Kicking it in Quito

Banga banga banga banga banga!!!
Banga banga banga banga banga!!!
Blurry glance. What in the fuck is that?!
Banga banga banga banga banga!!!
There’s someone snare-roll banging their hands on the metal railing that runs through the center of Hotel Sketchdive.
Banga banga banga banga banga!!!
Seriously? I grab my phone. It’s 7am.
You’re kidding me.

Then two dudes are yell-talking to each other, one from our floor down to the bottom floor.
Alright, outta bed. I’m going to murder these people. Open the door and boxers-peak out. Don’t see them. They’ve stopped. Where’d they go? Haven’t fought anyone in my underwear for a while. Whatever. Back in my room and start packing. Not gonna be able to go back to sleep. Suddenly my door bursts open. Some whacked out Ecuadorian guy stares at me hard. Eyes are red and he is fidgety as fuck. Is this guy cracked out at 7am? I turn in my engine red boxers and clench my fists. This guy is getting decked. I take a step to regulate and he yells down and then slams it shut as I start closing the distance. I rip the door back open but the guy is gone. What the fuck?! No sign of McBurger or Getz. Alright, I’m packing my shit up. This is not how you want to wake up on your first day in a new country.

Drisdelle is up and wants to hit a bank machine for some Ecuabucks. Ecuabucks = Ameribucks. I rap on MacKay’s door. He’s still out. Knock again and he whips the door open “You guys aren’t the transsexual hookers I ordered”. He’s gonna need a smidge to get pretty so we head outside on a bank hunt.

One block down is a fairly nice park with a round observatory structure on one end and a bridge and pond in the middle. Paddle-boat montage with Agent Getz? Nah, bank mission. We round the park scanning. People have started going about their days already. Breakfast joints are milling, vendor kiosks already set up in the park, lots of commuter traffic pluggin up the road. Quito is gorgeous. Set in a valley at an elevation of 9,350 feet (memory guesstimate, writing on a bus), it is the highest official capital city on the planet. La Paz, Bolivia is actually the highest, but Bolivia has two capitals for some reason. The temperature is fairly chill in the morning. Architecture is mostly Colonial buildings, but also a decently modern set of high rises with the mountains nestled in behind.

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Find some Ecuabucks and get back to find MacKay enthralled in a Spanish episode of Two-and-a-half men. Let’s go. Aww man it’s almost over. Nope. Damn. Taxi time to Vibes hostel to meet up with Fubar. They’ve got no rooms. Across the street we buzz into Galapagos Hostel. All they’ve got is dorms. $10. Sure, why not? Go upstairs and ditch our stuff in a room with 4 beds. Back out and around the corner to grub desayuno at a decent spot called Tres Regiones. We get cafe con leche and they serve it up with just hot milk in a coffee mug. There’s instant coffee on the table. Sweet, mix your own sludge. Coffee fail, Ecuador.

Cab it down to the centro historico. We’re stuck in a bit of traffic along the way. Roads are narrow and one way. Some Baroque architecture gets splashed in. Crazy looking churches in the area. Has a kind of Eastern European vibe to it. There is a winged statue on an acropolis looking down on the city. Start getting excited, this place looks like it’s gonna be mega fun to explore.

A blind old guy with a cane and a shoe box comes up to Drisdelle’s cab window and offers him a nice selection of colorful knife keychains. No gracias. The cab moves forward a car length. Blind guy comes back to the window not realizing that it’s the same car. Drisdelle chuckles. No gracias. We move forward again. Blind Guy is back at the window. Hahaha no gracias. The cabbie is just laughing.

We get out at the Plaza Grande and are instantly nuked by Quito. Brilliantly colorful and ornate colonial buildings mixed in with dark baroque and gothic looking churches. Swanky hotels and restaurants, patios unfolded into the courtyard. I’d read the Plaza Grande hotel charges $550 a night. Massive Cathedral in the center with little shops built into the base of it. Some shorter indigenous people in traditional garb and these great, colorful fedoras with a feather. Kind of Robinhood looking. Seems like Quito lucked out in the culture department because this place looks stacked.

