Acclimating to Quito

Written By: jeff

Posted On: July 4th, 2010

career break, career break travel, career break advice, travel the world, Ecuador travel

Old Quito, Ecuador. Copyright

I arrived in Quito a little after noon on Sunday the 29th of April.  My bag came promptly off the belt, I cleared customs and met my transfer to my apartment.  The ride was fairly short, about 20 minutes through town. The airport is located in the middle of the city, sort of like San Antonio’s.  But, the city is much more densely populated so it feels like you are landing in the middle of an urban jungle.

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Mariscal district of Quito, Ecuador. Copyright

My homestay in Quito is courtesy of my school in Quito, Bipo y Toni’s.  I get such a kick out of the name.  This school is a partner to my school in Argentina and Chile, Ecela, so this is still part of the same overall program.  Gloria is the owner of the apartment and is such a trip.  We clicked immediately.   She had gotten the message that I didn’t speak any English.  So, when I showed up, she was pleasantly surprised that I could hold my own in conversation.  She calls me the “Petrolero de Tejas”, or the Texas oil tycoon.

The apartment is located in the middle of the Mariscal district which is also known as “Gringolandia” since there are so many United Statesers and Europeans here.  The good news is that the Quito nightlife is right outside my front door.  The streets are filled with little outdoor cafes, bars, and chic hotels.  There are also tons of internet cafes (although few offer wi-fi access), bookstores and travel agencies.

This week has been a week of acclimation to Quito.  Whereas Santiago and BA are very European-style cities, Quito is an older, historical city.  The architecture is older and harkens back to the Spanish-dominated colonial times.  The city is high in the mountains – rising 2800 meters or 9200 feet above sea level.  Santiago was a mere 520 meters or 1700 feet above.  I felt it a little on the first day.  I think the combination of the cold, the altitude and not sleeping the night before caught up with me my first afternoon.  So, a nap was in order.

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Quito, Ecuador. Copyright

I’ve also had to acclimate to the city and the culture.  The pace here is different and I have almost no chance of fitting in here.  I normally pride myself on maintaining (or at least trying to maintain) a modicum of conspicuity. But, not here.  That’s only an issue as I walk around the city.  And, the first few days, I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to.

I had several warnings about the crime on the streets of Quito.  I heard so much about it that it freaked me out. Quito has a reputation for being full of petty crime – mostly muggings, not violence against foreigners.  But, after the relative safety of BA and Santiago where I always felt safe, I was a little nervous about exploring Quito on foot which killed me since I love getting to know cities that way.

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Noel and I on Pichincha mountain in Quito. Copyright

By Thursday, one of my school friends, Noel, arrived in town and so with her, I ventured out.  On Friday, I had a “field trip” with my prof, Christian, and Noel to old Quito.  We walked from the Mariscal district, about a 45 minute walk.  That Friday trip finally got me over my nerves.  There’s no doubt I have to be a little more careful than I’ve been in the past.  But, I don’t have to hide in my apartment.

Wednesday night was interesting.  I was waiting for a friend on a corner near the apartment. I was approached twice by two different guys wanting to know what I wanted or needed.  I could’ve had any drug I wanted.  Or, any woman from just about any South American country.  These guys were barking up the wrong tree on so many levels.  Once I got over the shock, I got a laugh out of it. The city is a little rougher but I just needed a little time to reorient myself.

One big surprise is how much cheaper life is here.  The prices are shockingly cheap.  If I go to the more tourist-oriented places, I can eat for about 3-5 bucks.  Wine is more expensive here than anywhere I’ve been so far. So, that will add to the check quickly.  If I go to a local oriented spot, I can eat for less than $2.  Granted, it’s not gourmet, but it’s nice Ecuadorian comfort food.

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Otavalo market in Ecuador. Copyright

Yesterday I headed to Otavalo – a little town about 2 hours north of Quito.  Otavalo is home to a Quechua market where you can buy beautiful local indigenous crafts.  This was the first time I actually bought a few things for myself.  I bought a couple of wooden carvings and a few table runners.  So, now I need to find the post office and send them off for storage.  But, there is also a market near the house which also has good deals so I want to go to it one more time before sending off my things.  We sat in a cafe for a while watching the merchants break down their stands.  These people fascinated me.  They appeared humble, hard-working and gracious.

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Jeff at the Otavalo Market. Copyright

After week one, I finally feel like I’m in the Quito groove and ready to explore over the next couple of weeks.  I also have to plan my Galapagos and Amazon trips this week.  There is so much here, I think I’ll wind up spending more time in Ecuador than I anticipated. This seems to be a trend with every country I’m visiting so far.

One final note.  I got an email from an old colleague who was having a bad week (and shall remain anonymous).  She said that she wanted to reach out to see how things were in the “real world.”  I love my life now, but recognize that I am hardly in the real world.  So, I responded by saying, “yes, isn’t everyone in the world hanging out at a coffee shop in south america sipping lattes and checking email?”  Ah, la vida dulce!

Originally published May 6, 2007

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3 Responses to “Acclimating to Quito”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Jung. Jeff Jung said: The Sunday Read: "Acclimating to Quito" from Jeff's #CareerBreak #Travel Blog #MatadorN #traveltheworld [...]

  2. Teresa says:

    I am enjoying these South American adventure stories! I came back from SA after 5 months of falling in love this year and I have the appetite to go back… I didn’t make it to Quito after being robbed in Guayaquil :( Ran back down to Peru since I was heading home soon anyway. But, your post gave me a good glimpse of it :)

  3. jeff says:


    Sorry to hear about your experience in Guayaquil. I quickly passed through on the way to the Galapagos so I didn’t really see much. Loved Quito a lot and I think it had to do with my host mom, Gloria. But, would love to go back for the city at some point.

    Thanks for reading! All the best.


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