We spent most of the following three weeks on an intensive Spanish language course in Quito, Ecuador, with a few breaks in between.
Monday 16.11.1987, Quito
We finally found the South American Handbook-recommended Mama Rosita for breakfast. The highly recommended pancakes were a total failure, the omelette (unfortunately with avocado) was bad and the place was filthy.
- In Quito we checked back in to Hotel Interamericano, this time with two beds. The presence of a telephone forced us to pay 1400, 200 more than last time (5 dollars, up 0.8).
We dropped by the post office where Bo picked up a letter from her mother and I mailed one home. We met a couple from Torvastad, Norway – nurses. She was five months pregnant and looked forward to surprising her family. They had visited Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru in 2.5 months and were now heading to Guatemala and Mexico before returning home to Norway by way of Moscow (Aeroflot) for the Christmas holidays.
We dined together, talked a lot and it was really nice.
Tuesday 17.11.1987, Quito
This morning we took a bus (25 sucres) for an hour to Mitad del Mundo. There is a tower-monument marking the equator. Inside the tower there is a museum with an exhibition on the different regions and peoples of Ecuador. Interesting.
We have as of lately been thinking of taking Spanish lessons and when we jumped off the bus on the way back walking downhill towards the modern part of Quito, we accidentally bumped into the Quito Spanish School. The place is mentioned in our guidebook, so we went inside. (Address: Academia de Español Quito, Marchena 130 y 10 de Agosto, third floor.)
Their offers seemed good with courses of varying length, with or without an Ecuadorian family to live with. They also offered individual classes at 3 dollars an hour but we settled for a two week scheme (five days a week, seven hours a day) for 200 USD. There would be one teacher per student and a lot of conversation. The school operates with six levels of increasing knowledge.
Before we made our final decision we dropped by the Catholic University which also offers education in Spanish to foreigners. They only have five week courses, too long for us. We start on Friday.
The city’s business district and a number of exchange offices are situated on the Avenida Amazonas. We went into an exchange bureau and changed some US traveller’s cheques into US cash. They are good to have because we many places get a better rate on cash than cheques.
We could also need some cash in sucres but while we were there they changed the rate from 283 to 270. This was a huge shock and we hastily departed for Hotel Colón International, but they too had managed the change the rate. We bought Time Magazine and International Herald Tribune which stated that we could not expect any better rates in the near future.
Our Spanish language school had suggested a hotel much closer to the education centre in New Quito. It was full but we could try it again tomorrow.
We popped into the Norwegians again as we were leaving to eat. Nice.
Wednesday 18.11.1987, Quito
Right after breakfast we left for the recommended hotel and got ourselves a room.
- Residencial Marsella. It is on Calle Rios, above the Alameda park. We were lucky and had one of the better rooms (no 5) with a view of the park and the volcano. Bright and nice with plenty of cupboards. Double bed and clean sheets. The communal bath in the corridor has hot shower in the morning and looked clean. Laundry opportunities on the roof. Very good! 400 sucres per person (1.4 USD). (Map)
We went back to Interamericana which did not have good enough hot water. We took our bags, placed them at Marsella and left for Av. Amazonas.
The Norwegian Consulate General in Amazonas y Robles 653, 13th floor, had unfortunately no Norwegian newspapers and besides closed until four in the afternoon.
We noticed that the exchange had fallen to 658/660.
Later we went to a cinema and watched the Untouchables. I finally managed to see it after all, and that was good. Excellent movie and a cinema with good speakers for a change. For 120 sucres (0.4 USD) one may sit and watch films the entire day, as three films are being run continuously throughout the day.
Kentucky Fried Chicken is overrated and I caught belly trouble, Bo a little less.
Thursday 19.11.1987, Quito
After a nice hot shower we had breakfast: Baguette, butter, jam, milk and yoghurt. Yesterday we had something reminding us of Norwegian kneip bread.
We relaxed in our room, wrote our diaries and postcards. We then went into the old town and had a look at the San Francisco cathedral with beautiful, immense carvings, and also the Jesuit church (gold covered carvings).
Bo is not feeling well and I dined alone. I’m starting to get bored with the food. It is good but it tends to get monotonous with fried meat, rice, sometimes fries, vegetables including avocado which we don’t dare to eat and do not like. We have not yet in Ecuador been able to find non-carbonated soft drinks.
Friday 20.11.1987, Quito
We left early for the Academia de Español Quito. There was a problem finding a place to eat breakfast even though the time was half past seven. We paid our school fee and went back on the 10 de Agosto street with a female teacher – Veronica. She was to become my private teacher. The breakfast place we found is quite close to our hotel, so we will not have to get up early next time.
There was a couple from New Zealand and Great Britain on the school already. We are sitting at small tables in two rooms talking with each our teacher. I had Veronica, nice and quite good and understandable. I started on scratch, while Bo a few levels higher.
During the day I realised I already knew some but it seems better to start from the beginning. In between the drilling of words we had conversations on religion, genders, politics and so on: Muy interesante.
