Friday September 7.
I have no idea how my host mom is managing without a fridge. She has managed breakfast and dinner every day without the modern appliance. It astounds me but also makes me wonder how important it is to have until I think about ice cream. That is enough to make me want a shiny fridge in the kitchen.
On this lovely Friday in September, my friends and I headed to the Teleferiqo, which is a cable car ride up to Mt. Pichincha. Four of the other volunteers and I decided to take a bus to the attraction. It was more than strenuous to walk up the hill to find the bus. The altitude is kicking my ass. It was only 25 cents to ride to the bottom of the mountain. I still can’t get over the 25 cent bus rides. We stupidly started trekking up the hill as soon as we got off the bus. The altitude is horrendous coming from sea level. It is so daunting to deal with that I often want to just plop down where I am to take a little nap. We were huffing and puffing all the way to the guide who pointed out the FREE shuttle up to the top. Dumb Americans. We gratefully jumped onto the shuttle to the top where we paid $4 to ride the cable car to the mountain 4100 meters in the air. The ride up was slightly scary but had incredible scenery. On top, we got out and immediately added a layer because we could see our breath. Jefe, Ashley, and Ava (my friends in the group) wanted to climb the mountain. Meanwhile, Brookie and I nearly died. It was exceptionally hard without being acclimated. I was nearly crawling against my will. Silly mountain climbers. After two summits and lots of pictures, we called it good for the day and vowed to complete the trek in May.
At 9:30ish pm. Jefe and Ash arrived at my house in a taxi. We started a chain in order to be safe and to make it easier. This might be a trend. We picked up Brookie and headed to the Festival de Guapulo as our director suggested. This new barrio is directly south of the Mariscal, which is the "new city" and most touristy in Quito. The taxi driver turned right off of a busy street, which teleported us into an entirely different world. The winding, steep, and deserted roads headed straight down the hills into a valley. We transported to a place I’ll never be able to explain adequately. A description would require pictures, not words. It was a narrow one way road down surrounded by little houses squished together in true Quito fashion. The taxi driver was frustrated and stopped in front of a few small bars and a little crowd of people. We all looked at each other nervously and asked if he was positive this small bit of activity was indeed the festival about which Therese told us. He feebly said ya and declared we should get out and pay. We appreciated his patience but were slightly terrified about where he was about to leave us. Luckily we were in a group and therefore, brave enough to venture into the unknown and slightly scary streets our first weekend here. We decided to have a beer at this hippie bar near our drop off. Of course, we stood out but the artsy and cozy place reminded me of a Latino Vermont hangout. The man behind the bar arranged two benches and a table for us in the middle of the main room which was empty except for the bar, one other table and a fireplace. It was so surreal that we were drinking $1.50 beers (really quarts) in a barrio in Ecuador. We shared stories, watched a band get ready, as well as a masked man appearing as a wolf, and a girl get salsa lessons. It was simply spectacular. This little whole-in-the-wall bar had walls littered with items right out of the Sign of the Sun store. The walls were adorned with random art and it was more like being in a decrepit hippie living room than a bar. We finished our first round of beers and left the bar slightly confused about the festival. I sent Therese a message to ask where we should go. There were bands in the street and food on small stands but nothing fancier than what you’d see in Quito during the day. In the meantime, we entered a small saloon where a band was playing. It was basically a Spanish frat party. The band was playing what sounded like Nirvana. It was hard to say. They were in a small room off the bar that was filled with couches and bean bags. We were invited in. Ash and Brooke sat on the bean bags near the windows and band. Jeff and I sat on the arm of a couch next to locals who were dishing out their own version of fire water in a mug they passed around for all to sip. I ordered four beers in my best Spanish yet. The lady still wrote the check out to “the gringos”. We jammed out with the band for awhile completely enthralled with how unreal the evening was. I sat in a room in a barrio in Ecuador, South America listening to an Ecua Nirvana cover band. We could not stop commenting on how truly unbelievable it was. The room was dim and comfortable. The band was decent and I could tell Ashley and I were going to get into a lot of trouble on our adventures here. I took this opportunity to send Mr. Brownie Sundae a text about my profound experience.
Therese finally called and requested our presence at the church. We inquired with other onlookers about the festival. They gave us directions to the church which is where the festivities actually were. They also made fun of us for thinking the street party was it. They also informed us not to leave the twisting main road because the other streets were dangerous. Loaded with helpful information, we headed down the main road to the party. The cobblestone road curved and snaked down the mountain into a valley in an unfamiliar fashion. We finally reached the church at the bottom which was obviously where the festival was, as the square was packed with people and featured a live ensemble. We courageously ploughed through the crowd to locate Therese, which we miraculously did. She introduced us to the group of men with whom she was dancing. They were gruffy, shady, and not at all what I’d picture this adorable, stylish, inspirational and exciting girl to be mingling with. It was strange to see such an amazing female blatantly settling. We were let in on the secret only privy to the Quito volunteers. It was funny and slightly awkward to see her make out with the strange Argentinian man with long hair. I mean she was in charge of us… weird.
Eventually we needed beers so we went to a small store run by a little lady where we bought drinks to head back to the festivities. The music was a mix of salsa, reggaeton, and hip hop. Two crazy dudes approached us and one tried to steal Ashley’s beer. They were sketchy and talking to her when one pulled out a small street brochure from which he started snorting cocaine. Jeff uncomfortably grabbed Ashley who luckily responded well. I told her I needed to go to the bathroom so we could escape the sketch balls. Jeff convinced the nice lady who owned the little tienda to let me pee in her bathroom. She snuck me around the counter and led me to the shadiest bathroom I have ever seen. It was much worse than the one in Massachusetts where you just pee into a stainless steel hole. However, I did not care because I was slightly intoxicated and happy to be at a festival in Ecuador. I was in Guapulo dancing and drinking with new friends.
We returned to the square where we spent the rest of the evening dancing to all the different kinds of music. We witnessed a fight I thought for sure was going to end up somewhere in the middle of our vicinity because we were next to the men beating each other. However, people broke it up so we could enjoy the music. Ashley kept chatting it up with random groups of strange men. She convinced all of them to dance with her and poor blonde Brooke who took the harassment like a champ. Meanwhile, due to my major skepticism of new people, I made Jefe dance with me. It was nice to be next to a boy. It was even better to dance and to have fun. I did get tricked into salsa dancing with an Ecua man when Jefe ran off to the bathroom. My first real Latin dance turned out to be a blast.
The entire evening was super and unbelievable. We danced and talked until the band stopped playing. Then Ash’s Ecua men safely led us to a taxi and saw us off. We negotiated an overpriced $8 ride home but it didn't matter because tt was one of the best evenings ever. And despite my desire for better clothes, shoes, style, and make up after seeing the Ecua ladies, I had a lot of fun. I think our safe little drop off is going to work all year : )