What do you do when your sister’s best friend in life, who you’ve also known your whole life, lives in Ecuador and you are in the bordering country of Colombia? You book a plane ticket (despite the high cost of flights in South America) to visit for a few nights even if you don’t get enough time to really enjoy the country.
Meet Brandy and Bruce, my hosts in Quito last week. Brandy and my sister Jennie have been besties for as long as I can remember, after our moms met when Brandy’s older brother Josh and I were in preschool together (at least that’s how I think they met…). Despite various moves over the years, they have remained the best of friends and were each other’s maids of honor (or I suppose Jennie was a matron of honor).
A little more than a year ago, Brandy and Bruce got married in Ojai, and while it was absolutely freezing, it was such a beautiful, intimate and fun wedding (and I’ve been to a lot of weddings, especially last year!). About six months later, they moved to Quito while Bruce works on his dissertation (PhD student at USC, writing a novel) and Brandy works as an ESL teacher.
I haven’t spent much time with Bruce, so it was really fun for me to get to know him, and to grill him on what he is actually doing for his dissertation. And even though I know Brandy, we also haven’t spent much time together and I had such a great time catching up with her on life.
With only a few days in Quito (and a delayed flight making me miss my first afternoon in the city), I felt compelled to just pick a few sights and not overdo it. My brain was also fried from two weeks of Spanish classes, so I needed a bit of a break to just chill with good company.
On our first full day, we lounged around their apartment in the hip neighborhood of La Floresta and ventured out to Parque La Carolina to get photos with the “Quito” sign and tour the Jardin Botánico, which had an awesome Bonsai exhibit. The rain did not stop us from leaving the park before trying delicious empanadas de viento (fluffy fried cheese empanadas sprinkled with sugar) from a street vendor.
The next two days, my hosts were busy working, so I was on my own in a city that many warned me could be dangerous in terms of pickpocketing and getting robbed. There’s also the issue of illegal taxis, so with their help, I downloaded the EasyTaxi app on my phone (very similar to Uber) to make sure I didn’t flag down an illegal taxi and end up in a bad situation.
The first day, I slept in and walked a block or so to Macadamia, a great spot for Almuerzo. My $3.50 lunch started with the juice of the day and tostado (Andean corn nuts), followed by a yummy potato and spinach soup, a decent portion of chicken, rice and salad with mustard dressing, and topped off with a fruit cup for dessert. Very satisfying on a cold and rainy day!
After my belly was full, I used EasyTaxi for a lift to visit La Capilla del Hombre (The Chapel of Man), a museum designed by Ecuadorian master painter and sculptor Oswaldo Guayasamin. Since I am not cultured in the arts, I had never heard of him, but I found his work to be quite fascinating. It is dark, as most of it is centered around social injustice, but the pieces were quite moving.
Up the hill from La Capilla del Hombre is Casa Museo, Guaysamin’s house turned museum after his death in 1999. In addition to several of his lesser known pieces, he has an impressive collection of sculptures and paintings from all over the world on display. It was really cool to see his studio and watch a few videos about the creation of his art. I left with replicas of two pieces for my music man, El Guitarrista and El Violinista.
On my last day, I joined a free city tour so I could visit Centro Historico and get a little taste of Quito. The tour started at El Mercado Central, where I enjoyed a fresh juego de mora sin azúcar (blackberry juice without sugar – they put sugar in everything!). We walked to Plaza de la Independencia (aka Plaza Grande) a central plaza with the Archbishop’s Palace, the Cathedral of Quito, and the Presidential Palace, all surrounding the Independence Monument.
Other sites on the tour included Iglesia de Compania de Jesus, Iglesia de San Francisco, Museo de la Ciudad for a view of El Panecillo, Confección de El Gato for some tasty treats (more tostado and some chifles, thin green plantain chips) and Iglesia de Santo Domingo.
After the tour was over, my new friend Tamara from Vienna and I booked it to Basilica del Voto Nacional just in time to climb the steepest spire before the rain hit. We got some great views of the city from that height and made it safely down the scary steps and into the building as it started to pour. I was just happy that the sun had came out for the first time since I’d been there, and long enough to enjoy the city tour.
Every night, Brandy and Bruce took me to a few of their favorite local restaurants. We dined on Racklette de mozarella y hiel at Fried Bananas (amazing grilled cheese with honey), near Plaza Foch where I had to take this picture.
Even with the not so great weather, we had a beautiful view of Quito from Cafe Mosaico on my last night, where I tried locro de papa (cheesy potato soup with avocado) and canelazo con alcohol (sweet hot cider with aguardiente). The locro was so good, but the canelazo was not my favorite, mostly because I couldn’t handle the alcohol!
I had such a fun time filling up my Quito Burrito with beautiful architecture, impressive art, good food and wonderful friends who were gracious enough to host me for my short stay. I hope I can make it back to Ecuador to see more of the country, but I certainly plan to visit them again (hopefully sometime in the near future in Santiago, Chile!). Muchas gracias mis amigos!