The view from Mariana Lara’s house wiped away any stress, fatigue, or preoccupation from a day of plane hopping. Looking over Quito – a lake of a city that floods the valley toward Volcan Cotapaxi – I felt so calm and elated to be here again. But maybe that was the altitude… or my worrysome mistake.
During our layover in Houston I thought it would be thoughtful to donate blood at an airport employee picnic. I wondered about flying afterward, but I have given blood at the U of O before and never had much of an adverse effect. I asked the nurses and they weren´t sure how flying would affect me, but the pamphlet only said not to work on an airplane for three days so surely I could just sit there lumped in my seat and circulate enough oxygen not to pass out? Well after watching me donate, Shay reminded me that Quito is at elevation. 9000 feet. Oh yeah.
Then I felt a little woozy.
The plane ride was fun, though. I was ok. Didn´t stand up or anything, but I made it alright. And I got to eat a lot of cookies.
Landing in Quito went incredibly smoothly. Marcos, a taxi driver who works with Mariana and picked up my sister Kelli here just over a year ago, picked us up at the airport and told us how well loved the President Rafael Correa is. There was a small coup d`etat on September 30th but it was just some riots started by the police in protest to Correa cutting their quintannial bonuses (They actually got a 3x mensual raise, and Correa got tear gassed). Anyway, we were safe and well received at Mariana´s.
Mariana is one of the kindest women I know. She retired after owning several nightclubs in Quito and started her own organization Venaecuador. She has helped build schools and libraries all over Ecuador and coordinates volunteers in orphanages, women´s centers, hospitals, and set up my internship working for the Galapagos National Park last year. She dotes on us, makes us feel completely at home, and stayed out until 1:30 am last night to help organize a church bazaar. She then made us breakfast at 6:30 this morning.
I was so happy to see her again, and excited to share Quito with Shalynn. I take her to the sites of Old Town: The Basilica, Plaza de Independencia, and the oppresive works of Catholicism on an indigenous people. I got to share these places last year with my sister Kelli too, so coming here a third time with two of my favorite people is a pleasure and strangely normal. I feel at home here.
After visiting the tourist center “Gringolandia,´´ Mariana took us to a birthday party. Two of her volunteers live with Carlita, who is turning 24. We celebrate with cake (Mariana, her mother, had me repeat how it was so rrrrrrrico! and dramatically swooned with the compliment) and wine that Shay brought (as she always does). Carlita and her boyfriend Jose took us and Canadians Zoe and Kristin out to a club. It was empty, but for a birthday special we got all the ladies in for free, the guys for $12, and open bar! Well all-you-can-drink strawberry margaritas, but who’s complaining. We danced and drank margaritas, and got a ride home with a Cuban taxi driver while Jose repeatedly screeched in front of Carlita and the girls´ taxi in protest to her refusing to ride home with him. I guess he proved he was sober enough…
Friday we took a tour up the TeleferiQo – a gondola that goes up to the 12,500´ Pinchincha. The main engine didn´t work, so we got into the gondola with an Ecuadorian/Californian and a Scot/Brit couple and the auxilary engine slowly pulled us into the sky. We had a wonderful view of the city and a great opportunity for handstands. We tried to meet up with Zoe and Kristin at the Natural Sciences Museum but went in alone as it was closing. Lots of bones and formaldyhide and a Bengal Tiger for some reason. Shalynn liked the butterflies (as she always does). We found the Canucks after an hour and took them back to Mariana´s to see her puppies. Correa was speaking about the uprise in Plaza de San Fransisco – which complicated our plans of going there for the night activities as the plaza was full with people, police, and barricades. Marianna had to drive for about 45 minutes to find her way into La Runda, the oldest street in Quito. Representative of colonial city planning, the people party with traditional food and drink every night. We had empanandas, canelazo (warm, and alcoholic), and mote con chincharron, a mix of fried white corn and pork.
Today we left for Otavalo and a bit more independent travel. We had been returning to Mariana´s for all three meals and getting directions every step. She is so kind and energetic and generous. I left my blood in Houston, but I left behind urgency and English, and Shay and I have started our dream trip happily and completely and fully (minus a pint).