Journey to the centre of the world

Ecuador's flag
South America » Ecuador » North » Quito
June 2nd 2016
Published: June 6th 2016
Edit Blog Post

We had heard the stories of Quito twice over, of how people had been pickpocketed or had their bags sliced open under their seat on a bus and having the contents removed. Even at the border they gave us a leaflet advising us of fake taxis that take tourists out of town and rob them. In our taxi to our hostel we were running through the checklist in our heads to be sure we were in a legit one.

▪️Meter with intact void tape - Check
▪️Orange number plate - Check
▪️Panic button - Undetermined
▪️Camera - Negative

Two out of 4 would have to do. We checked on our phone gps that we were heading in the right direction. Thankfully we were. We would have caught the bus if it had not been dark but night time is not the safest time in Quito. Especially if you don't know where you're going.

The bus system here is pretty efficient and reliable. We always took extra care with valuables on the over packed buses too. We even noticed some locals clutching their bags close during journeys.

Speaking of buses, the long red ones are crazy, the drivers drive like maniacs, going over speed bumps at speed and hitting the breaks hard making passengers jolt forward. We were surprised to see blind people without guides walking up and down these buses. Some drivers don't even wait for people to exit the bus. We watched many a local not make it through the crowded bus to the door in time and have the door slam shut in their face at the last minute.

We digress, after a very long day of travelling we were tired and hungry. We had checked into our relatively cold room and were ready to go out in search for some food. On her way to the toilet P bumped into Leandra, a swiss girl who had been at the same spanish school as us in Cartagena. We'd also done some of the schools organised activities with her and Mateo (who she was travelling with). We'd actually bumped into them previously in Tayrona Park too.

After speaking briefly we discovered we were all hungry and so all went out for something to eat. The swiss guys had been in Quito for a few days and so knew their way around. As we walked we couldn't help but notice how americanised the area we were in was. Restaurant chains, bars playing non latin music, fancy coffee shops. The whole area was directed at tourism. It was so bizarre for us as we never expected Ecuador/Quito to be - dare we say- this modern. It lacked that Latin american charm that other places in Colombia had.

Choosing a random american style restaurant we all sat down and ordered our food. We were aware this place wasn't the cheapest but hunger already had us sat down and ordering meals. Chris ordered the basic hamburger and fries with P having to explain to the waitress what could go in a burger without meat. Vegetarianism isn't very big in south america so they couldn't fully comprehend the 2 being separate and so offered P's meat to Chris. When the meals arrived, P's veg burger came with a separate side bowl of salad too. We ate our meals nevertheless and chatted away with the Swiss guys sharing stories of places we'd been and strange things we'd encountered since we'd last spoke.

When the bill came, our jaws hit the floor. It was US$30. We knew Quito wasn't going to be as cheap as Colombia but $30 was a lot. It was probably one of the most expensive meals for 2 we've had since the states...maybe even longer. We will definitely not be venturing back into this square for food any-time soon.

We were based in the city surrounded by a lot of amenities and a good bus route, but another popular area is the old town aka centro historico. As per the name this area has maintained a lot of its original roots with its cobbled streets, grand churches on every corner and plazas where locals and tourists can take a minute to admire their surroundings. It didn't have the colourful vibrancy of Colombia's Cartagena but it still had that old town charm. As well as churches there were also helpful police on every corner, we had to ask them a number of times where things were as we found ourselves walking in circles. Despite the police presence, petty crime obviously still does occur. We watched one woman dump a handbag into a bin and walk off quickly, we assumed that bag wasn't hers.

Most research we've read recommends staying in the old town as its better and safer than the other part of town we were in. Only reason we didn't stay in the old town was because the hostels we wanted there were full. The city does have a bad reputation but after speaking to one of the workers at our hostel he assured us that that area is also safe. There are police patrolling the area and the streets seemed pretty busy at night with locals and tourists out drinking etc. He told us he hadn't heard anything bad happening in that area for nearly 2 years now. The stigma for such places always takes a little longer to shake off.

