Old Town fills our lungs with baked sweets, peeled oranges, oily simmering peanuts, vats of sweet golden plantains, unrefrigerated meat, and swelling clouds of diesel. Shops huddle close together selling produce, medicines, bootlegged movies, and empanadas in their shallow alcoves. Five days of trotting up and down Quito’s colorful, colonial, rag-tag cobblestones in Old Town showed me a world of sales I’ve never seen before.
On the street you sweep along a head above bowler derbied ladies in skirts swirling with embroidered flowers. School children weave through you in uniforms with books in hand. They take themselves to school on foot and on public buses. Some even click down the cobbled streets still in school clothes and “Sunday Shoes” to peddle bubblegum to locals and especially tourists.
One persistent four year old went from person to person at the same table in our tiny restaurant and stood for a few minutes repeating the same plea to buy some candy for a few cents. When he heard “no” he hung on and patted your arm earnestly to get your attention. That little one was out by himself in the dark, chilled Quito night. It was aching to see his big, black eyes searching for buyers and knowing that someone supplied him up and sent him out. At least he looked like he went to school in his tiny uniform and black dress shoes because we’ve seen other petite vendors during school hours. A few grubby boys around six and nine years old hopped on our bus laden with mandarin-filled tubes slung over their shoulders called out for quick sales down the bumpy aisle in between bus stops. If they made enough money to make it worthwhile they were more valuable out of school.
Not just little ones pound the pavement here even the weathered crooked-over grandmothers sit on stoops braiding handicrafts reflecting their culture. One miniature woman hauling sacks of papayas craned her neck up severely to look at us then settled into a hard corner to pass her day selling her precious fruit across from a protest filled square rimmed with the military police. Location, location, location! That pint-sized lady knew the protesters had to leave the president’s house and get hungry sometime. Cha-ching!