Thursday, January 9, 2014

Tear gas and beer: A typical night-out in Quito

I cried hot, salty tears, my nose ran raw, and my throat itched. "You've just inhaled tear gas," the red-eyed waiter breezily informed me.

I knew something was wrong the second I entered the bar and saw everybody had scarves tied around their faces. I was in Cherusker, Quito's only German micro-brewery bar but the gassing had put me right off my foaming stein of cerveza rubia.

“There was a man on drugs,” the waiter said. “He got violent and refused to leave so the doorman had to set off the tear gas.”

He had to? Sounds a bit extreme to me and besides, who thought it was a good idea to give the bouncer a can of tear gas anyway? These aren't diplomatic people, if you gave a bouncer a bazooka he'd fire it at the first poor bastard to fail an ID check.

Oh well, I shouldn't grumble too much about being unwittingly subjected to chemical warfare. Nobody else in the bar seemed too bothered and a litre stein of their delicious, micro-brewed beer only costs five dollars. I stiffened my upper-lip and supped the beer with the grim stoicism of a Flanders' trench.

A night out in Ecuador rarely passes without incident... and that's what's so fun about it. I used to go to pubs in London at least twice a week for seven years and not once did I get gassed, or chased down the street by a topless taxi driver swinging a belt.

A night-out in Quito typically means a night-out in Mariscal, home to hundreds of bars, nightclubs, restaurants and hostals. It's lively, vibrant and neon and rammed with drunk backpackers.
All got a bit too much - Borracho sleeping at La Fiesta de la Virgen de la Merced
The borracho is a romantic figure in Ecuador
But it's not confined to Quito. I was in a rock bar in Ambato the previous week and Lucy and I were cornered by a swaying piss-head. In England this guy have been turfed out into the street about four beers earlier but drunks are tolerated much more in Ecuador. In fact, the stumbling, slurring borracho is almost a romantic figure bringing warmth and joy to the heart – a bit how we see Father Christmas.

This drunk borracho was excited because he had tickets to see Metallica in Quito. I quickly learned it was the first time Metallica will play in Ecuador. He then proceeded to tell me all the other rock bands who have never played in Ecuador. It turns out Ecuador isn't really on the metal touring circuit and there are a lot of bands who have never played here. Iron Maiden, Kiss, Slayer, ZZ Top, Black Sabbath... the list felt endless. But Metallica are playing in Ecuador, he reminded me. Then he told me all the bands who have played in Ecuador... there were a lot of them too, although I'd never heard of most of them. And Metallica, he added for emphasis, are playing in Ecuador for “la primera vez”. I nodded politely for the 98th time. Then he told me all the bands who haven't played in Ecuador... it was a long night.

The best thing about the night was when Lucy couldn't remember the name for the pub and called it "the beer shop". From now on every pub shall be called "the beer shop". 

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