Back in the old town, we visited a church called Inglesia Compañia de Jesus which was decked out in all gold. "Wow" were the first words we uttered when we entered. Unfortunately your not allowed to take photos inside so you will just have to google the images if your interested. From the outside the building looks so unassuming, we almost walked right past it.

The main church in the old town is the San francisco church. A huge wide white building set in a large plaza. As we were there before opening time at 3.30pm we sat outside the church on the steps for a spot of people watching. On the steps were a group of elderly locals also waiting for the church to open. Some looked dishelved in appearance, wrapped up in many layers dressed in traditional wear complete with hats. We wasn't sure whether they were homeless or not. We watched as a charity organisation set up a table in the plaza and started handing out hot soup to a queue of elderly locals. Another group of people who we assumed were a charity also started handing out goodie bags containing sweets and biscuits.

Finally the old large doors of the church opened up and the locals who were waiting hobbled in and immediately took a quiet seat or kneeled at a pew at the foot of a graphic model of a crucified jesus.

We walked around the large church avoiding getting in the way of worshippers to admire the slowly fading original paintings adorning the walls. Similar to Compañia de jesus the front altar was decorated in gold. The Ecuadorians don't hold back when it comes to church decor.

Something you cannot miss in the old town is a huge hill called El Panecillo. The hill actually separates southern and central quito and has a 147ft aluminium statue of virgin Mary (with wings) on the top. Following advice from many sources we caught a $3 taxi up the hill. Apparently the neighbourhood at the bottom isn't so nice. For better views of the city below we paid the fee to enter and climb the stairs of Mary's podium. In the summer on a clear day you can see the monstrous volcano of Pichincha looming over the grid formation of the city. Unfortunately, its not exactly summer so the behemoth is shrouded in clouds, with not even an outline to highlight it's presence. Even though we couldn't see the currently active volcano, we were still treated to uninterrupted views of the city below us with virgin Mary towering above.

There's a popular Saturday market also, about 2 hours north of the city of Quito in Otavalo. Known for its size and range of things for sale we thought we'd go check it out. One aspect of the market that intrigued us was the animal market. The animal market is where is the locals come to buy livestock including chickens, pigs, cows, guinea pigs and anything else you can think of. We wanted to see the auctions and the whole 'hecticness' of it all. Annoyingly the animal market starts at 6am. We planned to wake up around 5am but struggled to get out of our bed in the morning darkness and bitter cold. Eventually we got up when it was light and joined 2 other people from our hostel also heading there.

It took 3 buses to get there and we arrived at 11am. So much for the animal market we thought.
At the regular Saturday market there were stalls upon stalls all lined next to each other. There was the fruit and veg section with older women dressed in the traditional dress of long black skirts and white patterned blouses with hats or folded 'sheets' on their heads. The people here looked more Indo-American than the more mixed heritage of Quito. Most men had long plaited hair and wore a poncho or a shawl.

We walked through endless streets, taking a left here, and a right there perusing the stalls and there wares. Items on sale ranged from everyday clothing to more traditional wear to jewellery to household objects. Surprisingly, certain items were not exactly cheap - $26 for a pair of jeans. We passed a few stalls where "doctors" over a microphone would sell miracle cures to a crowd of locals intrigued by these mysterious medicines inside their jars.

We wondered into a food market that had many stalls selling what looked like boiled pig fat with rice. Other items on offer were intestines, pig trotters and bbq guinea pig. We stopped by one stall for a refreshing blackberry shake before saying "ciao" to our company who were off to go find a waterfall.

Our plan was to walk up one of the hillsides leading away from the town which would offer amazing views of the town, lake San Pablo and a nearby volcano. On the way there we stopped by the animal market as we'd heard it was still on till 1pm but by the time we got there most people and livestock had gone. We passed one old lady with a basket of cute bunny rabbits. P asked her were they for eating, "yes" was her reply! Noooo.

