Days 327-331: Ecuador (Quito & Otovalo)

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South America » Ecuador
December 18th 2007
Published: December 28th 2007
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We arrived in Quito at about 10pm and were stunned at how fast the immigration and baggage claim services are, we were through customs (with visas) and had our bags in about 5-10minutes max - no exaggeration, it was outstanding! In no time at all we were being driven back to the Amazon Inn by a really nice Ecuadorian named Daniel, who works at the inn. The guesthouse exceeded our expectations, it was immaculately clean throughout and quite modern - our room itself was huge, with good facilities and a fridge - pre-stocked with soft drinks and beer, hooray for Ecuador! We were both quite pooped so we turned in after having a brief look around the Inn, which is a renovated former Ambassadors home (it’s directly opposite the Spanish Embassy). The Inn is quite big, 16 rooms over 3 floors, and is owned and run by a family of 6, with an additional 6 staff - all of whom are so helpful and cute! We love them!

We woke to find that our included breakfast was made fresh while we waited and was pretty awesome, this Inn has a really comfortable homely feel to it - the people running it are all wonderful. During breakfast, Carlos (the dad) came and told us that they offered a free 1.5hr tour of the Old Town part of Quito and could also take us to the Middle of the World Monument and a Museum for a small extra cost! This sounded great as it meant we had to make NO effort at all and before we knew it we were back in the Chevy with Daniel heading to the Old Town.

We drove around the Old Town and were immediately struck by the huge range of colours in the building - from bold blues, to bright yellows and oranges - it really is quite impressive. As the Old Town is a Unesco World Heritage site, there are no sky scrapers and all of the buildings have some historical significance - if only for the period architecture. The influence of both the indigenous Incans and the Spanish colonists is everywhere. The city really has a charm all of its own, not the least because of its location in a great depression in the huge mountains all around - Quito sits at about 2830 metres above sea level and is completely surrounded by awesome peaks, which are hidden by clouds as often as not. This is actually quite charming as you find your self constantly aghast as the clouds suddenly move and giant peaks are revealed, only to disappear again before your eyes. We drove up to a large hill in the middle of the city that is topped by a giant statue of the Virgin Mary - this statue was, surprise, surprise, a gift from the French! The view from up here were magnificent, the colour and geography of the city is truly amazing.

Next Daniel drove us to the ‘Middle of the World Monument’ which celebrates Ecuador’s position smack bang on the Equator. Ironically this monument is positioned about 1km from the true Equator: Western scientists decided the Incas were wrong with their position of the Equator and so they did their own calculations and helped fund the Monument on this location - as it happens the Incas were spot on all along (without the benefit of ‘technology’) and the true equator is where they said it was. This has been proven by the invention of satellite GPS and the crazy phenomena’s that occur at the equator which I’ll mention shortly. The Museum in the monument was brilliant though, we were blown away by the vast numbers of different tribes and peoples living in Ecuador, both historically and still today. Each region has its own diverse and individual residents, all subtly different to any others, by both their life style and their customs. We wandered through the museum for a while then sat down for a snack of local Ecuadorian fare - consisting of mealy maize based snacks with varieties of salty or sweet - these were pretty yummy and we washed them down with beer and local fruit juices, guess who had what?!

Our next stop was the Inti-Nan Museum on the REAL equator. This place was very cool indeed, they had a cool mixture of equator facts and attractions and Incan history and lifestyles. Our guide showed us the freaky qualities of the equator - first was the fact that water would drain down a basin clockwise on one side, anti-clockwise on the other and with no rotation at all when sitting on the equator line itself, it really was amazing! Next we had to balance a raw egg on a nail head, which I did pretty easily, and only realized it was supposed to hard when Kristi couldn’t do it - ha ha (I even got a certificate for this super-human feat!). We also had to walk down the equator; the theory is most people over balance to one side or the other; however we must have been broken as we both just wandered along… Our next task was to try and hold our arms aloft while our guide tried to pull them down, which proved impossible for him on either side, but relatively easy when we were standing on the equator… freaky!! It was witchcraft I tell you! After seeing a range of Incan sundials and calendars we went to see how the Incans in the area lived, their weapons, cooking methods, houses etc etc, this was all quite fascinating, but nothing more so than the shrunken head on display!! The whole museum was kind of cheesy, but in a cool and intentional way, we learned heaps and had a great time there.

After leaving the Inti-Nan Museum we drove up to a lookout overlooking the ancient Del Pululahua Crater. This huge crater is about 3000 years old and while the Volcano that caused it left the surrounding area barren and desolate due to lava ash etc, the resultant crater is lush and fertile and now full of prosperous farms! The weather was against us and we couldn’t see the crater as a whole, but we could see the masses of green paddocks on the crater floor, which was very strange amongst the dry and barren region surrounding! That evening we found a cool street called Foch, which has tones of great restaurants and cafes/bars - this street became our regular haunt for the duration of our time in Quito.

