Cuentos de Quito: Araceli Beltran

The is the third entry in my Cuentos de Quito series, a collection of stories from local residents of this awesome city:

I first met Araceli Catalina Beltran Aviles during Orientation of September 2011, when I was a WorldTeach volunteer. During that Orientation I visited her dance studio, Ritmo Tropical, for a salsa lesson – I think the only dance class that I’ve ever taken. She is an amazing woman – energetic, enthusiastic, extremely kind-hearted, with a personality like no other. Back in August I visited her dance studio again, to arrange a group class for the new September 2013 volunteers. During that visit I found out that she is an avid biker and we talked for a while about biking in Quito and Ecaudor. Unfortunately, during that awesome conversation is when my green and black Tacuri bike was stolen, from the entryway to her school where I had stupidly left it unlocked. After that unfortunate incident, Araceli was super supportive and empathetic to what had happened. She has been incredibly friendly in the past two months whenever I see her, whether it’s in her studio or in passing on the street. I love that when I see her or call her, her initial response is always, “Hola mi amor!” She definitely embodies the warmth and welcoming nature that is so often associated with Latin American cultures.

In addition to running her successful dance studio, Araceli spends a lot of time biking. Every time that I see her, she is telling me about another bike trip that she and her friends have taken or are going to take. And now that I’m friends with her on Facebook, it seems that every Monday I see new pictures of her from a bike trip outside of the city that she has taken over the weekend. She is also involved in a very cool project called ClimaCleandowhich is a group that is biking all over Ecaudor (more that 3,000 km in total!) to investigate the real-life impacts of climate change. During their rides they visit communities and individuals that are affected by climate change or are combating environmental pollution in some way. During those rides and visits they have conducted many interviews and are in the process of compiling those interviews into a book.

Where are you originally from?

I was born in Quito, but I grew up in Santo Domingo, where I lived until I was 18. After that I moved back to Quito.

How long have you lived in Quito?

24 years

In which neighborhood of the city do you live?

Right now I live in the Mariscal (which is where her dance studio is located), but you don’t really see the real, traditional culture of Ecuador here. There are a lot of foreigners and tourists, so it’s not really the authentic Quito experience. When I first moved back to Quito I lived in the San Juan neighborhood, which is closer to the Centro and the Central University. I really liked living there because you can see the diversity of people that live in Quito and see more of the authentic, traditional culture.

What is one thing you love about calling Quito home?

The cultural life of Quito has really captured me. There are always a variety events taking place within theater, arts, music, literature, etc. That world of cultural activity is really strong, even more so that Guayaquil or Cuenca (Ecuador’s two other largest cities). Oh, I also love being surrounded by mountains.

Do you have a favorite place in the city?

When I can I really like to go to the parks on the weekends, including El Ejido and La Carolina among others, to just people watch. In the parks of the city you can see the diversity of Ecuador in one place, because Quito has residents who come from all over the country. You see people with their families, relaxing, playing soccer, eating, etc. I just really like watching people in that way because you can understand the country a little bit more. I also like El Cinto, which is a look-out point that is in the mountains to the west of south Quito.

What type of music do you like to listen to?

I really like independent music and alternative music, not the popular commercial music that you hear on the radio. One artist that I really like is Jorge Drexler. I also like Bomba Estéreo a lot, a group from Colombia, because they mix a variety of musical styles and especially mix traditional and modern styles and sounds.

Describe your ideal day in Quito:

I’d probably go to El Panecillo in the morning. Then in the afternoon I’d see a movie at the Casa de la Cultura. Later in the evening I might see some theater in the Casa de Cultura or Teatro Sucre. Then I’d end the evening in Mayo 68, which is a salsa club that I like.

What is one goal that you have for yourself in the near future?

In the next year I’d like to plan a bike trip through Central America. I would travel through Colombia and Panama, and then through Central America, ending up in Mexico.  That would be an epic one-year trip.

Within the next three months, we also hope to finish the book that we are putting together for ClimaCleando. We biked 3,120 km all over Ecaudor collecting stories of how climate change affects people in a real way. We spoke with farmers, fishermen, etc. and had some fascinating conversations. Right now we’re in the process of compiling those interviews into a book, which should be finished in three or four months.

Do you have a favorite soccer team here in Ecaudor? If so, who and why?

I’m not actually much of a soccer fan because I don’t like when fanaticism turns into commercialism, drunkenness, violence, and other excesses – and you lose the magic or essence of the sport. For those negative reasons I don’t really like competitive soccer here too much. However, when it’s just sport and not fanaticism I think that soccer is great because it connects people from all walks of life. The one team here that I appreciate is Aucasbecause it doesn’t matter if they are winning or losing, they always have a great fan base.

Where is your favorite place to get lunch?

Well, I’m vegetarian, so one of my favorite places is a vegetarian place call Quinuawhich is pretty close to where I work. I like it a lot because the owners, who are from Cuenca or Azogues, I don’t remember which, are really friendly. And they have healthy, clean, traditional food that is made from organic products. As a vegetarian restaurant, they also attract a different type of customer and clientele, which I appreciate.

