(c) 1997 Ivan Gevirtz
by Ivan Gevirtz
Congratulations! You are going to be living in Quito for a year. Quito is a great city, and is an excellent place to be located. Living in Quito, I had one of the most favorable volunteer experiences, while still enjoying Ecuador for being Ecuador.
Quito is a big, somewhat modern city, and is the showpiece of Ecuador. But don't think that this means that life will be like it is back home. The lights go out, the phones go out, and sometimes the water, too. There are very wealthy Quitenos, and also very poor ones. It is possible to "fake it", and, with enough money, live like you are not in a developing country. But that isn't the point, is it?
The advantage of being in Quito is its diversity. When you are feeling down, you can go to a gringo restaurant, eat a salad and burger, and go to a big "American" style mall. And when you want to dance, you can dance. And when you want to live "Ecuadorian", you can get a full dinner for about a dollar. And when you want to leave, there are small towns, big mountains, breezy beaches, and a steamy jungle only a bus ride away.
So I am supposed to give you useful information. I'll try to limit what I say to what you won't necessarily learn in Orientation, and what the guidebooks don't always mention.
OK, I'll start with the layout. The city is nestled between two massive Andean mountain chains. On the West of the city are the Pincincha mountains, and they are good for orienting yourself. The city itself is narrow and long, and divided into three main regions, the North, the Center, and the South. The North is where you will probably spend most of your time. It includes the tourist district "gringolandia", the night clubs, the malls, the movie theaters, the stadium and bull rink, and many of the apartment buildings. Most of the schools and parks are in the North part of the city. The Center contains the old part of town, the historic district. Most people think that the Center is dangerous, particularly at night. But I have been living there for a year without any problems. The center also has the main inter city bus terminal "La Marin", and the terminal that links Quito with the rest of the country. Most people only go to the center for the busses, but you will find that if you wonder around it is quite charming, and wears its age well. While the North can look very harsh, the center has tons of pretty streets and extravagant churches. In any event, the two parts of the city are very different and both merit exploring. The South part of the city is much poorer, and there is not much interesting there, aside from the train station.
My one real big piece of advice is to join the South American Explorers Club (SAEC). They are great. You can send and receive email there, as well as regular mail. They have a lending library and a book exchange. They also have tons of information on everything, from how to climb the volcanoes to where to take Spanish lessons. It is located at Jorge Washington 311 and L. Plaza, one block from 6 de Deciembre. You can have your mail sent to:
c/o South American Explorers Club
and email to: member@SAEC.ORG.EC with your name as the subject. An insiders tip is if you sign up as a "couple" with another WorldTeacher, you save some money.
Let me warn you. Quito is COLD. Particularly at night. You are on the equator, but you are also at 9,000 feet. During the day, with the sun out, it can easily get to 90. But at night, it can get in the 40's. So the key to dressing is layers, carrying around something warm, and something waterproof. So pack for the cold. Also, a good pair of waterproof boots are very useful, both for hiking, and for walking around flooded streets.
One thing about being in Latin America is that everyone here speaks Spanish. Which is great for learning Spanish. But it is somewhat difficult to find books in English. So here is my advice. Bring a few good books. There are several places which have book exchanges or buy good books. The SAEC has a decent book exchange, and a lending library for members. In addition, Mr. Bagel (Av. Portugal near Carolina park) has a free book exchange. The WorldTeach office also has books to borrow. The Travel Co., which has two stores on Juan Leon Mera, sells used books. The best place to buy used books is Confederate Books on Calama and Juan Leon Mera. For buying books, Libri Mundi(Juan Leon Mera) has a good selection in several languages. Cafe Cultura, in Quito and Baños, also has some books. Also in Baños, Cafe Hood has a good book exchange.
If you like basketball, ask Mr. Bagel about his Monday night open gym. The players are pretty good and very friendly.
On Wednesday nights, the British Council (Amazonas and Orellana) has free English language films at 8pm. They are usually pretty good, and hey, the price is right.
If you are feeling frustrated and want to get away, my friends and I have found a few "tastes of America" in Quito. One is a restaurant called The Magic Bean (Juan Leon Mera and Foch). It has safe salads, good food, and is very relaxed. A friend of mine loves the mall El Jardin (Amazonas). It is just like you would find in North America, complete with toilet paper.
As for fun, there is tons to do at night in Quito. A perpetual favorite with me and my students is a German place called GHOZ (La Nina and Reina Victoria). It has pool, fooshball, good music, and imported beer. I took my classes there about once a month. Another good place is El Molinon on Amazonas. They have bowling, pool, Ping-Pong, etc... They have a special price on Thursdays (I think) and also have a "Disco Bowling" night with lights. As for dancing, I can recommend two places. El Zoo is on La Nina and Reina Victoria. It has an international crowd, and crazy lights. It is the closest thing Quito has to a club in New York. On Wednesday they play Acid Jazz, Funk, and Disco. On Thurs, Fri, and Sat they play techno. I am biased, I DJed there. The other place is called NO Bar. It claims to be the first tourist bar in Quito. It is fun, the crowd is good, the music is good, but the DJ sucks (again, I am biased). They play popular music and some Latino music. A similar place, with more Ecuadorians is Blooms. There are also tons of salsa places, a few good ones by the airport...
One of the great things about Quito is it is easy to get to anywhere. You can explore the mountains, the lakes, the coast, the jungle, and the Galapagos pretty easily. There are tons of travel agents, and almost all travelers pass through Quito. Even if you teach late, you can still explore the whole country. But, if you like traveling, bring some money. Busses and hotels are cheap, but it adds up. I would recommend bringing AT LEAST $2000USD in travelers checks, you wont have trouble finding ways to spend it. Also, if you want to go to Galapagos (and cant con your parents into paying...) set the money aside. Galapagos are amazing, and I highly recommend it, but they are expensive.
Otherwise, my advice is get out and explore. There are tons of cool places, good restaurants, interesting museums and churches. Athletics in Carolina park, art exhibitions in Ejido park, concerts in the bull rink...
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