February 26, 2013
Long before there was guacamole, California rolls or the Super Bowl, there were avocados. The species–Persea americana–is native to Mexico and Central America and has been widely planted and naturalized in the Caribbean and South America. While vast orchards of trees–most of them genetic duplicates of the Hass variety and several others–grow in the world’s main regions of production, like California, in places less affected by the homogenous sprawl of commercial agriculture, hundreds of different varieties exist. In Ecuador, avocados of endless shapes, colors and sizes are sold in the central town markets. Certain varieties are favored and cultivated widely, but the spectrum of avocados here is almost as varied as the people who grow them. For avo advocates, such a selection of varieties makes touring the local markets a source of intrigue and offers a fine opportunity for a varietal tasting of the fruit that was once called “poor man’s butter.”
But the systematic food scientist hoping to set the table for an organized tasting also must know the names of his samples–and, unfortunately, the avocados of Ecuador elude such labeling. That’s because different varieties of avocado either don’t have names or because the vendors simply don’t know what they’re selling.
“This is just an avocado,” the vendor tells me carelessly at a market in Loja.
“But look,” I counter. “Those over there are different, and those, too, are black, not green. And some are tiny, like limes. There are many, many types, and they have names. So, what is this one called?”
She shrugs and laughs at her friends, who seem amused by my insistence and the pen and paper in my hands.
“Green avocado,” she says.
Other vendors commonly name their avocados as “Guatemalteca”–meaning Guatemalan. This, however, is not a variety name but a broad category of avocados that includes many varieties. Vendors have shown me Guatemalteca avocados with green pebbled skin, shiny, black, smooth skin and polished lime-green skin. I have seen Guatemalteca avocados both big and small, and I have tasted ones with watery, fruity flesh and fatty, thick, rich flesh.
I have pointed out these differences to fruit dealers who give this simple label to all their avocados, and they have answered, “Oh, that is Guate-negro, and that is Guate-verde, and that is Guate-pequeno. But that’s not important. Four for one dollar!”
Actually, it is important to get variety names straight before a tasting–and only occasionally are vendors helpful. In the town of Paute, about 30 kilometers northeast of Cuenca, I stopped in at the central market, having been told that some very fine avocados are grown here. I saw nothing especially remarkable–mostly just small to tiny avocados, both green and black, with thin, brittle skins and oily flesh. But one saleslady named her avocados as “Pautena.” Fresh data! I hungrily scribbled down this name–probably given to a local variety, born in this region and named for the town. Problem was, her avocados were all different sizes, colors and shapes, yet she insisted they had come from the same tree.
So, with proper names on them or not, here are some avocados you may taste in Ecuador.
Guatemalteca A word commonly heard in avocado conversations in Ecuador, Guatemalteca is the name applied to numerous avocado varieties by the vendors who sell them. This becomes a point of frustration for one trying to differentiate the varieties by actual name, yet to avocado experts the label carries a seed of truth. For the Guatemalan avocado is one of three subspecies of P. americana (the other two are the Mexican and the West Indian). Guatemalan avocado trees generally produce large fruits with pebbly, thick skins and fatty flesh. But there are hundreds of varieties of this subspecies, but never did I get much past the blanket term “Guatemalteca.” The avocados I found carrying this label had skins ranging from thin, shiny and black to thick, pebbly and green. Flesh was usually on the delicious and creamy, though a few Guatemalteca avocados were of the watery sort. I licked my spoon clean, confused every time.
Costeno An elongate, smooth, light green skinned avocado, the Costeno–if it really is the Costeno–has light, low-fat flesh that is fruity and mild. Such avocados are often reserved in Ecuador for use in sweeter preparations–such as blended with milk and sugar–but for many tasters, avocados like the Costeno will lose out when compared to the rich, fatty avocados of a proper Californian guacamole pot.
“Negro” With no given name beyond its color, this small, shiny fruit has skin that appears almost like asphalt–a mottled, blackish-brown. The flesh is nutty but plain, slightly bitter, and just a little watery. Be warned that the same avocado may be called a Guatemalteca.