We had pizza at the Hut again. Sad. This time the bottom was too fried and it won’t help how much the Indian/Pizza Hut dressed waitress smiles. I will not return.
We thought of going to a peña tonight. We received a couple of good tips on the school, but Bo is not in good condition.
The school lasts from 0830 to 1230 with only a short coffee break at 1115. Then we have an hour lunch before continuing to 1630. It was a long day, but we made it.
Saturday 21.11.1987, Quito
In the morning we went out to the large Carolina Park. We had heard there would be an open-air concert with musicians from a number of South American countries. We stayed until it was over around 1630 and had a great time.
It was the union of indigenous people which arranged the concert in connection with its 1-year anniversary. There were a couple folk singers from Brazil, a group from Chile playing a mix of Arne Nordheim, Pink Floyd and folk music (great). From Ecuador the Amazon Indians came in their costumes, the highland Indians dressed in their costumes and there were activists holding appeals.
The concert had quite a few spectators, including a number of gringos. We recognised many of them from Otavalo.
The peak was when a group of black people from Ecuador confirmed our notion of them as very rhythmic and musical. They joked about the mobbing of black people, but had a definite sting to it. They were playing and dancing, five men carrying machetes and five women carrying bananas and bottles on their heads while their hips went twisting. It was sensual, inciting and very skilful.
Sunday 22.11.1987, Quito
We had breakfast in our room and spent most of the day there. Homework.
We had dinner in a better restaurant in the new part of town. Italian.
Monday 23.11.1987, Quito
The school has started for full. It went fine today even though it was tough at the end of the day. I finished book number 1 (out of 10) and Veronica said I would get through with number 3 by the end of the week. Next week I will make books 4 and 5. Bo will finish the 3 tomorrow. The test at the end of the day went excellent – everything was correct.
Veronica told me that she earns 18,000 (64 USD) a month, only 140 (0.5) an hour. A teacher in a public school earns 30,000 with only 20 hour week. Lunch and bus is on her, others would get that for free. The reason is a surplus of teachers. One becomes a teacher by studying for three years from the age of 17 to 20.
In order to get a post in the public sector as a teacher one has to know someone well placed and perhaps even bribe him or her. This is the same with students balancing between retaking a year on school or advance to the next level.
Children attend school from age 6 to 12, unless they are obliged to retake a year. After this there is secondario.
There is racism in a) this school and b) in the society at large. A) No black people and few Indians are employed as teachers because some students do not wish to have them. Veronica told me of a German who disliked his Indian teacher. B) Veronica previously worked as a secretary. When she resigned her boss would not employ blacks or Indians. They were thieves!
AIDS is being taken quite seriously in Ecuador. A few dozen people have died and ten times as many have the disease. One has informed on TV about AIDS and of the importance of sticking to one partner and at least use condom/contraceptives. There is large scepticism towards foreigners in South America.
Men ought to get as much experience as possible before getting married and in their marriage. Women should be virgins when they step into their marriage or else there will either be no marriage, or beating. Machismo.
We had personal discussions as well, about the relationship between married couples and partners, and about marriage vs. partnership.
Quito and Guayaquil have universities, Loja has a correspondence university. The catholic university in this town is private and one has to pay to study there.
School uniforms are mainly used because it gets cheaper for the parents. They do not need to buy so many clothes for their children. They were school uniforms right up to university level.
Tuesday 24.11.1987, Quito
The school goes on and so does the memorising in the evenings. It’s a hard run, but we’re learning more and more.
We went to the post office behind the Independence Square and mailed the carpet Bo had bought. We included her exposed films and some papers we had picked up on the way. The weight turned almost up to the allowed 2 kilos and the price was around six dollars. Air mail and twelve days to Norway.
(Remark at time of blogging: Those films made it home but not unharmed by the X-ray scanner in Ecuador. Very few photos survived.)
Wednesday 25.11.1987, Quito
It is quite interesting to watch the demonstrations and so on in the neighbourhood. The police are out with teargas and armoured vehicles – some with water cannons. The view from our school is excellent in this matter.
Thursday 26.11.1987, Quito
Today I passed level 2 with honours.
Friday 27.11.1987, Quito
It is finally weekend. For the first time in very long I sense a difference between weekdays and weekends. Everything has been meshed up, but now we have school and two days off.
I mentioned the day before yesterday that we are able to watch the demonstations near our school. Yesterday and today the police came with lots of teargas. There are many students on a high school nearby provoking and being provoked with rock throwing and so on.
When we returned to school after lunch we were stalled for a moment by a passing armoured police vehicle being peppered with rocks. We were not able to pass the riot. When we finally got through I felt teargas for the first time. Some of the launched gas blew in our direction and it was quite unpleasant.
That evening we went with several teachers and students to the peña “Ecuador y su Musica”. It was very nice. We danced and drank rum and cola.
We heard that our school manager earns 600 USD a week. Compared to around 14 dollars for a teacher it is quite an amazing salary. That weekly pay is not bad even in Norway. There are around 40 teachers on our school, meaning that the wages for all of them sums up to the same as Edgar earns himself. If there are not enough students to all teachers they get no pay. Did anyone mention exploitation? Paid sick leave is unheard of and 15 days vacation is sufficient – says Edgar.
