A late night arrival in a new country means some major disorientation on Day 1. Combine that with the fact that shadows point south, not north, and my head starts to spin. After one day in Quito, I’m happy to spend an evening hibernating in my room and processing what I know is a little bit of culture shock.
And if you’re wondering why I have only one photo to show you after a full day in the city…well, one of my ways of adjusting is to leave the camera at the B&B in order to keep a low profile until I get a better feel for a place. It’s bad enough that I occasionally have to stop and look at the map I keep folded in my pocket. I can’t help looking like a foreigner. But I can avoid looking like a clueless foreigner.
I’ve traveled in Latin America before, so I had some idea of what to expect – and Quito has met my expectations. Like most cities, it’s bustling with buses, taxis, people on cell phones, street vendors. Like other touristy Latin American cities I’ve been to, there are restaurant hawkers, diesel fumes, mini-bikes zipping through traffic, women who expertly navigate cobblestones and uneven streets in stiletto heels. I get tired pretty quickly in city environments. I would feel the same way after a day in New York City. Really not that much different.
I spent my first day learning to navigate the city center (I even rode the bus!), visiting Fulbright headquarters, trying to find something semi-healthy to eat, and getting to know my B&B hosts.
My Fulbright Mission
Fulbright headquarters are housed in an old colonial building behind a gated compound. Beautiful hardwood floors, big bright offices, vaulted ceilings. If you had to work in an office, this would be it! It was here that I got an orientation, did some more paperwork, and, I guess you could say I was ‘handed my mission.’ I definitely have some big work ahead of me. But at the same time, they made it clear that a part of my role here is cultural exchange, and I should get out and travel, meet people, and do as much as I can while I’m here. (OK!)
Fulbright Ecuador’s executive director, Susana Cabeza de Vaca is an amazing woman – someone with a very long, accomplished career in academia, industry, and politics, in the States and in South America. She greeted me with a big bear hug and we proceeded to talk science and climate change in Ecuador. While our conversation circled around science and society themes, she strikes me as a person who could speak intelligently on pretty much any topic. She made it clear why I was selected for this Fulbright. She said that I would be the first person to teach meteorology in Ecuador – the first person who has ever proposed teaching it. Whoa.
My B&B is about a 20-minute walk away from the bustling, touristy city center, in a quiet residential neighborhood. It’s a family home, with three rooms to rent. The owners are very comfortable stepping into the role of being your Ecuadorian parents. They have been really sweet and helpful.
When I was heading out of my B&B this morning, my hostess caught up with me to ask if I had sunscreen on. This came after all the other bits of Quito advice: Don’t walk ANYWHERE after dark – Only take the yellow taxis with registration codes on the doors – Don’t drink the water. But after all this, they told me that Quito is one of the safest cities in South America – especially after the ‘panic buttons’ were installed in the taxis in the last couple of years.
The sun is another story. I walked out with a jacket because it had been a little chilly in my room the night before (no one has heaters here). I had sunscreen on my face and neck. But after a bit of walking, I could tell that it would be a really bad idea to remove my jacket, which was protecting the neglected back of my neck. The sun is INTENSE, even if it wasn’t exactly hot.
Happy to have Colorado Blood
Several people have asked me how I’m handling the altitude. Every time they ask, it reminds me that I AM over 9000 feet. But the only time I’ve noticed it at all was when I was walking up a steep sidewalk. So I guess I’m handling it pretty well. I’ve heard that altitude sickness is the biggest problem for most visitors here.
The Search for Healthy Food
Chocolate. I found a boutique Ecuadoran chocolate shop. It turns out that gourmet chocolate is not any cheaper here than it is in the States. But I had to treat myself to a bar. Hey, it’s local.
Later, for just a little more than the price as the chocolate bar ($4), I got a full meal of chicken, rice, lentils, and a side of French fries served on a massive Styrofoam plate. This was just down the street from the ‘gringo’ restaurants where you could get a burger for $9. I always hesitate a little eating in the local establishments. But that’s where the Ecuadorans were eating. I reason that if they’re eating there, then the food won’t make me sick. But there were some curious glances when I walked in – I got the sense that Gringos don’t eat there much. But it was quick, easy, and despite the lack of vegetables and the side of fries, it was fairly healthy.
Up on deck this week:
Visits to the immigration office, the US Embassy, and, depending how much time I have, a little sightseeing later this week (that’s when I’ll pull out the camera.)