Lojano I found this avocado in Cuenca, at a fruit stall on the east side of town. A very large and elongated avocado, with smooth shiny green skin, its flesh was a unique yellowish-orange and of buttery, fatty consistency. The Lojano was one of the very best I tasted–and four of these giants cost only a dollar. Praise Ecuador!
Criollo Another smooth-skinned, lime-green avocado like the Lojano and Costeno, the Criollo was found in the basket of a street vendor in Loja. The pit is huge and the meat lacking both in quantity and oil.
Pautena The town of Paute, in the mountains east of Cuenca, is renowned by some locals for its avocados, which may be grown nowhere else. The leading form seems to be a small, shiny black avocado not much larger than a golf ball and with dense, sticky flesh.
Other avocado names you may hear in Ecuador:
Mantequillo, nacional, paisano.
Peru–Another Place to Hunt:
The markets of Peru yielded some spectacular finds, of avocados both strangely shaped and of tremendous size. In the northern towns, one may find avocados weighing about four pounds and the size of footballs. In Huarmey, watch for a vendor in the central marketplace with a basket full of avocados shaped like cashew nuts.
Almost an avocado: The coyo is a green, pear-shaped fruit that hangs from large tree that belongs in the same genus as the avocado. The fruit is not commercially cultivated, but the intrepid searcher who asks questions and knocks on doors may find their way to a coyo tree. I, for one, did not. Good luck.
February 7, 2013
I left my baggage at a hostel in central Cuenca and rode east, on a small quiet highway that climbed into the beautiful green hills and would eventually lead over a small mountain range and straight down into the Amazon rainforest. My goal for the day was to go as far as the pass and look down toward the world’s greatest river basin, or the fog blanket upon it–but I didn’t get that far. About 10 miles out of town, in the quiet farm country, as I passed a small home on the left side of the road, a pair of dogs came charging from the front yard. This was nothing new; many dogs are pests and nuisances to cyclists here. But when one dog didn’t stop at the usual four-to-five-foot buffer distance and, instead, came right in and sank its teeth into my ankle, I yelled out and stepped off my bike, astonished I’d actually been bitten–the second dog bite of my life. The dog let go and scurried down the road while a woman came rushing from the home, yelling at the thing–her family’s best friend, I’m sure.
“Control your dog!” I snapped at her, rolling up to the dirt bank leading from the road to into their yard and staring at the woman as fiercely as I could. I pulled down my sock to have a look at my heel. “There’s blood! Does your dog have a rabies vaccination?”
The woman said yes.
“Do you have papers or documentation?” I asked.
She said yes. I asked if I could see the papers. She said they were lost. Her teenage girls had begun to laugh and giggle at me, and the grandmother who had come out of the house also wore the shadow of a smirk on her face. Nobody apologized or asked if I needed help.
I requested alcohol to clean my wound, which was oozing blood, and after the two women haggled nervously for a minute, I lost my patience and rolled back the way I had come. I needed to get medical attention. One hundred yards down the road, the same dog–a brown-and-white mongrel with pointed ears and wicked eyes–came at me again. I picked up a hunk of cement and threw, just missing the animal as it fled into the brush. The family sullenly watched the entire exchange. I rolled on.
The presence of dogs in Ecuador, as in all developing nations, baffles me. They’re often no better than rats, far less useful than goats and meaner by miles than pigs–yet the people feed them and maintain the dogs’ health just enough to keep them alive. They sport bleeding bald spots and rib cages like washboards, and about 50 percent cannot resist the urge to chase people on bicycles. Most dogs here don’t seem to be strays. That is, they usually appear to belong to a particular household–but why? Do people love these dogs? Name them Max? I doubt it.
As an experienced cycle tourist, I have a mixed relationship with dogs. I have loved several like siblings, and it tickles me every time I see a well-groomed, friendly dog on a leash here–but that gang of mongrels loitering by the roadside 200 yards ahead strikes dread and loathing in me. I often scheme how I might exact the most satisfying revenge on the dogs that harry me down the road through almost every village, snarling ferociously as though I had done something to outrage them. Carrying rocks in a front basket seems an easy precautionary tactic–though I don’t currently have a basket. Firing a three-pronged pole spear loaded with a rubber hand loop at one end would be extremely satisfying. The other day, in the outskirts of Quito, one of the usual “ribcage mutts,” as I call them, charged me and gave me hell for crawling past on a steep grade. It then fled toward a doorway as I launched an orange at its rear end. The owner, who probably hadn’t ever bathed his dog or picked up its poop in a used newspaper bag, poked his head out the upstairs window and yelled at me that I had antagonized the dog by not walking my bike. The exchange made me wonder if, perhaps, some people here do love their dogs even though they neglect them three-fourths of the way to death.
