Spanish verbs and theft

The week has flown past. I have spent each morning attempting to learn some Spanish and my brain is now so overloaded with Spanish verb conjugations that I can’t remember anything. Hopefully, one of these days, preferably in the not too distant future, the penny will drop and I will magically manage to string a coherent sentence or two together!

Walking through the park to the School in the morning
Walking through the park to the School in the morning
Courtyard where the Yanapuma School is located
Courtyard where the Yanapuma School is located
Plaza next to one of my lunchtime cafes
Plaza next to one of my lunchtime cafes

The afternoons have been varied. I have tended to have a midday meal after classes. As the Ecuadorians traditionally have their main meal at lunchtime, there are many cafes offering set menus very cheaply. I have been to one particular one a couple of times. It is always extremely busy, very well organised and with friendly staff. I have had a three course lunch for $4.50 with a choice of two items on each course. Like many of the cafes, they do not have any other menu. After the large breakfasts I have been having, cooked by Ana Maria, I am surprised I have been able to eat lunch as well, but I did! In the evenings, I have been devouring avocados and beautifully sweet, yellow grenadillas. Delicious!

Casa de la Cultura
Casa de la Cultura
Sculpture outside the Casa de la Cultura
Sculpture outside the Casa de la Cultura

I have visited the Casa de la Cultura, the Guayasamin Museum and Capilla des Hombre, all of which were very interesting and not so large that I was overwhelmed. I also booked a tour to the jungle for next week and, of course, have done a lot of walking as I think this is the best way to get to know a city.

Baskets for sale in the Santa Clara market
Baskets for sale in the Santa Clara market

Unfortunately, I had one incident that marred my week. As I was walking in the old town, someone spat on my neck. A lady next to me pointed out that it was also on my back. However, it was a ploy by thieves to distract me and in the few seconds I turned around, someone took my purse out of my bag. I assume that the ‘kind’ lady that pointed to my back was an accomplice. Luckily, they dropped my purse a couple of metres away, having removed the cash. Also luckily, I only had $15 on me as I never carry more than I think I will need for the day and they didn’t take my credit card. The incident, however, left a bad taste in my mouth and took away some of the magic of being here. As a tourist, though, you are a target for any operation of this sort.

There has been a variety of guests in the house where I am staying. These have been predominantly American, some of whom are resident in Ecuador whilst others have been visiting for business or studies, so it has been interesting talking to them. Two lots of people from Vilcabamba, a town in the far south renowned for the longevity of its inhabitants, journeyed to Quito just to buy cars, which seemed a bit extreme to me! Francisco and Ana Maria have been excellent hosts and I have sat over a cup of tea/coffee on a number of occasions and chatted to them. Francisco is Ana Maria’s second husband and they are bringing up her grandson, his divorced mother having decided to live a free life rather than be a mother (something of which Ana Maria, naturally, does not approve). They also have Ana Maria’s son, who is in his twenties, living with them. This lady is always very busy but is consistently cheerful and helpful.

For me, it is meeting people like this that makes travel so worthwhile. You just never know who you might bump into next!

Commuting in Quito

The week seems to have flown by. I have joined the ranks of commuters once again and have been travelling on the trolley bus for all of 10 minutes to go to my Spanish classes, which take place each morning from 9am – 1pm. My head is now a complete jumble of irregular Spanish verbs that never come to mind when they are required. My teacher’s name is Cecelia and she has had to be very, very patient, correcting the same mistakes over and over again each day.

View from my bedroom window
View from my bedroom window
Early morning view
Early morning view
A wet day in the Grand Plaza
A wet day in the Grand Plaza

On the first day, we were locked out of the building. It was fiesta/carnival time and the owners had gone away, with the key, for the long weekend. (And, no, nobody had a spare, apparently.) Instead, Cecelia and I had a walk in the central city and then settled down in a courtyard, surrounded by restaurants and shops, for the lesson. This was conducted entirely in Spanish so required a great deal of concentration on my part. Amazingly, I understood a fair amount as Cecelia talked slowly and clearly.

