Saturday, January 13, 2007

Enough politics, now for Quito

I'm here, safe and sound and out of breath from the altitude.

On the flight down here, there was a moment when I felt myself move mentally from "leaving home" to "going home". It felt strange, but good. Today, when I walked west down Mariscal Foch toward the center of the tourist district, I met the second phase of this transition, and found myself feeling physically linked to this place. I looked up to the mountains that loom over the western side of the city and the Spanish word "ubicarse" came to mind -- to locate oneself, to know where you are. I knew where I was, and that felt good.

My grand plan for the day was to sit for an hour or two at a cafe for a snack and coffee or water and people watch and write and maybe knit. Alas, Quito had another plan. I went to the Coffee Tree, a cafe in the tourist district recommended by a colleague. Normally, these aren't the types of places I hang out when I'm living in a place. I never spent a lot of time in the Inner Harbor or the cheesy "cultural centers" in Kenya. However, I'm new here, and this place was recommended, and I thought that I could muse on the role of tourism in development and cultural exchange. So there I sat, peacefully, surrounded by chill tourists. I ordered an empanada and some water and started to write. No sooner did I get my empanada and get into my book than a bunch of street musicians in black tights showed up. They were loud and mediocre.

I knew that I should have been supportive of them, doing their best to share their culture's music with tourists and make a buck off it, but they were not good at all. All I wanted was a quiet sit at a cafe, and instead I got these jokers. I couldn't even think, because one of them was about a foot away from me, strumming loudly on a poorly tuned guitar and singing everything but the correct notes. So, I got the check, and decided to walk until I found another good place to stop.

I didn't find any other little cafe on my trek, but I did get to see more of the city. Through the Parque Ejido and its artisan market, to the Parque la Alameda with its paddle boats and jungle gyms, toward the old town. Old town is interesting in its way, but not the best place for walking, really. The sidewalks are narrow and full of people bustling about. The store fronts are not meant for tourists, and mostly sell cheap imported products or questionable food to locals. The traffic is horrible. But it is all made better by the beautiful colonial architecture. I found Quito's old town to be strange in comparison with similar sections of other cities. usually, these places are bursting to the seams with cheesy tourist stuff or expensive restaurants, cafes, and high-end bars. Lima was like this, and frankly, I loved it. I don't mind mixing it up with the peeps on occasion, but the cheap and tacky stores don't do justice to the elaborate and well-restored buildings they inhabit.

I admit that I didn't make it all the way to the heart of the old town, the Plaza Grande. I got tired, it was a long walk, and my lungs still aren't up to the altitude. So, I grabbed a cab and came home to the peace and quiet of my lovely apartment in Apartamentos Los Quipus in the La Floresta district.

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