I was in Quito a full week, and managed to do very little. If you look up a list of things to do in Quito you get a long list of churches. Now I have nothing against churches, but I’ve seen plenty of beautiful ones in my life. So I spent most of my week relaxing and writing. The one highlight was going to Corvina Don “Jimmy”. Inside a big marketplace called Mercado Central, there are a bunch of stalls selling food and juices. Most of them sell Corvina – a generic name for a fried salt-water fish. And despite the dozens of stalls, there is only ever one with a queue. Don Jimmy’s – who offer generous and delicious portions. Better than any fried fish I’ve had in England for a long time. The second time I went they gave me a pen as a souvenir.
The other thing I did was go to La Mariscal. It’s the party place in Quito. It attracts a lot of tourists, and with tourists come the criminal element. I had people begging me for money, but not in a helpless beggarly way. More in the sense that a couple of guys would surround me and would almost bark for money repeatedly, following me as I walked away. The transvestite prostitutes would also follow me and be quite insistent on selling their services. The only way to get rid of these people was to be aggressive back. I didn’t get into anything physical thankfully, I just gave them a sense that it might go that way if they didn’t back off. I have had a few years of martial arts and self-defence training, plus a long time playing poker has helped practice an emotionless expression that seems to scare people. I think I feel more comfortable in these situations than the average person might. The predatory types can generally sense that I’m not the easiest target, they have a lot of practice picking victims.
Later, when I was staying in a more dangerous part of Santiago, Chile, someone told me I would be ok because I’m a big guy. At 5ft8, and about 69 kg (152 pounds), I am a long way from a big guy, so I find it interesting that people get that impression – I think it’s a combination of the sports and martial arts background, and my short beard. Plus leather jacket adds some bulk to my frame when I wear it.
But please don’t get the sense that I go out every day with a dead-eyed expression, swinging my arms like a gorilla and staring everyone down like an overcompensating alpha male. When I tell people I’m too intimidating to rob, they usually think I’m joking (and I am) because that’s not how I spend my time. It’s just something I can switch on when I need it. And I rarely do. Quito could have been a lot worse though, some people I met later told me they considered the city to be the most dangerous city in South America, maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t do too much.