaucracy to understand what "Yen" meant on the commercial invoice causing the package to be detained in customs believing its value was $1,000

And so on, ad nauseum.

Anyway, after spending almost ten days in customs, the camera was finally delivered by FedEx to the Quito airport on the morning of our departure to the Galápagos Islands with literally only minutes to spare before the gates closed for the flight, stretching credulity to its very limits. It was yet another reminder of how certain services that are so easy in developed countries become so mind numbingly complicated - if not impossible - down here. And I'm not sure what cost more: the FedEx charge, or the sedatives that Keiko needed throughout the whole fiasco to stop her going on a murderous rampage.

Bullfights in Quito

On Tuesday morning, on advice from the owner of our hotel, we went across town to the Plaza del Torros to enquire about bullfights. As luck would have it, as part of Quito's Foundation Day holiday celebrations, the city was in the midst of hosting a nine day bullfighting festival. On this particular day some very famous bullfighters from Spain were topping the bill. Miguel Abellan, Julián López ("El Juli") and David Fandila Martin ("El Fandi") - who all appeared to have the status of national heroes in Ecuador - would be dispatching six bulls in what promised to be a gory spectacular. All the tickets were sold out at the box office and scalpers were selling tickets outside the arena for twice to three times face value. A good seat was costing over $100! Just as we were about to splurge and buy a ticket from a scalper, one of the box office clerks beckoned us over and confidentially offered us the "last two" tickets to the event at face value. Despite being the cheapest seats in the arena, at $4 each we didn't have much to lose. And it was a good call; when we entered the arena and made our way up to the last rows, we still had a great view of the action due to the arena's intimate size.

We had never seen a bullfight before, so the experience was a first. But after seeing this one, we must admit that our appreciation was based more on the cultural aspects of the pageant. Despite the fascinating ritual, choreography and splendor of the ancient event, the sport itself is every bit as cruel and bloody as we had heard it portrayed. And while we thrilled to each flourish of the torreador's crimson cape ("Óle!") and responding charge of the bull, we invariably flinched when the coup de grace was delivered. But the spectacle was overwhelmingly popular with the thousands of Ecuadoreans here on this working-day Tuesday afternoon, slowly getting inebriated on red wine and sangria in the hot sun and cheering on their heroes re-enacting the ancient play of man versus beast.

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