Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador (Getty Images file photo )
The thing about traveling to Ecuador is that before you leave, basically everyone you know—parents, friends, lovers, frienemies—will say something to you along the lines of, "Be careful."
But it's not the usual "be careful." It's more like my friend Erik put it to me: "You should learn how to say, 'No ransom. Family very poor. Blue eyes are contacts meant to fool stupid American women. No ransom.'"
I'm happy to report I've been in the capital, Quito, for a week now, and so far I've not gotten kidnapped, robbed, malaria or even traveler's diarrhea. At some 9,000 feet above sea level in the world's highest capital, I can barely walk up a flight of stairs without needing to lie down. My traveling partner, Trin, got totally stuffed by some trolley doors so that, as I looked back, all I could see was his arm flapping in the breeze as the trolley car made off in the direction of the southern Quito ghetto, but if that's the worst that happens to us, we can consider ourselves lucky.
(Note: That will not be the worst that happens to us. I haven't even had a good boozing night yet. When I do, some enterprising taxi driver surely will deliver me to the Colombian border. Also, if someone hands me a foul-tasting brew that makes me see snakes crawling out of my arms, I'll surely chug it down.)
(Note on that note: Though that was a joke, I could hear the popcorn crackle of my mother's knuckles seizing up from half a world away.)
By the time you read this, Trin and I will have rented a car and embarked upon a tour of the country with nothing but a GPS and our useless Spanglish gibberish. Already my four years of Spanish classes have proven more frustrating than useful. I can identify roughly every fourth word spoken, generally follow the outlines of a conversation and then contribute nothing useful whatsoever except for the occasional "si."
While waiting to meet my friend Alberto my first day, I wandered Quito, got hungry and ordered some sopo de pollo from the least grimy-looking street vendor, figuring chicken soup was a) safe enough and b) the only food item for which I could recall the Spanish.
The nice young lady then said about 50 things to me, and because I didn't know what she was saying, I just replied "si" to everything. Then I got a bowl of chicken soup full of every weird vegetable grown in Ecuador and one hard-boiled egg. I pictured her saying to the cook, "So this guy wants everything in his soup." And the cook saying, "Even the gonads of that last American tourist?"
Of course I kid. Quito is a fascinating city funneling yogurt-like between two lush mountain ranges. I've already made new friends and been reminded why I loved the old ones so much. I can't wait to get out into the distant jungles, beaches and mountains of Ecuador.
And just in case, let me inform my loved ones: I'll totally use my butt to smuggle you back some snake brew.
RedEye special contributor Stephen Markley is the author of "The Great Dysmorphia" and "Publish This Book."
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