Monday, December 18, 2006

Tips for touring Quito

Discovering Quito

Quito is not your everyday destination. It's edgy, scary and a tiny bit dangerous because of the constant threat of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions (Quito is located at the base of an active volcano) and we also have the constant concerns about attacks by desperately poor people with nothing to loose.

Quito is close by, only a four and a half hour plane ride from Miami, with amazing scenery from the air. You can pass the whole time looking out over Cuba, Jamaica, Panama City and the Panama Canal, and the breathtaking western range of the Andes mountains of Columbia.

Quito is an amazing city, a mix of Switzerland with palm trees, rolling hills and lush valleys, nestled in the high clouds of the Andes mountains. If you like the green lush hillsides of a Swiss village, Quito is perfect.

Most of the Western American mountain range from Alaska to Patagonia is rugged and rocky, but the Andes near Quito capture the condensation from the Amazon basin, creating Quito's reputation of being a "city in the clouds".

Most of the beggars in Quito are harmless and many will entertain you whenever they can. At street corners, be prepared to tip the local gymnasts who will do handstand in front of your car for 25 cents, and be prepared to have people knock on the window of your car, trying to sell you something at every street corner.

A blind guitar player and a child holding his balls

For a fun diversion, grab your guide and get a seat near Independence Square or San Francisco square and watch the pickpockets. The Quito pickpockets can spot an American tourist at 100 yards and it's fun to watch then descend (they work in teams) upon their prey. Once you see how they work, you can join in the fun.

Just buy a cheap wallet for $3 and allow it to be stolen from your pants pocket.

Bigotry is alive-and-well in Ecuador

Evidently, some Ecuadorians are bigoted and many news reports say that Ecuadorian employers routinely advertise for job applicants who have a "good appearance," a Ecuadorian euphemism for non-Negro characteristics. It is also reported that landlords will openly reject applications from Blacks and that the Black communities do not receive the same share of government support as Latino areas.

The bizarre Mama Negra celebration is held each November where Ecuadorian men put on blackface and dress up like Black Women.

Have a seismic vacation!

There are many active volcano's and earthquakes in the Quito area, with the Sangay volcano erupting in December of 2006. In August 2006, the Tungurahua volcano erupted, killing more than 100 people. The city of Quito sits at the base of an active volcano:

The 1999 the explosive eruption of the 16,000 foot high Guagua Pichincha Volcano showered Quito with ash, causing the Quito airport to close. This eruption was totally unexpected and you need to be warned that seismic activity is always a threat in the Ecuador highlands.

For more details on this amazing city, check-out my travelogue on touring in Quito: