My Father, Sid Sambur circa 1988, The above quote was his mantra on steep and narrow Independence Pass, Colorado. I was driving. He was my passenger.
We are all the product of our parents.
My Dad (May he RIP) was a high strung, energetic, opinionated, small in stature, nervous Jewish man. Does this sound familiar?
So...prior to going way, way south of the US Borders, I was feeling nervous, very nervous.
My fears were based upon Internet gossip and other sources on the country’s I would be traveling to: Peru and Ecuador.
The Salkantay Trek didn’t cause me any phobias.
Cusco, Peru wasn’t too scary, once you got past the gauntlet of hucksters selling tour packages, goo-gags and massages. (“Señor! Two women for an hour massage. $50!)
The constant hassles of playing dodgeball with humans got old. I sequestered myself in my hotel room, to avoid this daily bombardment. Toward the end, I only ventured out for errands and Happy Hours.
Onto Quito, Ecuador: A few weeks ago, I read a letter sent by my Galápagos Islands Tour Company. (National Geographic). The memo warned their guests to be extra cautious in Quito. Prior to leaving the US, I phoned the company to gather more specifics. I spoke to Mark, who was my Go To Guy when I had any questions or concerns. As usual I was to the point. “Mark, is Quito as scary as the letter describes it to be?”
He answered politely, “Mr. Sambur, a guest recently had her backpack stolen off her back, in broad daylight. Please be careful there.”
OY! OY! OY! I like my backpack. I don’t want a Bad Guy to get it.
I arrived in Quito on New Year’s Eve. After checking into the Hilton (that’s how I roll when it’s part of the tour package), I went out for an early Happy Hour. The crowd density was beehive thick. A bit much for me. I slid off to a side street and made my way for a beer and meal. In Ecuador, people don costumes, garish wigs and many men dress in drag. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that). To this Gringo, it was more reminiscent of Halloween than another year gone by. I was back in my comfy room before nightfall.
An all night downpour quenched a lot of the NYE revelry. At Midnight a few rockets went off, a couple of Boom! Boom! Boom! and that was about it. I rolled over and fell back asleep.
I hit the streets early on New Year’s Day. They were devoid of people, traffic and any open businesses. (Even the Supermarkets were shuttered). A great day for me to get acquainted to Ecuador’s second biggest City of 2.6 million inhabitants. I headed towards Quito’s Historical Old Town, just like all the Gringo Tourists are directed to do. This being Low Season for Tourism, there was a dearth of fellow sightseeing Gringos. In fact, there were a lot more Policia walking their beats than people like me.
I stand out like a Peter Max DayGlo poster in a Church. I began to feel less angst. Besides, I’m bigger than most Ecuadorians!
I decided to visit another Gringo Destination. A supersized aluminum statue of the Virgin Mary. She resides on the edge of a hill overlooking her admirers. Of course, I walked. That was scary. The stairs leading up to the prominence are rife with gangs of Gringo hating hounds. They snarled at me, chased me and invaded my personal space. Those mean mongrels made me nervous, very nervous.
Sure, there are Locals selling pretty much everything from Selfie sticks, wool hats, Street food, watches, and items I couldn’t even identify. But! They don’t hassle you. That’s why I’m liking Quito mas than Cusco.
The week I’ve spent here went by fairly quickly. I managed to stay busy and engaged. I hiked to a nearby 15,000’ plus volcano, took a 10 Hour bus tour to Cotopaxi National Park and wandered the streets. Pretty entertaining stuff.
It didn’t hurt that I’ve been in a comfy, spacious, 12th floor Hilton Hotel room. Now, I’ll be honest here. My pad is more comfortable than Barley the Van. There’s indoor plumbing, hot water, soap and even a toilet seat. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Yes, I’ve enjoyed my stay here, but I’m not going to become an expatriate Gringo.
Quito is a dirty city. There’s garbage and graffiti everywhere. The air is use a knife and fork thick. It’s not tasty either. Often seen are blue buses belching gray-black as they ply the city streets. There’s a lot of blue buses here too. Right now the air quality is measuring “Unhealthy for sensitive groups.” Well, people have told me I’m sensitive. My eyes sting. I’m coughing. This can’t be good for humans. The World Health Organization deems Quito as having high levels of particulate matter pollution.
Then there’s the problem of poverty. Ecuador is a poor, crowded country. There’s 16.5 million Ecuadorians residing here. For comparison shopping analysts, it’s about the size of Colorado. There’s 5.5 people living in the Rocky Mountain High State. The latest figures I found, (World Data Center) showed a poverty rate of 23.3% in Ecuador. My Home State has an 11% poverty rate. (US Census Bureau). Last night I was saddened to see a teenage/adult couple with four children in tow. The husband/father was making a living shining shoes. His young wife was selling cigarettes. Business was not booming for either one. This is the face of poverty.
Then there’s the matter of Civil Unrest. On my bus tour to the country, a crop’s worth of farmers decided to shut the Pan American Highway in both the North and South direction. There method? Place tires end to end, add diesel fuel and flick their Bics. They were protesting produce prices. Apparently, they strongly felt they were being shortchanged. Our bus had to detour around the noxious pyre. I never saw that on the America’s Interstates!
Other than that, I can’t complain. People are nice, food is tasty and edible and there’s plenty of places to get a beer. Ecuador might be worth a second look.
Manana, the Galápagos Islands on the USS Endeavor II. There will be 94 Gringo Guests and one Wandering Wondering Jew. This could prove interesting.
See you on the other side,
Last photo: Scoring the traditional overseas haircut. How do I look?