My dad and Gram asked me a few questions about Quito as a whole in comparison to what I know, so here's my shot at trying to explain the city and my spot within it.
Quito is your basic city. It has malls, supermarkets, restaurants holes-in-the-wall, public transportation, good parts, dangerous parts. With a population of somewhere around 2 million, it’s a concentrated center of activity. The buses through the city are often full, to the point where the doors swinging closed often help to compact the last few passengers to that everyone is inside the bus. If I manage to get one of the few coveted seats, the goal is to avoid all eye contact unless there is a sighting of a pregnant woman, a woman with a child or a really old or injured person.
I haven’t done much shopping, but I pass by plenty of shops on my way to the university or to my internship. For the most part, I haven’t seen an excess of US chain stores, which is kind of a relief. I pass by quite a few KFCs, and I can recall one McDonald’s, but, other than that, there aren’t many American companies stationed here that I’ve noticed. As I spend more time exploring the city, this could change, but I kind of like seeing different places or chains.
There are shopping centers, which so far have overwhelmed me with their sheer number of stores. A couple of the big malls even have a “play zone” with rides and games, which comes in handy when distracting a small child from a toy store.
I’ve only been to the supermarket once. Although it’s clear that American brands cost more, there are plenty of other brands from Andean countries that are more affordable. Of course, an interesting section to visit is the meat counter, where cow tongues and livers are far more available (and perhaps cuy, though I didn’t investigate that too much. I can only picture the guinea pigs from the G-Force movie…).
There are also the fresh markets, which have a variety of fruits and vegetables, and the big market, which basically has anything you could want, from shoes to phones to washers (kind of like a more organized and new-er flea market set-up, if you need a comparison). The markets are fun because of the mixture of items, but it takes a lot of energy to barter and to make your way through the maze!
Cash is the widely accepted method of payment, particularly in the markets and smaller stores. Cash is easier to work with, as long as you have the appropriate smaller bill denominations. It’s also important to keep track of your purse to avoid having any of it taken, just as you’d have to be careful in any big market. Credit cards are accepted in some places (like supermarkets or stores in the mall) for larger purchases, but they seem to be more of a hassle. ATMs are available to withdraw funds, but you have to be super careful about how much you withdraw and from where, since there have been incidences where people (Ecuadorians and internationalers alike) have been followed after making a cash withdrawal and robbed. Basically, you just have to be smart and aware of what is going on around you.
As for being a (relatively) tall blonde pale girl walking around the city, it’s not really that weird. I mean, I stand out, that’s a given. I am generally in the top 10% of tallest people on the bus. But as a growing international city, Quito has its fair share of people who don’t quite seem to fit in. It still requires being careful, to avoid being followed, but a solid combination of confidence, awareness and reasonability can help to minimize the risk. There are also the other 150 international students at USFQ, the majority from the US, but also from places like Puerto Rice, Spain, Germany, Singapore, Japan, Canada, Italy, and Australia.
I’m in a city, with risks and adventures like other cities. It’s not an isolated part of the globe, nor is it a giant metropolis with representatives from every country of the world. There aren’t as many skyscrapers in the middle of the city, nor does it have abundant parking lots available above ground. The city has a unique feeling, perhaps because I don’t have many cities with which I can compare it. Even with the evident pollution and the sometimes distracting trash, Quito has a beauty.