February 05, 2009
Part Two: Clusterfuck In Quito; JE In Ecuador
I am inspired by Ecuadorian inefficiency. The average Ecuadorian citizen spends roughly forty percent of his life standing in line. If I went into the postcard business, and I was going to design a postcard for Ecuador, it would be a bunch of poor schlubs standing in line at the Mega-Maxi. And maybe a couple rich people cutting in front of them. And grocery carts stacking up everywhere.
We went to a Christmas Eve banquet in Quito with Lauren’s folks. Pretty nice spread—one that got cold awfully quick when the priest dumped his motorbike getting to the hotel. The little dude arrived a half-hour late, sweating profusely, though otherwise intact, and wrestled his robe thingy over his head. He began placing all his sacrosanct goodies about—his bible, his candles, his music stand, his ghetto blaster. We were looking at forty-five minutes time he got to praying.
My blood-sugar was getting low, so I had no problem being the gringo ice-breaker when they gave the green light on the vittles. Here’s the deal: they’ve got like twenty-five steam tables stretched out across the room as far as the eye can see, and one poor dude standing behind steam table number one. No problem, you say. Must be a self-serve deal like that $7.99 Sizzler buffet—that guy’s only there as courtesy, in case someone drops a spatula or has a question about the sauce on the pork loin. Oh no. That guy is the server. Singular. He serves everybody everything, one steam table at a time. You want this? This? How about this? Papas? Pescado? Curly fries? Meanwhile there’s at least seventy people in line— little old ladies, squirming kids, one guy who looked like Brando. Do the math. Some of these people were waiting for an hour and a half to eat, and that’s after an hour of praying. Ouch. And I’m telling you, there was no shortage of help. They had one guy just for mineral water. They had a whole staff of bussers standing around restlessly in white aprons, practically itching for plates to bus— plates that were coming off the line at a rate of one every five-and-a-half minutes. Papas? Pescado? Curly fries?
So there’s just one of many examples of your Ecuadorian efficiency, right there.
What else? The smog is unbearable, everywhere you look there’s a dog with a tumor, or a dirty-faced kid trying to sell you Chicklets. The drivers are insane. And the building construction is something along lines of paper mache. Perfect for earthquakes and volcanoes and the like. But give this spunky developing nation the right set of tools, and they will build you the biggest, longest, clusterfuck line you ever stood in.
Now the good stuff about Quito. Situated in a narrow valley at nearly ten thousand feet of elevation, the city is besieged by Andean peaks in every direction, including some active volcanoes (fuck if I’m going to try and spell the names of them, though, so you’ll just have to trust me on that one). The vistas in Quito are breathtaking. There are many lovely churches. Beer is cheap. Really cheap. I already told you the beer sucks, but its beer, right? And its cheap. So Quito’s got that going for it.
A few days before I left Quito I went to something called a “hash” where we “hashed.” Hashing is apparently some big global sub-culture that I’ve never heard of. You know you’re old when you start missing whole sub-cultures. Hashers have a motto: they call themselves “drinkers with a running problem.” They do hashes every place imaginable– Fiji, Taipei, Trenton, fucking Godzilla Island. There were people who had done hundreds of these things all over the world. A hash, as far a I can comprehend, is when one guy—in this case an old hippy reprobate with purple socks named “Mother Hasher” runs off into the woods with a tennis ball and a bag of flour, and everybody else runs after him. Without exception, all the hashers wind up getting lost out in the woods, until they happen upon a beer drinking station, where they get tanked and run around some more looking for the dude in the purple socks.
Eventually, everybody finds their way back to the parking lot where the real drinking begins. This portion of the hash quickly devolves into something akin to a fraternity hazing, in which participants (including my father-in-law, along with all virgins, and one child, are forced to drink beer out of their tennis shoes, and in the case of one unfortunate fellow, persuaded by threat of further hazing, to extemporaneously compose a song about how he likes horse cocks. And the guy wrote one. I’ll bet I could have written a better one, though. At least mine would’ve been sincere.
Read Part One: I’m No Travel Writer, but the Galapagos Were Cool