In the village of Turi, overlooking beautiful Cuenca below, I stopped at a small store and bought a vial of antiseptic for 50 cents and gave my leg a rough cleaning outside. I joined two local boys outside the school, each on their laptops using the free wi-fi, and went online to read what I could about rabies. I had a happy hour beer appointment with another traveler at 6 p.m. in Cuenca and I didn’t want to visit the hospital unless entirely necessary. Before I even connected, a car pulled up in the square and out stepped three beautiful nurses. I put away my laptop and rolled over. “Hello. I was just bitten by a dog,” I said, showing them the wound. “I cleaned it with disinfectant, but can you help? Do you think there is risk of rabies?”
“Yes,” one said. “You need attention.” The women invited me to follow them to the town’s health clinic, where they weighed me, took my blood pressure, measured my height and asked for my name, age, passport number and civil state, taking notes on a clipboard the whole time. Finally, they cleaned the bleeding wound and wrote me an order form for rabies vaccination at Cuenca’s main medical center.
“Is there any cost?” I asked as they began to gesture their farewells. “Nothing,” one said to me, shrugging. ‘We are a public hospital.”
In Cuenca, I found the main hospital closed, for it was after 4 p.m. I spent the late evening researching the perils of rabies and found myself terrified after a few minutes of reading off my laptop. Rabies is extremely deadly. If a person exhibits the first sign of the disease–tingling or burning around the wound–they are usually already goners on an unstoppable downward spiral toward a painful death. At this point, treatment is only given to ease the suffering. Only a handful of people have ever experienced rabies symptoms and still overcome the disease. Usually, to save a bite victim’s life, the vaccine must be delivered prior to the development of the virus in the spinal column and brain. The more I read, the more afraid for my life I became–and angry at the family that never even said they were sorry for their dog’s actions. I noted from several online sources that many authorities will prioritize the testing for rabies of a dog that has bitten someone. This examination is not a forgiving one and may require dissecting the dog’s brain–which got me thinking about my revenge.
“Would you like me to show you where this dog lives?” I hopefully asked the doctor the next morning at Medical Center Number 3, on Calle 12 de Abril. “It’s no trouble. I would be happy to take you there.”
“No,” he said confidently, then ordered me on my back on a cot.
An assistant asked me to pull up my shirt and explained that this would be the first of seven injections into my abdomen, one a day for a week–which spoiled my plans to camp for two or three nights in the lake-studded wilderness of Cajas National Park, 20 miles west and a vertical mile above.
“We close at 4 each day,” the assistant said. “Make sure you’re here. If you miss a day we must begin the whole series again.”
They tossed the needle in the trash and said, “Hasta mañana.”
Rabies treatments are not conducive to the spontaneous travel lifestyles. In my case, I was required to remain in and around Cuenca for six days. I only dared leave town on a bus–and I checked ahead to be sure that Loja, my next destination and 130 miles south, had a vaccination center so I could complete the series. I am now immune to rabies for the next two years, which gives me a powerful sense of indestructibility. Still, I’m thinking about that wicker handlebar basket full of rocks.
Rabies: What to Know, What to Do
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, rabies is carried by mammals and may be passed to a human by a bite or even just a slab of the tongue, as the virus occurs in an infected animal’s saliva. Aside from dogs, other common carriers of rabies include cats, bats, foxes, raccoons and skunks. Anyone who comes into contact with a wild or unknown mammal should be considered at risk of rabies and receive treatment immediately. Symptoms appear following the incubation period, which may take just 10 days or as long as several years. There is no cure once symptoms appear. These may include fever, numbness, tingling and hyperactivity. Death usually occurs within seven days of the onset of symptoms.
Rabies kills more than 55,000 people per year, mostly in Asia and Africa. Travelers to at-risk areas–rabies occurs in most countries–should consider getting immunized before going.
