|Av Pedro Vincentemaldanado, Quito, 2014|
1. If you arrive in Quito after 1 am, just follow signs toward the city. Maybe you'll find a hotel. Or not. The airport is about 45 minutes by car from the city center. Sometimes the road is closed without warning, in which case you'll be diverted onto the Pan American highway with no chance to make a U-turn for many many miles.
2. When you bruise your big toe in Ecuador and go to a farmacia for painkillers, the best solution will be generic ibuprofen, sold for 50 centavos apiece in convenient 800 mg horsepill size. It takes a lot of water to get one down. Pop one of these every 12 hours and your toe will stop throbbing. Your body will stop hurting. You won't feel a thing all week.
3. If you want to make a fortune, open a store in Ecuador selling child strollers. They have all sorts of ways to carry kids, slung on the back or limply over a shoulder or just held in front. But they haven't yet discovered pushing-in-front-on-wheels.
4. The place in Quito to find prostitutes is on the corner of Guayacil and Vicente Rocafuerte across the plaza from Santo Domingo Church. But this won't be listed in any guidebook. And they don't like being photographed.
5. Cars in Ecuador come with codes to deter theft. Before turning the key in the ignition, you'll need to type this five digit code into a keypad on the keyring. If the car stalls, type it again.
6. Public elections in Ecuador are held on Sundays. For the three day period beginning Friday and ending on election eve, you cannot buy alcohol anywhere in the country. If you ask why, someone will explain in Spanish that it's to deter intoxicated voting. But they will speak too fast and you won't understand. Something about Domingo and cerrado? But por qué? So you'll try to buy alcohol somewhere else and get turned down again and again many times throughout the weekend. The bar in the Holiday Inn Express on Orellana Ave will sell you black-market beer if you look like a confused tourist.
7. Try encebollado at your own risk.
8. To cut down on traffic congestion, certain cars are prohibited from driving during rush hour in Quito. Every day of the week, it's a different license plate number. Numbers ending in 0 or 1 can't drive Fridays for example. If you ignore this rule, playing the stupid tourist card won't keep you from getting a ticket.
9. Have you ever wondered what happened to all those dollar coins you never see, like the Sacagewea dollar or the George Washington dollar? They're in Ecuador. The dollar is the official currency, and Ecuadorans are quite happy to use these coins alongside their own centavos. Not only does Ecuador enjoy a stable currency, they have another country minting their coins for free. Very smart.
10. The island of Isabela in the Galapagos was used as a penal colony in the years following World War II. It now hosts a thriving colony of tourists and ex-pats. With no natural predators, the small gringo colony threatens to spread unchecked.