Day 2: Latacunga
We wake just minutes before our wheels touch ground (except Claire…awake watching a movie). After a quick exit and easy transition through immigration and security, we find our driver, Luis. He drives us safely and slowly through a dramatically different landscape from which we’ve come. I find myself surprised that I’m not needing to close my eyes and grab tightly to something on the drive through winding, hilly roads, as I often have in foreign countries. The forty-five minute commute into Quito is a pleasant one, with ample views of lush, green rolling hills at high altitude. I’ll later learn how grateful I should be for Luis’ uncharacteristic skills in driving and English. His generous conversation keeps me awake, though I long for more sleep.
Quito’s population of 2.5 million is much larger than that of the sleepy, little town we call home. Luis explains that it’s about 40 miles long and 20 miles wide, stretching like a banana through the valley and hills around it. We drive through loud, congested barrios with many juxtapositions. There are modern and traditional elements adjacent – a city street with a cow grazing the only small patch of green grass around; a woman in a suit ready for work next to another in a felt hat, knee length skirt and shawl that are the traditional dress for women of the Andes; a big city apartment with many clothes lines full of clothes on top.
We arrive to a gated entrance on a small, quiet street to meet with Chris’ climbing guide for Cotopaxi and Antisana. Javier is to ensure that Chris has the proper gear and training for what’s in store. We go through our schedule with him thoroughly, until he feels assured that we’ll be safe and comfortable and Chris will be fully acclimated for the +19K climbs later the following week.
We take a quick walk, only one block away, and find what feels like a completely different city. Motorcycles now zip past cars, going up on the sidewalk when the street is full, as commuters walk to work or wait for the bus. Getting quick practice with our questionable Spanish, we order tea, coffee, and breakfast. We grab some bottled water and head to the “Claro” store to get our cellphone situation sorted. We’ll just have Chris’ phone for in-country calls, as well as Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp (popular forms of communication here). My phone is turned off to avoid international charges.
When we head back to the Andean Face (http://andeanface.com/) office, we find Luis ready to take us to our next stop. It takes a while to get out of the bustling city and onto the Pan American Hwy, headed for Latacunga, a smaller city nearer to the hike we have planned for the following day. Claire is out as quick as our wheels begin turning, however, and impossible to wake even when we make a stop at a roadside stand for mangos (her favorite fruit). Lilah and I join her quickly after, mouths wide open and bodies leaning into each other, sleeping deeply through the twists and turns. Chris stays awake, conversing with Luis and learning about Ecuador for the entire 2 hour drive.
I awake as we exit the Pan American and head into Latacunga to find our refuge for the night, an apartment we secured on Airbnb for less than $20 a night. Ceasar and his father greet us at the gate and help carry our bags through the courtyard that holds their car and the entrance to three apartments. We follow them past the clothes line and up the stairs to find our clean, updated apartment with two beds and two bathrooms. We would be happy with much less at this point.
To my surprise, Chris is ready to go out in search of almuerzo (literal translation = lunch). A quick splash of water and tooth brush is all I’ll get, though I really crave a shower and a bed. We have only our limited Spanish to rely on now, being far from anyone who speaks our native language. Walking in the direction we believe Ceasar recommended, we begin our search for food. Deciding against heading into the SuperMaxi and “mall” Ceasar suggests, we agree on an authentic Ecuadorian almuerzo spot full of locals and a friendly owner coaxing us in.
There’s no menu of course, as the only option is almuerzo. We’ll take four, por favor! Beggers can’t be choosers, as they say, and we are grateful for our steaming hot bowls of soup and large plates of rice, noodles, salad, and protein. Two of us get chicken and two of us get something we think is pork. It’s a lot of food with a cup of jugo (juice), which is our first try of the much thicker, fibrous and less sweet, traditional drink. We do our best to leave as little on the plate as possible as a show of gratitude for the ample $2.00 meals. Secretly I wonder if this will be the first dish to familiarize me with travel sickness, aka Montezuma’s revenge, aka Aztec two-step, aka the Tijuana cha-cha, aka a bad case of the trots. It’s a bit troubling that so many of those expressions are dances, isn’t it?
On the way back to the apartment, we find a watermelon and some strawberries, to add to our pile of mangos, for $3.00. They will be both our cena (supper) and desayuno (breakfast) the following morning.
While Claire and I take long awaited, but very cold, showers and rest our heads, Chris and Lilah somehow muster up the energy to go out and find more fun. They stumble upon what appears to be a spontaneous parade and large pop-up market.
After Lilah is fooled by a street vendor that she believes to be selling ice cream cones, (it’s really a typical Ecuadorian treat of something like sweet whipped cream in a cone), they return with stories to tell. Lilah does not like the whipped cream cone but is forced to finish it by her father.
The conversation is brief, and everyone is in bed well before their bedtime, some before the sun. Claire only wakes once briefly to eat a gronola bar and heads right back to bed. We all sleep soundly, with no thought of the car horns and alarms, stray dogs barking, and banging dumpsters right out our window. Tomorrow is a big day. We will need our rest.