Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Getting surreal in Ecuador with Batman and weird pizza

There is one aspect of travel that is almost guaranteed, if you travel enough.

You are going to have a few very surreal moments.

We've all had them, I think; and one corollary to that is the fact that what may be surreal to one traveller may be ordinary, run-of-the-mill stuff to another traveller.

The experience that immediately comes to mind when I think of this topic is one I had in Ecuador - Quito, to be precise - during my first trip to South America.

In a nutshell, it boils down to this:

I found myself eating unpalatable Pizza Hut pizza, watching Batman, in Spanish at 1 o'clock in the morning in the capital city of the South American country famous for its Galapagos Islands.

(By the way, we're not talking Michael Keaton or Christian Bale, here - we're talking Adam West. The cheesy 1966 TV series. Actually, come to think of it, I wish my pizza had been that cheesy...) 

"Buenos dias, Senor Batman. Como esta? Donde esta el Riddler??" and so on.

And I was doing this while eating a really bad Pizza Hut veggie pizza.

How did come to this undesirable state? Funny you should ask...

View of the cloud forest (Adventure Life photo).
It actually came about as the result of a near-fatal case of altitude sickness, suffered by my travelling companion, the Divine Ms. K. 

We had spent a week paddling in the jungles of Ecuador with a native tribe, then returned back to Quito before starting out on a second week of adventure in the cloud forests of the Andes, hoping to see wild parrots. 

Both trips were co-ordinated by a company called Adventure Life.

However, one of her lungs started to fill up with fluid because of the altitude, she couldn't breathe and we had to rush back to the city at 3 in the morning to get her fixed up. Luckily our guide knew the ins and outs of the medical system and took us to a private hospital where she was looked at almost immediately (apparently we might have waited as much as half a day to see someone at the public hospital, and that could have been tragic).

She was okay; but it left us without an itinerary.

I spent the next day setting up a trip for me, as she had to remain in hospital. (She did not want me sitting there bored out of my gourd for four days, so shooed me off).

That night, after spending some time with her at the hospital until visitor hours ended, I went back to our hotel, the Hotel Sierra Madre. The dining room was closed, though, due to some celebration or something.

Cue the Rod Serling music ... this is where I start to enter the Surrealism Zone.

The girl at the front desk told me she was going to order in a pizza from - Pizza Hut! That's right, even back in 2002, they had Pizza Hut established in Ecuador.

As I found out though, their versions of the recipes are a b-i-t different from what they dish up in North America.
Green vs. Black: no contest.

I ordered my regular veggie pizza with feta cheese, black olives, onions and peppers, then waited.

When it arrived I went down to pick it up and the minute I took it in hand, I must have gotten a weird look on my face, because the girl asked me what was wrong.

Something about the pizza just smelled .... well, different. Not quite off or bad. And when I opened the box I saw why.

They didn't use black olives on their pizzas in Quito. They used green olives.

I don't know if many people realize it, but the taste and scent of the two different kinds of olives are very much different - at least to my palate.

I HATE the smell and taste of green olives. I won't even have them in my Martinis.

And my pizza - my only meal since lunch, my only chance to eat before breakfast - reeked of them.

Disappointed, discouraged, disheartened, but still hungry, I tried to explain to the girl, but she didn't get it. So I took my pizza and slunk up to my room.

For the next hour, I tried to pick off the olives, in vain, so I could eat the pizza. It didn't help much.

I turned on the TV, hoping it might distract me enough to get some of the pizza down, but of course it was all in Spanish. My Spanish consists mainly of "Cervezas, por favors," and "Donde esta el bano?" so it was not really all that entertaining.

I tried watching the Three Stooges --- "You chica?? MI CHICA!" --- then Zorro (ironic to watch that old TV show in Spanish, since it is set in Spanish settlements), then finally, Batman. All the while, I was trying to pick off more olives and ignore the taste of the olive brine that had soaked into the pizza, trying to gag something down, with minimal success.

And not even a beer in sight to wash it down with, since the bar was closed.

Bad pizza. Bad TV. No beer. I'd had enough. Time to turn out the lights, the party's over.

And I will never, EVER order a pizza from Pizza Hut in Ecuador, again. Unless I channel my inner Macaulay Culkin and make sure it's just a plain, cheese pizza.

And that would be even more surreal.

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