Warning Bats–one of the most common carriers–can deliver a bite without the victim even realizing it. Take no chances. Get vaccinated if you suspect you’ve had contact with an infected animal.
Drinking Alcohol During Rabies Vaccinations As the doctor injected my second dose of Fuenzalida-Palacio vaccine last Friday he said, “No beer, whiskey, nothing.” Oops. “I had a little wine last night,” I said. He shrugged and said, “No big deal.”
Well, what is the deal? I wanted to know because Cuenca has its own brewpub with two imperial stouts on tap, and this was also Super Bowl time in a town swarming with gringo football fans. In other words, I planned on having a few drinks that weekend. According to The Travel Doctor, only two vaccines–that for Japanese encephalitis and the oral vaccine for cholera–come with restrictions on alcohol consumption. Numerous other websites and forums address the same question that I had–can one drink alcohol during post-exposure rabies treatment? Though some travelers have been advised by hospital staff not to exercise, drink alcohol, tea or coffee, or have sex for four months following the first anti-rabies shot, this seems to be entirely unfounded advice.
February 6, 2013
In Ecuador, from sea level to 12,000 feet and more, every village has its own soccer cancha or two, and rarely does a public park see a day go by without a group of locals assembling on the grass with a ball, a few beers and a sack of oranges.
But at Parque Alvarez, on the north side of Cuenca and the west side of the river, a strange and alien phenomenon has been occurring each Saturday for several years–football. Not futbol real, but futbol Americano. The group of players–a team of high school boys called Los Condores–arrives at 3 p.m. with several blimp-shaped pigskins and the challenge of squeezing a 15-by-40-meter (I mean, yard) playing zone in among the three or four soccer games underway at any given hour. There are 12 players on the team–and nobody else in the province for them to compete against.
“There is another team in Quito,” coach Robin Ramon, 21, tells me–but the two groups have never faced off.
The Condores have played for four years, Ramon tells me as his players stretch and perform calisthenics and awkward-looking neck-building exercises. They play tackle football, just like the pros, without protective gear or uniforms, and have learned the rules and regulations of American football on their own, both through reading and watching games on television. There is no football organization here–no league–Ramon says. He and these kids are it, though this minimal interest in one of America’s biggest sports could be starting to grow. After 30 minutes of warming up, the Condores split in two and face off. I hear that familiar chant of classic Midwest Americana–”Hut hut hike!” –and the game begins. While the boys laugh and giggle and make flying tackles like pumas, Ramon tells me that American football is catching on here. “It’s a long process,” he admits, almost with a frustrated sigh–but even the local mall is now selling footballs, he says positively, and Ramon expects that in another two years there will be enough interest among kids in the area to form a competitive league.
Four separate soccer games are underway in the same park here, the round black and white balls moving in graceful arcs back and forth, all eyes focused, nearly every person out here vying to get their foot on a soccer ball, as they’ve been doing since they were barely walking. But at the northeast corner of the field, the young Condores pursue a very different ball. They line up and jump into a quick flurry of action, ending with a tackle and a heap of boys or a lost ball, bouncing left, then right, in that awkward way of footballs–and the metaphor is irresistible: On the grassy soccer fields of Ecuador, which way will the football go?
January 30, 2013
About 15 miles north of Quito, a palatial iron gate on the west side of the highway opens onto a long, stately driveway leading across a prim and trim government property, past statues of acclaimed national leaders and, after about 200 yards, to the base of a nearly 100-foot-tall brick-and-mortar monument, grand enough to produce tears, called the Mitad del Mundo—“Middle of the World.” A yellow painted stripe representing the line of zero degrees latitude even runs up a walkway and bisects the monolith, which was built in 1979 and stands today as a premier tourist attraction, and a grand and glowing tribute to one of Ecuador’s proudest features: the Equator.
The problem is, they built the thing in the wrong place. The Equator is actually several hundred feet to the north, as determined by modern GPS technology that wasn’t available to the earlier surveyors of the region. As long ago as 1736 scientists were exploring Ecuador, with, among other goals, the aim of defining and marking the Equator. At some point, the current Mitad del Mundo line was painted proudly on the ground. But in recent decades, the embarrassing truth emerged: The Equator actually, and without a doubt, crosses the highway just up the road, where the property owners surely rejoiced upon hearing the news (and took their own GPS measurements, as they claim they have done) and have since built their own rather campy but perhaps more accurate attraction.
