This is the story of an uneventful day of travel that I liken to the typical daily grind at work. Last month I traveled to Ecuador for the third time since 2007. I no longer put in long work hours or travel solo (usually) but for a few days in Quito I returned to my old way of traveling. The major theme you will notice many times over is the lack of real social interaction. Am I out of practice? Or is this the way goose couple vente things always were? Or maybe I just don’t crave meeting every single person in a new place like I used to.
This day I could accept that I would not likely meet anyone interesting because traveling from place to place is not my reality since I stopped traveling and set up a home base in Philadelphia. I’ve given up the old hostel and bus hustle for the most part, and these days I tend to partner with travel resources and organizations, like the Resort Management Association, to plan my trips. So I actually felt a bit nostalgic while wandering the familiar city of Quito and reliving old memories as I walked past bars, restaurants, the people, and workplace where I first started my travels. This day was rare and I enjoyed it. The thing is, I didn’t really do anything in particular, and this day would ordinarily feel like a waste, which used to be common during the latter half of my travel before I slowed it down in 2011. But now it seemed alright.
Wake Up Time
I slowly gained consciousness at 7AM as I noticed menacing screams outside the hotel room. These screams were the the real deal. A woman was pleading with a man,
“No, no, no! [insert Spanish words here].
Her tone sounded like it was coming from a slasher horror film and I did not dare leave my bed to investigate for fear of being caught in the crossfire of whatever terrible thing was happening. I genuinely believed he could be holding a gun to her head. But at 7AM without coffee and stewing in my own fear I just lay in bed. I have seriously never heard such terror in someone’s voice. It was soon over.
I fell back asleep for another hour and awoke to at around 9AM to see my download of Homeland‘s latest episode had finished. It’s a victory considering that downloading speeds are just not what they are back in Philadelphia. Even without my morning coffee it was an exciting hour of TV and a fun but somewhat pathetic way to begin my day in a foreign country.
By 10AM I had already sat
on the toilet multiple times. Traveler’s diarrhea often attacks most places I visit. I suspect its because I ignore the “do not drink the water” warnings and brush my teeth with the tap water. I really need to stop that habit, but it usually is one of those things where I remember, or see the sign, after the toothbrush is in my mouth. I am so used to this happening that the upset stomach does not stop me from doing anything. It’s just a minor inconvenience.
Out on the Streets
I finally showered and left my $30 USD per night hotel room at the Magic Bean with a red bag full of dirty laundry at 10AM with a few chores on my mind.
I dropped my stinky bag off at a laundry service a few blocks away for $3.50 USD. They not only wash and dry the clothes, but fold it perfectly without wrinkles all in the same day. I did point out a stain on one of my white t-shirts, though I suspect she just threw it into the washing machine with the rest of the clothing.
I went to find Juan Valdez Café in Plaza Foch, a nice looking square with bars, restaurants, and even a mini-mall. Foreign restaurants often try to replicate the Western counterparts but overdo it and get it all wrong. The mall looks silly when comparing it to my local mall near Philadelphia or ones in Europe like the shopping mall – Västermalmsgallerian. Plaza Foch is filled with really cheesy American looking restaurants, like a New Orleans BBQ. There’s also a sculpture made of recycled trash. Plaza Foch is basically a poser. But I have a soft spot for the Juan Valdez Cafe, Columbia’s answer to Starbucks, so I ordered my cafe americano and sat across from two American school teachers gossiping about their jobs, and tried to begin surfing the web on the free Wi-Fi. But as expected, it wouldn’t connect the network.
I returned to my hotel after the coffee partly because of my stomach issues, partly because I forgot to bring my book, but mostly because I wanted to ask the hotel staff about the 7AM argument. Did someone die? I was curious.
The toilet was a relief but the staff claimed to have no idea about any argument, or what the non-existent argument was all about.
I exited the hotel once again with my half-ripped book (easier for packing if I cut out the 300 pages I already read) to wander down the familiar Quito streets, comparing what remained from my first visit in 2007 and second visit in 2010. I still had one last chore to find a cell phone repair shop for a broken smart phone.