Saturday 28.11.1987, Quito
Today Bo and split for a few hours and I went up and down some streets in the old town I hadn’t been to previously. Saturday looks as if it’s a market days because all the streets behind and next to the San Francisco church were filled with stalls selling just about everything.
The people of Quito are apparently preparing their market day well, for there are flags everywhere and houses and fences are being fixed and given new paint.
Sunday 29.11.1987, Quito
We sat the entire Saturday evening with our homework because today we wanted to climb the Pichincha. The volcano at an altitude of 4,800 metres was reportedly a nice day trip so we started to walk uphill around eight in the morning. Unfortunately we went wrong and had a hassle finding the right ridge to climb.
There is a top above Quito called Cruz Loma. Our plan was to climb that one first and continue on to Pichincha afterwards. Cruz Loma is about a thousand metres above Quito, more precisely at 3,800 metres. To get up there one has to follow some very steep mountain sides. This was pure interval training.
In this thin air the lungs were working like bellows and we had to stop every now and then to get our breath back. The legs felt fine but the lungs got a real workout. When we after almost five hours finally made it to Cruz Loma, we realised that three more hours to the volcano would be too much. We could see it rise in the distance, behind some huge grassy moors.
Instead we lay down in the grass, drank the rest of the soft drink we had brought (1 litre, at most) and watched some llamas graze down the hillside. There was a nice view of Quito.
The descent took us two hours. We found the right way, a quite well-trodden path steep down a grassy ridge. This time it was the legs that took the bulk of the exercise. We drank like horses when we finally returned to the city. Norwegian mountain water was highly praised numerous times on this hard, but in the end satisfactory climb.
Monday 30.11.1987 to Thursday 03.12.1987, Quito
The school and our Spanish language studies rolled on. This week we had little time but being in school and doing our homework in the evenings. We are looking forward to finish doing homework and at the same time get the opportunity to test our knowledge in real life.
On Wednesday I finished book no 3, of totally 10, and continued yesterday with number 4 without taking a test. We did the same with the grammar in book 5 today, in the sense that I was allowed to take notes. Then I will be able to do it on my own later. I was told had a good progress. It was nice to hear that Bo passed test number 5 today and hurried on at levels 6 and 7. I believe the value of the course was good for both of us.
On Tuesday Bo, her teacher and some others went on an excursion to Calderon, about an hour outside Quito. There they are busy doing some rather special handicrafts. From bread dough (salt dough, Bo believed it was) they produced some small figurines, painted them and sold them for pennies. Really clever and colourful! Of all things Bo bought Christmas decorations.
Quito are these days celebrating its anniversary. The entire week until the very day, the sixth, have arrangements of some sorts, somewhere in the city. There are vending stalls in the parks, public dance concerts, typical dishes of food from Ecuador and on Saturday there will apparently be a costume parade on the Avenida Amazonas.
Friday 04.12.1987, Quito
We went over to the Avenida Amazonas and bought some souvenirs, including a Christmas gift for the people home. We had heard there would be a parade, but saw nothing of the sort. Instead we watched some dance performances before going to the main office of our Quito Spanish School. They were staging a party with live music, dance, food and drinks.
It was a quite pleasant experience and we got the address of some German girls we might meet again in Santiago, Chile. We were also invited to a birthday party on Sunday by a Dutch girl.
When we arrived at the post office we learned that it was closed today and tomorrow because of Quito’s anniversary celebrations. This meant there would be no more messages from home and no parcel to them tomorrow.
Saturday 05.12.1987, Quito
We went to the Zoo and saw condors, llamas and Galapagos tortoises. We then continued to the Carolina Park and found sellers of Christmas trees and decorations. The trees are largely plastic, green or white, some are fern and there were also some pine trees in between.
A 5 hour long parade was almost over when we arrived so we went to the old part of Quito to eat cakes. Later we had dinner at Hotel Colón International. We had a feast for less than nine dollars.
Sunday 06.12.1987, Quito
Our last day in Quito was mostly spent in our hotel room. We read and packed the gifts to the people back home in the snow.
In the afternoon we went to the Plaza de San Francisco for an outdoor dance concert. Of all the people present no one was dancing, and we did not stay long.
We had been invited to a birthday party at six by Ute, a Dutch girl from the Spanish school. The other invited foreigners followed Ecuadorian customs and turned up considerably later. Well, well. Ute is staying with an Ecuadorian family with a pleasant surgery specialist at 52 years of age, a wife at 25 and two little children. They seemed quite affluent. The apartment in a high edificio, is cleaned by some youths staying there permanently and receive room and board and little else.
We met other students from our language course and some new ones, had some snacks, drank rum and coke, and danced. It was a very nice party.
The next chapter: After spending more than three weeks in the capital of Ecuador we turned south in the Andes Mountains to visit a string of mountain towns and volcanoes south of Quito. The towns were Latacunga, Ambato, Baños, Saquisili, Riobamba and Guapo. The volcanoes are called Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Altar and Tungurahua.