As for the grandiose government monument just to the south, what’s built is built, and, as the saying goes, no publicity is bad publicity. And so the yellow painted line that leads into the museum at the base of the Mitad monument is still declared to be the waistline of the Earth and draws hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. Here, they walk the line, straddle it, try and balance eggs on it and shake hands over it.
But I didn’t do any of those things. I didn’t enter the museum, either—not because admission was $3 but because I didn’t see the point. Nor did I see any point in getting coffee at the Equator, buying “Mitad del Mundo” trinkets at the gift shops on the Equator, eating lunch at the Equator, sitting down for a beer at the Equator or petting an alpaca at the Equator (the little camelids roam the premises). Because I wasn’t on the Equator and it all would have meant nothing. Carved into the monument is the site’s elevation (2,483 meters) and longitude (78 degrees, 27 minutes and eight seconds west—or so they say). But these somewhat arbitrary numbers are made even more so since, well, this isn’t the Equator.
Still, I did as many visitors to the Mitad do and had my passport stamped by the lady working the museum admission booth so that I could prove to the folks back home that I had actually stood on the Equator—well, almost.
“Does the stamp say ‘Mitad del Mundo, Mas o Menos’?” Alistair Hill joked minutes later, just after I met him and several other British travelers on the steps before the monument.
Hill and his girlfriend Jess Swan, both from England and now backpacking through South America for several months, gazed up at the hulking, majestic thing. They had heard the rumors that the attraction was not all it is claimed to be but made the trip from Quito anyway, splitting a cab four ways for $40.
“How did they get it so wrong?” Hill said. “Why didn’t they just flush a toilet on each side to make sure they had it right? It makes you wonder if the Meridian really passes through Greenwich.”
Hill’s friend Chris Leigh joked, “So, what else in the world have they got wrong? The South Pole? The North Pole? The Tropic of Capricorn? That’s probably 100 miles out of line. Turns your world upside-down, doesn’t it?”
But for all the pomp and circumstance, gravity and grandeur of the Mitad del Mundo, that a huge mistake has been made is freely admitted today, and the officials who work at the site readily tell visitors who inquire where to find the actual Equator.
“Turn left at the gate, and it’s 100 meters on your left,” the guard at the entrance told me as I was leaving.
You have to watch closely, but you’ll see it—a sign reading “Museo Solar Inti-Nan.” The sign assures you that you are now at zero degrees, zero minutes and zero seconds—neither north nor south of the middle of the world. The sign adds that these figures were “calculated by ‘GPS.’” It comes off as a smirking insult directed at the government site just down the road, but the sign is only being honest. A humble dirt trail leads visitors up a ravine, across a small bridge and into the outdoor museum area. While guests are free to wander at the Mitad del Mundo site, at the private museum visitors are quickly asked for $4 and then ushered into a small tour group, whether you want the service or not. I joined Amy Jones of Texas and Stefania Egas of Quito, and our English-speaking guide led the way. Much of the tour, through wood huts and artifact collections, has nothing whatsoever to do with the Equator. We saw a pen full of guinea pigs, a shrunken human head, a soggy dead boa constrictor in formaldehyde, a collection of totem poles and an exhibit featuring native folks of the Amazon.
But we finally got to the feature attraction—the Equator. It is represented by a red line, along which have been mounted a sundial, a spinning globe, nail heads on which one may try and balance an egg and—the grand fireworks of the tour–a full wash basin used to demonstrate the way that draining water supposedly swirls in a particular direction in each hemisphere. There has been much debate about this phenomenon. The Coriolis effect, a function of motion and the curvature of the Earth, is real, a phenomenon by which free-moving objects in the Northern Hemisphere appear to veer toward the right and those in the Southern Hemisphere to the left. At zero degrees latitude, the effect does not occur. This is why, for example, hurricanes wither and dissipate when they drift too close to the Equator.