With my chores complete it was time for me to reminisce. I walked the streets aimlessly remembering how each block and the stores, hotels, bars, and restaurants used to serve me. I remembered the flower shop where I bought flowers to a family who generously drove me back from the Papallacta hot springs to Quito and invited me to their restaurant. Then they set me up with their niece my age for a fun blind date. I walked past the bar where a best friend of mine attended a Victoria’s Secret private party with another traveler who skipped out on the $10,000 USD bill. He was later locked in a basement and until he managed to get the money together.
Then I nervously walked past a company’s office where I interned in 2007. That was the reason I came to Ecuador in the first place. I did not go inside because I really do not know what I would have said to the staff, none of which would be the same. Even if there was a staffer who I remembered, I doubted very much they would remember me. Sticking my head in would’ve resulted in some weird interaction with a secretary along the lines of me saying something like:
“Hey, I used to work here six years ago! It looks the same. Cool.”
After too much wandering (I began walking past the same places twice) I took a taxi to the historic area of Quito and exited the taxi in search of a nice restaurant. I look for nicer restaurants more often during my travels because it’s a good excuse to sit in one place. Travel food writers are the laziest travel writers because sitting down and having someone serve you food is one of the easiest ways to find a story. They might be onto something.
I did not want to waste a good empty stomach on crap food so I walked until I found a respectable restaurant serving ceviche. For one reason or another I was the first customer to want lunch at 11AM. Latin Americans are very specific about when they eat. It’s kind of weird considering how less disciplined they are in arriving for other things on time, like work.
With nothing to do I sat in the city’s principal plaza in front of Quito’s famed churches and presidential palace on a bench beside two old regulars. I read my book quietly while eyeing a few near homeless, shoe-shining teens who were conspicuously bathing their sunburned faces in the public fountain water.
Again, with little to do I searched for this old Spanish colonial style spa that’s somewhat gross but kind of cool in hopes of a massage. The price was steep at $25 and the masseuse would not return for a few hours.
Notice my theme of having nothing to do. This is often what travel is. I found a colonial architecture styled modern café I have been to a few times in the past and set up shop with a coconut water and coffee and read more. The café’s atmosphere was a nice change of pace in the shade but I opted again for straight up sun in the plaza an hour later to read more, while also answering text messages from my friend about our upcoming plans to visit another city, Riobamba.
I had enough of doing nothing so I walked the streets to find a taxi back to my hotel. For $2 over the appropriate price, I managed to stop one heading my direction. I had him drop me off close to the cell phone store. The cell phone was not ready but the prognosis looked good. I finished my chores by picking up my laundry and dumping it back in my hotel room where I quickly used the bathroom. That was a relief.
Back in Quito’s modern tourist district, which some call La Mariscal or Gringolandia, I kept walking to remember old places I liked.
I ate at a decent Indian restaurant and walked past G-spot, where I used to order $4 cheesesteaks with my co-workers after work.
Back at my hotel I browsed the usual websites and waited to see if my friend would have time to get together for dinner. Although I had not had a conversation with anyone that day, I was secretly hoping she could not make it because of my relaxed pace and upset bowels. Of course, I also showered for the third time that day and popped a Cipro pill, an antibiotic, because I would hate to have stomach issues throughout the rest of my trip. The rest of my travels would be taking me to more rural parts of the country where I had no control over the daily itinerary.
As you can see travel reaches a point where it becomes rather normal. It may be because I am revisiting the same places over and over again but I suspect I would feel similar even in new places. I could fix this by staying in a hostel. That is what I would have done had I been traveling full-time. But for a few days I was happy to be alone.
At this point my day is almost complete. I left the hotel one last time for dinner and will return soon afterwards. The only alternative would be to go out for drinks but I will wake up early the next morning. Plus, I saw that the maid placed two new bottles of water in my room and I was genuinely psyched! Great way to end the night.
My writing on my original travel blog, Locationlessliving, is very rare these days but for today only I chose to write this post as a way to be social. It may not be human contact but writing down my thoughts comes close. It is ultimately the reason why I now live in Philadelphia and only travel every so often. I did not like the inconsistent social life that travel forces you into. My life back in Philadelphia means interacting with others every day and so the desire to write is filled by that social contact. Of course I do miss regularly writing; not the process itself, but the result of sharing my travels while I am in a faraway land all alone helps my attitude. I better understand the reasons why I do what I do when I put my thoughts on paper.