Following rough instructions from locals we trekked up many steps leading through small villages in search of this lake. We really began to feel the effect of the high altitude and the strength of the sun behind the clouds. Taking a path we were told was the correct way we passed a fork in the dirt path, one way leading to a farm. About 30seconds after passing the farm, two smallish dogs came running out barking at us. They didn't follow us but just kept barking. Still this terrified P as she has now developed a phobia of barking dogs (stemming from her attack in India). Not really knowing if we were going the right way and worrying on whether we may come across more dogs, we decided to about the search for the lake and head back down the hill to the town. P was still shaken 10mins after the barking dogs. We picked up some stones just in case we met them again. Thankfully we didn't.

One thing everyone should do/visit when in Ecuador is pay a visit to what is known as the middle of the world. Its actually where the earth's equator passes through Ecuador. The equatorial line is represented by a yellow line leading into what was once an old village where an ancient indigenous tribe lived. Today its more of a colourful tourist park with restaurants, museums, live entertainment and llamas. We paid the entrance fee that included entrance into everything, costing $7.50 each. The standard entry ticket is $3.50. Some people don't even pay to go in, they just stand outside of the entrance, take a picture and hop on the 2hour bus journey back to Quito.

We wanted to go in at least, although we probably shouldn't have bought the full pass as we never took advantage of everything it included. Joined by Erica, an american whom we met that morning at our hostel who will be spending some extended time in Quito working for 4 months or so. We spent most of our time here thinking of new ways to pose as we stood, sat, lay and cartwheeled across the hemispheres. In the centre, there's a tall building with a viewpoint on the top and also different interactive scientific experiments as well as indigenous artefacts on each floor. One interesting one was the weight scales, we all weighed ourselves to find that we were 1kg lighter due to the centrifugal force at the equator. It was good to play about with the various experiments but some of the explanations in text went way over our heads. We probably would have ventured into the museum also, but stopping at one place for lunch took us nearly an hour.

We wanted to get back before dark and so left without exploring the other sites within the 'Mitad del Mundo'. Even so, we still enjoyed our day trip here, even if it did take us 4 buses to get there on a Sunday.

Overall we enjoyed Quito as there is so much do around the city and most sites are no more than 2 hours away. We were happy in the part of town we were staying in, as we were eventually able to find some cheap eateries and a supermarket not too far. Transport links were close also. Unfortunately, we didn't get to sample the night-life as our timing was off but we did hear (from our room) popular reggaeton songs being played from nearby bars till late. Maybe we'll get to shake a leg in the next town.

Accomodation: Vibes hostel

Travel: Ipiales to Quito = US$7 each

Date: 7th Jan 2016

Additional photos below
Photos: 56, Displayed: 31


7th June 2016
making the most out of their afternoon

I love this photo!
I didn't know that you your body weight can be lighter (by a kilo!) at the equator. So does that mean I'm a kilo heavier just from being so far from the equator in southern Australia (and that kilo has nothing to do with the cake I've been eating)? ;)
10th June 2016
making the most out of their afternoon

Re: I love this photo!
Thank you, we loved sitting on those steps just people watching. In regards to that extra kilo, unfortunately we cannot confirm or deny that this is solely down to your global location or the cake...but hey who are we to argue with science.
8th June 2016

Chili Pig
Gotta be the biggest roast pig ever seen! Where'd you see it? Quito you can say!
10th June 2016

Re: Chili Pig
It was a pretty big roast to be honest. We found it funny how it seemed to have a chilli in almost every orifice! I think this was in the food market in Otavalo, a very interesting place to wonder around.
12th June 2016
Passing time

My aunt and uncle traveled a lot and I remember a charm my aunt sent to me from Quito. I had to run to the encyclopedia to look it up. It seemed so mysterious. I must get there some day. I hung on your every word and glad it wasn't as rough and tumble as you were expecting.
16th June 2016
Passing time

Re: Quito
It really does get your mind racing when entering a new country with such a reputation. Thankfully we were able to overlook that and really get to see the sights of such an intriguing place. Plus the best thing about Quito is the fact that everywhere is commutable within a few hours.

Tot: 0.174s; Tpl: 0.075s; cc: 16; qc: 27; dbt: 0.0214s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 3; ; mem: 1.3mb