What Wilson Misses Most About America


Our driver today was named after Woodrow Wilson, the American president, and he spent two years in Elizabeth, New Jersey, working at a restaurant owned by his sister and brother-in-law. The cuisine was Ecuadorian-Italian, because his sister’s brother is from Italy.

“What do you miss most about your time in New Jersey,” I asked Wilson (his first name) as we rode a twisty, smooth highway from Quito to the Popallacta hot springs. He paused for a moment, then replied, “Making money.” He earned enough to send money home to his family, and now he works hard driving tourists around the country. He recently drove three Canadians for four days leading to their purchase of land near Cuenca, a city that has become a center for expats from all over, Wilson said.

Papallacta is nestled among jagged peaks with cattle grazing on the slopes. We tested several pools, including one that was so hot I jumped out immediately after stepping only ankle deep, wondering if I had burned my feet. It turns out they’re okay.

Wilson dropped us off ┬áin Quito at the Mercado Artesanal, a maze of narrow passageways filled with colorful scarves, shirts, leather bags, jewelry, and souvenirs. Darlene and Deb bought t-shirts and little leather coin purses as gifts to take home. I was admiring a white shirt with blue stripes long enough to look like a potential sale. The young woman minding the stall found several of the shirts in my size, of differing color schemes, and said the price was 12 dollars. I countered with nueve, nine. She smiled and said 10. I began walking away, as recommended by Wilson earlier in his coaching on shopping at markets, and she immediately agreed to nine dollars. At that point, I remembered another bit of advice from the Overseas Adventure Travel trip documents–once you’ve made an offer, it’s very poor form not to complete the purchase if the vendor agrees to your price. Sold! I plan to wear it tonight to dinner at the hotel.

I also bought a postcard to send to my sister and a copy of today’s issue of El Comercio, whose motto is “Diario Independente” or independent newspaper. I understood enough Spanish to know the lead story is about how the Cotopaxi volcano eruption has not concluded yet. The bar graph accompanying the story showed increased volcanic events since mid-September. We could see the volcano in the distance on our drive this morning to Papallacta. Wilson pointed out an ominous smudge of black clouds just above the summit.

I have not seen a single homeless person in downtown Quito this afternoon, and requests that I buy items on the street have been quiet and gentle. I have not seen any panhandlers. The blue buses and the yellow taxis are clean, as are the streets and sidewalks.

I bought a bar of Ecuadorian chocolate and sat for a while in the Plaza de los Presidentes, watching people walk by. I saw very few tourists, which is why we no doubt stand out. On leaving a bookstore, I was hailed by a man sitting by a fountain, who gestured across the street and said in Spanish that the two women were over there. I thanked him and caught up with Darlene and Deb at the chocolate store. Now I will be moving on again, to meet up with the two women at the hotel after a grounding and enjoyable first day in Ecuador.

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