Adios, Ambato; and Hola Again, Quito

During our final week volunteering in Ambato, Ecuador, we found ourselves tangled up in some of the notorious Ecuadorian red tape that some of our students have alluded to. As we’ve mentioned before somewhere, our preparations for this journey when we were back in the States included the purchase of a Steripen, a nifty little device that sterilizes drinking water when you’re on the go. But the one we brought along went kaput far too soon. So we contacted the company in Rocklin, California, and spoke with a very helpful customer service representative who said that they’d be happy to send a replacement for free. And they did. But that’s where the red tape came in.

Tracking the shipment online, we learned that it was stuck in customs limbo in the capital city of Quito. Even after we submitted all the information to authorities that they requested. And there didn’t appear to be any way to retrieve it, at least not before we left for Colombia. The only alternative open for us was to have it returned to sender… which would have cost us 100 dollars! (That’s slightly more than the cost of the item.) So we contacted customer service again, explaining the situation, and to our astonishment, they offered to send us yet another replacement, to our first address in Colombia. So we accepted this offer, hoping that Colombia would be less restrictive. (Spoiler alert: it was.)

February 1, 2022 - bus trip from Baños back to Ambato in time for lunch

Meanwhile, we spent the week saying goodbye to our students, some of whom we had become rather attached to. And we starred in a little promotional video for the school, in which we urged prospective students to come on down and practice their English conversation by having a chat with us (even though by the time the video would be released, we’d be gone).

Our new friends Lorena and Juan, who had taken us on that wonderful weekend trip from Baños to Puyo, presented us with a mounted photo of our group together during the outing. The directors of the school, Martin and Carla, gave us each a mug. Not just any mug, but a special mug such as the school’s teachers all own. It looks black until you put hot liquid in it, but then it changes to reveal the school’s logo and graphics, along with the mug owner’s name — yep, they had them personalized for us. We didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye in person to their little daughter Amy, but we did a video call with her before we left, and she said in her coached English, “my friend forever”.

February 2, 2022 - shooting a little promo video for the South American Language Institute on the "yoga" roof

We did have an opportunity to say goodbye to Johanna, the wonderful cook who’s been preparing our lunches. Her last lunch for us featured arepas, which are little corn cakes that can be served in a variety of ways: plain, with cheese, or with various fillings sandwiched between two of them. They are, she explained, especially popular in Colombia, where her mother hails from. They were quite tasty, especially in the manner she served them, and we were glad that she introduced us to them. Little did it occur to us that we would be eating them for breakfast every morning in the near future.

February 3-5, 2022 - at the South American Language Institute

Also during the last week, we finally learned how to operate the arcane washing machine that sits up on the terrace. It was the first time that our clothes had been given a machine washing on this trip, and the first time a couple of items had been washed at all. Normally, we do our laundry in our Scrubba, another special item we ordered before we left home. Doing laundry by hand is a standard practice in Latin America; washing machines are rather scarce, and dryers quite rare. Laundromats are practically nonexistent — we finally spotted one on our final day, ironically just down the street from us.

That was on Sunday morning, when we finished packing up our things, said goodbye to Clover the bunny, and headed out to catch an Uber to the bus station — the wrong station at first (our fault, not the driver’s), but we corrected course soon enough. There we hopped on a bus for the ride of three hours to Quito, and like the other buses we had ridden and would be riding in South America, there was no WC available even for the longest trip. Actually this one had a toilet, but it was labeled only for mujeres — but even so, it was locked up and apparently not even available to females.

February 6, Ambato to Quito scenes from the bus

So the first order of business upon arriving at the bus terminal in Quito was to make a mad dash for the bathroom (50 cents each). Then we sent for an Uber to take us to the hostel where we’d be spending a couple of nights. While we were quite happy with the hostel we stayed at the last time we were in town (it was in fact, just about the best one ever), we wanted to try a different one this time, in a location farther north so we would be closer to the one thing we most wanted to see in Quito: the equator itself. Thus we settled on a hostel with the curious name of Bunker Hause, which turned out to be at least as good as the other one. It was in a neighborhood not far from a major marketplace where we could buy everything we needed. Also nearby was another honest-to-goodness laundromat, only the second one we recall seeing on this tour.

Arriving at the Bunker Hause in Quito, Ecuador

We had a private room, rather like a hotel (except that the bathroom was in the hall), and there was a communal kitchenette, which hardly anyone used but us. In fact, the only other guest we saw was a Chinese gentleman who spoke no English (and apparently not even Spanish) who asked, with the aid of Google Translate, if we could help him set up wi-fi on his laptop. Though we’re not exactly geeks, we did manage to be of some assistance. Thank heavens for Google Translate. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s bailed us out several times (and would do so again in the future).

February 7th, Quito, Ecuador

On our second night at the hostel, we encountered a troupe of (apparently amateur) actors who came to rehearse a play in the basement. From what we gather, they’re going to be performing there as well. Though we didn’t watch the performance (we didn’t want to intrude) we could hear their voices running through it, especially one female performer who (from what we could tell) was rather overacting. But that’s just our professional assessment.

The most striking feature of this particular hostel was… well, the net. It was about 8 feet by eight feet, suspended above a little courtyard, and it was designed for people to literally hang out on. Or do yoga on. Or whatever. Really a rather simple feature, but we’ve never seen anything quite like it anywhere else. It’s enough to really make a place stand out.

February 1-8, 2022

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