Sadly, when I go into shops or cafes, they might as well be speaking Double Dutch, as I have no idea what they are saying. The fact that it was carnival also meant that a lot of the shops and businesses were closed so the area around my house was exceptionally quiet until Wednesday when everything re-opened and the area came alive again.

Each day, after class, I have tried to visit one place so, on one afternoon it was the President’s Palace, another the Cathedral and another the Cepilla de Hombres, which houses works by Guyasim, the most well known Ecuadorian artist. Unfortunately, having taken a bus and then a long, hot walk up a very steep hill, I discovered it was closed on Mondays, (naturally the day I visited) so I have yet to return.

I have been trying out various places for lunch, having decided that it is easier and cheaper to have the daily menu of the cafes rather than eat out at night. In the Mariscal area, which is extremely touristy and full of backpackers, the restaurants are quite expensive, as I discovered on the one occasion I decided to eat there. Luckily, I was able to find a relatively cheap Mexican place but the food was nothing like the quality of the lunch I had had at the cafe next door to my house for the same price. There is little choice for the daily menu and it usually comprises soup, a main (with a choice of two), dessert and a glass of juice. This can be had for as little as $2. Some of the cafes only have the daily menu and no other food.

Stained glass windows in the Cathedral
Stained glass windows in the Cathedral

My room overlooks a plaza and I think, is probably the best room. It has been quite entertaining to watch the people below and on a couple of evenings, I was serenaded by a saxophonist playing underneath my window. Nothing like your own personal musician!

My host, it seems, is not so much Miguel, with whom I made the booking, but his mother, who, as one of the other guests put it, is a self absorbed Prima Dona of the first order! A couple of Swedish ladies were also staying and, one evening, we were all summoned for a cup of tea at about 8.30pm. There was no declining the invitation, despite the fact that the poor ladies had to leave at 4am the next day for a flight to the Galapagos. Food was forced upon us until we all had to politely decline and start yawning! Even then, it was quite hard to escape. Apart from having to tip toe past Beatrice’s door to get to my room each time, the only other drawback of the house was the battle with one of the locks on the front door. To open it, I had to put the key in, pull it out 2mm and hold my tongue in the correct way. Even so, it took me several attempts each time I wanted to come in.

I have been very impressed with the number of parks there are in the city and they are all extremely well used by pedestrians, cyclists, families and individuals alike. Parque La Carolina, which is huge and through which I have walked a couple of times, is always busy and has a very large area dedicated to soccer pitches. There are also some excellent cycle paths along the roads and ‘bici’ cycles for hire. The cyclists tend to whizz along these lanes so it can be quite precarious for a pedestrian!

Police amassing for the Graduation Ceremony
Police amassing for the Graduation Ceremony

There is a strong police presence all over Quito. They not only stand around the main Plazas, but there are often three or four of them controlling the traffic at intersections, even when there are traffic lights. I’m not sure in this instance, if they are a hindrance or a help! These traffic controllers all have whistles, of course, but they do not seem to be standard issue as they make a noise rather like a chirping bird. I love them and want one!

When I was at the Cathedral, there was a great deal of activity with bus loads of police and dignitaries arriving. It transpired that there was a Graduation Ceremony taking place so presumably there will now be even more police taking to the streets.

Park in front of the Cathedral
Park in front of the Cathedral

My other mission for the week has been to try and replace some of the t shirts I bought in desperation before I left Montreal. The choice then was limited as it was the middle of winter and I have been wearing clothes in which I was not entirely comfortable. I can now confirm that it is impossible to buy middle of the range clothes in Quito. The city has some very modern shopping malls but they are completely (and, I mean, completely), full of designer shops, which are outrageously expensive. In the streets, there are a myriad of small shops selling cheap(er) quality clothes, but I do not want glitter, sparkles, pictures of boy bands or even the manufacturers label plastered across my chest. Where is M&S when you need them?!

All in all, it has been a very satisfactory week and I have marvelled to myself several times about the unlikelihood of living, albeit temporarily, in a place like Quito.

View to the south of Quito
View to the south of Quito
View from the Cathedral Clock Tower
View from the Cathedral Clock Tower