What is one thing that you’d like to see change in Quito in the near future?

I’d really like to see people give as much respect to cyclists and they give to pedestrians. People driving in cars tend to think that cyclists don’t deserve space on the roads, so that’s one thing that I’d really like to see change. Also, I’d really like to see less pollution in the city because that is something that is so noticeable, especially as a cyclist. You can not only see pollution in the air, but also smell and feel it, so less pollution is definitely something I’d like to see.

But, I actually like Quito the way it is – with both its order and disorder. If the city lost its disorder, was cleaner and more homogenized, then it would lose a lot of its magic and essence.

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Cuentos de Quito: Carlos Tacuri

The is the second entry in my Cuentos de Quito series, a collection of stories from local residents of this awesome city:

Carlos Tacuri is a passionate, energetic businessman here in Quito, whose specialty is all things bicycle. He first got a job working on bikes when he was 14 years old, simply out of necessity. But he soon realized that he has a passion for this work, so naturally bicycles became his career. Over the years, he has worked in a variety of capacities as a bike mechanic, including mentoring with another mechanic who studied and now works in Switzerland.

Along with some associates, Carlos helped start ConstruBicis, a local bike shop here in Quito. In 2005, he became the sole owner of ConstruBicis. Then, in 2009 he launched his own line of custom bicycles, of which he has now sold nearly 650. In the past year, he has become involved with BiciQ, a bike-sharing project here in Quito. He has a 50% stake in the project, focusing on the technical side of things. BiciQ has a total of 450 bikes that are shared at 19 stations throughout the city, and there are currently 70 employees helping the operation run smoothly.

Carlos is super enthusiastic about his work, and an extremely friendly guy, so it was a blast to chat with him for this interview. I’ve gotten to know him a bit over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve recently purchased a bike from him (another post on that will be coming soon) and I’m looking forward to staying in touch with him and visiting his shop for tune-ups in the coming months.

Where are you originally from?

Latacunga

How long have you lived in Quito?

I’ve lived in Quito for 22 years now.

In which neighborhood of the city do you live?

Currently I live right here in the same building where ConstruBicis is located, which is in La Mariscal. But for a long time I lived in the Solanda neighborhood of southern Quito. I loved living there because there is a lot of activity and you can find everything you need there. Even at midnight you can walk out on the street and find people around and food if you’re hungry. At some point I’d like to move with my family away from the center of the city, because it’s really congested and crazy here.

What is one thing you love about calling Quito home?

Well, I love to eat, so one of my favorite things here in Quito is all the traditional food, especially in southern Quito. Some of my favorites include morocho, empanadas, and papas fritas.

Do you have a favorite place in the city?

Hmm, besides south Quito, my favorite place is Parque Metropolitano. It’s a beautiful park, and a fantastic place to ride your bike. I’ve been going there for years, and I still find new trails and paths where I can ride my bike.

What type of music do you like to listen to?

I like a variety of music, but in general I like harder rock, like punk and hardcore. I like artists that range from Jimi Hendrix to the Ramones, and Linkin Park to the Sex Pistols. A couple of local Ecuadorian rock bands that I like are Pulpo 3 and No Toquen. I also like traditional Ecuadorian chicha music, like Juanita Burbano.

Describe your ideal day in Quito:

I’m really busy with all my work, so right now my favorite days are Sundays. I get to relax and sleep in and not think about work. I also like to eat breakfast together with my wife and son, and then go out for a walk with them. We might also go visit with other extended family.

What is one goal that you have for yourself in the near future?

In the next year, I’d like to create a bike construction shop, not just a mechanic shop. I’m passionate about designing bikes, especially custom frames, like cargo bikes, tricycles, and tandems. I’d like to have a shop devoted to the process of fabricating frames, which is something I can’t currently do at ConstruBicis.

Do you have a favorite soccer team here in Ecuador? If so, who and why?

My favorite team is Deportivo Quito. When I was a kid, my dad was a Quito fan and gave me a jersey. I was never a huge soccer fan, but I did become a Dep. Quito fan. I also really like their fans, they’ve got great groups of passionate fans.

Where is your favorite place to get lunch?

Anywhere that has caldo de gallina! I really like traditional foods like that, or perhaps cuy asado (roasted guinea pig) with potatoes and a peanut sauce.

What is one thing you’d like to see change in Quito in the near future?

With regards to bikes, because that’s where my passion is, I’d really like to see an effort by the local government to educate people about driving safety and respecting bicycles and pedestrians. That could be through education in driving schools or propaganda around the city. There have been some attempts by the municipal government to create awareness, but those campaigns have been rushed and pretty low quality. In general there is very little respect on the roads in Quito, not just towards bikes but in general, so I’d like to see that education that would promote a culture of respect and safety.