The next morning we had a lazy sleep in, as we didn’t really want to leave the Amazonas Inn until we absolutely had too! Eventually 12pm rolled around and we headed off to the hotel where our tour in Ecuador would begin the following morning - we were to stay in this hotel for the next 3 nights and then once more after the tour finished. The Junior Plaza Hotel was pretty good, clean and tidy with decent facilities etc but not up to the standard of Amazonas Inn!

We had a lazy afternoon, looked around the local area and spent several hours at an internet café catching up on blogs! Bunny and I went out for dinner to a restaurant called ‘Chacha’ - which was awesome and extremely good value, (we’re talking starters, mains and drinks for less that $10!) after dinner we went to a Mexican bar called “Red Hot Chilli Peppers” and had a HUGE pitcher of Pina Coladas!! There would have been at least 7-8 cocktails in that giant never-ending jug!!

The next morning we headed off to Quito’s Old Town in a big van, to have a walking tour of the city. This was very cool, we went all around the main centre as Roderiquez (our guide) explained the history and culture of the areas. One Church in particular was very impressive - we have seen a great deal of Cathedrals & Churches etc on this trip - but this one was quite unique! It was such a crazy mish-mash of styles, the Cathedral Primada was a mix of baroque, Moorish, rococo, neo-gothic and neoclassical! Needless to say the end result was eclectic! There were cool exhibits inside, including Papal costumes, a fantastic wooden shelved library, a portrait hall and some glass cases holding the bones of first century Catholics!! It really was a very interesting and distinctive church!! Throughout our city tour we saw several parades around the city centre - this was due to a trio of reasons: it was the Solstace (celebrated by the indigenous), Christmas was approaching and finally it was the last day of school! The latter reason was by far the coolest - as in Quito on the last day of school all the little kiddies (5-10year olds) parade around the city in costumes - from angels and monks to traditional Ecuadorian garbs. It was soooo cute! We even saw one peculiar small parade group of very elderly people all hobbling along together looking rather grim about the whole affair!

Next we headed up to the virgin statue again and were greeted with much clearer views of the city this time!! The rest of our group were off to the Middle of the World monument for the afternoon, so Kristi and I asked to be dropped off so we could wander around the Old City by ourselves. This was great fun, we wandered through some fairly sketchy areas and eventually found our way back into the heart of the city and milled around for a few hours before finally getting a cab back to the hotel.

The next morning we were up early and on the road for a full day visiting some of the areas outside of central Quito. The first stop was a shop/factory where they produce nifty little figurines out of coloured clay (basically like Fimo or plasticine…). We bought a bunch of funky little Xmas decorations for our respective mummies!! (although they won’t be any use until 2008!!!). Our next stop was a random little collection of shacks where they produce high quality “Panama” hats!! (Random!) Interestingly though, “Panama hats” originally came from Ecuador and should officially be “Ecuadorian hats” but years ago the hats were sold in various places and became so common in Panama that people started to believe/say they were originally from Panama! These hats ranged from $5 through to a ridiculous $200 - this is for what is basically a STRAW HAT!!! We did manage to buy some very cool woven bracelets though, so all was not in vain!

Soon after, we arrived at our main destination of the day, the famed Otovalo Markets!! These markets meander over about 10 city blocks and have an incredible range of both Ecuadorian products and general ‘stuff’ - if ever you need a poncho, an alpaca scarf, stripy pants and a fluorescent beanie… go no further! These markets were tremendous, some of the best we have seen thus far in our travels and we have seen quite few! For the first time since leaving home, we could actually shop without reservation! Not only was everything ridiculously cheap, but we are so close to getting home we could actually fit shopping in our bags and not worry about room for the next several months! Needless to say we had a great time and bought some cool things, we didn’t go overboard though… we still have 4 more countries to visit!

After reluctantly leaving the markets we drove to a weaving centre, where a tiny Ecuadorian lady showed us both modern and ancient methods of weaving tapestries and dolls etc. This was quite cool, the intricacy and effort involved is staggering - especially as all patterns are done from memory - no templates used here! Some of the woven wall hangings the lady showed us had taken 16 x 8 hour days to make by hand!! After a few more impulse buys we headed to a small town called Cotachi which lies in the shadow of an immense volcano of the same name. This tiny little town is famous for its many, many shops selling leather goods and was very cute. We had lunch as a group in a cool little restaurant, then explored the town for a while, before finally heading back to Quito… more-or-less completely exhausted! Shopping is hard yakka!

The next morning we were off exploring to the Amazon, Banos and Cotopaxi Volcano for 5 days...

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20th March 2009

This is wonderfully described and I enjoyed reading about your advenures. I hope to visit someday. Thank you for taking the time to write and to post this incredible event.

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