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Take a stroll around the Plaza Grande and are stopped by two schoolgirls. Are you American or European? We’re Canadian. Oh yes, do you mind if we practice our English with you? Not at all. They introduce themselves as Mya and Gabrielle. Mya does most of the talking, Gabby is ironically a little shy but flashes a pink braces smile here and there. Did you get those done in Popayan? Mya’s english is pretty good, she asks us a bunch of questions and nudges Gabby once in a while to prompt her to ask too. They throw some questions at us, the typical kind of thing at first – where are you from, what do you for work – then whether we’re married… and why not? Haha, heard that question a few times down here. They ask if we have any questions for them. Are people from Quito called Quitonians? Haha no, Quitanos. The girls are both locals and are learning English and French in school, they have an oral test next week. They thanks us for chatting with them and we continue around the plaza.

Museum? Sure. We go into the Cathedral in the square. It’s a museum with all sorts of uber religious statues and paintings. There is a wall of paintings of saints. You’re not supposed to take pictures but Saint Booz was standing out for some reason.

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Next room was a wall of Pope paintings. I took a moment to write a new tune while I was in there. McBurger scribbled it down quickly while I rambled it off.

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Back to the plaza and into the Cultural Center building beside the church. Hmmmmm kind of weird. Security guards and chains across the staircase. One room has a speaker giving a talk to a small crowd. MacKay hits up the banos and Drisdelle and I catch a heated match of circular ping pong.

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Back outside and around the corner. Incredible looking church! Gotta check that out. After a quick shopping montage across the street. McBurger finds a shop with a few things in his ‘style’. We’ve been on the hunt for some Party Spy wear. McBurger finds a vest that’s close enough. Somewhere between Bourne and McFly.

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All suited up for the cooler elevation, we step into the church across the street. The Iglesia de le Compania de Jesus. It is un-fucking-believable! The entire place is gilded in 24 karat gold. It’s crazy. Probably the most elaborate and decadent church I’ve ever stepped foot in. Pictures can’t really do the majesty of this place any justice, but here goes:

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There was also a great big painting near the entrance depicting a scene in hell where people are being tortured for their sins. The sins are all listed beside each mini torture scene. Apparently if you’re an adulterer who’ll be forced to chug wine through a funnel while a demon monkey barfs hot lava on your junk.

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Back out on the street we’re drawn towards the angel on the hill. Man, there is so much to look at here. All these old colonial buildings with birds and animals in the place of gargoyles up on their rafters. Most of them are just your typical businesses you’d find in any city. This place is just a run of the mill furniture store, but with a killer colorful front to it

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We walk past a pet store with a bunch of birdritos in it!!

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I pull out the phone and direct us to the Plaza San Francisco. I think I’d read that there is a painting of the last supper in there with Jesus eating a guinea pig. Really wanted to see that for some reason. Walking down towards the plaza and we run into a full force of about 30 cops. What’s going on here. They look like they’re organizing some sort of raid. They head down the street towards the plaza. Hmmmm should we be going that way too? Ya sure, what could go wrong? (Don’t SAY that!). The cops all stop on the corner and are rapidly discussing something in a cop scrum. No idea what they’re up to. Whevs, let’s get some pics.

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We go into the San Francisco church which also has a museum attached. There’s a great central courtyard, one corner of which was home to some cute birds chirp chirping away, one was washing itself happily in a little bucket.

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The museum revolved mostly around monastery life and had robes, statues, and paintings of monks. One hallway was all statues of Jesus dragging the cross. We walk upstairs and through a wooded room of church pews out into another crazy ornate church.

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Wow, Quito is killing it. Alright where is that huge gothic looking cathedral, let’s squeeze another epic church in. We cross back across town, past the Plaza Grande and up a steep steep hill towards some bell towers we’d seen peaking through the buildings just begging for us to come see it.

We stop at a bank machine for McBurger to pocket up and there is a traditionally garbed lady on the corner holding a bag of apricots or something. She kept repeating the same hook. Have no idea what she’s saying but it has a great rhythm to it. Agent Getz slyly sauntered by with his voice recorder to sneek a clip of it. Really want to throw some big beat rave music behind that and make the Ecuadorian dance hit of the century.

