The bus trip home was typically Latin American: hot, crowded, while the driver kept us
entertained with salsa music and internal flashing disco lights.
We traveled at night through non-gringo town: dark, unguarded suburbs full of pollution and
The bus driver dumped us without ceremony beside a fast and dirty roundabout,
without an idea of how to get back to the happy lights and rottweilers of gringo-land.
But, of course, we dollar tourists have always a way out.
The sight of our gringo faces was enough to convince a taxi driver to career
straight across two lines of traffic, bear us away and then zoom straight back again in the
opposite direction. An adventure. Perhaps I shall write a book about it.
By a stroke of luck I was in Quito for the most momentous date in the history of
this little Andean country: 7th November 2001. The World Cup qualifying match against Uruguay.
As the newspapers here said, hay dos periodos en la historia del Ecuador, antes y despues del
7imo del Novembre. Ecuador, a football-mad South American country had never made it to the World Cup,
having to qualify against such giants as Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Now, at last they had a fighting chance.
Fifty thousand fans crushed into the stadium.
The bars, retaurants, parks and streets held a million more, all decked out in national yellow shirts,
chanting, singing, crying the the slogan: ¡Si, se puede! ¡Si, se puede!. Yes, you can do it!
We were all Ecuadorian that day.
The tension grew like a twisting vine that bore us all down as Ecuador attacked, attacked,
attacked an immovable Uruguayan defence. Attacked, attacked... a mistake! A foul! Penalty to Uruguay! A goal, 0-1 to Uruguay.
We cringed under the pressure of an entire nation´s deperate hope and growing fear.
Second half. Unlike many South American teams in the past, Ecuador did not lose
discipline under the pressure. Attack, attack, attack... goal! ¡Gola! ¡Gola! ¡Si! ¡Si!
¡Si! The city exploded. The 1-1 draw gave Ecuador the point they needed
to qualify. The parties spilled out from every bar onto every street.
Calle Amazonas was crammed with men, women, children shouting, laughing, dancing crazily in a
dozen spontaneous fiestas. Everywhere the new chant went up ¡Si, se PUDO! ¡Si, se PUDO! Yes, you COULD do it!
We poor gringos were taken aback by the sheer force of emotion.
When Ireland made it into the World Cup quarter final, I would say that the people of Ireland
were mildly pleased in comparison with this. But the gringos in Quito couldn´t
help but be swept up in this, and soon we were dancing around, jumping up and down
along with the rest.
Everyone was throwing back beer and a native punch with a vicious kick,
so we knew we would have to retire before things got out of hand (in fact, three
men were murdered and seventy injured) but it was a fantastic night.
And as I made my way home through the dark streets, past the guards and the rottweilers,
to my gringo house, couldn´t help but sing to myself, Ecuador, Ecuador, siempre el primero...