Where do I go when I want to stand on the equator but don’t want to sweat and definitely don’t like mosquitoes? Quito, Ecuador. The top of the Andes Mountains. South America. An elevation so high that jumbo jets only land and depart at night when mountain winds are more favorable. Boarding a plane in Kansas City, not too many hours later, without even leaving my time zone, I landed on the eastern slopes of an active volcano, at the edge of the best-preserved historic center in the Americas. An incredible place. With no jetlag. A win-win destination.
A first glimpse of urban destinations at night seems a bit more welcoming. City lights twinkle like glitter in the moonlight. Streets appear cleaner. Nighttime humanity moves slower…gentler. The roads have room, as if they made space just for me to pass through. The barrios are at rest. The dogs are asleep. South America embraced me, as if old friends and she had come to the airport to greet me.
Quito by day is nearly as beautiful as it is by night. I awoke to birds singing outside the open hotel windows. Before getting up to look, I closed my eyes, trying to sense the city. A few car horns. As they hurried along the sidewalks, people speaking Spanish in tones so much more graceful and fluid than those I hear in my Spanish classroom. And oh the smells…freshly baked pastry, and an oddly familiar smell of Chinese food. I just had to get up and look!
Outside the window is a pasteleria, a cake shop. As I hung above a narrow street, a Jeep skillfully maneuvered into a parking space that seemed big enough for only two-thirds of the vehicle. Directly across from our room was the source of the Chinese food. Inside the kitchen window of a residence, I could see a elderly woman making steamed eggs, and on her balcony, a rack loaded with fish, hanging to dry. This grand city on top of the Andes is a melting-pot of cultures. But the street dogs caught my eye more than anything else that first morning and for the duration of my stay. I leaned out my third floor window to see a gathering of street dogs greeting each other, then turning to head off as if going to the park for a prearranged playdate.
The dogs of Quito are special. There are many, but not as many as you might expect. Every dog seems carefree, as kids appear when they are off school for the summer. Ready to romp and play, or take a nap in a cool spot under a shade tree, or people-watch from a doorstep. Quito’s canines. The dogs are patient when approaching someone, waiting quietly for pat or a treat. No one chases them off. They appear clean and cared for. People acknowledge or ignore them, but never harass them. A peaceful and respectful co-occupation of the city.
Since my return this past March, I dream daily of the peaceful people and dogs of Quito and dream of my return. The highest capital city in the world is magnificent. To walk the same paths traversed by Incas and conquistadors, to enter the same centuries-old buildings that have survived and even thrived Ecuador’s tumultuous history, to eat empanadas from street carts, to see the land from the top of Pinchincha Volcano, to practice my Spanish with local people…these experiences are the best souvenir I could hope for…since I couldn’t bring home a dog, that is.
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