Photo by David Adam Kess.
Like a cheap souvenir bestowed upon an unlucky relative, Gringolandia, an affectionate title for Ecuador’s largest tourist hood, is like a living relic of Americana that’s exploded all over Quito’s seedy streets. The greasy fume of hot dogs sharp in the high-alpine air and a looping soundtrack of hits past their heyday (“Backstreet’s back, alright!”) booming out of bars does the trick of drawing in hunching foreigners looking for a place to crash, a tour to buy, a drink to drink; looking for something.
In La Mariscal, Gringolandia’s formal name, establishments battle it out for the title of least-Ecuadorian. The Vietnamese noodle shop, Uncle Ho’s, displays their bestselling t-shirts that read “I LOVE HOs” beside The Red Hot Chili Peppers Mexican restaurant, who hires a man to dress in full “mariachi” regalia and dance around the intersection, tooting a trumpet.
Packs of Americans in harem pants outside The G Spot can be overheard swearing that they serve the best hamburgers in Quito, that Finn McCool’s Irish Pub has the best beer, The Magic Bean the most reliable WiFi, Strawberry Fields the best live music, The Happy Gringo the best tours – if only for their English-speaking guides – and that Vibes Hostel does, in fact, have a really good “vibe”.
At the center of it all is Plaza Foch, a cobbled square lined by outdoor bars, lounges and cafes where eight-year-old Kichwa kids the color of coffee, dragging wooden shoe-shining kits behind them, are shooed away by patrons, where roving packs of Argentinian hippies hawk their handmade wares to anyone with a pulse, where gringos scoff at the outdated Top 40 music by day, and dance to its familiar beats at night.
It’s the nighttime that transforms Gringolandia into La Zona Rosa, lassoing everyone under the age of 35 within a 20-mile radius in its grip, forcing them to party. Otavalo women in fedora hats and babies strapped to their backs weave through endless crowds of towering Europeans and drunken Ecuadorians, selling cigarettes and candy, whispering to each other how they’ll all be chuchaki come morning, how they’ll all be hunching their way somewhere else.