Friday 3rd October
The flight to Quito only took an hour and a half but I still managed to get a nap in. We landed at the same time as another international flight so had a large line to contend with at immigration. Because we have done most of our travel through buses we haven’t seen this large a collection of ‘foreigners’ for quite some time. With the buses you find there are more locals than travellers but planes being more convenient although more expensive tends to attract more holiday-makers. We also got the sense that everyone was here for the Galapagos Islands but then it is the major attraction on Ecuador. Through the hostel we had booked, we had arranged a taxi to pick us up from the airport and take us to our hostel. We were hoping that the guy would wait with all the delays. Once we cleared immigration we went through customs. They didn’t have any customs forms and when I asked the official standing there for a form he just waved us through. They can’t have too many concerns here or maybe he was just trying to get people through more quickly. Either way we were out into arrivals by around mid-night. I found our driver with a sign (‘Teter Griffis’) and after getting into his cab we headed for Quito. It took us 20 minutes to get out of the car park before we could make our way though as their electronic barrier system had stuffed up. Everyone was lining up at the manned kiosk to get through although there seemed to be a problem here also and no-one was going anywhere fast. Our driver took things into his own hands though and got someone to manually open a barrier to let us out. This driver was the most ‘racing driver like’ and after around 45 minutes of speeding through the outer suburbs of Quito we were at our hostel, ‘El Cafecito’, a recommendation from Kirsty’s friend, Melissa. We got there around 1am so after checking in we just crashed.
Saturday, 4th October
We had a lazy day today. Kirsty wasn’t feeling too good, not sure what from but it could’ve been the altitude as we are still at around 3,000m. Our hostel has a cafe below and it’s a nice place to hang out so I did a mixture of researching Galapogas Islands tours, drinking coffee and reading (reading ‘Origin of the Species’ to get in the mood). Most of the travel agencies here are closed over the weekend but I found one open that looked fairly legit. I enquired within about tours and it seems as though we have plenty of options, with a range of prices and itineraries. I had a lot to think about, almost too much, with all the options so I went back to the hostel to do some more internet research and see what I could find out. We kind of settled on one cruise we liked the sound of, a bit more expensive than the others but it’s on a bigger boat (to minimise the chances of seasickness) and we have a recommendation from Melissa (again). I will go back into the agency on Monday to see if we can get it even cheaper than the 50% price they are offering. You get loads of good deals at this time of year being low season. Rather than let a boat leave without a full contingent of passengers, often tours go for less than 50% of the price that you would pay in the high season.
We are staying in the ‘La Mariscal’ area of Quito which has lots of restaurants, bars and cafes. It is very much a ‘going out’ part of town, so lively and tonight being Saturday it was especially so. Kirsty was laid up in bed, getting an early night, so I went out for a curry around the corner which was nice. After a wander about the area I went back to the hostel for more Galapagos research and to get to bed. Travelling on a plane, no matter how short a distance, always seems to take it out of you. The altitude also dehydrates you so I just took it easy tonight.
Sunday, 5th October
We both got up today feeling much more revived and decided to hit the old part of the town. Apparantly it is one of the best preserved ‘old towns’ in South America so we were keen to compare to other colonials towns we had been, of which there are many. On Sundays in Quito they close off some of the roads to traffic to allow for cyclists to go for a ride through the city. This was good for us also as it meant we could walk the same route to the old city without having to breath in all the black exhaust of the buses which gets pumped out. First, we armed ourselves with a tourist map so as to not be mistaken for locals. We are staying pretty close to the old city so we didn’t have to walk far and we hit the first pedestrianised street after walking to the end of our road. We walked down the Avenida Amazonas until we reached a park (Parque El Ejido) where there was a market and loads of people enjoying the nice weather on this Sunday. There were lots of local arts and crafts for sale and I picked up a lama fridge magnet, not sure but it could be made from actual lama hair. We are restricting ourselves to small souvenirs, if any, until we reach the final few weeks so we don’t have to cart them around for too long. We walked through the market, complete with a Predator lookalike and people grilling what can only be described as a meal on a stick. I will have to try one of these but not today. It consists of sausage, frankfurter, potato and plantain on a skewer and grilled over charcoals. Once we exited this park it wan’t far until we entered another park (Parque La Alameda) which had a mini lookout I circled to the top of. Not really being that high you could only see the tops of other buildings. This park did have an amazing memorial to Simon Bolivar though at the other end and from here you had a great view down to the city and of the winged virgin statue (El Panecillo). From here it was a short walk to the old city where we tried to find somewhere to have a sit down, drink and bite to eat. You would have thought this would be easy but it wasn’t. We eventually found somewhere but not after walking down many a street. If we had wanted ice-cream it wouldn’t have been problem as there are numerous shops and mobile ice-cream sellers, some with just a tray on their shoulder and a scoop to serve you. Alas, we were after something a bit more substantial. It seems that Sunday is the day for ice-cream here.
The old city is a nice area to walk around and is complete with squares, impressive government billings and small streets lined with colourful shops and houses. The central square, Plaza Grande, where the Cathedral, Municipal Palace and the ‘Palacio de Carondelet’ (seat of government for Ecuador) are located was packed with people milling around and entertainers drawing huge crowds. Sunday really is a day to be out and about here. From the old city you can see the hill with the winged virgin perched atop. We walked towards this hill as we were looking for La Ronda, a pedestrianised street with cafes and restaurants lining a narrow cobbled street. It turns out that there was a classic car rally starting somewhere close by and along La Ronda competitors had parked their cars (show-offs). There were all sorts there, manly European models including a mini and an MG. By now we were feeling fatigued, either too much walking or too much altitude, either way we were ready for a rest back at our hostel. We caught the bus back which operates much like train line with specified, clearly marked stops and most of the time a separated lane to keep it moving. It was also a double-stretch bendy bus to have lots of passengers and all for the low price of 25 cents a ride.
