Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ecuadorian Hospitality: A Case Study in Two Parts, Part I

The rain was pouring down as we tiredly attempted to hail a taxi. Every taxi in Quito was full. Rain increases the demand exponentially. So we stood on the side of the road, watching every car full of dry, comfortable people pass us by. We could have braved the weather and walked to another destination, but our Quito navigation skills are elementary at best right now. 

We had been out all day. Early in the morning we got picked up by our favorite Dutchman and headed out to the Ministry of External Somethings and attempted to navigate our way through the bureaucracy of disinterested yet power hungry immigration officers. After a short recess in our quaint hostel room that overlooks the old, historic center of Quito, we continued our never-ending search for work. We left hopeful; we had four addresses of four schools that might need teachers. After three failed attempts to find three apparently non-existent schools, the skies opened and the sad, cold rain dampened the city and our hopes. We had been out for hours and nothing to prove for it except several wet and blotchy resumes. 

When a white, unmarked car with a homemade "TAXI" sign written in marker on the front window waved us toward his car, we hesitated. Hundreds of horror stories filled my mind. Taxis can be dangerous. Be very careful. You might get robbed. But then again . . . it was raining . . . and there we no other unoccupied taxis left in the entire country . . . and I can usually trust my intuition . . . and I am tired . . . and wet. Ok, let's do it. 

We scrambled into the "taxi" and were greeted by Patricio. I gave him the address to the university we needed to visit and no other words were exchanged. Then, three consecutive motorcades about 2 minutes apart passed us on our left consisting of several CHIPS, heavily tinted SUVs and even ambulances. I asked Patricio who those "special people" in those "special cars" were. My Spanish is limited. He said that it was the President. Also, every Vice President of every nation in Central and South America. They were having some meeting about climate change. 

Patricio introduced himself and started asking us questions about ourselves. We are English teachers and we are looking for work but we haven't found any yet. Oh really? Let me tell you everything I know about teaching, schools, languages and travel. The drive to la Universidad de Pacifico took us around 30 minutes, the entire drive filled with information about how we should find work, what part of the city we should live in and even where to get free newspapers on Saturday mornings. 

We arrived at the University after what seemed like hours of driving up and down hills and through neighborhoods and down highways. We had run out of small bills and could only give him a 10 for a $2 ride. He didn't have the change - very common. So we pulled away from the University and weaved through the neighborhood asking little tiendas if they had any change. Nothing. 

To be continued . . .

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