Surrounded by Volcanoes

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South America » Ecuador » North » Quito
May 18th 2009
Published: November 11th 2009
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Day One:

We arrived at the airport in Cusco, Peru at 8 AM (2 hours before our flight). We had to travel back to Lima, then we would go on to Quito, Ecuador. Let's just say our trip to Quito was a bit stressful!

--Our flight to Lima was canceled. So, all 33 of us in our group had to take an earlier flight that left at 8:35 AM, which we were not booked on.

--7 of us (Bryan and I included) were not issued boarding passes initially for our new flight. That left us wondering if we were in fact going to make it to Quito!

--When we finally got boarding passes, after the flight was supposed to have left (they held the plane, thankfully!), we did not have assigned seats. This wound up working in our favor because we got to choose from any of the empty seats left.

--The tricky thing was that our original flight got in at 10:35 AM, leaving us with a 2 hour window before our flight to Quito. Our re-booked flight had a short stopover in Juliaca and did not get into Lima until noon. That meant we only had 50 minutes to clear customs and security and get to our gate! Very stressful! Thankfully, our bags were checked through to Quito, so we did not have to worry about them.

--Our stop over in Juliaca was exciting because it is right near Lake Titicaca. So, we did get to see the famous lake from the plane window! 😊 Very unexpected and cool. It was pretty--a large, dark blue lake with an island in the middle and snow capped mountains in the distance.

--When we arrived in Lima, the same 7 people (us!) did not have boarding passes from Lima to Quito either. Luckily our contact person in Lima was able to get us boarding passes (no seat assignments again) quickly.

--Everyone in our group did make it on our flight and we arrived safely (with all our luggage!) in Quito. Somehow, Bryan and I managed to even get seats next to each other on both flights. 😊

Once we got to Quito, though, all the stress melted away and we had a great time!

Upon first arriving, I could tell that I would like it here more than Peru. The elevation is still high (about 9,000 ft.), but it was overall much cleaner and more modern. Our guide met us at the airport, we got on the bus and headed out for our hotel, the Hilton Colon. We checked in and got a complimentary glass of juice--I had blackberry and it was delicious!

After that, we met with our guide to go over our itinerary in Quito, as well as our trip to the Galapagos Islands. I liked how organized everything was and how up front our guide was with us regarding the schedule and activities. The more he talked about the Galapagos cruise, the more excited I got! At the end of our meeting, we were served rum sours. Yummy! It was rum, orange juice and some pisco. While it sounds gross, it really was not.

The hotel room we had was nicer than the ones we had in Peru--plus, you can flush the toilet paper! Also, we had a great view of the city from our room. Unpacking, we discovered that my contact solution exploded all over my luggage from the change in pressure. Luckily, there was a pharmacy right across the street from the hotel. We bought my contact solution ($9!) and stocked up on water too. It was kind of nice because the U.S. Dollar is the official currency of Ecuador. So, we did not have to change out money or convert prices in our head. Also, prices are really reasonable here--33 cents for bottled water, 77 cents for Gatorade (I still was not feeling well from the altitude and thought the electrolytes might help).

We were on our own for dinner, so Bryan and I chose a place called S'panes, which was further up the street from the pharmacy. Bryan had a steak with chorizo and flatbread and a beer. I had cheese empanadas, chicken with cilantro sauce and fries. Everything was delicious and only cost $13.

We walked back to our hotel and crashed. At least we could sleep in till 7 AM the next morning!

Day Two:

Today was a fun and relaxing day! We did not have to meet our group till 9, so we took our time getting ready and then went to breakfast. We were amazed at all the scrumptious choices we had at the buffet! Any kind of bread you would like, French toast, empanadas, fried shrimp!, eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, fruit, lunch meats, was quite the spread!

At 9, we hopped on the bus for a city tour of Quito. Our first stop was a park, Itchimbia, high atop a hill, overlooking the entire city. What spectacular sights! Also, at the park was a building called the Crystal Palace, made of glass and steel. It was pretty and apparently used for various events throughout the year.

Then we headed to Old Town, the part of Quito with Spanish style buildings. We started at Independence Square, with a monument to those who started the movement of independence from the Spaniards. Next, we visited the Presidential Palace, but only just inside the front gate. The current President is only 46 and is the first one in the history of Ecuador to be re-elected. It is possible that he could serve 3 terms for a total of 10 years (2 years, 4 years, and 4 years).

Afterward, we walked to a monastery built in the 1800s. It had a national library, where many students were studying. We also saw a pretty atrium with a garden. Connected to the monastery was a church built in 1605. It is the Order of the Company of Jesus and was extremely ornate (much like the church in Cusco).

The entire building was made of cedar wood, a bit of stone and lots and lots of gold! The Spanish used gold to make the original Inca people feel more comfortable in Christian churches, since the Inca architecture used a lot of gold. To the Inca, gold symbolized the sun (God) and corn (the base of life for the Inca). According to our guide, there was about 1 ton of gold used in just this one church!

Next, we walked to yet another square in Old Town. There we saw a San Franciscan monastery, the largest in South America (covered more than 8 blocks of land). Unfortunately, we could not tour the monastery. However, next to it was a small shopping area and cafeteria.

At this point in the tour, we had the choice to either stay with our group, go back to the hotel and have the afternoon to ourselves or we could stay in the square and explore the area. Bryan and I decided to join another couple from our group for the afternoon. We ate lunch at the cafeteria in the square. Bryan had chicken with corn. I had the local specialty, locro--a potato soup with cheese and avocado. It was to die for! 😊

After lunch, the four of us took a taxi to the Teleferico, or volcano park. Quito has several volcanoes surrounding the city. This volcano has a cable car that you can ride to the top of it. Our guide said the top of the volcano was at 14,000 ft. (However, the plaque at the top said 4100 m/12,300 ft.) Either way, it was really high up! I was so concerned about the altitude that I forgot about my fear of heights.....until we were IN the cable car! Then, I got really nervous. Between my nerves and the altitude, I think I almost passed out at one point. I took a Diamox to at least help with the altitude and felt a bit better.

I was glad we went though, because the views of Quito were so amazing!! We were higher up than some airplanes and clouds. It was a sunny, clear day when we first arrived at the top. Being with another couple was nice because they could take pictures of us and vice versa. We got to Teleferico around 2 PM. Around 3:30, dark clouds started to roll in and we could see rain in the distance. We continued hiking till it started raining. Then, we went inside to warm up (it was so windy and chilly, I was even wearing gloves). We drank some coffee/cocoa as it rained on the mountain. Because of all the clouds, you could not see anything, so I am glad we got there early enough to spend about an hour in good weather. Around 4:30, it cleared up a bit, but we decided to take the cable car back down. As we waited for the cable car, it started hailing! Luckily, it was gone by the time we got on the cable car.

At the bottom of the volcano, we took a taxi back to our hotel. The taxi ride was only $4 and admission to Teleferico was $16 for both of us. What an awesome experience for $20!!

For dinner that night, Bryan and I went to Menestras de Negro, a recommendation from several in our group. I had chicken and Bryan had steak, both came with rice and beans. It was not very good. Ah well. We walked back to our hotel room and started packing for our Galapagos trip. Yea!

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