Quito, Ecuador: Latino International Style
The music in the Quito nightclub is a meringe rhythm, but the ambiance is right out of New York: modern décor, bright lights, international food. Next door is an Italian restaurant with tiramisu and down the street on outdoor vendor serves falafel. Quito is full-on international. I can even buy Indian spices.
I find “Ecuador Latin” very different from say, Brazilian Latin, with the over-the-top sexiness of Carnival, Cuba’s passionate salsa beat or Mexico’s intensely colorful style. Ecuadorians don’t show their emotions freely and Ecuador living is low-key much of the time, especially in Cotacachi.
Life in Cotacachi is long periods of tranquility punctured with um-pah-pah bands that march on Sundays, playing the same melodies every week. It’s loud electronic music that blares only on occasion—political announcements blasting from cars, free concerts pounding out their bass from giant speakers, taped electronic country music played in numerous little tiendas. Despite these raucous rhythms that accost my serenity, I still consider Cotacachi a quiet and peaceful place to live.
Quito is Another Story
Latin in Quito has merged with many things North American and European. Recently we went to a Kenny G concert with friends and then took in a movie the next day at a very Western-looking mall, CCI, on Avenida Rio Amazonas. KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut. In the food court you can munch on French fries, hamburgers, teriyaki. The teens are clones of their pierced and bare-midriffed cousins to the north.
Kenny G with a Latin Beat
But Western culture is absorbing more and more Latin ways as well. When Kenny G came south for a concert Saturday night, I I noticed his adoption of 2 Latin habits–manana and musica.
The concert was to begin at 8 p.m. There was no reserved seating, so we lined up at 7, got pretty good seats and waited, and waited. . . Latin-style, the concert didn’t begin until after 8:30.
While the Ecuadorians are fine with being very, very late or breaking appointments altogether without a word, they don’t take kindly to receiving that treatment in return. By 8:30 they were shouting for action and the entire audience would burst into a summoning applause.
Kenny the Latin Lover
Kenny made up for his “manana moment” by playing his heart out almost non-stop for hours, enthralling us with a selection of hot Latin rhythms. He wooed his sizzling sax like a lover, coaxing the most drippingly dulcet tones from it, or her. His drummer was absolutely incredible and we loved the concert.
It’s Kenny’s custom to have a drawing at the end of each concert and present the winner with one of his saxophones. It’s a good money-maker for him, since only those who purchase 2 or more of his products are eligible for the drawing.
The winner was a young woman and her mother, who walked with a cane and slowly made her way to the stage. You could tell she was extremely excited to meet Kenny in person and the audience held its breath as she edged up the steps to center stage without falling.
Continental Breakfast and Oprah in English
Our Quito hotel was La Mancha. Okay, so the shower didn’t drain and the shower head sprayed water right out the door as soon as I turned it on, but I was happy to have a very clean room, good bed and lots of extras, all for only $45 a night, including tax. I recommend this small hotel, far enough off the main traffic pattern to provide a quiet night’s sleep. Sunday we lazed around, watching movies in English on television, a real treat, since we don’t own one, and having a leisurely breakfast. The hotel is a short cab ride from CCI and we shopped while waiting for our friends.
Colombia, With a Catch. . .
A tall Ecuadorian talked us into stopping to hear his spiel about a “free” trip we could win to a resort in either Colombia or Ecuador. He gave us a flier and told us to scratch off the 4 tabs to see what we’d won. He acted very excited when we came up with 3 that matched, for a free 3-day, 2-night free trip to a resort in Colombia. A winner!
We would only have to pay our own airfare and only have to listen to a talk about the resort, but were assured room and board and some extras were included, for sure, and that it was not a time share proposition. Oh, and then we only had to take our flier to another part of town to fill out a form and give our credit card information. Only a formality, no problemo.
We’ve been wanting to go to Colombia, and were starting to be drawn into his web, but decided to get our friend Liliya’s opinion first. Sure enough, she told us some friends of hers had signed up, it was a time share operation and no room and board was included for them. In the end we passed on the great deal. Colombia still beckons, however.
Quito has a Decidedly European Influence
The movie, “Los Secretos del Poder,” which translates “State of Play,” with Russell Crowe and Helen Mirren, was one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. It’s got sex, (not much), murder, betrayal, a crazed killer, billions of $$ at stake, snappy dialogue, crisp humor and more twists and turns than the road to Quito.
After the movie Liliya gave us a mini-tour of her favorite places in the Rio Amazonas area. El Corral has the best hamburgers in Quito, according to Liliya and Leo. It overlooks a small soccer field where you can watch local games. The walls are lined with caricatures of soccer players and other sports figures. 100% beef patties are cooked on the spot and a “Combo Special” is $7.79, with lettuce, tomato, mayo, bacon, onion, fries and a coke. Hansel and Gretel has German cakes and pastries, crepes, sandwiches and soups. Lai Lai offers Chinese food and Fratello’s is a pizzeria. On the next corner at Rio Amazonas and Jose de Villaungua is the Juan Valdez Café, with a picture of the famous peasant from childhood tv coffee commercials. It’s a great spot to sit outdoors under an umbrella table and watch the street dramas unfold while you sip your cappuccino.
Shopping, Eating, More Shopping and More Eating
On Calle Shyris, Liliya pointed out Colineal, with distinctive furniture made in Cuenca. It’s right across the street from Renovar, an upholstery shop. Another of Liliya’s favorites is Carrusel, another furniture store, and Swiss Corner, a small restaurant with European breads and good salads.
The next stop of the evening was at Cyrano’s on Calle Portugal, just about the best bakery in Quito, and there are several of them, thank goodness, so you don’t have to go far. We inhaled the heavenly yeasty scents of anis bread, carrot bread, French loaves, brioche and croissants. Even mini-quiches, tiny pizzas and fresh fruit tarts, chocolate truffles and German black bread. We loaded up there and then headed next door to Cyrano’s ice cream shop for blueberry and yogurt ice cream and tea.
Several blocks of tiny Arabian restaurants lined Shyris and it was hard to resist the exotic spicy smells wafting our direction. But Liliya had her heart set on taking us to her favorite pizza place, Al Forno, on Calle Belgica. The restaurant is set back off the street and you reach it along a plant-filled walkway. Lots of dark wood and windows that look out into a garden.
Gary and I shared a pizza with a perfect thin crust, also a little thin on sauce and cheese for my taste, but quite good. Great atmosphere and perfect restaurant for a quiet evening.
Gary left for business in Guayaquil Monday and I spent another day checking out the upscale shops around our hotel in the Mariscal area from La Caruna to Parque El Ejido. See my next blog, geared to mostly design stuff, since I am now focusing on building a house.
Oh, the joy of finding the perfect bathroom sink! But how do I get it home since I take either buses or cabs? There’s a nifty transport service that will deliver to Cotacachi for only a few dollars.
I may even offer those of you who are learning to shop in Ecuador another thrill by describing some friends’ adventures finding wood flooring for their Old Town apartment. Will they be accomplices in the murder of exotic Ecuadorian trees or choose toxic laminate flooring instead? Their options make me shiver at the dangers involved. They may let me have their old wood flooring to recycle in our caretaker’s house. Stay tuned as their adventure in Ecuador living unfolds. . .