Some say Quito is one of the most dangerous cities in South America; the night time ringing of gunshots seems to prove this! As does the constant stories of muggings from people in our hostel. From what we´ve heard its way more dangerous than most places in Colombia. It is fun though!
After the fanstastic trip to the Galapagos, it was going to take a lot to impress us. The hostel we stayed in, Centro Del Mundo, ran some fun looking trips out of Quito and the next day we found ourselves in the cloud forest of Mindo, two hours north of Quito. Getting there was half of the fun considering that the roads were blocked every few kilometres by landslides!
Mindo was fantastic, our first bit of forest in South America where it rains everyday at 2 o´clock! The trip started off with a leisurely zip through the forest on a zip wire. Being the only girl in the group I was chosen to go first; rather than just sit and zip, I was made to go along the wire lying on my front in the so-called ´superwoman´ position! The next wire was about 100foot higher and twice as fast, the views were pretty cool and we were literally rushing inches from the trees. I attempted to do the next one upside down but the harness made this pretty much impossible; considering Ecuadorian safety standards a harness was a plus!
After this we were off on a little trek to reach some waterfalls, crossing streams, slippy rocks and some rather perilous rickety rope bridges with bits of wood missing, don´t quite think the insurance compay would have coughed up had anything gone wrong! The waterfalls were pretty cool, but we´ve seen so many recently than the wow-factor is beginning to wear off! Pierre, our nutjob of a tour organiser (if I can call him that) and hostel owner then proceded to launch himself from the said falls to ´check' if they were safe for us to jump from. His outcome: yes, but it is very, very dangerous. Like I was going to trust him and his demonic, twisted smile. Mike on the other hand did. Pierre´s idea of safety reassurance was a bit of blue washing line to hold on to so if you were sucked into the plunge pool he could at least drag you out! Mike scaled the slippery rocks and launched himself off it, narrowly missing a rock. Boys will be boys. Seems I may have developed some kind of sense on the trip!
The main point of a Mindo trip is to go tubing down the river here. Kitted out in our hardhats and life vests we plonked ourselves on some mishapen black inner tubes ready to be launched into the freezing cold river. When Pierre saw the river he laughed and told us to hold on tight! Normally this kind of carry on takes at least 45 minutes, for us is took ten! Almost a year of constant rain meant the normally calm river was a continual raging torrent. Clasping the ropes for dear life we were off! It was incredible! More fun than than white water rafting but without the very real near death experience and the hefty price tag. Who can knock a day trip that costs under 20 pounds!! If only the water was heated. I suppose the litre of rum split between five of us after this made up for the virtual hypothermia!
Back on the bus it was time to leave the cloud forest behind to hop back and forth over the equator at the Centro del mundo solar ´museum'
I am convinced that every country has its Choki Dhani, Ecuador is no exception. Set amidst a mock Oriente Jungle village with life size statues of indians, complete with llamas (live and taxidermied) and its very own shrunken head (and blue peter-esque diy instructions to make one at home) lies the centre of the earth. I must admit its pretty cool to hop back and forth for around 30 seconds, after that the continual demonstrations of water down plug holes and other such famous centrifugal forces start to get a bit boring. Especially the bit where they make you balance an egg on on the head of a nail to receive your very own personalised certificate to ´prove´ where you´ve been! Excellent for a laugh! Not so for actual information!
North of Quito and back in the northern hemisphere lies the Andean town of Otavalo, which every saturday turns into the largest indiginous market in South America. We had to go. The trip first took us to a condor park, which reminded me of the bird sanctuary in Newent, Gloucestershire, only with smaller cages! The condors were amazing but looked a bit lonesome in their enclosure, so close to the peaks they should have been flying in between. Getting to the park was a bit more difficult than anticipated. The minivan attempted to climb a steep track but we ended up slipping down the hill and into a wall of mud, gettin stuck at the bottom. It was a case of all out and push, should prepare us for Bolivia! This didn´t work and I almost burnt my foot in the process as the van was giving off so much heat. By this point we had attracted quite the crowd, the problem was solved by a bloke waving around a shovel for us to dig the wheels out of the mud!
Otavalo was good, but a bit of a letdown. Every stall sold the same thing, but this didn´t stop us buying touristy tack and some lovely earrings (mike has taken to wearing them, they really do suit). The market is good for an hour or so, but you get a little bored of fighting your way through the stalls. It did give us a chance to get back to our haggeling best though!
Old town Quito is a world away from the constant bustle and edginess of La Mariscal (the new town). Here it is possible to walk around whatever time due to the heightened police presence! There is some fantastic colonial architecture here and the most lavish Catholic church ever. Around 8 tonnes of gold were used to decorate every wall and the ceiling of this place, incredibly beautiful! It was nice to just sit in the Plaza de Armas and not get hasseled by anyone other than the shoeshine boys.
And so this brought our little Quito experience to an end. There was loads of stuff we missed out but we have to move on. Four months to get ourselves across a continent is not a lot of time!