One of the things that makes this experience really different for me is that this is my first time living in a big city! Even though I, technically, live in Cumbayá, which is just outside of Quito. I grew up in a borough (not even big enough to be a town) that was small enough to share a school district with the neighboring borough (shout out to Riverside and Danville, PA!). Even Holland isn’t that big of a city, especially since I spend most of my time on Hope’s campus. The city of Quito has close to 2 million people living here and the metro area has almost 3 million – that’s a huge change for me!
There are a lot of things I really like about living in a city. For instance, public transportation. The buses here cost 25 cents one way, making them a super convenient way to get around. I can take a bus (actually two buses – there’s a transfer) into the city and it gives me the freedom to do things on my own without being able to actually drive (as per the rules – although I couldn’t drive anyway, almost all of the cars here are stick shift and I never learned to drive a stick shift). I take a bus to and from school every day. They even sell food at some of the bus stops! Today, I discovered that bus station churros are pretty delicious.
The other thing I enjoy about public transportation is a little more unique, I’ve never seen it happen in the US. At most bus stops here, vendors will step onto the bus to sell odds and ends, usually for a dollar. It can be ice cream, bread, sewing kits, or even phone chargers. In the city, they’ll hop on for a couple stops before getting back off. On long haul buses, the bus will stop for a few minutes to allow them to do rounds. Now, it may not sound particularly appealing to have someone peddling things on public transport, but trust me – it’s great! The vendors usually aren’t pushy, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve been a little hungry and the next meal is several hours away so I bought 4 yucca rolls for a dollar or a bag of coated peanuts for 50 cents. It’s definitely an aspect of public transport I wasn’t expecting, but appreciate greatly!
The second, and bigger thing, is more specific to Quito (and Latin America in general, really). I LOVE the historic district! I can get there on the bus and it’s absolutely full of beautiful old cathedrals (the youngest was built in the 1800s, the oldest in the 1500s), parks, and museums. I didn’t have anything to do on a Saturday so I went into the historic district and toured a small archaeological museum full of amazing artifacts! Going to that museum doesn’t even begin to touch the list of museums and places within the city that I want to tour in the coming months. Coming from a small town, that absolutely astounds me. There’s just so much to do inside the city!
Of course there are some changes I don’t like so much – I have to be a lot more careful with my belongings. Every day, before I get on the bus, my host mom reminds me to keep my backpack in front of me so someone doesn’t make off with my phone or wallet. The pollution is a lot worse here than it is at home due to the number of people and cars (and partially due to the fact that it’s the dry season – the dust doesn’t help!). The city is actually implementing regulations where cars with certain license plates can’t drive on certain days to try to cut down on pollution (I guess you can do that when you have public transportation). I guess that’s the price of living in a city though, and it’s absolutely a price I’m willing to pay to live in an incredible location for 4 months!