Masters of the Dance

II. Feet of Clay

[ Back to Chapter 1 | Table of Contents | On to Chapter 3 ]

12/10/98 Quito Map

Oh my god, I'm in Ecuador? What am I doing here? Ah! That's what waking up this morning felt like. Slowly, blissfully awakening under soft sheets, a firm bed under me, I forgot at first where I was. Then I realized I was somewhere new, and the past couple days came flooding back. Wow. :-)

While wandering around town this morning, I came across Papaya.net, an internet cafe I saw last night. No, I won't be doing the same kind of online trip I did last time around, just a quickie to let everyone know I made it. But it's very cheap here. And so I sit here, waiting my turn, gasping for breath slightly due to the altitude, and slowly adjusting to where I am... Ah! :-)

The day passed slowly. I didn't do much except read the guidebook on Ecuador and think about where I wanted to go...

I was supposed to meet the two climbing Yanks in the evening, but I was late showing up, and they were gone. Then a parade went by outside, and I was swept up in the music, pulled along by the people dancing in the street. I have no idea what it was, but who am I to complain. It was fun.

I ate dinner at the Magic Bean - a tourist place but decent food and a comfortable place to hang out. Then on to No Bar, one of the many local clubs. After far too many rum and cokes and dancing on the floor, I met Jimmy, a laid-back local guy, and the two of us soon left for some nameless place on Santo Maria. Salsa! Some friends of his pulled me out on the floor soon after we walked in. It ended up being a very fun night. Between songs, I talked with Jimmy all night. He spoke almost no English, so I got alot of practice with my Spanish... Strangely enough, I actually thought I was making sense. Go figure. ;-)

Internet access at Papaya.net: 17k/hr
Kebob and large beer at Magic Bean: 34k
Cover charge at No Bar (including first drink): 15k
Rum and coke at No Bar: 15k

12/19/98 Quito Map

Alston Inn was far too pricey and posh for me, and I needed to meet some travellers. So, I packed up, checked out, and walked down the road to Centro Del Mundo, a backpacker's place. It was clean, funky, and friendly, with much more character, all for $4/5 dorms and all the amenities... Now, if my head would only stop pounding, I could go find some lunch...

CNN was on TV in the lounge area. It was interesting to watch the reactions of the others. Mostly Europeans, they were spellbound and literally bouncing up and down with excitement, thinking the American president was going to resign. While the few Americans present seemed as if they couldn't care less...

I spent the day recovering from a mammoth hangover. I watched more TV in one day than the last year in total. But I also spent the day talking travel, with people who have been all over South America. Good chat. I'm now regretting not going to Columbia. It sounds like an incredible, if dangerous place. And the dancing sounds perfect as well...

6k-7k/large beer
20k chicken sandwich
10k taxi to old town
18k large meal salad

12/20/99 Quito Map

I woke up from my first night in the dorm. Thin mattress, but clean sheets, heavy blankets, and quiet got me a good night's sleep. I met Michele as I got back from my (bitterly cold) shower. Well, it wasn't hard, she was sleeping in the bed right next to mine. What a first impression. She had something in her eye, and so her eye was all puffed up and red, tears streaming down her face, and her face all screwed up in pain. I offered some of my saline, and soon after, she was better. The two of us went off to the Magic Bean for a late breakfast and great banana pancakes.

Then, after bracing ourselves, we caught a cab to the old town. Wow, now this is what I was hoping for! I've become so jaded from seeing too much, especially over the last few years. Europe, yawn, Asia, nice but too normal, Middle East, still has potential but been there, Africa, yawn. But this! Fabulous churches (detail inside), colonial squares, cobblestone streets, bustling markets, all overshadowed by the rolling green hills nearby and the Virgin of Quito, a huge statue of an angel set up on the hill. Yesterday, many people were telling me about their problems with crime in the old town. My experiences today bore that out. Soon after arriving, a couple policia told Michele and I to hold our daypacks up front, pantomiming a thief slicing our bags. Ulp, OK. Then, as we were walking through a busy market, I felt someone pat all around my body, finding my wallet (with all of maybe $5 in it) in one of my left side zippered pockets in my trousers. I was alert, though. Soon after, I felt someone spray my right arm with water. I laughed, raising my arm and telling Michele about it. But even then, they almost got me. At the same time I started to raise my arm, I felt someone too close to me. I reached down, and my pocket was unzipped and a hand was pulling away. Immediately, my hand grabbed his, my right fist connected with his face, and I took my wallet back. We quickly walked away (the slinking slimeball vanishing into the crowd followed by our dirty looks) and got to a less busy street. I was shaking so hard, I needed to sit down, not really prepared for what had just occurred.

A positive one followed this negative experience, however. A policeman approached us at San Francisco Plaza to talk. He told us (in broken English) about how he was part of a new group formed by the police to deal with tourists. 22 of them went through intense English courses, history courses, and so on, to become official guides for the tourist areas. Sounds good to me. He told us all about the square, the churches, the statues, his five children (at 38), and so on. Then, after shaking our hands and wishing us a good time, he walked off without even hinting at baksheesh.

