By: Katie Foglia
On my first day in Quito, Ecuador I found myself facing one of my biggest fears: heights. Quito, the capital city, sits 9,350 feet above sea level, and the elevation takes some time to get use to. It’s recommended that you drink a lot of water, get a lot of rest and take things slow the first few days in order to avoid altitude sickness. I was extremely worried about feeling sick, and started hydrating a few days before leaving the United States as an extra precaution. I couldn’t sleep the night before I left and had been awake for more than 24 hours when I arrived in Quito. I was exhausted, but excited to explore this new city that I had only seen on the Internet and in travel books.
On the first day, I reluctantly woke up after only four and a half hours of sleep. I listened to the plethora of information that was thrown at us during an orientation session, and started to feel my lack of sleep catching up to me. After orientation, our group did a scavenger hunt and ate a large three-course lunch consisting of bean and noodle soup, chicken lasagna and a chocolate nut brownie for dessert. Not quite the typical cuisine I had anticipated, but delicious nonetheless. I was tired after lunch, but I was also excited to take a tour of Old Town and to explore the city that I will call home for the next month.
Our first stop was the Basilica del Voto Nacional (Basilica of the National Vow), a Roman Catholic Church located in the historic center of Quito. Initially, we weren’t going to go inside the church, but our tour guide told us that you could climb up the towers to view the entire city from the top. Everyone in the group wanted to go, and I knew that meant I was going as well. I immediately began to feel uneasy. I tried to remain calm and collected, but I started to slowly panic. I hate heights. I always have, and probably always will. At first I told myself I would simply stay behind. But I knew that this was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
I eventually decided to disregard my fear of heights and go for it. I took a few sips of water and began the climb. After slowly (and carefully) maneuvering the three separate sets of steep, rickety and rusty stairs, I finally made it to the top of the tower and reunited with the other students in my group. As I peered over the walls of the tower, I immediately felt a sense of calmness rush over me. The spectacular view of the city left me speechless. I felt a sense of pride knowing that I had faced my fears and made it to the top.
At the peak of the tower, the wind stung my cheeks as I slowly turned 360 degrees, I could see all of Quito and the surrounding mountains. I listened to our group’s tour guide give explanations of the various sights around the city, and (of course) took a lot of pictures. After about twenty minutes, it was time to climb back down. Let me tell you, going down the stairs was three times worse than going up them. But I eventually made it all the way to the bottom of the Basilica and was more than happy to have my feet back on the ground.
I spent the remainder of the day exploring the city and taking in the new sights, sounds and smells. I know that during my month here in Ecuador I will face many challenges. Whether it’s altitude sickness, heights, new foods, the language barrier or some other unknown, that first day proved that I’m able to overcome any obstacle. I’m looking forward to every day here in beautiful Quito, Ecuador.
Katie Foglia is a senior in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and has a minor in geography and a specialization in Spanish. She is currently studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador. Follow her travels on Twitter: @ktfogs.