But whether toilets and sinks, at their small scale, can demonstrate the Coriolis effect isn’t clear, though most experts say that the Coriolis effect does not visibly affect moving water over such a short distance as the diameter of a sink or toilet. Yet our young mono-toned tour guide, drably repeating a show she had probably given many times before, made it happen. On the Equator, after she pulled the drain plug, the water shot straight through without a swirl in either direction. Ten feet to the south, the water drained in a clockwise gyre. And just to the north, the water went down in a counterclockwise whirlpool. I suspect there was trickery at play—possibly by a hand furtively dipped into the basin and slyly setting the appropriate flow direction when we weren’t watching. I walked away frustrated, if not wowed, and I admit: The 100-foot-tall monument of the government, though a big fat mistake, is a greater site to see.
But just when we think we’ve got the whole matter sorted out and the Earth perfectly bisected, I discover this blog post from a science-savvy traveler named Adam Rasheed, who claims we’ve all been duped twice over. In 2006, Rasheed wrote a blog entry for a science and technology firm called Global Research in which he described visiting both of the equatorial sites, being skeptical of the private museum’s claims of legitimacy and promptly taking equatorial matters into his own hands using a GPS device. Rasheed concluded that the true Equator was still farther up the road, and here he and a friend built their own equatorial monument of plastic drink bottles and rubbish. Whether Rasheed had it right seems, by now, doubtful—not that it really matters. Because if Ecuador builds the 5,000-foot-tall spire that a New York architect proposed be erected on the Equator, then that would be the destination most worth paying to see—whether they place it exactly at zero degrees latitude or not.
Perhaps there is only one thing certain in this foggy fuss over the Equator: The more monuments and museums the merrier. If you think you can improve upon the existing measurements, let us know in the comment box below.
January 24, 2013
Climbing the Parador de Navas last week, I felt it happen—a ping of pain in the rear of my leg, four inches above the heel. An ache set in as we crawled to the top of the pass, and I knew it was back—my recurring Achilles tendonitis. I spent a week in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, 16 months ago lying in a hostel bed, reading, typing, visiting the local gym, sitting on benches, eying the distant Rhodope Mountains and waiting for a similar Achilles strain to heal up—and I know the boredom that can arrive with athletic injuries. But this time, I have limped into Quito, Ecuador, a fast and modern hub of sophisticated people, energy and activity. Boredom should not be an issue here. Mangoes may cost $2 a piece from sidewalk vendors—a harsh reminder for the hungry cyclist that he is no longer in the boondocks. But there is life beyond cheap mangoes, and it can be found in Quito’s clean public parks, brewpubs, wine bars, bicycle shops, historic center and so much more. Here are a few things to do that can keep one entertained in this highest (when measured from the Earth’s center) of big cities.
Sample Local Microbrews I have no love for Peruvian wine—and as an alternative, my brother and I have taken to the abundant if boring South American lagers available in every corner grocery store. Thing is, I have no love for cheap lagers, either. So when I learned that two brewpubs operated within blocks of the Hostal del Piamonte, where I have been icing and elevating my leg, I ran for them. Limped, anyway. At Cherusker German Brewery, we found a club-like scene with leather sofas and a rustic brick interior—and four beers on tap. That could leave many an American beer nerd thirsting for more options, but in Ecuador, the chance to drink a Belgian-style dubbel and a dark, smoky stout provided much needed respite from lesser beers. After one round, we walked north several blocks to sample the other city brewpub, Turtle’s Head Pub and Microbrewery. A pilsener, a Scottish amber and a stout made up the extent of the house-made beers. The amber was malty, thick and chewy, the stout creamy, smooth and sweet.
Hunt for Espresso Machines Each time we emerged from the desert or jungle into a village in the past three weeks, we listened for that sweet song of the espresso machine. One time I even asked the villagers, “Please, for mercy, is there an espresso machine in this town?” I was thirsty and desperate and hopeful, and the town’s main street boasted some relatively upscale establishments. Several men gathered around me, all frowning and shaking their heads in befuddlement. “Say, Fred, what’s this kid talking about, what with machines that make coffee and all?” “Beats me, Leroy. Does he think he’s arrived in the future?” I even made the whooshing-hissing noise that coffee drinkers so love to hear at 7 a.m.—but the men shook their heads. “Let’s go! His mind is gone.” They had not heard of an espresso machine. But Quito is fast, smart, slick, modern. In hundreds of bars, cafés and eateries, espresso machines hiss like the finest apparatuses of Europe. Cafe lattes arrive with hearts and mountains shaped into the foamy milk, and espresso comes in cups like thimbles, as smart and sophisticated as coffees enjoyed in the bistros of Paris. Top recommendation: Este Cafe, on Juan León Mera street.