We climb a steep steep hill up to the base of the cathedral. Damn. This religious walk is making us thirsty. The Basilica is amazing. Gigantic, tall, forboding double clock towers could be straight out of Gotham. Massive courtyard surrounding the entire place. We grab a few beers and chill for a sec before heading into the Basilica del Voto Nacional.

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There are two entrances, one to get into the pews and one for tourists that leads up into the church’s two clock towers, $3 and we’re heading up some steps. At the first “floor” is a room where we’re looking down out of the tower into the courtyard and around the city, great view but we keep heading up the stairs. At the second “floor” are a couple of gift shops where Murphy picks up a sweet poncho and a balcony where we can look out over the city some more. An even better view, damn. The angel on the acropolis, or Madonna on the El Panecillo, is a straight shot between the two clock towers. That’s no coincidence.

Back inside and across from the balcony is a wooden bridge leading us over the roof of the churchy-church and up to a ladder. No way, we climb up quickly and we’re outdoors! An even *better* view! Unreal.

Two fellow tourists notice our reaction and tell us we’re not done yet – there are two more ladders. Holy shit! Definitely not for those afraid of heights!

Here are some pics from the Basilica. What an awesome spot:

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Stupid good. This city is awesome. Ominous clouds are rolling in from over the mountains and we see some lightning in the distance. Our view is great but our status as some of the tallest objects in the city may be poorly timed. Back down the ladders, over the wooden bridge and into the clock towers. Two more floors to go.

On the way back down we come by a nice cafe in one of the towers that has a killer view. We decide to stop in and grab a jarra of hot wine. They heat the wine up on the stove in a kettle place it on our table. They rim our wine glasses in sugar. The lightning storm rips across town and is right on top of us now. Torrential rains are coming down and forming rivers in the steep streets below us. The warm wine suits the mood perfectly. Things are getting hella romantic. We order up a tamale, chicken wings (guz we thought eating wings in a church was funny), and a great croissant sandwich with multiple deli meats.

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Having gotten our fill out of the Basilica we went out into the rain and tried to hail a taxi. With the weather as it is everyone is grabbing them and we get pretty wet trying in vain. Finally nab one and head back to the hostel. It’s only midday at this point and we’ve got some time before dinner so we get into blog mode. Drisdelle and I hit the streets in search of blog supplies. Within the first block we realize we’re in a crazy party district of Quito. Every place over the next few blocks is a bar, club, or restaurant. And people are already lined up to get into some. A couple brew pubs in the area are already jam-packed, people ordering up huge towers of beer. Oh dear, what have we gotten ourselves into here?

We zig zag up and down the rows of streets looking for a market of some sort but have no luck. It’s all just bars. Hmmmmm. Ok, we head back to the hostel and just look up a super market in maps. Total other direction. Ok we’re off. We walk towards it, find a little market, and get a bottle of Old Times whiskey, black label. It’s 12 bucks. And a bottle of coke.

Back at the hostel we dip into the stuff. It’s horrible. We’re shaking like wet dogs after each drink. MacKay looks at the bottle, “Aged 12 years, my ass.”, “No man, it was made by a 12 year old.” Fortunately we’d also gotten a bottle of el Diablo, the official wine of the rally.

While we’re outside blogging up, Josh and Calvin swing by to say hi. These are the dudes from Edmonton that Jamie was hanging with in Bogota. They had just gotten up from a nap. Apparently they were up until 6 in the morning partying at the hostel with drinks, guitars and… other things. They went out to find a bite and we continued as we were.

When they came back a while later we decided to go over to their hostel to hang out. Vibes totes itself on the internet as a party hostel, and ours clearly wasn’t, so we packed up, grabbed some drinks and went over. As soon as we get in we’re introduced to a few other travelers at Vibes. Seem like nice folk, but we don’t really get to meet them as Desk Guy comes straight over to us. “Are you staying at the hostel?”. No, across the street. These guys are though. “We don’t really allow people from outside the hostel to come here.” Ahhhhhh, ok. I read this hostels website and they promote the place the exact opposite. But I don’t wanna stir anything up or make the guy uncomfortable. “Totally understand man, we’ll head back out”. “Thank you”. That’s weird, because verbatim their website says this: “Friday, not oficially a pub crawl, but there is always a fun crowd ready for party everynight at Vibes, so come to the bar lets warm up and go out to the coolest spots for party!”. Ok, so that’s what we did. But we got kicked out. Eff Vibes.

