The Pope is Coming!

The Pope will be arriving in Ecuador in less than a week and the excitement is almost tangible. It seems like everyone in Ecuador is talking about the visit especially about which days they will have off of work! The Pope will be visiting Ecuador’s largest city of Guayaquil and then spending two days in Quito where he’ll give mass at the old airport, now called Bicentennial Park.

I too am excited to watch the flurry caused by Pope Francisco’s visit although I’ve been told to expect internet outages… Yuck! One phenomenon that has really gripped me has been the onslaught of songs welcoming the Pope to Ecuador. Every night the local news broadcasts a new artist performing another take on what is quickly becoming an old classic, “Bienvenido Papa Francisco.”

[youtube https://youtu.be/qLkC8Geb5Rc ]

Another interesting occurrence has been the use of Pope Francisco’s visit by the Ecuadorian government to promote their political agenda. Television advertisements featuring the Pope often appear next to quoted phrases about social equality. One example being used in ads is the phrase “Debe exigirse la redistribución de la riqueza” or “The redistribution of wealth should be required.” This phrase echoes the government’s current political battle in raising taxes on inheritance and real estate sales.

I prefer this government promotion welcoming Pope Fransisco to “the country that loves life!”

Government poster for the Pope in Ecuador

Danger and Surviving on the Kindness of Others

When locals tell you that it’s dangerous to walk the streets at night, you should listen. As it is in Quito, my host mother urged me to take a taxi home when going out to the discotecas. However, last night I ended up miles away from home and without enough money for a taxi ride home. How did I end up in such a situation and what was I to do?

Saturday night I went out for a drink with Katrin. It was my first night on the town and I brought with me a whole $19 because I did not plan to drink much. When we arrived in the Mariscal district in Quito, Katrin showed me a hole in the wall bar which only served warm fruit juice mixed with alcohol. It was their specialty but after one cocktail I decided that it was a bit too sweet for me. While sitting in the bar planning out our evening, a boy with a dozen roses tucked under his arm no older than 7 or 8 years old came up to me begging for me to purchase a rose from him. As with everyone else, I told him no, he then proceded to give me the saddest face I’ve ever seen a kid make. I held my ground and watched as the little guy struggled to open the heavy door on his way out.

I stayed with Katrin in the bar as she drank a second $1 fruit-ahol drink and texted some other Americans to ask them to join us. Without a response from the Americans, we walked around the Mariscal as it was the first time I had seen it at night! It was beautiful! It was probably around 11pm when Katrin and I were standing outside of a “backpacker” club called The Attic when her indecisiveness pushed me to suggest entering the bar and letting the night take us – which is exactly what we did.

When I was charged a $4 entrance fee, Katrin offered to pay for the cab ride home. The club wasn’t incredibly packed but the night was young and the DJ was solid. Katrin and I headed for the bar and she ordered another mixed drink while I ordered the most manly drink on the menu, a $3.50 shot of tequila. We ended up joining a group of pool players as they brought competitive bar pool to new heights including a “loser gets slapped bet.” After a few games of pool the DJ turned up the music and the dance floor began to fill.

I was not yet ready to dance so I bought two more shots and one of the pool players bought one for me as well. With four shots and a fruit-ahol under my belt, I became the dominant male dancer on the floor. While everyone else stood around bobbing I was taking full advantage of my salsa skills and I even danced a little merengue. I had an incredible time dancing with the chicas in the club although I did find out that the girl I danced with the most was only fifteen (the legal age for drinking and entering a club in Ecuador is 18).

As the night wrapped up I bought a bottle of water for $1 and around 2am Katrin came to me and informed me that she was leaving with someone. I asked a few required concerned friend questions before letting her rush off completely forgetting that she had offered to pay for the cab. As I left the club I realized my mistake, I was short on cash with only $2.50 left in my pocket.

During the day $2.50 would have been plenty to get me home but the cabs raise their prices at night. The first cab driver I asked wanted $4 the second $6, both were overpriced and refused to accept what was left of my money. I was reminded about a story from one of the students at Vida Verde who told me about being mugged in the Mariscal a year prior. Walking back was not an option so I kept shopping around until I found a cab driver who offered a $3 ride back. When I told him I only had $2.50 he reluctantly accepted. Immediately upon entering his cab Javier locked all the doors and reminded me of how dangerous Quito was at night. Without Javier’s concern for my wellbeing over finding a larger fair I might be writing a very different post today.

So far, I have prided myself on being prepared and packing well for this trip. Last night I slipped up and could have gotten myself into a lot of trouble. Luckily for me, I found someone more concerned with my safety than taking home a larger paycheck. Thanks Javier for an excellent end to another adventure in Quito!

Fact: The average yearly income in Ecuador is around $5,000.*

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cokzLilS0aU]

Mariachi for Mom

Yesterday was mother’s day in the U.S. and I was surprised to find out that the holiday was celebrated in Ecuador as well. The day began with a cold shower, which I will need to get used to, followed by a warm breakfast made by my host mom, Hipatia. Then I had the opportunity to meet the other Vida Verde student staying with Hipatia. Katrin, from Germany, has short hair and many tattoos. She told me of surviving her first week of classes at the Vida Verde school and explained that they don’t go easy on your homework assignments.

Following breakfast, Hipatia invited me and Katrin to join her family in celebrating mother’s day. We traveled an hour by bus to Northern Quito where Hipatia’s mother lives. Her family was very inviting when two foreigners arrived to celebrate with them. The celebration started when a Mariachi band burst into the living room and played for about five minutes. Everyone danced and enjoyed the music, I’ve posted the video (taken prior to the dancing) below.

After visiting with Hipatia’s extended family, Hipatia, Katrin, Hipatia’s two daughters Nathaly and Angie, and I walked through a large park. The park was scattered with all kinds of playground equipment overflowing with their young caretakers. Children and their parents were everywhere, vendors were selling their goods on the sidewalks which included everything from candy to puppies.

The walk led us to a ginormous indoor mall. I could not tell you how many stories tall this mall was because the floors and stairs seemed to continue as far as the eye could see. To me, the most amazing thing about this mall was that it was completely packed with people, including the arcade. I would have believed that the entire population of Quito had decided to go to the mall yesterday if I hadn’t seen the nearby park equally full to the brim.

Finally, after a failed attempt at buying liqueur on a Sunday in a predominately Catholic country, Katrin and I decided to go home and enjoy dinner and the internet before retiring for the evening.

My first Spanish class starts in less than an hour, wish me luck!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inrzV9G0Ifo]