It seemed like we had been heading towards Quito forever by the time we actually pulled into town around 7pm on a Monday night...in addition to a couple rather uneventful days in Popayan, we'd stopped over a night in the tiny town of Pasto just to break up the journey. Nothing worth reporting in Pasto except for me getting a huge steak Churrasco for dinner at about the only restaurant we could find in town.
Per usual, crossing the border was a pain in the a$$. We stamped out of Colombia without any issue, but when we got to the Immigration line in Ecuador things stopped, literally. We waited in line for an hour before even being let into the Immigration office. Once in we were informed that the "system was down". Of course it was. We were still about 25 people deep in the line and there was nobody even working. Joy.
After another hour or so, all of the sudden everything started happening...apparently the system came back online. They openened up a new window and there was a bum rush of people pushing, fighting and shoving their way into the line. Thankfully we didnt need to be in that line...there were more then a few angry shouts due to the chaos. Nothing quite like a little anarchy sprinkled on top of some good old fashioned beauracracy.
Finally we got to the front of the line and were stamped into Ecuador in all of about 60 seconds...quick and efficient, too bad the line to get to the window had taken over 2 hours...no matter, we were on our way. A smashed van ride to the next town across the border and then we were whisked onto a big bus headed for Quito...only another 6 hours.
Needless to say, we were over buses when we finally pulled into Quito. We got a really nice cabbie to drive us into town and to our hostel. He welcomed us warmly to Ecuador, told us a ton of interesting things and all in all was about as nice a cab driver as you can hope for. One strange thing about Ecuador is that they use US dollars for their currency. The cabbie told us that they switched over from their old currency called the "sucre" in 2002...but that the government didn't transition into dollars over a period of time, but rather switched at midnight one day. He said that before the switch he could feed his family of 4 for 25,000 Sucres...which overnight became the exchange rate for 1 US$. Needless to say, even in Ecuador where things are pretty cheap, he could not feed his family of 4 for a week for $1.
We got to the hostel and immediately headed out for some much needed food. About the only thing in the area that was open at that time according to the guys at the hostel was a cheap Chinese food restaurant up the block. Chinese food in Ecuador? Sure, why not. On the walk over we actually got a little excited...neither of us could remember the last time we had Chinese food and we were starving. Well...as described, it was cheap and it was Chinese...heavy on the MSG. At least the veggie soup was good...and only $1.50 for a huge bowl. We went for a walk afterwards, and came strolling past the restaurant on the way back to the hostel. The crazy Chinese woman owner was standing outside looking for us...apparently she'd under-charged us. I didnt mind paying the extra few bucks, but had to have a chuckle wondering how long she'd been standing out there looking for us. And what if we had taken another street home?
In the morning we headed up the steep hill to the park behind the hostel to do a little jogging. Quito is high anyway (almost 9,500ft), and we were on top a huge hill...so Ill just say that we were breathing hard and weren't run all that fast.
We decided to spend the day just wandering the city after all the whole thing is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site so there is plenty to see. It really is a pretty city...for one it is surrounded by about a half dozen volcanoes and many other huge mountains and secondly the old town is one block after another of beautifully restored Colonial buildings. One highlight of our wanders was definitely checking out the huge Cathedral. It looks like something you'd see in Europe...old, gothic and huge. For $2 each you can climb all the way up to the top of the towers. The climb is nervy as you are way high and it feels very exposed...but of course the views from the top made it all worth it.
We wandered through the old town and parks before ending up in the Mariscal neighborhood in the "new" part of town where we got a coffee, spent some time in an internet cafe and then got a few happy hour beers at the $2 beer spot. Of course, we had to do the blind taste test for Ecuadorian beer: Club Premium vs Pilsener. Club won hands down.
For dinner we ended up with decent burritos and one last beer before calling it a night...not including our jog that morning we had probably walked about 10 miles around town that day so we were spent.
Day 2 in Quito and we decided to take it easy...so, skipped the run and got going slow that morning. We hustled up to the Plaza Grande to hop onto the "hop on, hop off" tourist bus. I've never actually been on one of those buses...sure, it was a little cheesy, but all in all a pretty good way to see the city. The loop takes about 3 hours and goes all over town. The highlight is probably stopping at the top of the hill at El Panecillo where they have built a huge Angel statue you have an amazing view down onto the sprawling city. It reminds me of the view from Twin Peaks in SF.
Day 3 and we were up early to hit the park for another job before we headed out to hop a bus north out of town. Our destination for the day: Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World). At some point a few days before on the bus in from Colombia we had again crossed the equator and entered the Southern Hemisphere...today we were headed to the little park area that they have set up at the Equator. Its about 90 minutes on 2 buses, but you are rewarded with a somewhat run down, strange looking amusement park type place. There is a huge tower built and they have a yellow line which allegedly denotes the actual equator. Of course we took the obligatory photos standing with one foot in each of the hemispheres. WOW!! It was pretty phenomenal actually.
We spent a little time checking out the rest of the exhibits: an insectarium and display dedicated to France´s effort in determining the exact location of the equator and the circumference of the World. Riveting stuff, really.
Back in town we had dinner at a sushi/thai restaurant. Yeah, and it was good too. Im telling you Quito, Ecuador is a hell of a lot more cosmopolitan then you´d think...actually, I'll say it...its down right got it going on!
We awoke on our last morning in Quito and with heavy hearts went for our jog and then packed our bags...another day of bus travel was looking upon us...and while 4 nights in Quito had been a nice reprieve from life on the road...meaning "in a bus", we still were not stoked to be getting back on one today. Luckily today´s bus ride was a relatively short 4 hours to the town of Baños. South America is a hell of a big place...thank god its got some great cities to stop in once in a while...Quito is one of them, definitely worth the visit!