The Cab Driver
I always ask the same thing whenever I’m in a new place. It’s an open-ended question that gives me a peak into the mindset of locals. I try to ask anyone and everyone I hold a conversation with from bartender to hostel manager.
How is it to live here?
The first people who usually get pelted with my curious interrogation are taxi drivers during my first few days in a new city. Cabbies are great because they usually have a wealth of information and will give you their honest opinion without hesitation. My strategy in Quito was no different. On a long ride to the bus terminal from my hostel I had the opportunity to chat up my animated driver about his life in Quito. His answers reflected my first impressions of the city.
Ecuador as a whole doesn’t have the same economic problems as Argentina or the social issues like Colombia. You can run a business and raise a family without the external concerns other Latin countries face. Ecuador is small, beautiful and modest, with a noticeable traditional influence.
When I asked about political stability and police, he laughed and responded with “es como todos lados” (It’s like everywhere). He said you have to be careful, trust isn’t guaranteed. Although he did say there is more respect for the government in Quito than in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city.
While Guayaquil faces big city issues and chaos, Quito enjoys a more ‘tranquilo’ (relaxed) urban lifestyle. Walking the streets feels peaceful. In a city that’s home to over 2 million people, there isn’t much city traffic or smog and it’s a lot cleaner and dare I say, more organized than other cities I’ve been in South America. Also, he mentioned Quito’s parks are huge, the people are small and everything is cheap, super cheap.
The cab driver told me he paid $24 in property taxes last year. Lunch cost me $1.90, My hostel cost $7 per night and a 2.5 hour bus ride to Otavalo cost me $2.
The Frightened College Student
My growing love for Quito’s tranquil vibe was quickly shattered on my first day walking around the city. On the way back to my hostel from beautiful Old Town, I was approached by a young Ecuadorian college student who was scared to walk alone.
She told me she had just witnessed two guys rob a women and that they were now following her. Her Spanish was fast and panicked but I understood when she grabbed my arm and pulled me in the opposite direction I was walking. I knew from the look on her face that it wasn’t a setup, so I agreed and linked her arm with mine.
As we walked down a side street I glanced back and made eye contact with the men as they crossed the street, now walking parallel to us on the opposite sidewalk. The women put her head down and signaled that that was them.
They were almost running along side us so I slowed our pace to watch their next move. Both men broke eye contact as I stayed locked on them and then they vanished into a covered parking garage.
We took a couple of quick turns until she felt safe again. As I walked with her to the nearby university campus she began telling me about the status of cops and robbers in Quito.
She said police didn’t care about robberies until they got to a certain expense. She said that what she just witnessed was all too common and that she never feels completely safe walking around alone.
At night, La Mariscal area, where most of the cities bars, hostels and foreigners are located is no doubt sketchy. Fights break out instantly and small groups of men hangout in side street shadows.
I was prepared for the nightlife but wasn’t expecting something like this to happen at 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon.
The Club Owners
After the Ecuador vs Venezuela match on Friday I found a hole-in-the-wall diner to grab some dinner. The place was packed with locals either coming from the game or heading out for the night. There was no sign on the door or hostess to greet you. You walk in, place your order at the kitchen window and take a seat. I had no idea.
Two guys in front of me noticed I was alone and clogging up the front door with my stupidity so they asked if I wanted to join them. I quickly obliged to get out of everyone’s way.
The two men were my age and part owners of a local nightclub nearby. They asked me about women in Argentina and Colombia and I asked them about Quito’s nightlife and women.
I told them I wasn’t impressed so far. All I’ve seen was big groups of guys and that beautiful women were few and far between. They quickly shot down my first impressions by assuring me the women in Ecuador were just like Colombia… right!
The dinner conversation wasn’t as informative as with the taxi driver or as eye-opening as with the frightened women, but it meant everything to me.
We talked about nonsense over cold beer and a big plate of rice and beans. They were friendly, funny, regular dudes.
If this was any indication of how things are going to go in Ecuador, I know I’m going to have one hell of an adventure…