Back at the hostel we set out to figure out a plan for our onwards travels, including the Galapagos Islands. Tony, the hostel operator, is a wealth of knowledge and promised to sit down with us and come up with a plan for what we might do with our time in Ecuador. He was also running the kitchen though so it took around three hours to extract the information from him in-between serving customers (the hostel is also a cafe, restaurants and bar). It was good though and gave us some ideas for what we might do here. Worn out from waiting for the travel advice and having to deal with a crazy American (actually crazy, she head butted a guy we were sitting with because he was Canadian, in a friendly way though), we went out for dinner around the corner to ‘Achiote’ and had a lovely meal of grilled vegetables and pulled pork with three types of corn. This was a bit fancy for us, at least the setting was, but the bill came in at under US$30. A good deal we thought. After dinner we went back to the hostel and Kirsty went up to bed whilst I attempted to get some hostel names from Tony he had promised earlier. It took about 30 minutes for four hostel names. Worn out from all the planning (mainly Galapagos) we watched a movie in bed to forget about all things Galapagos and travel for a bit.
Monday, 6th October
I thought I had paid for tonight in the hostel but it turns out that I forgot about the first night and so had to pay for another night. I went down and tried to pay but someone else had booked the room and would be arriving later. We wanted to stay for another two nights and Tony set about trying to move things around to accommodate us. It was also passed check-out time and no-one had told us to clear out the room so it wouldn’t be clean for the new couple. He was kind enough to let us stay in the same room for another night but we would have to move on after that. We had thought though that only one more night might be best after all to get moving and see more of Ecuador before we hit the Galapagos Islands. This meant coming up with a plan for tomorrow though of where to go. The tips from Tony yesterday had given us some ideas and we opted to make a short ride south to Latacunga and from there see some Andean villages and maybe climb a mountain. I called a hostel and booked a room just to make sure we wouldn’t be homeless when we arrived. The other thing we had to do today was figure out our Galapagos trip. Tony had some advice for us and some deals but in the end we opted to book a really good deal through a local travel agency which will see us board a six-day cruise on a ‘luxury’ boat which will take us around most of the islands. We will then stay on in hostel on one of the islands for another two or three nights to see what we didn’t get a chance to see on the cruise. We are both really exiled about this trip, being one of the things we both wanted to do right from the planning phase over a year ago. There was a catch with booking through this agency though, if you pay by credit card they charge 5%. The cruise being expensive, this would amount to a couple of hundred dollars so I set off in search of cash machines to withdraw as much cash as I could to reduce the amount we would have to pay on card. I managed to get quite a bit of cash out but in the process gave Kirsty a mild panic attack (I went alone walking around the streets Quito for 20 minutes withdrawing cash, I felt safe all the time though) and managed to get Citibank to think my card had been stolen and blocked by using so many cash machines (I later sorted this out). We finally paid up and locked in our Galapagos adventure which starts on the 15th October and will last for a week. Can’t wait!
With that out of the way we had some lunch at a lovely cafe near our hostel. I had a bacon and blue-cheese sandwich (was not expecting that on the menu) and Kirsty had a quinoa muffin (big tick for gluten-free option). We then picked up our bags from the hostel and caught a cab to the Quitumbe bus station to catch a bus south to Latacunga, only about an hour away. We thought the bus terminal would be close but the US$10 cab ride went for at least half an hour. After arriving at the bus terminal there was the usual shouting from kiosks to get you to board their bus. We paid US$3 for both of us on an ‘Express Banos’ bus to Latacunga. Banos is place south of Latacunga and ‘Bano’ means ‘toilet’ in Spanish although Banos is actually meant to be quite nice. There were no toilets in our bus either. We are finding that often the cab ride to the bus terminal will cost more than the bus itself even though the distance is so much longer. The scenery from the bus was amazing, we are so high up here that clouds sit in the valleys like cotton-wool blanketing the land and we saw snow on a peak not so far away. The landscape looks very European with fir trees, patchwork fields and cows grazing lush green grass.
Our bus left at 3:45pm and we arrived in Latacunga just after 5pm. When I say arrived in Latacunga I mean that the bus forgot to stop for us and left us by the roadside on the outskirts of town. We knew when we had entered Latacunga but what we didn’t know is that an express bus doesn’t usually stop at the bus terminal. Our tickets did say Latacunga on them though and we did say when we boarded the bus where we would be getting off. Anyway, the conductor forgot about us and when I tried to ask him when we would be stopping at the bus terminal he clearly had some kind of panic and we caught on that we were now leaving Latacunga. The bus ended up stopping by the roadside where could cross the road and catch a local bus back into town for 25 cents. This one did stop at the bus terminal thankfully. All ended up okay and we walked the 20 minutes to our hostel, ‘Hostel Tiana’, and were there before the sun fully went down. Latacunga is a typical Ecuadorian town of around 80,000 people. Like most large towns it has an ‘old city’ in the centre with cobbled streets and churchs. After checking in and getting the tour of this lovely hostel I went out and picked up some vegetables for a healthy dinner (so cheap here). The kitchen is excellent here and there is a large outdoor area to sit and eat. The weather is cool, around 20 degrees but the days are sunny so you can sit outside unite comfortably. We are really enjoying this weather after all the heat and humid of Central America.