Ok so the whole crew from the Vibes lounge is now coming over to our hostel to hang in the one table outside. The only place where you’re allowed to drink apparently. I predict the exact same thing is going to happen when we buzz the gate, so when it opens I head inside to run some interference. I end up running into a tiny German guy instead. And the owner walks right past me, sees all the people pouring through the gate, and kiboshes the whole shebang. So I introduce myself to this little guy. His name is Phillip, he’s from a little town outside Stuttgart. Oh Stuttgart, we’d stayed there 2 years ago on the Mongol Rally. I tell Phillip we’re heading out and he really wants to join us. “When are you leaving”. Right now. “I need 3 minutes”. Ha, ok. 3 minutes, so precise, I love it.

Phillip is ready in 2.37 minutes and we head out to meet the gang. The three nubies have left but MacKay, Drisdelle, Josh, and Calvin are all on the sidewalk laughing it up. We posse up and ramble to the insane bar district. This place is going off like a festival weekend. People everywhere. All the places are packed. We hit the main square, which is totally westified and geared towards the lowest denominator of party nonsense with places called Foch Club, Players, The Ky Lounge etc….

Calvin leads us up to a spot on an outdoor patio. As soon as we sit down Josh is on him, “This is a cafe, maaaan. You probably can’t even get beer here, dude. Like maaan, we should probably go, maaaaan.” A girl comes buy selling roses for 50 cents or something. Josh grabs one. So does Drisdelle. We take our roses and split the cafe.

Next we settle in briefly on the patio at some sort of sports bar. Take a look at the menu. Whoooa. This is LA prices. Ahhh aren’t we in Ecuador? Nope. We’re outta here. Cruise back into the throng of party people on the streets and pass by several places. One guy swings over to ‘help’ us find a place. We say we wanna hit up a club. He swings us over to the door of some place. Looks like a decent scene going up on the second floor. IDs. I don’t have my ID. Brief back and forth. Alright don’t need em, “10 bucks”. What? It’s 10 bucks to get into this joint. The five of us should be blasted for 10 bucks. No way man, we start walking away. “You want something cheap? Get outta here!”. Nice.

Round another corner and spot a fairly crowded karaoke bar. As we’re panning to see if there’s any place to sit this cute black bartender comes over. She speaks great English and assures us that she can get us a table. Alright, why not? We go in. It’s a small place with every available spot taken. There’s a projector screen and people are belting out Spanish karaoke tunes at top volume. The girl takes us to a table just under the screen and starts scouring the rest of the bar for every available seat. The tables are low and the ‘chairs’ are basically foot stools. She opens a door beside us and grabs some milk crates. “These ok?”, yep sure.

Josh grabs 6 beers from her. Full one litre beers. 6 bucks. Now we’re talking. The tender asks if we want to see the karaoke book. You know it! She brings it over with the disclaimer, “There isn’t a lot of English songs. You’ll have to really look”. We browse the selection. Pretty terrible choices. Not the songs you’d expect when you look for an artist. And many, like the go to Bon Jovi, aren’t even in there. We do find some gems thought and put them in. The drinks are going faster now that we know there’s a performance approaching. 6 more. Aaaaand 6 more. Phillip is passing on them at this point and is getting some heavy peer pressure from McBurger.

Kind of a weird karaoke place, everyone stays in their seat and sings from there. There’s no performance to it, a lot of the time you don’t even know who’s singing. And you’re on these little stools super close to the ground.

