On the flight from Madrid to Quito I was upgraded to business class, which I neither booked nor asked for but I certainly wasn't going to question! The business class section wasn't even half full so I had loads of space - for an eleven hour flight it was luxury Quito airport is right in the middle of then city - it was strange coming into the land with rows of houses just 100 metres either side of the runway. It's quite small - apparently they're opening a new airport here later this year.
Following a hair-raising taxi ride, I arrived at my accommodation as the group meeting was wrapping up but just in time to meet the guys I'd be travelling with for the next while - sixteen in total, mostly Aussies, also a couple of Londoners and a couple of others - plus our Ecuadorian guide, Diego.
I was a bit freaked out to discover one of them, a 62-year-old Irish-Canadian lady named Rita, had been attacked earlier in the day by a guy wielding a broken bottle and trying to steal her camera; thankfully she managed to run away with her camera and sustained only a twisted ankle - it didn't do much to dispel my preconception of this being a crime-ridden region.
We went to Mama Clorina restaurant for dinner - the Ecuadorian food is unusual, they're big fans of avocado and include it in almost every dish; corn and cheese also seem popular ingredients.
After dinner a few of us went to Finn McCool's pub ('Quito's only Irish-run Irish bar') which was a cosy place with a pool table, darts board and table football. They had a big map of Ireland on the wall that even had Gulladuff marked!
The others in the group had all arrived in Quito before me and seen some of the town already so the next they were off doing day trips to nearby places while I strolled around the 'Old Town'. I didn't feel very safe wandering around though and even had some local women come up to me and tell me to put my camera away because there were a lot of pickpockets around.
The weather varied a lot, with temperatures ranging from high 20s in the afternoon to bitterly cold at night, with intermittent sun and showers. Among the people, there was a stark contrast between those women traditionally dressed in trilby-esque hats, big scarves and long skirts and those in short, tight tops with everything hanging out!
Quite a few of the places I wanted to visit were closed (I think they're still on a New Year break) but there was still plenty to see, including La Compania de Jesus - an incredibly ornate church in which all the walls are decorated with intricate carvings smothered in gold leaf.
I particularly enjoyed the Centro Cultural Metropolitano, a beautiful building which houses, among other things, art exhibitions, a library and an exhibition about the history of Ecuador. It has some beautiful courtyards and I was able to go up onto the rooftop for a view over Plaza Grande, the impressive main square, which is also flanked by the Cathedral, the Archbishop's Palace and the Presidential Palace.
I also went to El Panecillo - 'Little Bread Loaf', a hill on top of which stands the enormous statue of La Virgen de Quito - and climbed up inside the statue for a fantastic view over the town. An even higher vantage point was had at the teleferiQo, a cable-car that took me up to 4,100 metres above sea level (the town itself is at 2,850 metres). On the way up there I passed several volleyball and football pitches along the way - they seem to be the most popular sports here.