Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Grab this related post Widget!
I used to hate Quito. When we first visited four years ago it just seemed like another big. dirty, unsafe city. The drive from the airport into downtown went through a seedy area. The historic area was filled with unsavory characters during the day, which gave little incentive to venture out at night. Little kids would rush up to you with shoeshine kits--when you were wearing tennis shoes you wondered if they were a distraction for pickpockets.

All that has changed. The mayor has done an outstanding job of cleaning up downtown, ridding the area of riffraff, installing lighting, closing streets to vehicles and encouraging pedestrian traffic, and keeping graffiti under control. The transformation has been nothing short of astounding.

Plus we had the pleasure of meeting Daphna Amit, a fellow speaker at International Living's conference last August. She and her husband Rami offered to show us around their neighborhood, which was a short walk from the hotel, before we returned to Cuenca. Our afternoon together proved to be a revelation.

We strolled through beautiful streets with lovely homes, shops, and restaurants. We dined al fresco at a cute pizza restaurant. They took us to their 10th floor apartment in an area called Gonzalez Suarez that, sitting high atop a hill overlooking the city, affords magnificent views. As we later boarded our plane Cynthia and I could only say to each other, "Who knew?"

So we were excited when Daphna graciously offered her spare bedroom to us after the most recent conference for a couple of nights before we visited an ecolodge in a cloud forest several hours away (Part 3 of this series). She told us that she was going to take a city tour on Monday with Ecuador Expat Journeys, a company owned by IL speaker Sarah Dettman, and that since we were her guests we'd been invited to tag along.

This wasn't to be a typical city tour focusing on sights and attractions. Since our fellow travelers were attendees of the conference our day would be geared toward seeing different areas of Quito as potential places to live.

Around 40 of us boarded a bus that morning and headed out.

We were fortunate that because Carnaval was in full swing the streets were virtually deserted. Carnaval is the biggest travel weekend in Ecuador all year, and many people leave town and head to the coast or other getaways.

Our bus wound through the city, beginning in Daphna's nearby haunts then climbing to El Panecillo (meaning "little bread loaf" because of its shape), a hill that dominates the southern skyline. This is the home of the Virgin of Quito, a large statue that watches over and protects the city.

The views of Quito from this vantage point are quite impressive.

Next we reentered the city and explored other in town neighborhoods with large parks, malls, and modern architecture quite unlike what we see in Cuenca.

We made the obligatory stop at a mercado downtown and I was thinking, "Oh, boy, another mercado," but even this was a surprise. The building was well-lit and spotlessly clean,

and I was impressed that all the meat and seafood was refrigerated and behind glass, a far cry from our local markets.

Many Quito residents live in "the valleys," a sprawling area south of the city. We drove through Cumbaya, an upscale community that resembles suburbia in the States--gated communities with large homes, strip malls, chain restaurants. For status-seeking Ecuadorians such a lifestyle is a dream come true, but this is the very existence we gladly left behind and have no desire to revisit.

The road we traveled will be the main connection between Quito and the new international airport that opens today until the "real" roads are completed. You might ask, "Why in the world would they open a new airport when the roads aren't finished?" This question would be a dead giveaway that you don't actually live in Ecuador.

The official projections are that the trip between the airport and downtown will take an hour and a half. Given that the existing road is already the main thoroughfare for all the outlying residents commuting into and out of the city, and that "Ecuador time" is often, well, different, I'd suggest this timing is probably overly optimistic, especially during rush hour. We plan to avoid the new airport like the plague for the next year or so unless we can make direct connections without an overnight stay.

Our excursion finished in Sarah's outlying community, where we enjoyed a delicious almuerzo together

before returning to the city. It seemed like we were in the middle of nowhere, but because of the lack of traffic we got back amazingly fast.

Thanks so much to Daphna for putting up with us for two days, and to Sarah for showing us her hometown "up close and personal." Quito certainly deserves a serious look from potential expats seeking big city amenities and cultural activities.

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