Finally our songs come around. Your table puts three in at a time so we’re going to subject a bar of Quitanos to three english tunes in a row and our drunken antics. The first song was a choice from MacKay. Bryan Adams, Heaven. Yup. He grabs the mic and heads to the middle of the bar since our table is right under the projection screen and we can’t see the lyrics. With his new vest zipped tight he launches into a raspy rendition, “Baby you’re all that I neeeed. When you’re lying here in my arms” etc…. People are into it. Their singing along. Man they love their ballads. Half way through I take the rose MacKay left on the table and bring it up to him. He’s trying not to laugh as he busts into the finally chorus.

Not bad, not bad. The crowd approves, next song comes on. Nirvana – Smells like teen spirit. I jump up for this one. MacKay still has the mic in the middle of the room. Josh gets up too. As the music starts a few people in the bar get pretty excited. One guy gives me a fist bump as I get up to the mic. Aaaand we’re terrible. We are definitely not Cobain and the combination of off-key drunken voices produces a harmonic puddle of Alt-mud that we eagerly sling into everyone’s ears. We’re not exactly dropping Pet Sounds here. But the energy is there and despite our horrendous rendition we still get some applause, people singing along, and a healthy round of fist bumps.

And our final coup de gras is, of course, a full table, even Phillip, standing up and slam yelling version of Bohemian Rhapsody. Beginning part is a little rough. It’s nice and we’re just not. Then it gets into the opera middle section and there are absolutely no lyrics. I don’t think they think you’re suppose to sing there. Josh and Phillip are a little lost but the three party spies hold it down by memory. And then we rock out Wayne’s World style and are screaming into the mic, “So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye-ee-eye!”. We’re ramped up now, jumping around and sloshing beers while we completely butcher this genius song. And then it’s done and our performance anxieties were splayed on the floor of the place in a slick of spilled beer. Look around for the reaction. Some people are flat out shocked. Others disgusted. Others clapping. And others stand up to blam on the fist bumps. We all high five and retreat back to our corner for 6 more.

We’d put in another round of 3 songs, fairly ambitious, The Immigrant Song, Yesterday, and Love Me Two Times, but the consensus was that we’d already done enough damage. Back out into the street and we realize we hadn’t eaten dinner yet. Drisdelle is in a late night joint ordering up a hamburger. The rest of us are out on the street and a dude with long dreadlocks and a hippie beanie comes up to us selling bracelets. Josh is all over it. “Ya maaan, we’ll take, like, five of em, maaaaan. Hey where’s Bradley Cooper?”. Drisdelle had forgotten to mention that Josh and Calvin were calling him Bradley Cooper the whole time in Bogota. Not really sure why but this is just hilarious to MacKay and I. Yeah, we may have to steal that for the rest of the trip. We get set up with some bracelets and Josh is asking the guy where he can get some weed. The dude points to his hat. There’s a subtle exchange and Josh is all smiles.

I go into the little late night joint and order up a couple super dogs for Phillip and I. They come out in 3 minutes. He’s very thankful. And I think the peer pressure got him past his comfort zone of drunkeness. But he’s maintaining. Just a little less efficiently.

We all head back to our respective hostels, Drisdelle hits the sack, and MacKay and I are up a little longer strategerizing on travel plans. The buses thing is pretty cheap but takes a long time, can be crowded, uncomfortable, and annoying, and isn’t as flexible as driving ourselves. Flying is pretty expensive between countries down here. Should we look into used cars? Man, we both miss driving…

I know we’ve bitched about driving in these countries a lot on the blog here, but the truth is we secretly love it. The chaos is fun. It kinda sucks. But it’s really, reeeeeally fun. Where we live, you never get to bomb down unknown roads, punching it past transport trucks up a mountain, on the side of a cliff, with cars coming straight at you, around a blind corner, wind pushing you around, and your hands are clenched tight on the wheel just trying to stay alive. That shit is fun. The style of driving, and going native sometimes, just balling it like locals, breaking all kinds of rules, passing people on the right shoulder, straddling the middle line, buses on either side, you just can’t get away with that in America or Canada. There are too many rules. But here, and on the mongol rally, we were lawless animals, hooning around at breakneck speed over treacherous terrain, living from one near fatal maneuver to the next. It’s the best. Yeah we missed El-BP. May have to look for a replacement tomorrow after we hit up the Teleforiqo.

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