Thursday, November 23, 2017

Quito, Ecuador: A Great Place to Eat Beetles and Guinea Pigs

We woke up bright and early and walked toward the meeting place for our walking tour. We didn't make it far before our path was blocked by a parade. December 6 marks the founding of Quito and apparently there are days of festivities leading up to it. Each day a different profession hosts the parade, and today was market employees, which sort of sucked because that meant that all of the markets in town were closed. It was a solid parade though. It had way more dancing in it than American parades ever do. They were even throwing candy!

Quito was founded in 1534 and if there's been parades every one of the 14 days before the founding, for the past 482 years, then that's 6,748 parades. You're welcome.

This was a good introduction to the hospitality of the Ecuadorian people. We received all sorts of smiles from people as we walked past. One guy even yelled "dance!" at us. Promotional materials will always tell you how great a country's people are but usually it's a lie.

We popped into a little panaderĂ­a for some breakfast. Pretty much the only thing they were selling was an assortment of sweet rolls. So I bought.. an assortment of sweet rolls. Lydia's had sugar on top and mine had those awesome fruit cake candied fruits inside.

It was my first cash transaction, so let's talk money. Ecuador's economy was all jacked up, and in 1999 alone the inflation rate was 60%, so in 2000 they abandoned their currency system and moved to the good ol' US dollar. Hurray for them, the dollar rocks. While the country no longer prints bills they are still minting coins so change is a hodgepodge of familiar and unfamiliar faces. It was especially amusing because this is the only place I've seen people who actually want to use dollar coins and 50 cent pieces.

The tour meeting place was a hostel. I always get a little jealous of the hostel life because it seems super fun and easy to meet people. Sort of like a dorm room at an international school somewhere. Luckily Lydia was on hand to remind me how horrible the rooms/bathrooms usually are though so that helped.

Our tour group hit the parade again soon after we got walking.

There were some people in what I think is indigenous dress.

History, history. So Quito used to be the northern capital of the Inca Empire. As the Spanish approached all conquistador-like as they tend to do, the Inca burned the whole damn city down rather than let any grubby Spanish hands touch it. So modern Quito was founded on the smoldering ruins.

I guess the main square is the place where retired people will get dressed up and then hang out all day.

Our guide said that Ecuador was the first country to revolt against Spanish rule.

There were hawkers wandering around pushing coca products: coca candy, coca tea, coca gum. I rather enjoy being confident about taking drug tests so I didn't mess with any of that. Our guide said that it's illegal to grow in Ecuador and that all of it being sold here comes from Peru. I recall being offered the same sort of stuff about 4 seconds after walking out of the Lima airport so that story checks out.

I think it's fun to see black Thursday bleed into other countries. Let them get into fist fights over Tickle Me Elmos for a change.

We went into the old Central Bank building for a peek. I don't think they really need a central bank if they don't have a currency right?

They were having some live shows at the end of the parade route.

Lydia and I slinked away from the tour mid-stream because we had other places to be. One of those places was at a street food stall that was selling bags of corn and beetles.

The whole day Lydia had been nagging me "John I want to eat some beetles", "John why are there no beetles in my mouth right now?", "John my favorite movie is 1988's Beetlejuice starring Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, and Geena Davis". Well I had enough so I bought her a whole bag of bugs with corn and onions.

Their legs and antennae had been cooked off so I initially mistook them for the boiled silkworms I snacked on in Korea. But no, beetles.

They were seasoned and not as bad as I would have guessed. 

We sat down and had some empanadas, which are essentially glorified latin Hot Pockets. They were pretty meh, but on the bright side the meat inside was not bugs.

We got back to our Airbnb with the luxurious view and waited for pickup to begin our second event of the day: the hot springs of Papallacta.

Our driver Ivan was nice enough but his English wasn't stellar. Hey kept referring to the "boy Jesus" which made me smirk. He also said that they had just implemented a speed limit on the roads and that now everyone had to learn to drive like the song: "Despacito". I wondered how many times he'd told that joke.

I could tell we were getting high up when we started driving through clouds.

They had fun safety videos featuring a family of water drops.

Drinking water that hundreds of people have farted in is much more likely to give me insomnia than cure it.

The hot springs were enjoyable but nothing crazy exciting. We had such a good time at the Garden of Eden-esque volcanic pools in Costa Rica that I'm afraid everything thereafter will be a snooze. We laughed that we're pretty much geothermal water snobs after visiting here, Iceland, Fiji, Hot Springs Arkansas, and Costa Rica.

Things got pretty sexy there for a minute.

We were pretty exhausted from all of that splashing around and napped most of the trip back to Quito.

Well there was only one restaurant in the guidebook that specifically mentioned serving guinea pig so that's where Lydia demanded we go. She said that if I didn't feed her bugs and guinea pigs on the same day that I might not get invited on the next trip. Tyrant.

Mama Clorinda's was an Ecuadorian cuisine powerhouse and had pretty much every famous local food that I'd read about. It was a good place to take care of business. The La Mariscal neighborhood is full of touristy places and is pejoratively known as "Gringolandia". Haters gonna hate, I say.

I started us off with a couple tasty beverages. The micheladas were salt rimmed mugs of peppery lime juice which you then poured a light beer on top of.

The soup was called locro de queso and was a "typical creamy potato soup with cheese and avocado". It legit came with a plate of avocado and some crunchy corn kernels. Similar to the corn that came with our beetles earlier.

Tamal lojano was like a tamale in theory but had some weird things inside. "Made from white corn dough, with chicken all wrapped and steamed in banana leaves". There's like an olive, raisins, and I assume whatever else they had laying around in there. 

Then the guinea pig came out, which the locals call cuy. I opted for the half pig option so we'd still have room for dessert, so the thing came sawed in half lengthwise. The guinea pig dining experience began with our server passing out plastic gloves so we wouldn't get any delicious juices on our hands. Luckily wearing plastic gloves before tearing into this small unfamiliar animal in no way made the experience feel like an alien autopsy. They roast the thing with its head, tail, and little claws all where they should be. This place made the classy move of wrapping its hands in tin foil before bringing it over, I assume so that there were no accidental high fives.

Even Lydia had to admit that it was actually pretty good. It was like chicken-sized juicy pork. The skin was really chewy so I gave up on trying to eat it after a few bites. One of our drivers was indigenous and said that his mother-in-law raises cuy at her house.

The quimbolitos we had for dessert was amusingly similar to the other cornmeal thing cooked in banana leaves. The description sounded authentic though so what could I do? "Banana leaves wrap dessert native to the Sierra region steamed the spongy pocket is made from corn flour, orange juice, and vanilla essence".

After eating bugs I bought from a woman on a street corner and a rodent on the same day if I'm not sick tomorrow then I think we can safely say that I am immortal.

In Ecuador party buses are like open air rolling dance floors.

We made it back to the basilica.

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