Work Out on the Exercise Bars in Parque El Ejido As we rode into the center of Quito on our first day, I had my eyes peeled for that sure signature of any modern metropolis undergoing swift and progressive social development: outdoor exercise bars at the public park. After checking into our hostel, we walked several blocks back to Parque El Ejido, where we had seen among the people and the trees some playground-type structures that looked very promising. Sure enough, we found them—a rock-solid, two-tiered set of pull-up bars in the shade of the trees. A security guard (they stand around every corner and behind every tree in Ecuador) paced slowly around the jungle gym while Andrew and I got to work. My brother, ten pounds lighter than he’d been in Lima, started with an all-time best set of 20. I did only 17—but, really, who’s counting? See you at the bar. Note: The same park comes alive with scores of market vendors and thousands of visitors each Sunday. It’s a good time, but you’d better get your bar time in early, before the kids arrive.
Stalk the Aisles of the English Bookshop Quito is great—but if you need to get away fast, step into the compact, book-stuffed space of the English Bookshop, in La Mariscal. Owned by London native Mark Halton, the store—at Calama and Diego de Almagro streets—provides a refuge of wisdom and intelligentsia for English speakers craving some bookish conversation and quiet time. The shop is crammed with used quality literature (well, there’s also some sci-fi, but never mind), plus a selection of Ecuador travel guides for rent.
Enjoy the City’s Many Miles of Bike Paths Quito bears many marks of a sophisticated hub of culture and style—enthusiastic brewpubs, art museums, numerous sporting goods stores and air-conditioned supermarkets. What more could one want? Bike paths, of course. Leading through the city are miles and miles of them—two-directional lanes separated by barriers from the auto traffic and leading to all corners of the city. But bike paths can always use improvement. In Lima, for instance, the hip locals dump heaps of trash in the bike lanes and set the rubbish on fire. In Quito, businessmen who haven’t ridden a bicycle since they were 8 years old use the lanes as personal sidewalks, and at intersections pedestrians gather in the bike lane as they wait for the light to change. No—not all Ecuadorians are totally wise yet to the concept of the separated, designated bike lane. But parts of Quito are almost as cool and edgy as Amsterdam or Portland, and locals will catch on.
Ride the Gondola to Cruz Loma Lookout Taking a ride on a gondola is a bitter pill to swallow for a proud cyclist with a leg injury. But the TelefériQo Cruz Loma chairlift, beginning at the western edge of Quito, ascends 2,700 feet in eight minutes, taking passengers to the best vista point in the region—Cruz Loma, near the top of Mount Pichincha. The cost is about $9, with discounts for privileged locals and even the option to bring a bicycle to the top and ride the trails back down to the city. Sounds like a blast—but I’ll wait until I can make the entire journey by my own strength.
Get Screened for Malaria at a Local Medical Clinic If you’ve got the shakes, the shivers, nausea, achy joints, stomach troubles or a headache and have traveled in malaria hot zones anytime from a week to a year prior, you had better get checked out. That’s the logic we followed when Andrew came down with sluggishness and other flu-like symptoms on our second day in Quito. We decided that if his condition persisted in the morning, we would go to the hospital. He woke up in a sweat, and off we went on a new adventure. The Clinica de San Francisco was just four blocks away from us, and by 9 a.m. Andrew was having blood drawn and his internal organs examined by stethoscope. The doctor said that Andrew’s relatively mild symptoms did not appear to be malaria-related, but Plasmodium falciparum is a disease to be taken very seriously. The most deadly type of malaria, it is especially dangerous if not identified and treated within 24 hours of the first visible symptoms. The doctor said the test results would be e-mailed within three working days—plus two weekend days. Isn’t that cutting it close, we asked? Don’t worry, the doctor answered; Andrew does not have malaria. We hope so.
And Keep That Leg Elevated