There came a moment, when I wished to attend a conference to be held at Quito. Abstracts accepted and the onus was on me. After all the planning that went to get the cheapest fare, the unbelievable 60 percent off on an airline ticket made it possible. Since, Ecuador was not on the list, I travelled by surface transport almost 1800 kilometres to Quito from Lima. The trip was fully funded from my personal savings that would be equivalent to almost five months of the stipend that I receive.
The one thing Ecuador has done best is the removal of the visa requirements for most nationalities. That in fact has made people like me who do not have a bank statement ‘worth showing’ to actually enter like a tourist.
When I lined up at Peru-Ecuador Immigration at the border, the fear that had been eating me up for months went away. I had heard horror stories of several people even from better off countries being asked to show the US/UK visa or bank statements for entry into Ecuador. I was just expecting the worst of being turned away at the border, as a result of my inability to show funds. I had carried a heavy documentation to avoid such a scenario. To the opposite, I was immediately stamped with 90 days on my passport. I was happy but also sad of the fact that I had limited my itinerary due this very ‘requirement’ of showing funds as per the duration of stay.
One thing that confirmed Ecuador would be fun, was the scenery that I could sense even at 3 am on the Guayaquil-Quito route. I must say that Ecuador is really green and it must remain so.
About Quito, one thing was pleasing to see that the whole capital city is located on the mountains. My journey from Lima ended at Parque La Carolina in Quito and the challenging part was yet to start. The mistake that I did was arriving in Ecuador without a homework as I was too busy in the conference paper, knowing the fact that I would arrive in Quito without a laptop owing to its size and weight. I only carried two small laptop-sized bags.
Arriving in Quito was a culture shock, as this was the first time I was out of Asia and this was in fact my second foreign trip. Even in Lima, I had left the city very next day for a bus to Quito, as I needed to attend the Conference. In Quito, some Indians passed by conversing in Hindi. I had lost the opportunity, to ask for some help. That was the end. It was already the second day of the conference and I had not even seen the place where I had planned to stay, forget about the Conference venue. Now my actual test of Spanish was to commence. Succeeding events were a sigh of relief. I had to reach a place that was actually in old part of Quito. For the good, transit system was in place, and one need not take a taxi, a thing that I have avoided the most, in my life.
While asking the directions, boarding a bus, purchasing a ticket, I had realised that I was going to survive in this city with less problems from now. Entering the transit system cost me 0.25 dollar and no one is there to measure how long you remain inside the transit system, as tickets are paper printed, unlike machine readable tokens or cards.
I stayed at a place that was itself a place worth visiting. Fortunately, my stay also coincided with the Foundation day/week of Quito. The following day, the Historical Centre was all ready for celebrations, however rains had partially ruined such plans.
Visiting Quito is easy for one reason, provided you have the map published by the Ministry of Tourism. Never did I feel the need to visit the tourist office. The colour coded, large sized maps are available for free everywhere. Without doubt, beauty of Quito lies in its ability to let everyone settle on the mountain itself. As a student, I was delighted with the availability of student discounts at some places. Quito is generally safe, and I travelled at places far off in the late evening like Mitad del Mundo, without any problems. Transit system that works late at night also adds further ensuring one’s safety.
In a South American country, I had not expected having anything except Bread or milk or fruit, as I am vegetarian and I do not in normal circumstances like to spend money at Vegetarian restaurants. Adding to my difficulties, at most places, ‘Este vegetariano?’ also did not invite any reply, however a person at one of the medical store responded me with ‘thumps up’. To my surprise, I found a small vegetarian restaurant with actually ‘Vegetarian Category 2’ mentioned in English. It had been almost a week in South America, and after one unsuccessful attempt, that was the first time I was having a proper vegetarian food.
Almost everywhere in Quito nowhere did I feel awkward of being a person who did not belong to Quito. Even four or five days was seen with bravery for a person, who did not know Spanish but still did everything the way the locals do (I was in fact managing myself with Portuguese +Spanish = Portunol). Never did I regret the five months of stipend spent on the Ecuador trip.