After seeing enough of San Francisco, Michele and I sat at a cafe on the side to watch the people go past. Men and women in traditional clothes. Bowler hats, babies hung in blankets over the shoulder, flashy tourists with cameras around the neck. I'm still surprised how low-key the tourist industry is here. Not to say that it doesn't exist, but that it just blends in with everything else too well. People from Ecuador, or South America at least, still far outnumbered tourists. I like it. Michele and I ordered a couple cold drinks and chatted. She's from London, a magazine editor for an IT magazine. Very English, right down to sucking air through her teeth. But she is a traveller. She's been all over the world, and I loved talking with her. No sense of competition, just trading stories, comparing experiences, reliving common places. Good chat.

We then walked up to the cathedral on the hill (?) just because it looked worth visiting. But it was strangely halfway modern. The stonework looked old, and yet there was a statue of John Paul II above the front doors, the level of detail on the bronze panels seemed simple. Hm.

Back down to town. Plaza Indepencia was nice. Just locals (carrying bags up front) taking a Sunday stroll with the family, sitting in the park, and relaxing. But the skies started to threaten, black clouds boiling across the sky, so we quickly caught another cab back to our place. Cabs in this town have meters, and are required to use them, but they are always "broken". Usually, you haggle your fare up front. This time, our cabbie wanted to use the meter... And then proceeded to take us on the most roundabout route imaginable. The final fare was thousands more than it should have been. I resigned myself to an expensive lesson, but Michele impressed me by putting her foot down and told the cab driver in broken Spanish that she wouldn't pay so much. She handed him 10k (same rate as before) and we got out. Very good. The skies opened up at that point, and we hurried inside.

Once it lightened, the two of us ended up back at Magic Bean. It's hard to find an open bar in this town on a Sunday. 8 large beers and 2 salads later, we rolled back to our hostel, looking for a place to go dancing. The people who ran the place laughed at us. "This is Quito, it's Sunday!" But we refused to give up. We walked the streets, but failed to find even an open bar. (Later found out that there were some open on Amazonas.) The crowd at the hostel was intolerably dull, just watching the tele, so we grabbed a couple more large beers and sat on the stairs to the roof and talked for hours. Disappointed we didn't get dancing, but a good night even still.

12/21/98 Quito Map

Lazy day. I slept long into the morning, getting out around noon for lunch and email, then back to the hostel to veg. Around 4:00, Sarah and Leslie, Brits, checked into our room. Poor lasses, they had been on buses for 60 hours straight, coming from Merida, Venezuela. They were completely wiped out. Very friendly though, and Sarah was lovely. The four of us planned to go out dancing, but we were all too tired. (Only Sarah and Leslie had a good reason). Tea at Cafe Sutra. After a tasty dinner, we all turned in early.

We all decided to go to Banos together for Xmas. Michele's friend, Daniel, is arriving tomorrow morning from England, and the five of us should have fun.

At night, the German guy also sharing our room came back. He had been desperate for some chocolate. He walked all over, but all shops in town were closed. He even asked the prostitutes, but they only offered him a different sort of sweetness. A stinking drunk Swiss guy was also walking around the hostel asking everyone if they had cocaine. Cravings and addictions, two symptoms of travel...

12/22/98 Quito Map
Michele had to get up early (6:30) to get to the airport and meet Daniel. As for myself, I slept in another couple hours before rolling out and getting a (blessedly hot) shower. Then, I sat on the patio out back and caught up on this journal. I'm having my usual trouble keeping up when I'm with people. I haven't been drinking enough water lately, so I bought a large water (4 litres) and downed almost half of it in an hour. After dealing with the consequences of that, I went back upstairs and met Daniel. Seems like a good chap. 26 hours enroute, he's knackered, but still living. Lucky Michele, he brought her all sorts of letters, gifts, and food from home. She was chuckling away reading her letters. One of the items was a rum cake, with 1.5 lbs of chocolate and one entire bottle of rum in it. I think Xmas should prove to be merry! :-)

The two of them went off to the old town, but I chose not to tempt fate again and felt like spending some time alone, to get caught up here, do some drawing, and think. I went for breakfast at Super Papas, and had just about the best french toast ever (not counting Superman II in Yogyakarta). 6000S.

After checking email, I met Michele back at the hostel. She and Daniel had already gone to the old town and come back. He was exhausted, and made the mistake of drinking a beer. This, plus the headache he had from the altitude, knocked him out. Michele and I went back to Cafe Sutra for an excellent sandwich and some good talk over tea.

In the evening, it was time to dance! Michele and Daniel were interested in some Latin dancing, so the three of us walked down the road to Mayo 68. It was slightly intimidating going in. A small place, we were the only gringos there. But it had a good family feel in a way. Old couples, groups of friends, that sort of crowd. The music poured out, people danced, the energy flowed. It was good, so I ran out to get Sarah and Lesley from the hostel. As the night went on, things heated up. People kept buying us drinks, pulling us all (but especially the girls) out on the dance floor. Sarah was mobbed all night long, men all over her like flies on (rather attractive) shit. It was amazing. I've never seen such persistence. No matter how many times they were pushed away, they kept coming back. The women didn't do so badly either. Daniel was approached by one woman a couple times, the second time, he had to turn down an intriguing offer: "Do you go home now? Can I come with you?" :-) And so the night went. Very good time, although no one was dancing Salsa...

Email me at nomad3 @ GoneWalkabout.com

[ Back to Chapter 1 | Table of Contents | On to Chapter 3 ]
©Copyright 1996-2001 Seán Connolly