When we arrived in Quito, we had been on the road for a little more than 4 months. Vagabonding is incredible and we spent most of that time in beautiful cities and towns. Believe it or not, though, we were a little fatigued. Traveling is hard work. It was the right time to find a place we could call home, if only for a short while. So, we decided to put down our backpacks and volunteer!
The Hostel and People
A sweet and friendly English couple, whom we met in Salento, recommended Community Hostel to us. In the midst of all the recommendations we got during our travels, this was one of the best. We couldn’t have asked for a more hospitable welcome from the owners and volunteers. The amenities were also hard to overlook, there was real coffee and frothed milk (after having a coffee epiphany in Costa Rica, I have become an avid consumer of the black beans), home-cooked meals twice a day, hot showers, and the most comfortable beds in Ecuador. Sometimes, the little things in life make all the difference.
While volunteering, Community Hostel celebrated its one year anniversary, here are a few shots from the awesome night:
The best part of our stay were the people we met. Community Hostel encourages (surprise) a community environment and we frequently found ourselves immersed in daily chats over breakfast or dinner. Most days were filled with interesting stories and new people. There were quite a variety of personalities and we feel fortunate to have met so many great people. In fact, one of them is our host in Argentina right now (thanks Carlos!).
Our responsibilities at the hostel included cooking one of the two meals, checking people in and out, making beds, shopping for groceries, some light cleaning and answering questions for the guests. Chris also assigned himself the responsibility of making hot sauce, it was a big hit at the hostel. It was also great to take some on the road with us to spruce up some of our blander meals.
The City of Quito
Quito is an interesting place that is often overlooked and I would recommend spending more than just a couple of days there. First impressions of Quito can bee a little rough (it’s dirty, very dirty and the smell of urine is not uncommon), but with time, Quito begins to shine. The longer we stayed, the more we loved it. Our hostel was situated on the edge of old town in a seedy part of the city that offered a unique glimpse of what Quito is all about. The area beams with color and culture and, in my opinion, is the most interesting part of the city.
There is a major food market conveniently located across the street and vendors lining every square inch of the sidewalk. We had copious amounts of great produce, freshly made bread at the panaderia, dairy at the lechería, a dry bulk goods store (sorry, don’t know the name for this one), and our fill of protein at the carnecerias and pescaderias. Supermarkets exist as well (on the other side of the city), but there is something great about going to a “specialist” for everything you need. My favorite vendor had to be the avocado lady who set up camp everyday on the sidewalk outside the hostel. She and I got pretty close during our 3 weeks, and by the end of our stay she was selling me seven avocados for one dollar(!).
Unfortunately, Quito’s old town is not known for safety. Only 10 years ago, it was the red light district and most people we met, probably wouldn’t have even considered staying in a hostel in the area. Although, the government has done quite a bit of cleanup, there are still problems with crime in the area. I had a bag of rambutan stolen and a few kids tried to pull 50 cents out of my pocket, but I was with Chris whose beard probably scared them away. Others unfortunately lost much higher ticket items and sometimes went searching for them, or their replacements, at the nearby electronics black market.
The city doesn’t lack character and on a daily basis you find yourself marveling at the interesting things that surround you. For example, we woke up almost every day to a very loud woman selling newspapers outside our window. The loud “COMEEERCIOOOO” advertisement she made over and over was a little annoying, but it became part of our morning routine. The narrow streets, lively plazas, more churches than I can count, beautiful parks that filled up during the weekends, tooting taxis and even the unacceptable amount of smog filling the air were all things that make Quito the fascinating place that it is. Our friend, Crystal, who also volunteered and lived in Quito, captured some other great things in her blog post about characteristically Ecuadorian things.
During our stay, my birthday came around and I was lucky enough to spend it with our friends at Community Hostel. Although I’m technically a 26 year old without a home or job, I can’t imagine being in a better place. We celebrated with a piñata and had a huge group of local kids show up to collect the candy. Chris also took me out to dinner and found these beautiful roses at the market.
Most Ecuadorians no hablan ingles, so while in Quito we enrolled in 2 weeks of Spanish lessons. We both took one-on-one lessons and progressed more in those two weeks than any other time during our trip. At $5 an hour, it has been one of the best investments we’ve made thus far. It was a great way to boost our confidence and allowed us to start using more Spanish as we continued our trip.
When we weren’t volunteering or studying Spanish, we had a few days off to venture out to the surrounding areas. Our first day trip was to Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world). It’s a little corny and we later heard that the experiments are all for show, but it’s kind of cool to stand on two hemispheres at the same time. We also got a passport stamp for being there, so it must be important.
Our next outing was a day trip to the bustling Otavalo market. Locals and tourists alike flock here to scope out the largest selection of colorful textiles, jewelry, masks, instruments, and other merchandise. Bargaining is part of the experience and apparently, the vendors get upset if you don’t haggle. No one was better at it, than our friend Carlos. It seemed like he made every vendor laugh and was always able to lower the price. I was a little hesitant to take out my camera to snap pictures, but here is what we came back with.
Chris and I had talked about staying somewhere for a long period of time but we never anticipated that it would be Ecuador or that we would feel at home so quickly in a place thousands of miles away from our real home. We enjoyed Quito so much that, before leaving the country, we stopped over one last time to bid our farewells to the city and our friends. Some of them, I’m sure we’ll cross paths with again.
Up next: Volunteering in the Andes and the rest of Ecuador
Mitad del Mundo