Ecuador: First Impressions
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When I told friends and family that I’d be participating in a service abroad program with my school in Ecuador, most of their reactions were similar: why? They’d say things like, “Why go to Ecuador when you can go somewhere way more fun, like Europe?” or “Ecuador? It’s dangerous down there! The cops are corrupt and you’ll get kidnapped and sold in to sex slavery!” I was even told that I should start going to the tanning bed and dye my hair brown to “fit in better.” Yes, I was seriously told that…as if my American accent and poor Spanish skills wouldn’t give me away.
Even though I was so excited to get to go experience a new country and a new continent, I had a little bit of apprehension leading up to my trip. For the first week or so, I’d be alone with two other friends, neither who had traveled out of the US before. This would be my first time alone in a country that wasn’t English-speaking, so I was nervous that it would be hard to communicate, or that we’d be taken advantage of for being American. Although I’m not a picky eater, I was a little bit nervous about the food I’d be eating as well, as I’d spoke with a girl who participated in the same program who said she lost 15 pounds because she didn’t like any of the food.
For the first couple of days of my trip, I was worried that everyone was right. Our flight landed in Quito around 11PM, and we got our bags and went straight to the taxi stand. When we got there, a local told us he could offer us the best deal on a taxi van, since we had a lot of luggage. We would just have to follow him all the way around to a parking lot that was just on the other side of the parking garage! I immediately knew something was up, and as I tried to tell him “no,” he grabbed my friend’s bag and began wheeling it to where his supposed taxi was. Luckily, I was able to get the bag back and head to a real taxi. Yes, it’s possible that the man was being honest, but that wasn’t a chance I was willing to take.
The next day, we went out to explore the city. After sleeping in a little bit, we headed to the Mercado Central to grab a lunch. While walking around the neighborhood surrounding the market, I had a young boy (about 12-13 years old) come up behind me, grab my arm, and try to steal my phone out of my hand. Lucky for me, my grip was too strong, and he took off running empty handed. This was still a scary experience, so we decided to go back to our hostel to regroup and decide what we wanted to do for the rest of our day.
Near the market where we had lunch, there was a hostel that offered walking tours of Quito as well as day excursions to the equator. We saw that their afternoon equator tour was departing soon, and was only $10, so we decided that would be the perfect way to spend the rest of our day. First, the tour took us to the Intiñan Museum, which claims to have the geographically-accurate equator line (NOTE: the admission fee isn’t included in the tour cost, but I believe it was only around $4). The tour guide went through various bits of Ecuadorian history, telling us about shrunken heads, guinea pigs as a delicacy, and the process of making chocolate. We then made our way to the equator line, where they showed us several demonstrations of the equator’s magnetic forces, such as the supposed differentiation in the flow of water from each hemisphere, and being able to balance an egg on the head of a nail. I’m sure some of these experiences were touristy gimmicks, but they were fun nonetheless!. NOTE: If you come to this museum, make sure to bring your passport! I didn’t, and was so upset when I found out they had a special passport stamp for going to the equator.
After finishing up at this museum, we went to the more famous Middle of the World monument. We were given the option of going inside, but we opted to take some pictures from outside the gates rather than paying the admission fee. More information on this tour, as well as the other tours offered by the hostel, can be found here. The hostel itself, the Community Hostel, seemed like a great and affordable place to stay (Dorms starting at $10/day, privates starting at $30/day). While we were waiting for our tour to depart, we spoke with some of the hostel workers who were super friendly and invited us to the hostel’s Girls’ Night Out bar crawl they were offering for their guests that evening. We thought about taking them up on that, but we ended up being exhausted after our long day! Also, the market where we had lunch, the Mercado Central de Quito, is a really cool place where you can try different Ecuadorian foods on the cheap. You can get a three-course lunch for around $3, and make sure to try some of the fresh-squeezed juices from the stands that are all over the market. Learn from my mistakes though and be very vigilant while walking in the area, even during the day: make sure to keep your phone in a secure spot! I recommend getting a pickpocket-proof bag. I used this one by Travelon. It was great having a little extra peace of mind, plus I thought this bag was actually pretty, unlike some of the other anti-theft bags I’ve seen.
Ultimately, my biggest lesson learned from these incidents was to not let the small things ruin your perception of what may turn out to be an amazing place. No one was hurt and nothing got stolen, so there was no reason for getting worried or worked up about something so minor that could have honestly happened in my hometown. I’m so glad I didn’t let these experiences tarnish my view of a country that I found to have so many beautiful sites and wonderful people. I ended up falling in love with Ecuador, and I can’t wait to go back.
Have you ever had any bad first impressions of a destination that you ended up adoring? Make sure to let me know in the comments!