Monday, December 17, 2012

Getting High in Quito

 Our breakfast buffet at the Hotel Sierra Madre was excellent. I devoured the fresh papaya and they served eggs besides the other fresh fruits, cheeses, and local specialties, which had sugar. I could not touch those.

While still trying to adjust to the thinner air with this altitude, we decided on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus today, so we asked directions from the hotel clerk to get us to the nearest stop. It was at a park about 8 blocks from here. Once we found the park, it was huge, covering like 4 square blocks and nary a sign as to where the tourist bus was stopping. We asked a half-dozen people, but either they did not know, they took wild guesses, or sent us on wild goose chases. Finally, we came across a tiny little restaurant down some stairs. Something told me this was the place to ask yet again. Bingo! The young man came out on the street with us and showed us exactly where the stop was, directly across from the Hotel Colon. We had a half hour to wait, but with the walk to the park and the walking around looking for the stop, we were ready for naps.

While we were waiting, we were sitting at the bus stop where public buses stop, watching people come and go. Some of the locals are so short they practically need a step stool to get up to the first step of the bus. In some ways it was comical, but one would think the bus companies would have kneeling buses for just such reasons. 

The Hop-On Hop-Off bus is $12 per person; the complete circuit is 2 ¾ hours. We did the entire round to get the feel of the city. In many ways, Quito is farther along than any city in Guatemala or Belize, but not quite up to Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, the commentary on the bus did not keep pace with the attractions or in many cases, the attractions were so far off in the distance, you could not pinpoint what the ghostly voice was referring to anyway.

On the 2nd go around, we stopped in an area that was known for the restaurants and bars. As it turned out, it was mostly bars and international restaurants. There were Italian, Japanese, Mexican, and Chinese places to dine, but finding an Ecuadorian one was like finding hen’s teeth. For a tourist area, it was dismaying when some restaurants did not have a menu in English. Although we could understand the basics, it was the nuances that were important to my food selections.

To Ron’s dismay, I opted for the Mexican restaurant after the hawker outside convinced me it was good food and fresh. This turned out to be an excellent choice. When in Quito, do try El Mariachi Taco Factory at Foch €-318 and Juan León Mera. If we had known the portions would be as large as they were, we would not have ordered as much as we did. I had a salad of lettuce, beans, avocados, and tomatoes with a lemon dressing along with a chicken consommé with avocado, onion, rice, and cilantro. Both dishes were fabulous, but too much food. I could not finish either one. Ron had a combo platter that he was not able to finish either.

We walked around the area for an hour wasting time to catch the bus once more. We did the circuit for the length of time that they were running, but ended in an area we had no idea how to get away from. There was a mall, so we went there to see what it was like. Tremendously large and swank with stores the quality of Tiffany’s and every designer that could come to mind, our eyes were glazed over with the abundance. The decorations were splendid, but what we wanted was el baño. In this giant mall, there is only one. According to the mall directory, the location is not clear, so it took some time, but we were finally successful.

What was not a success was finding a bus to get back to either the restaurant area or our hotel. Buses do not have printed itineraries at the stops. You wave a bus down that has incomprehensible sections of the city on the front and when it slows, there is a person hanging out who you ask if they are going your way. No one was after flagging 14 different buses. Then we tried a taxi, but that was pointless too. Fifteen thousand taxis in this city and they all had a fare. We tried our luck by crossing the street. A taxi stopped for us.

Without an address, we asked him to take us to the region of Mariscol where the restaurants were. It was quite a lengthy ride, which would have cost us $2. The driver did not have change for a $5 bill, so he settled for the only $1 bill we had.

After going from restaurant to restaurant to try to find food that was not fried, heavy on starches, or enough to make a carbo counter go skyrocketing, we had almost failed. We also asked for an Ecuadorian food establishment, but were told the only one went out of business. They lied! We found one, had dinner, and were not impressed with it. I had a braised chicken breast with beans that was supposed to be a specialty of the coast of Ecuador. It tasted like the braised chicken breast Ron makes at home. Nothing out of the ordinary. Ron’s dinner was so unexceptional by his comments; I cannot remember what he had. We asked that they a taxi for us and went back to the hotel.

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