Outside the international gate a representative of Timmy Global Health was patiently awaiting my arrival. I was greeted with smiles, cheek kisses, and a familiar, welcoming language.
From there, my optimism was swept up and set a flight like a plastic bag in the brisk breeze bellowing outside of el aeropuerto Mariscal Sucre. Taxis; billboards; flickering street lights- even the fake roses and balloons piled in venerable vendor arms spurred a sensation of subtle, but striking snugness. Far from home all things cozy crumpled like ticket stubs under my shoes, but nonetheless, out of my element, I began to realize what matters most to me. Wide-eyed; jet-lagged; exhausted- I still knew this is where I was meant to be; that reason and stars collided to give me such an unworldly opportunity to make my aspirations actuality, to take imagination and make experiences I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
They say that smell is one the strongest senses linked to our memories. If there were a concise way to describe my first few steps-my first few minutes- in Ecuador, well, it´d be smelly.
Scented. Odorous. Aromatic… What-ever you want to call it.
Weaving through buildings, the now packed car that was waiting outside begin to bathe in a microcosm of memories made, re-lived, and rendered like fat frying in cast iron pans, fanning fragrances, wafting wildly from street corners.
At and around 9,350 ft above sea level- the capital city of america´s first proclaimed democracy leaves travelers sucking wind; not surprisingly, inhaling a host of perfumes protruding from the peaked Pichincha valley. Nestled neatly between once-volcanic rocks, Quito now overflows with a lava of cement houses, garbage littered side-walks, and owner-less, mixed-breed dogs. Oh, and -worth mentioning- over 2,000,000 people.
Putrid to pungent- the smells of the city seep from every sunken, slouched body and concrete, cracked crevice. Windows down, gushes of gasoline fog force fumes through nostrils in an unrefined whiff of wheezing, unacclimatized breathing.
Relief is found intermittently, passing grated grills garnished with plantains, husked hominy, and meats as varied in type and cut as evolution has provided and body parts exist. Traces of tripe, legs and lengua* all lurch around waiting crowds, formed to grab a mid-noche snack. The combination of savory and charcoaled scents over-powered the artificial aroma of strawberries pouring from the magenta air-freshener that dangled from our driver’s rear-view mirror.
More than making memories- in the moment, these smells were reminding me of my heightened hunger.
Pizza, a Pilsener** and hostel pillow later, I found it impossible not to dream of street food and traditional eats that were bound to cross my plates in the coming weeks. Until then, I better catch some shut eye; next on the agenda: 5:30 a.m. rapi-taxi to Tena.
**traditional ecuadorian cerveza