Friday, January 21, 2011

A Final F*** You

It’s our last two hours in Ecuador and Miles and I are enjoying a nice, quiet lunch in a restaurant just outside the Quito airport in between flights. We finish our meal, Miles leaves the table for a few minutes, and a woman asks me a question in mumbled Spanish. As I struggle to understand, she seemingly gives up and leaves the restaurant. I’m still puzzling over the interaction when Miles returns and that’s when we notice the missing bag. Miles sprints outside and talks to the security guard who had been giving a passerby directions and therefore only vaguely aware of someone walking out past him. And just when we thought we’d made it out of the country without our own theft story, we’ve been hit by a three-man sting operation.

Fortunately for us, these Ecuadorian thieves are not as smart as they are ubiquitous. I’m not sure exactly what they intended to do with a backpack full of damp and dirty traveler’s clothes but it’s lucky for us that they opted for that bag. In the end, Miles lost his clothes, gifts, and apartment decorations that we’d bought but retained passport, iPod, camera, and wallet. He managed to remain very Zen about the loss of his material possessions, but I’d say we were more than ready to return to the tranquility of our home in “big, scary Medellin.”

Friday, January 14, 2011

Reverse Reputations

After two weeks experiencing the general sheistiness that characterizes much of Ecuador, while listening to travelers’ ill-informed and negative views of Colombia, Miles and I have come to the conclusion that the reputations of the two countries are completely reversed.

The first indication that Ecuador would be a bit sketchy came from the Rough Guide warning against taking night buses. Having traveled by night buses all over Asia and with no trouble in Colombia, we at first questioned the warning but soon heard several stories from other travelers that confirmed the danger. Nearly everyone we met had tales of stolen bags or belongings along with a few more sinister stories about late night hijackings. I have never seen an in-country reputation put travelers so on edge; we actually saw two girls ride with their giant backpacks on their laps for an entire four-hour bus trip in the middle of the afternoon.

Add in the numerous people trying, and often succeeding to cheat us at nearly every payment, and you can see why Miles and I were taken aback that people happily traveling in Ecuador still expressed wariness with regard to Colombia. It just goes to show how much work still needs to be done on Colombia’s part to move away from the bad reputation still lingering from earlier decades. I know that Miles and I did our part by acting as ambassadors of the new and improved Colombia, and perhaps handing out a few Wandering Paisa business cards here and there . . .

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Quito grew on us. First impression was that it was dirty, ugly and sketchy. However, with a little exploration and excursions into other neighborhoods, we soon changed our mind. The Old Town was loads of fun to walk around, filled with plazas and churches. Following up on a story we had learned about in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book The General in His Labyrinth, we visited the museum of Manuela Saenz, the lover and two-time savior of Bolivar the Liberator. From there we chose Compañia as our requisite church and were not let down by the massive amounts of gold covering the interior.

Next site was the teleférico, Quito’s own version of the Medellin gondola advertised on The Wandering Paisa business card. However, this teleférico has a completely different vibe. It’s definitely a tourist attraction as evidenced by the high price, lack of local riders, and sluggishness. Fortunately, the immense height attained at the top makes it entirely worthwhile. We initially disembarked into cloud cover but they soon cleared and while meandering up the slope a ways further we were presented with a series of breathtaking views of the city below us.

No trip to Ecuador would be complete without visiting the Equator, so Miles and I hopped a bus to “The Middle of the Earth.” The site was incredibly tacky and tourist-oriented but we made the most of it, balancing an egg on a nail and checking that we really did weigh about 10lbs less. Then we visited a nearby Incan ruin, my first yet. However, even without having seen the more impressive ruins in Peru, I couldn’t help but think that the pink rocks looked more like a lovely garden wall than the foundations of an Incan prison . . .

On our final day we visited the Chapel of Humanity, a museum site designed by and filled with the works of Guayasamin, Ecuador’s most prominent artist. In this chapel, Guayasamin presents the viewer with a social commentary via paintings of varying states of humanity. They are largely quite gripping and intense, often politically motivated, and sometimes gentle and tender. Beautiful and moving, the museum was the perfect finale for our Quito visit.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


In the first morning, on the road from the boarder, I recognized in Ecuador my previous images of South America. Images informed by a photograph of indigenous Peruvian women wearing bright clothes and men’s felt hats, the callow-lilies in Diego Riveira’s paintings, and descriptions of the landscape gleaned from Isabel Allende’s books and Pablo Neruda’s poems.

Landscape-wise, Ecuador is actually quite a good representation of South America, despite being one of the smallest countries. There are three distinct areas, the coastal beaches, the Andes down the middle, and the beginnings of the Amazon in the east. It was the perfect holiday destination as we managed to cover all three areas in only two weeks while maintaining a relaxed pace. And with Colombia functioning as my home, Ecuador provided my introduction to the South American travel I had imagined.