My favorite part about Quicentro, the mall in Quito, is how easy it is to maim your child. If you’re lucky, you can also pretty easily injure fellow mall-goers at the same time. To do this, you’ll have to go to the arcade. At first glance, it’s an arcade pretty much like an American arcade: fancy, high-end arcade games toward the front, older, junky games in the back, as well as skill games that award you tickets you can exchange for SO-not-worth it prizes. And then you get to the ropes course.
The highlight of the ropes course for me is this series of rope bridges that are around ten feet off the ground. Note that I said ground. Not ten feet above a ball pit or a big foam mat, but the cold, hard tile of the arcade floor. The same floor that everyone’s walking on, so if you timed it right, your child could take out an unsuspecting arcade patron in their fall from the rope bridge.
As you can see in the picture, these rope bridges are HARD! Kids are expected to walk between these little arcs of rope hanging from the ceiling two feet apart and get from one platform to the next. They get to wear helmets, but that seemed to be it in the way of precautions. There’s not even a staffer monitoring the course.
The ropes course is attached to the “Spider Web,” which is this tower made up of webs of seat belt-like bands forming about eight horizontal levels. Kids climb up through each web, then have to balance themselves on the current level of webbing to pull themselves up to the next web three feet above. What makes this fun to watch is that kids can’t really figure it out. They’d pull themselves halfway through a level, see that the next was within reach, then try to pull themselves up another level without bothering to untangle their leg/arm/neck from the previous level. Basically, there’s a lot of getting tangled and falling down, which seemed dangerously conducive to strangling children, but compared to the ropes course we saw, this level of danger seemed to be almost coddling the damn kids.
Rachel and I sat watching a 5-6 year old brother and sister pair play in the Spider Web for about twenty minutes. Not because the Spider Web in itself was so interesting (it was worth maybe five minutes of spectating), but because we were really desperate to see children finish the spider web, then continue on to the ropes course and
possibly plunge to their demise triumphantly complete it. Sadly, the brother spent the entire time tangled up in level 3 and the sister seemed so pleased with herself at being able to get through it quicker than her brother that she never continued on to the ropes course and instead just kept repeating the spider web over and over and over again.
Outside the arcade, the mall is almost indistinguishable from an American mall. Most of the stores were American (or at least what you’d find in America): Tommy Hilfiger, Sony Style, Diesel. Even the non-American stores had mostly English names like Tennis (an American Eagle-esque clothing store), Pony Store (which sold shoes), and Shoe Mania (which sold ponies). Okay, I made that last one up, but the rest were all real and conspicuously American.
The food court was completely dominated by American fast food joints. Starting the following day, Rachel would be in the Galapagos for three months, where chain restaurants are banned, so she wanted to get a final Taco Bell meal. Now we all know that in other countries, the fast food menus are always slightly different; you can get beer at the McDonalds in France, all the food/soda at the KFC in Switzerland is first dipped in melted cheese, the Big Mac in Canada has a two inch layer of mayonnaise in place of the top bun, etc. But of all chain restaurants, I expected Ecuador’s Taco Bell to be pretty similar to America’s Taco Bell. Instead it’s like they’ve Americanized Mexican food more than America did. The combo meals all come with french fries, not nachos. You can swap back in the nachos if you ask, but the chips are like a disgusting middle ground between potato chips and tortilla chips. Once you get the nachos, you realize that there’s no delicious fake cheese like they serve with the nachos in America, but rather some disgusting fake guacamole-flavored paste! It was disgraceful. The Taco Bell chefs in Ecuador really need to take a trip up to the US and see how real Mexican food is made.
The other way in which Quito has one upped American malls in American-ness is that it’s impossible to actually leave the mall once you’re done. It was raining when we left the mall, and as I found out in my first week in Quito, you can’t get around the city when it’s raining. Theoretically, there are cabs, but everyone wants one, so it’s impossible to find one that’s free, so there are just huge crowds of people hopelessly standing at the mall exits in the rain waiting for cabs and none are showing up. We eventually just left the mall and wandered a couple blocks away where the cabs were equally infrequent, but the competition was less fierce and we miraculously spotted a cab that was letting out its passengers and hopped in and headed back to the hostel.