It is incredible how time flies faster and faster as one gets older. I have been here before to study Spanish and it seems not so long ago but almost five years have past since november 1993!
Quito competes with Costa Rica's San Jose and Guatemala's Antigua for the title of the cheapest and best place in the world to study Spanish. San Jose's schools are OK but they teach to classes albeit of only 4 to 6 students. Antigua de Guatemala offers one on one tutoring like here but there are too many students for the size of this is a small town and everybody speaks English.
Quito is just right, there are over two dozen schools, the competition is fierce so the prices are OK and the city is big enough to absorb all the tourists so you do get "total immersion". The old southern end of the city is just as quaint as Antigua and the northern part is even more modern than San Jose. More importantly, the people are relaxed and friendly and it is safer than cities of the same size in Colombia to the north and in Peru to the south. I can recommend it. As we say in French, it is "bon, beau et pas cher"!
The local chamber of commerce should give me a medal for such a positive spiel don't you agree!
I arrived very late at night and first went to Hotel Coqui where I had stayed the last time but I soon moved here to the Hostal Bavaria to be closer to Avenida Amazonas' bars and cafes (same price, 10 US$).
This view of Avenida Amazonas was taken from the balcony of the Galapagos Spanish School on a very quiet day. It must have been a holiday for so few people to be about.
My new lodgings were also closer to Parque Elijo which is a good place to stroll and meet local people on weekends. After a few days I left the Bavaria for a modern apartment close by that belonged to the Galapagos School.
About 40 percent of Ecuador's 12 million people are "indigenos" and another 40% are "metizos", leaving 15% whites and 5% blacks. The breakdown is about the same in Peru while Columbia has more whites and blacks and Bolivia has more "indigenos". The term "indian" is considered derogatory.
These three indigenous girls are obviously puzzled by something they don't seem to understand.
No wonder they were perplexed, they must have been trying to recognize the apostles in this modern "last supper". Can you identify all of them?
Like Montmartre in Paris, Quito's Elijo Park is where tourists go to gawk at and comment on the local art and sometimes to buy something easily identified with Ecuador like one of these very popular "train in the sky" oil paintings. Ecuador has some great painters like Guayasamin whose museum is definitely worth a visit.
With such an important indigenous population Ecuador is a good place to buy traditional handicrafts of which there is ample variety in Quito. It is much more interesting however to do your souvenir shopping in colourful village markets such as the ones at Otavalo and Saquisili which are both renowned close to Quito.
This is the "Casa Grande" complex where I stayed. The cost of living is much lower in Ecuador than in Canada. You can rent a two bedroom flat in a place like this for about 250 dollars a month and there is no need to heat it in winter!
Religion is very important in Ecuador where 95 percent of the population is nominally Catholic. I say nominally because the indigenous people practice a blend of Catholicism and Traditional Beliefs in which the latter dominate. Eighty percent of the population being either indigenous or mestizos, religious expression often takes forms not familiar to mainstream Christians such as this dance-parade in front of the Santa Clara church.
The indigenos love the ritual ceremonies of the Catholic Church but they also need dance, disguises and music to feel that a real communication with the spiritual world has taken place.
Like most markets, the Santa Clara market has a restaurant area where one can get an excellent meal for very little. I lived close to here when I was here in 1993 and used to enjoy this tasty roast "chancho" often in spite of its effect on my waistline and cholesterol. I guess I just enjoy living dangerously!
Having an apartment I did my own cooking and came here for the great variety of succulent fresh fruit to be had in the market. Ecuadorian cooking is based on rice and beans like that of many latin countries. It is simple it aims to provide healthy sustenance but has no claim to be an art form like the Chinese, French or Italian cuisines. To be fair, I must say that the high quality and infinite variety of fresh fruit provide unique gustative experiences as do a few Ecuadorianspecialties such as fanesca (a cod chowder with 12 different cereals) and roast cuy (guinea pig).
Speaking of fine food I had the pleasure of being invited to lunch with the family of a Frenchman established here for more than 30 years. Food was exquisite and the conversation even better. In the usual order, Pablo, an intelligent freemason with views to express and his wife, both friends of the family, yours truly, the active grandmother at the head of the table, Bernard Wattel who came here to do textiles and stayed, his Ecuadorianwife and his son Olivier whom I had met on the internet.
Andean street musicians from Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia really travel far and wide. I have seen them regularly in Montreal and have bumped into them in the most unexpected places all over the world, Leningrad, Capetown, Melbourne, Colombo, Shanghai and recently, Krakov!
The Otavalo indians are also remarkably internationally minded. They have been selling their typical textiles and handicrafts all over the world for a long time before the concept of the global market was invented.