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  At the end of a long day of airplanes and airports, two dozen Boiseans helped each other negotiate the Migration line at Quito International Airport. Many in our group knew each other from previous travel with Extended Studies. Side by side in egg carton seats, by now my roommate and I felt like sisters. In our hotel room at last, we coached each other on the names of our fellow travel companions as we drifted to sleep.

The sounds of the city coming to life woke me: a truck rumbled by on the street below our room, five minutes later another truck growled by, followed by lighter cars. By 8:30 the sounds had crescendoed and were punctuated by squealing brakes and quacking car horns. Voices wafted through the open window. I peeked across the street and noticed beams of sunshine spotlighting office workers—one more mundane day at the office for them. Street venders strutted like pigeons, their droning voices adding to the symphony of the street as they hawked fruits, woven wares, empanadas, lemonade, any commodity imaginable.

After breakfast, Ramiro I—curiously we would encounter three guides named Ramiro—led us through old town Quito. He marched before us like a banty rooster fussing over his straggling and recalcitrant hens. His excellent English was embellished by a delightfully soft Spanish lilt. In heeled shoes, Ramiro might be 5 foot 2 inches tall, trim and taut. His shirts and trousers are tailored to emphasize a body that compensates for its diminutive stature. His thick sandy hair gleams with golden highlights—from a bottle or the sun, I’m not sure. His strong eyebrows rise dramatically as he speaks and the deep creases beside his mouth accentuate his smile like the happy caricature of a ventriloquist’s doll. What we took away from Quito and from Ramiro I was a delicious admiration and respect for this ancient city of 2.4 million people.
Ramiro I
San Francisco de Quito sprawls across a long, seven mile-wide valley between two north-south spines of the Andes. The city, “Quitsa-to”(meaning middle of the earth), straddles lesser east-west ridges that crisscross the long 9,000 foot valley. Spectacular volcanic peaks ranging from 16 to 20 thousand feet bracket the city. Crops step up the hilly slopes in terraces reaching as high as 14,000 feet. Active volcano, Pichincha, looms over the western front, while 19,000 foot Cotopaxi guards the northern side.

Quito architecture is a tumultuous mix of Spanish, Moorish, French, modern, and haphazard architecture. The streets are narrow, crooked, and tree-lined. Poverty rules and houses stack horizontally, growing ever taller as families grow larger. A tarp merchant would do well here; gazing across the plethora of half-built homes, miles of blue plastic fabric haphazardly buffer brick and mud walls from the rainy season. The city is remarkably clean, except in pockets of sheer poverty or the meaner inner city areas where graffiti and garbage mingle with brightly colored doorways and old iron railings and grates. There are a lot of mud and cinder block buildings in the poorer areas. Cedar is precious and used primarily for elaborate cathedrals.

The equator girds the globe sixteen miles south of Quito. Of course, we had to straddle both hemispheres! And NO, I never could figure out if the bathtub drains differently on the south side than it does on the north side!