When we arrived at Colleen's place at around 8pm, she had just pulled a delicious home made pizza out of the oven with another soon to follow. We had only minutes before in the taxi commented that a nice pizza would be great for dinner so we were absolutely thrilled after a long day of travel.
We had met Colleen earlier that month in Mindo and she offered to have us stay with her, which was fantastic. Her place is lovely, in a nice safe part of town with a nice view over parts of the city. Plus she makes good pizza so we were really onto a winner!
Our incredible host also made us breakfast! Bacon and eggs, such a treat. After enjoying this we wanted to tick off a few things in Quito we had missed on previous visits. We hadn't really explored the old town so in the morning we set off to do that. We roamed the streets and looked at a few of the old buildings and squares, including the magnificent Basílica del Voto Nacional, a huge Gothic construction towering over the old town.
From there we made our way to Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World), so we could stand with one foot on either side of the equator. There is a huge monument built at the point of the equator according to the measurements made by Frenchman Charles-Marie de la Condamine in 1736. However, in 2000 this line was discovered to be slightly incorrect based on military GPS readings, placing the real equator about 200m to the north.
At the real equator there is a museum called Museo de Sitio Intiñan, and we decided to visit this first. We were given a guided tour taking us through some of the customs of the indigenous people in the area including their tradition of head shrinking, where the brains and skull are removed and replaced with a smaller rock, then the head is smoked, shrinking the flesh around the rock in the middle.
This day was also around the holiday of the Day of the Dead, so in an old original indigenous hut, which used to be a bar, we were served the traditional drink of this holiday, Chicha Morada. this is made from purple corn boiled with a few herbs.
Next, on the equator line we observed an old sun dial of sorts. The dial has two faces in which the hours are etched. The shadow from the sun appears on the south face for six months and on the north face for six months. Only on the equinoxes does the shadow appear on both faces.
We then stood over the equator for some happy snaps and observed a few experiments. They showed us the old water draining clockwise/anti-clockwise trick, or straight down when the tub was on the equator line. We also attempted a balance exercise walking heel to toe along the equator, feeling like you were being pulled in both directions, and a strength exercise where when standing on the equator you have less strength to resist someone pulling down on your arms.
Then there was the egg experiment. Right on the line, you are asked to balance an egg on the top of a nail. Instead of the yolk being pulled to one side or the other by the Earth's magnetic forces, the theory is that the yolk will drop straight down when on the equator making it easier to balance. Lindsay tried without any success, but Fergus managed to get it to balance straight away, earning himself an "Eggmaster Certificate". That one will go straight to the pool room!
We visited the original monument afterwards, which was a bit of a disappointment. Surrounding it is just about a small village jam packed with overpriced souvenir shops and restaurants, and the monument itself, knowing it isn't the actual equator, seems a bit pointless now. Plus there are no cool experiments!
We made our way back to Colleen's, though rather slowly as we caught the wrong bus and went all the way back to Centro Historico first. We did a grocery shop and returned to find Colleen had a couple of friends over for a drink before they went out for dinner. They were really lovely and we joined them for a drink before they left.
On Sunday morning, we were getting ready to set off for Volcan Pichincha, which towers over Quito. We thought it would be some good last minute altitude training for our Inca Trail Trek coming up. Before we left Colleen offered to make us breakfast again, this time pumpkin spiced pancakes, a Halloween tradition for Colleen back home in Canada. With a little bacon and proper maple syrup they were a scrumptious breakfast and prepared us well for our trek.
We took the TelefèriQo which goes part way up to around 4,000m above sea level. The line took quite a while but we eventually reached the top and were treated to some great views over Quito.
From there, the walk follows a nice grassy ridge for quite a while. We shared part of the trail here with some trail bike riders, seemingly completing some kind of team race, so we had to duck to the side every now and then.
After some time the trail started going up the side of the volcano, with a few patches of rocks we had to clamour over. It was a really beautiful trail with moss covered peat and big rocky escarpments.
After walking for quite a while we ended up at the base of a big sandy incline, at which point we hesitated wondering if we had the energy to continue. The altitude was starting to have some effect and it had taken us a bit longer to get there than expected. There were lots of people coming down but no one else going up.
We decided we still had time and had come this far so we carried on. As we slowly zigzagged up people came running down sliding on the sandy surface. Eventually we got to the top of that, and faced the next challenge. Rockclimbing.
The top was quite sheer rock, quite crumbly in some parts. We attempted to climb for awhile, but we had forgotten our gloves and our fingers were frozen making it hard to grip the rock. Added to that Fergus was starting to feel a bit dizzy, so we decided call it a day, probably a mere 20 or 30 metres vertically from the summit. Arguably we wouldn't have seen much anyway with the amount of cloud that was coming in, so we made the tough decision to turn back.
On the upside the walk back down was much more fun. We were able to skate our way down the sandy parts and declining in altitude is always more enjoyable. As we approached the top of the TelefèriQo we could see a storm rolling in, almost level with is, over the Quito valley. A few bolts of lightening were quite close but fortunately not too close.
The line to return to the bottom was even longer than it had been to come up, and it was now freezing! We paid a ridiculous price for a tiny coffee to keep warm in the line and eventually got back to the bottom.
After another supermarket visit we got back to Colleen's and this time we made her dinner, sharing a few bottles of wine. She was such a lovely person and amazing host, so we were quite sad in the end to be leaving, but we had a nice last night together. She even got up at 5am to make us coffee before our taxi arrived at 5.30 to take us to the airport! What a champ! Thanks again Colleen!