Before arriving in Quito I had heard mixed reviews. Many said it was unsafe and I didn’t know if that was the same people who think NYC is unsafe. And a friend I met in Ayampe, who lived in Quito most of her life and loved it. After trying two schools on the coast that I didn’t like I decided to head to Quito to take Spanish at a school that sounded like they had the right philosophy I was looking for.
I was told to be careful, not walk at night and not trust taxi drivers. Now that is a little bit of a pickle…you have to take a taxi but be careful. And I am not talking because they will over charge, sure that too, but I was told some take you on a quiet street and mug you. AWESOME! I figured these stories were few and far between and in my time there I never heard of that happening. But as soon as I got to my hostal, I felt the insecurity of Quito. My hostal was great but there were double locked doors, signs that say DO NOT LET ANYONE IN, and there was a security guard outside.
First day in Quito, I was a bit dizzy and lightheaded due to the altitude. Quito is 2850 m above sea level. Because the night before the temp dropped to about 40 or so, I realized I didn’t have the right clothes and I went shopping but mostly just walked around the city. Saw a few interesting things:
The next day, I started my classes and meet some fellow students. One girl had been robbed at knife point in the middle of the day but on an out of the way uncrowded street and the guy had been mugged twice in one week. Yeah, ok, not like NYC at all. So, I decide to be careful all the time. I don’t walk on a street if there aren’t many people on it, I don’t walk after 7 or 8 at night and I always confirm the price with the cabbie and know where I am going on the map so I will know if he goes out of the way. That is just a lot of guards to have up all the time.
My third or fourth afternoon I head to the old city where there is really cool architecture and churches etc. I am walking around but I am paying more attention to trying to not look like I don’t know where I am or what I am doing and even when I would like to take a picture of something I don’t feel like I can because the woman at my guest house has told me not to carry my camera or show it when I am out. (not even a good camera). I feel beside myself. So totally on guard and on edge that I am sitting next to myself, watching out for myself.
A man approaches and says hi. I only smile a half smile because something about his greeting didn’t seem right and then I go into the store. As I am looking at shoes, I realize he is standing next to me. He puts out his had to shake mine and my had goes out before my mind can stop it. The man takes my hand and pulls it to his lips for a kiss and I pull my hand away. And get out of there. A few blocks later I am sitting in the middle of a large crowded square trying to figure out what to do with myself and my day considering it is all relatively unpleasant. And the man comes up to me and tries to talk to me. I don’t know how he has followed me through such a large crowd of people. I say NO! Because my Spanish classes have forced me to listen to a bunch of grammar rather than talk so in those moments I can’t think fast enough but I think NO is clear enough! And I walk, he follows, I turn a corner, he follows, I walk faster, he walks faster. Finally, I really put the gas on and tuck into a bank and hide behind the wall in-between two windows. A few people look at me funny but I don’t care, I am so annoyed at this other man to care. After a few minutes, I carefully peer out the window and see him out there looking confused trying to find me. So I slip thru to the store next to the bank and buy a hat! Not for a disguise, I was cold and liked the hat! After 10 mines he was gone.
Later that evening, I was in Mariscal, aka Gringolandia, which is the main place to go out in Quito, (There must be other places but I wasn’t able to figure out where, I think there is no other AREA, only other isolated bars, clubs etc). As I am walking around, I guy starts talking to me in Spanish, I smile and shake my head and cross the street, he follows, I turn a corner, he follows, I say to myself SERIOUSLY!!! And tuck into a restaurant. The man that worked at the restaurant asks if he can help me. I say ‘I am being followed’. He says, ‘by how many?’ Really? I guess I was lucky it was only one man.
The next night, I am out with friends from the school. We are at a bar in Mariscal and sitting outside. There is a short wall between us and the street. And there is a really stoned man in the street. At some point we hear some commotion and look up to see something I have only seen in movies! A man has taken a bottle and broken it and is using it like a knife. The other man, has picked up glass from the bottle and using it. They actually land hits too. One man is it across his forehead and it is dripping with blood. Honestly, it was awful and violent and nothing anyone could do. Three nights later, I saw another fight, just fists this time but I didn’t ever go back to that bar again.
I was not liking my classes, not liking my guest house (oh had a really bad homestay for a week, where I had every meal sitting in an awkward silence) and not liking Quito. I had already paid for the classes even and so was finishing the week even though I basically spent 3/4 of the time doing worksheets while she looked on and would finish my sentences if I was going to slowly. But on the way to class one morning, I am crossing the street and I am almost to the other side when I a car turns onto the street I am crossing and rather than using the majority of the road that is behind me he keeps pulling his turn tight and is heading right at me, I look to see that he is talking to his friend and doesn’t see me, I jump out of the way barely missing the impact of his truck and decide I am getting my ass out of Quito as soon as possible!
All that being said, Quito does really have some wonderful architecture. And here are 2 pictures from the Chapilla del Hombre.