Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Quito, Ciudad de los Cielos

I'm going to be honest - my opinion of Quito during my first few days was not the best. 95% of the time during the three or so days after my arrival on the 14th of August had been spent going back and forth between my house and the university for program orientation events. It was always the same routine: get up, eat breakfast, catch three buses to get to CumbayĆ” (the suburb in Quito where USFQ is located), get orienteered (yes, I just made that word up), catch three buses back, eat dinner, go to bed. I would have loved to have gone out exploring on my own, but there was one problem:  It was always dark by the time I got back. This was especially troublesome because if there was one thing that was hammered into our brains during the orientations, it's that the minute we stepped out by ourselves, we would get killed by the army-hordes of criminals that constantly roam the streets of Quito in search of gringo blood (at least this is what I remember the U.S. embassy official telling us). Of course, this was a total exaggeration - but until the first weekend, I was essentially stuck on an endless loop between my house and the university. The areas I did see were pretty sketchy (a favorite word of mine).

This is my street at night. I think it qualifies as "pretty sketchy."

It felt like someone had taken the worst parts of Puerto Rico (where I'm from), and made an entire city out of it. I decided I shouldn't jump to conclusions however - I had only heard  beautiful things about Quito from friends that had gone in the past (shoutout to Cristina, Meaghan, Britney, Nicole, Jenny, and Joy), and I had only been in the city for three days - so clearly there must have been something I was missing.

And boy was there something I was missing:

Quito: The highest capital city in the world. 9,350 feet above sea level.
Now I get why they call it "Ciudad de los Cielos".

Quito is like art: sometimes you need to take a step back in order to get some perspective. A good way to step back in Quito is by going up in elevation a further 2000 feet. Quito covers an area of 1,623 square miles (for comparison, New York City's land area is only 783.8 square miles). The minute you see the rolling hills of the city extending from horizon to horizon, as far as the eye can see, and dotted by an array of mountains and volcanoes - you're in love.  The truth is, before I finally went on a tour of the city that Friday, I had seen absolutely nothing. I felt nothing but guilt for having such a poor opinion of Quito during my first days - because I learned then that Quito is nothing short of magical.

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