Landing in Quito, Ecuador at 12 AM in the night is not the best way to enter a large and foreign city. I generally prefer late morning or early afternoon, as rooms are easier to find in hostels, plus the added benefit of safety.
Having made a reservation from Columbia, a room was waiting for us when we arrived. Our taxi pulled in front of a hotel on a dark and narrow street in the old part of Quito. For several minutes, we pounded on the front door of the ancient looking building, half afraid the prepaid taxi would leave us in this dark place to fend for ourselves. Eventually, someone came slowly to the door and we slipped in behind the barred entrance.
Our $8 a night room with its wooden floors, blank walls were spartan, but appeared clean. The extra wool blanket draped over our beds was an indication that we had gained some altitude and that the nights would be cool. Quito, the capital of Ecuador, fills in a valley at 9,000 feet. The shared bathrooms at each end of the hall were clean until one of our drunken floor mates used the entire floor as a urinal. No television, radio or telephone, only a small wooden desk and chair, three beds with thin mattresses, and French doors that opened to the small balcony that allowed you to sneak peaks at the female street-workers below. This would be our home for the next week. Not because we were so in love with Quito, but I was about to become very sick.
During my last two days in Columbia, a strange thing happened to my throat and tongue. Everything I ate, everything I drank, tasted horrible. I would start off being hungry or thirsty, go to eat or drink and after the first bite or swallow my hunger would cease. The first two days I thought little of it, after a week it had become a problem.
In Quito, I went to a doctor. He prescribed some antibiotics. After two days of things getting worse, I went to an emergency room, desperate for any kind of relief. Now my throat had become very sore and swollen and my body was weak. In the chaotic emergency room, I found an English-speaking doctor who looked me over, gave instructions for two shots with very long needles and told me to come back in 24-48 hours.
Twenty-four hours later, I was back feeling even worse. Although he thought I looked better, it's amazing what a shave and a haircut can do. This time, they ran several tests, pulling out what seemed like a gallon of blood from my arm. The test for malaria was clear, that in itself made me feel a little better. I haven't been taking anti-malaria pills. The results said I had an infection, duh, and that I was severely dehydrated. They quickly hooked me up to an IV drip for an hour; this seemed to bring me back from the dead.
Lying in my emergency room bed, a thin white curtain separated me from the person in the next bed. From the space a noise penetrated the curtain, filling the space with a strange and foreign sound. Unable to determine what it was, I drifted off to sleep until the doctor strolled by to check in on me. He was surprised I could sleep with such a loud sound coming from next door. I asked him what was happening, he told me it was a monitor to listen to the heart of the unborn child, the mother was about to give birth. Here I felt like I was on my deathbed and next-door life was preparing to begin anew, somehow it seemed appropriate. After enough poking me with holes and prodding, they sent me home to hopefully begin to mend. The truth was, I didn't have much time. In three days, I was scheduled to fly to the Galapagos Islands, and not even my deathbed was going to keep me from going. I did squeeze in a short trip to stand on the middle of the world before leaving, and the Equator came to life. Until now, it was only an imaginary line on a plastic globe, but now here was the place that I had looked at so many times in geography class.
My last day in Bogota, Columbia, I met a United Nations worker, Sol, 44, who specialized in human rights. We had an interesting conversation about the troubles the indigenous people were having, the guerrillas fighters were forcing them to grow coco, for cocaine production, if they refused they were marked for the death squads; additionally, the government offered little help to these remote villages so far from the bureaucracy. It appeared to be a sad situation. I asked her what she wanted to share with you, and here is Sol's response; " it's very important for the people to know what your government is doing in your name, pay attention to what is being done in other parts of the world."