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January 7th 2012
Published: January 8th 2012
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Wow, what a surprise Ecuador was. I just learned to go into every country with low expectations. Ecuador was a place I haven’t heard to many backpackers talking about, and after Colombia kinda disappointed me, I wasn’t expecting much. The only thing I heard about Ecuador was the weather can change within minutes (being only a few miles from the equator though the weather is constant all year round) and the high amount of crime, often involving the police scamming the tourists. Nicci and I landed in the capital Quito late on the 30th and checked into a hostel called the Colonial House. The first night we just crashed cause we had to catch three flights that day, Santa Marta to Bogota, Bogota to Medellin, Medellin to Quito.

On New Years Day I just walked around the old town and checked out the numerous old churches. The historic center was actually the first UNESCO World Heritage Site and has about 130 monumental buildings. Wow. This might have been one of the best walks around a city I have taken. The highlight was the Basilica del Voto Nacional, a large gothic Roman Catholic Church with amazing colored glass windows. I also saw and went into the Church of the Society of Jesus and the Church and Convent of San Francisco, both with amazing insides made of what looks like all gold. Looking down over the city was a huge statue on top of a nearby hill called the Virgin of El Panecillo. It was a beautiful city center but the outside neighborhoods seemed a bit questionable to walk through.

Besides the cool buildings, the city was alive and buzzing with everyone out with their families for New Year. New Years is celebrated here very different from at home. I noticed many of the men dress up as women for the day. Also, tons of people had on colorful wigs and many people wore masks. So Nicci and I had to get involved in the traditions and for $2 we bought masks and Nicci bought a bright pink wig. We also noticed these stuffed dummies everywhere, sitting outside stores, hanging in windows and even attached to car bumpers. Basically it felt like Halloween. When we got back to the hostel we asked about it and its a old tradition called Anos Viejos, in which the dummies represent the passing of the year. These effigies are stuffed with sawdust and firecrackers with the faces of famous people, politicians, or cartoons and are set on fire at midnight. This is supposed to represent the hardship they caused and allows everyone to start the year fresh. Our hostel even had one with the face of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy (some of the volunteers at the hostel were French) and we burned it! The hostel owner, Orelein, decided to cook a big dinner for the 23 guests free of charge. One of the most amazing gestures by a hostel on my trip. Every penny (and yes I mean penny, the use the American dollar in Ecuador) means so much to these people and for the hostel to do this and bring everyone together to celebrate was amazing and she became the first hostel I wrote a review for after we left. As midnight hit, we did another tradition of eating 12 grapes but I am not sure why. I was getting pretty drunk at this point and was told just to eat them. We then hit the streets which were glowing in every direction with other people lighting their dummies and running around with sparklers. Would not want to be the fire department the next morning.

I originally planned to leave the next day but since nobody was sure if the buses were even running I kinda just chilled out since just about everything was closed. Since I wasn’t leaving till later the following day, Nicci and I took a trip to the equator. You can get a taxi there for $15 each way which takes 45 minutes. But we had nothing else to do and decided to take the local buses which took almost two hours but only cost us about $1, for both of us together. The Mitad del Mundo (which means Middle of the World) has a 100 foot tall monument with a thick yellow line running down the middle which marks the equator. Well its supposed to mark the equator. With modern technology, it was discovered the real equator is really about 100 meters north but there is nothing there marking it. This is also supposed to be where scientists first proved the world was not flat a long time ago.

After Quito, we caught two buses over the next 10 hours to a beach town called Montanita. Montanita is known as a top surf spot in the world and hosts many championship surfing competitions cause the waves are the same year round. We didn’t book a hostel ahead of time and had to walk around to several different ones before we found one that had a room available, the Honolulu Hostel. Very basic room but it did it’s job. Basically the entire town is hostels with restaurants with the occasional shop in between and full of hippies and surfers. Despite not much to do but go to the beach, the town was packed and there was tons of construction going on to meet the increasing demand for more accommodation. The next four days were spent chillin and trying to relax on a packed beach full of women walking around in thongs. I tried to ask them to cover up some more but I don’t speak Spanish so I had to deal with it. It was also hard to relax cause while we were there the weather didn’t exactly cooperate with us. Every morning it rained and the rest of the day was almost all clouds. It turned out we were still getting tanned (probably cause on proximity to the equator) and I got a mild case of sunburn. Wouldn’t you know it, only about five hours before we left did the clouds clear and the sun came out, but we made the most of it. Most of the days were spent at the cafes or beach watching some real good surfers and the nights usually started with some drinks but no real heavy nights of drinking.

Nicci and I tried to plan a visit to another city in Ecuador but couldn’t really decide and couldn’t afford to go to the Galapagos Islands. Instead we decided to make our way into Peru, our last country together and where we fly home from. Going into Ecuador with low expectations turned out to be a great thing cause we ended up loving it! I want to make a trip back to see the Galapagos and would love to see much more.

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