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Published: November 14th 2019
Bus journeys can be frustrating, and it is roundly established that the longer the bus journey, the greater the chance of delays and indeed hold-ups en route. Well, leaving the guest house in Montanita, the parting gesture of the owner was 'just wait outside', so in the relative security of local knowledge, the bus rolled towards the guesthouse, and indeed came to a halt when this traveller had seemingly created a temporary bus stop in the form of an outstretched arm. A little over 3 hours later, and we're in Manta, a coastal city which background reading served to suggest didn't have too many in the way of individual tourist sights. The background reading turned out to be accurate, and a visit to the central (free) museum, a walk along the beachside promenade and a drop-by at the Pacific mall seemed to cover a large cross-section of what Manta appeared to offer. Reports also served to suggest that domestic tourists visit Manta in sizeable numbers, so when surf's up, the sun is out and there's time to spare, I can see how a city not overflowing with key reference points could make for a fun time. An evening stroll between the
hotel (Pikeiro Blue) and the airport revealed a sprung-to-life Manta with evening grilled food stalls and interesting shops in a cluster, and the whole ambience made up for a more soulless experience earlier on in a comparatively ordinary Ecuadorean town. It is usually the case that no visit to any country is deemed complete without visiting the nation's capital city, and in the case of Ecuador's Quito, this really is a must. Tourist attractions abound here, and it is hard to determine which should have visiting priority over others, the general advice being to try and see the whole lot! The Basilica del Voto Nacional is a huge, stunning church which has echoes of Notre Dame, and is visible enough from afar for a visitor to be able to reach without a map to hand. For truly stunning views of the city down below, climbing the steps to El Panecillo monument may be tiring, but a taxi is an alternative option, and any amount of effort needed to get there is instantly redeemed upon arrival, with the large statue of the virgin Mary towering above delightful colonial, colourful Quito. If you wish to surround yourself with buildings of architectural splendour
galore in amongst tourists, locals and a few hungry birds, then Plaza Grande is the place where you can achieve this and decide which of the nodes of the city you can choose to head off to should you succeed in prising yourself away from such magnificent surroundings. La Compania de Jesus is dubbed the most impressive church in the country’s capital, being built over 160 years starting in 1605, the structure being best known for its highly decorated interiors (around half a ton of gold was used to ornament the walls, ceilings and the church’s 11 altars!) and the immediate surroundings are destined to impress similarly. A rental car, a full day to spare and the open road are 3 essential ingredients for an insightful day out in a foreign land, and the stop-off points along the way were scheduled into the mix, with scope for deletion if time or inclination did not permit. First up was the Saturday open-air market at Otavalo, by some accounts the continent's largest, and a colourful and eclectic swarm of shoppers, traders and well-stocked stalls was a welcome sight, even on the car park to market approach. The market itself is the final
word in handicraft / souvenir shopping, though it has to be said that the variety of goods on offer does also possess the kind of appeal which would no doubt allure locals and domestic tourists too. Heading slightly further north, and the town of Cotacachi is famed for the local production of leather goods, and the variety of shops and market stalls in town attests to this, in ways in which make it a worthwhile diversion from the greater commercial bustle of Otavalo. All shopped out and reading to face more winding roads which climb to seemingly-endless altitudes, the road led to the town of Pappallacta, for the purpose of relaxing in some of the sumptuous hot spring bathing pools for which the place is famed. The verdant backdrop impresses, and the idea of making this the last stop-off point en route is a strategic one, rendered all the more valid by the fact that the return drive to Quito can be beset by congestion and a few peripheral back roads which can take you by surprise, given their narrow, winding and imperfectly-surfaced nature. Back in Quito though, it becomes even clearer on day two that the Ecuadorean capital does precisely what it knows best - quietly seduces the visitor into a state of relative bliss where any notion of dislike for urbanization gives way to a stronger admiration for the variety of colours and styles which make up the whole tasty package.
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