Cuentos de Quito: Dave Shenk

When I lived in Guayaquil, I found myself getting to know many new people and faces around the city. Like the security guards at my school who loved to talk about soccer and shoot the breeze, or the Cuban woman who owned the local laundromat, who always laughed at me when I dropped of clothes, but was always super friendly. As I met all those people, I came up with the idea of interviewing them and writing profiles of those people on this blog. That would’ve been a fantastic way to practice my Spanish, and connect with the local community. Unfortunately, I lost my job at SECAP soon after that idea arose, and I never had a chance to carry it out, since I moved to Ambato and had to adjust to a new city. So, a goal of mine for the next year is to profile some of the interesting people that I meet and get to know here in Quito. And before you read these posts, I’ve got to say that this idea has taken some inspiration from Kate Stoltzfus’ blog Yinzpiration, so you should go check that out. So, below is my first Cuentos de Quito post, which focuses on a familiar face, Dave Shenk:

Dave Shenk has lived in Quito for about two and a half years, serving during that time with Mennonite Missions Network and Virginia Mennonite Missions. He works at the Quito Mennonite Church, and his primary focus there is to direct a refugee project for refugees from Colombia. He is a Goshen College graduate, so I knew him through college, but we became better friends when I was a volunteer with WorldTeach. He graciously let me (and other friends) crash at his apartment when I was in Quito, and we spent some great time together at soccer games, climbing Rucu Pichincha, and just hanging out. Check out his answers to questions about Quito below, and feel free visit his blog as well.

Where are you originally from?

Harrisonburg, VA

How long have you lived in Quito?

Two and a half years

In which neighborhood of the city do you live?

El Inca Dammer.  A lot of people ask me why I live in this neighborhood because it’s not the nicest part of town, but I like it.  There are always lots of people out and about, tons of corner stores and interesting things to observe–some good and some not so good.  But living here, I feel in touch with down-to-earth life in Quito and the people of this neighborhood.

What is one thing that you love about calling Quito home?

I love the natural and historic beauty in and around Quito.

Do you have a favorite place in the city?

I’d have to say that my favorite places in the city are the parks.  Quito has awesome parks, the best of which I’d say is El Parque Metropolitano.  It’s a huge forest on the east edge of Quito where you can hike, bike, picnic and have fun.

Music that’s been on your playlist recently:

Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of music on youtube.  Looking over my recent history, I’ve got some Silvio Rodriguez, Fleet Foxes, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Joe Arroyo and Lucky Dube.

Describe your ideal day in Quito:

I think my ideal day in the city would start off with breakfast in my hammock overlooking the city (with a hammock, breakfast in bed is a thing of the past).  Then I’d take off on a bike ride on the Chaquiñan trail which is a 20 kilometer trail that follows an old railroad route and winds its way through farms and small communities just outside of Quito.  From there, I’d eat a big bowl of encebollado (a fish soup) for lunch and have a cup of coffee at a beautiful coffee shop overlooking historic downtown Quito.  Then I’d cook something delicious for supper and share it with good people.  To end off the day, I’d play some bike polo with friends in a park near my house and eat a chicken shishkabob in the street.

What is one goal that you have for yourself in the near future?

I’d really love to explore the amazon region of Ecuador.  One dream of mine is to take a canoe trip down the Napo River to the Yasuni region of the jungle.  I’d also like to climb the snow-capped peak Cotopaxi, but sometimes that mountain strikes fear into me and I decide against it.

Do you have a favorite soccer team in Ecuador? If so, who and why?

My favorite Ecuadorian soccer team is La Liga Universitaria de Quito.  If I remember right, I arrived to Ecuador on December 5th, 2010.  It was almost Christmas time and at that point I was living with a host family who are strong Liga supporters.  So when I opened up my Christmas gift from them, I found a brand new Liga jersey.  Let me say that when your host family gives you a jersey, you gotta wear it.  And wearing a soccer jersey is not just an outer appearance, it reflects your inner loyalties.  So that pretty much settled it right then and there.  The best part of the story is that a few months later, Liga won the Ecuadorian cup and I got to celebrate with my host family and my new jersey by watching a bunch of Liga fans perform their victory ritual of bathing and dancing in a fountain in Quito on an ice cold night.  Since that day, I haven’t looked back and I still bring out the jersey on game day.

Where’s your favorite place to get lunch?

I love the little family owned restaurants that serve the $2-3 dollar lunches with soup, rice, meat, vegetables, fruit juice and dessert.  They are all over the place, the food is good and it’s a great deal.  I have a few favorite places near my house and work, but I also like trying new restaurants when I am out and about.

What is one thing you’d like to see change in Quito in the near future?

I really hope they tighten down on the buses that give off terrible black exhaust.  It’s no fun to see how pedestrians and bikers have to cover their faces at bus stops and stoplights as they are engulfed by a cloud of black smoke.  Breathing in that exhaust makes me want to vomit.  I’d love to see cleaner air in Quito.