I’m writing from Quito, Ecuador, the highest capital city in the world. I’m here thanks to a grant from Penn to do research for my history thesis. Obviously my three weeks here are completely different in structure and purpose from my time in Mexico but there are a few common challenges. As in Mexico, I’m staying in a hotel for the first few days (I landed early sunday morning) and am moving into an apartment I found on airbnb tomorrow. Quito so far, is really beautiful and sunny, which I was not expecting. It gets cold at night but there hasn’t been rain and it feels like spring weather. The city is really narrow so it’s hard to get a sense of neighborhoods and cabs are so cheap and safe so I haven’t been walking a ton. I’m currently in La Mariscal, the tourist neighborhood which has lots of food options and tons of backpackers walking around. Happily, I made a friend in my hotel on my first day so I haven’t been totally alone but she went to the Galapagos today so I’ve been on my own. She’s from New Zealand but has lived all over the world, for the last 8 years in Bangkok. It was great to have a buddy, especially one who doesn’t NEED to go hiking and loves a good glass of wine. So far, I’ve walked around the Old Town, visited a mall, gotten a free tour of a recently opened museum in a restored Colonial house and glimpsed the city from high above in a gondola. The food isn’t as amazing as Mexico’s (duh) but it’s been easy to find vegetarian options and the hotel breakfast is pretty good.
Today, I went to the national archives for the first time which was so scary. I had my letter of introduction from my advisor claiming I was a legitimate researcher and the surgical gloves and mask required by the archive (weird shopping trip yesterday). The building was next to a gorgeous park and the employees weren’t the most attentive but they were fine. Only problem is that all of their archives seemed to end at 1926 or 1948 aka totally not including what I want to research. I have to try the Education Ministry’s archives so I’m going to go there on Thursday since I have to move tomorrow at noon and most of these buildings close at 4 so I hope they can help me. Another researcher who was there also offered to send me her friend’s contact info who has done similar research so I’m hoping she does.
I’m headed off to get dinner now but am excited and hopeful for the next few days. I’m trying to be patient (obviously a huge challenge) and remember my advisor telling me that the first week is always a waste, but a necessary one. I’m glad I have three weeks here and I will feel really glad to cook dinner in the apartment tomorrow.
Some random impressions:
- I don’t have many pictures because I don’t like to take my phone out. There are definitely fewer iPhones than in Mexico.
- There is a huge tourism effort going on right now. The airport is less than a year old (and modern and spotless and quick) and they build a new road to get there, carving through mountains. There are also brochures everywhere about how to identify a safe taxi and everyone I talk to says this is a big and welcome change that has been a priority for Correa’s administration.
- The traffic isn’t bad at all, such a relief after Mexico.
- They use the dollar which is so strange especially because carrying a 20 dollar bill means people will grumble and say they can’t make change. Most of my cab rides are between a dollar and $1.75. A full meal (today I had: a big quinoa salad, soup, smoothie and water bottle) is around 9 bucks and that’s probably inflated because of the neighborhood I’m in.
- Quito is just on and around mountains. You look up and they’re right there. The old town is gorgeous and the rest is pretty ordinary concrete buildings, like many latin american cities. But the sun and the mountains, wow.
Sending love from the equator!