Published: January 25th 2010January 19th 2010
Quito seems to have a bad rap in all the travel books (notorious for muggings), and it seems to be a strange city, about a mile and a half wide, but very long, sitting in a bowl hemmed in between volcanoes upto 4500m on one side, and 5900m on the other (but these are mostly in the clouds). The city is supposed to be at 2800m, so coming back from the Galapagos and sea level had left me a little breathless just walking up the stairs.
There are over and underpasses everywhere, so lord knows how anyone finds their way around, and it´s split into the old town (dangerous) and the new town (even more dangerous!!!). All this talk of muggings doesn´t exactly make you feel safe, and then I heard that one of the volcanoes about 150km south is in the middle of an eruption.... still, it seems ok to wander around.
First day I took myself into the old town to look for a hostel... I misread the map and spent about 30 minutes walking around in circles before I managed to work out where I was going wrong. The view from the hostel is pretty awesome so I
same way up and down!
sussed out my next steps, and headed to the basilica; infamous for rickety ladders. The interior isn't all that exciting, so I headed out to the towers. About halfway up you can walk into the roof, then up the tower in the middle, and sure enough the ladders were just polished metal.. I was just pleased it wasn't raining! Onward into town.. There seems to be a lot of churches, and all the streets have two names, one on a pottery tile and another below, usually completely different! If I hadn't seen so many other south american cities I'd probably be quite taken with it, but as always when walking around on my own I'm wary to flash the camera. A bit of a wander around the plazas followed, including a meal of that well known ecuadorian staple - spagetti bolognese, then back to the hostel before dark!
Next day I'd decided to take on a bit of a challenge - I grabbed by rucksack, jumped in a cab and headed to the TeleferiQo - a gondola that takes you out of the valley, and it's possible to walk from there up one of the local volcanoes. I'd sussed that
the cloud base was about 4200m, but I was hoping it would lift so I could see Cotopaxi, Ecuador's answer to mount Fuji (and nearly twice as tall!). It was nice and sunny in town, and I thought I was going to fry in the gondola it took so long, but once above the tree line it was noticeably cooler. I wandered on, up to a place where you can rent horses, and was amazed to see that you can look down on the aeroplanes taking off. This amused me for about 15 minutes, as I tried to get photos of aeroplanes looking as if they are flying into cliffs (not very successfully, I might add), then walked on up the hill.... the clouds hadn't lifted and I kept musing over how far up I'd actually walk. I decided I'd set a time limit, then found myself almost at the top about 15 minutes before.... but was feeling just a little rough... dizzy, headache and really cold - I was in the clouds now, but at least that meant I couldn't smell the volcano anymore. After a breather I pushed on for the top.... not really sure why as you
couldn't see much, but my gps told me I was now over 4600m.. eek. The walk up has been the only time in the whole trip where I had to stop and take a few breaths before I could carry on walking, but the way down was much better - deep sand to walk down so nice soft steps!
All the way down to the bottom and I thought I'd explore the shopping centre... but it was closed. However, I was tickled by a sign on the door suggesting that we don't enter with guns, knives or explosives!!
Dinner in the hostel was perfectly good, just not enough of it after that walk!
I'd pretty much given up on the idea of going on to another town and coming back to Quito, so the next day I joined a few Brits and went to "Mittad del Mundo" - middle of the world (well, I figure I went to the end of the world so I should really go to the middle...)
We struggled for a bit to find the right bus, then eventually found one that would take us to the correct bus station.... you had to pay 25 cents
to get in.... seemed a little strange, then we had to hunt for the right platform to take us on. After hopping on some of the guys were given a little ticket, but not me, strangely, and we set off... in the wrong direction. Nevermind, after 5 minutes we turned around and joined the highway. Still took a long time, though. We were dropped off seemingly in the middle of nowhere (but then I'd refused to pay for the ticket that I wasn't given so perhaps it was fair enough....) but then when we turned around we saw the monument. It was 2 dollars to get in, and really all it is is a collection of shops selling toot, and a big monument on the equator, and there's the chance to balance an egg on a nail, which apparently you can only do at the equator. Duly done we headed on to a museum around the corner which sells itself as the real equator, as calculated by GPS! This place was truly quirky.... they have totem poles from all over south america, you can balance another egg on a nail (which I did again), you can walk along the equator
looking into the crater
can't tell you how rough I felt on AMS at the time!
with your eyes closed - supposed to be more difficult, have a strength contest on and off the line - you're supposed to be weaker on the line, and you can also watch the coriolis effect with your own eyes....
Sorry Paul, it looks pretty true to me. The sink starts on the line, he puts his hand in very, very carefully, and pulls out the plug. The water drains straight down, then twists one way slightly, then the other (they put leaves in the water so you can see). They then move the sink off to the south, full the basin and pull the plug.... granted, not so carefully, but the vortex in the water is very clear to see, and it is going the opposite way to when they repeat the trick on the northern side of the line.
They also have a shrunken head, plenty of preserved animals from the jungle (including a small giant anteater.... grr) and an pre-Columbinian house.
I behaved myself on the bus ride back, although it dropped us a little further into town than we wanted, so scampi and chips was called for!
Next day I really wanted to drop into some
one of the performers at Mittad del Mundo
of the cultural museums, but being a Monday I couldn't, so settled for one of the parks and the botanic gardens plus Natural Sciences museum instead (another stuffed anteater, grr...) bit of a hike, mind - nearly took me 2 hours to walk over there. Ecuador sells itself as the orchid capital of the world, and they do appear to have one or two... Otherwise my highlight of the gardens was either the huge fuschia bushes, or the tree ferns. In the museum it was probably the rhinoceras beetles, or the giant cricket.
So, one more day to spend, and I managed to get to the Casa Cultura Ecuadoriana, and admired their long history, even before the Incas - some of the pottery was amazing, but then those skills seemed to die out, only to reappear about 200 years later again... very strange. I have to confess I didn't spend much time in the galleries chronicling the art since the colonisation, but there were a couple of pieces of much more modern stuff that caught my eye. Back to town for a final wander around, I was accosted by a chap claiming to have been a teacher in Bristol, who
who says it's in the wrong place - looks pretty enough to me
wanted to show me around. I asked him to show me the markets, he took me to one that seemed to sell everything from shoes (lots and lots) to washing machines, and I found myself wondering how many of these goods were not faked. The other market turned out to be a shop, so I was just a little cheesed off with the chap!
On the way back to the hostel I spotted that the clouds were now ultra high, so I wondered if I could see the volcanoes. I wandered up to a high spotted and sure enough, there was one hovering on the skyline. I rushed back to the hostel to get my camera, and went as fast as I could up the 200 steps to the neighbouring park.... as I pulled the camera out of my bag I watched the clouds roll over the top and completely obscure it. Rats. I waited for about 30 minutes to see if it would clear, and found myself talking to a german chap who'd come over to improve his spanish, and climb a few more of the volcanoes; best of luck to him!
Next morning was an early start to
egg on nail
try it, it's harder than you think
the airport... I find myself going off Boeing as a plane manufacturer as once again I had a window seat next to no window. I would have seen Cotopaxi, the coast of Colombia, Panama and the Caribbean. Nevermind, I just sat there and simmered with resentment!!! Still arrived to Canada in one piece, with my luggage despite a really tight connection (I had to walk from gate 30 to gate 29, too!) so it's not all bad.
There are more photos below