Quito is a huge city which for some reason looks even bigger from air. As you fly in you see thousands of white/grey buildings in the bottom of a valley framed by volcanoes. The city is made up of the old and the new city. The old city has some beautiful buildings and churches with steep cobbled streets and squares. The new part is shops, bars, restaurants and neon lights. The main tourist area is here and it is called the Mariscal. This is where I made my home, in Blue House, for the 20 days Quito was my base. All parts of Quito are dangerous and you really have to keep your wits about you. Virtually everyone has a story of being or almost being robbed - I am no exception. On my first night here, going from the restaurant into a taxi to get home I was engulfed by small children selling plastic dinner mats. No matter how much I insisted I did not need a dinner mat they would not leave me alone - to the point I wondered what their real aim was. It was then I looked down and saw the little boy trying to open my pocket with my camera in. All the other pockets had already been opened. I grabbed my camera but the street urchins would still not leave me alone. It was quite horrible. It did however give me a wake up call and I was far more vigilant going forward. My whole stay in Quito was never totally relaxing, I was constantly watching my back and my pockets!
Quito is beautiful, well at least the old town is. We had a wonderful walking tour with our tour guide Alana (mad Ozzie chick from Intrepid tour). She had mapped out a tour for me and David (cool guy from London who I met at the hostel). We had a really good laugh and Alana only managed to get us lost once which was not bad for a first time as tour leader. There are some beautiful churches and squares here. The Jesuit Church was stunning with a really ornate interior covered in gold. The unfinished Basilica was huge and covered not in gargoyles but turtles and iguanas. Overlooking the city was a huge statue of the Virgin Mary, the only one in the world with wings!!! It looked really impressive. Then there was the Plaza Santa Domingo, famous for its street performers. There were none on the day of our tour, so being a committed tour guide Alana performed a cartwheel and David backed it up with a hand stand. Bravo to the pair of them. Even funnier was when hours later in an internet cafe someone asked Alana if she had been performing handstands in the square - what are the odds??
The hostel was a bit disorganised but incredibly friendly. I had a 4 bed dorm all on one level ie no bunk beds. This is quite unusual and I did have to pay slightly more but it was worth it. So imagine to our horror when David and I got back from a Spanish class and all of a sudden there were 5 beds and mine had been place on top of David's. We joked that the next day there would be another bed - how funny would that be??? Not very actually because the next day there was another bed and our faces must have been classic. This was the day that me and David found out at 8.20am that we were being kicked out because they had overbooked! This was apparently their solution. I had been worrying all day about where we would sleep. David was incredibly cool about it and suggested we get our bags and walk round Quito until we find something. Ummmm let me think about that for a nano second - no! He obviously didn't know how heavy my bag was! Better idea lets look in the LP and see what is close. Anyway we didn't need to do anything because the ever increasing beds resolved the issue!
I went to Spanish lessons for a week in Quito - 20 hrs in total. I don't think my Spanish improved but I did meet some great people and had a total ball. We went on a night tour all in Spanish. I didn't really understand much so I just looked at the pretty lights and took lots of photos! Ended up in a lovely street called Rhonda. It has cobbled streets and narrow streets. We had a pizza at a local cafe and listened to the locals sing and play guitar. They were just hanging out - it was pretty cool. Had a cookery lesson and we made a traditional Ecuadorian soup. It was pretty much leek and potato soup with avocado and cheese floating on top. It was really yummy and dead easy so I shall definitely be giving it a go at home! There was also a salsa lesson. This was fun. I was dancing with a Brazilian, so I thought this should be good. He had 2 left feet and almost pulled my arm out of my socket on the turns. The Latin American dancing gene must have passed him by. It was still fun and we certainly laughed a lot.
David who gets where castor oil can't, managed to get us invited to the local University Concert. We had to climb over a torn down fence and scramble down a muddy incline - this was apparently the back entrance!! The music was really good, a mix of old school English translated into Spanish pepped up with a Salsa beat. The band were a group of men in their forties doing dance moves which were a combination of boy band and the 4 tops. There were some really cool moves and some others which were decidedly dodgy. A lot of groin action and wiggling of bottoms. We were in stitches - a group of Ecuadorian men asked us what was so funny. This caused another outbreak of hysterical laughter as to us it was blindingly obvious! It was a top night and many thanks to David for making me go.
Time was at a premium in Quito but did manage one day trip to Otavalo markets. These are the biggest in Ecuador. On the way we stopped in a biscuit factory. This is where they all sit round a kitchen table topped with a large mound of dough and shape them into finger biscuits and then bake in the oven. They were wonderful especially when eaten with the local cheese. Next stop on the tour was Lago San Pablo. A beautifully blue lake surrounded by dark green vegetation. Then onto the Equator - the middle of the world. We had a really interesting talk on the stars in the different hemispheres and the fact you can see both here. Had our photo stood on the line and then they tried to sell us the booklet and DVD for $40!!! Ten out of ten for trying. We finally arrived at the market. It was huge and really busy. You can apparently buy anything here and I can believe it. We walked through the food section. I never knew you could get so many types of potatoes or beans. They had bread in the shape of llamas, live chickens, dead chickens and lots more. They also had the craft section which sold hats, gloves, blankets, jumpers etc etc. I couldn't resist and bought a lovely alpaca blanket. Goodness knows how I am going to get it home. To make the day perfect, had a wonderful Arroz del Marinara (Rice with Seafood) for lunch. On the way back stopped off at the Peguche waterfalls. It was a steep walk to the top but the views were worth it. Final stop of the day was Cotacachi Crater Lake. This is out of this world. It is so big and used to be the opening of a volcano. It is so big it has 2 islands in the lake - made from lava. This extinct volcano is so big you don't realise you are on it. It was a really sunny day and it was so silent. The others went to look round the stalls but I stayed and took the beauty and peacefulness in. This was however shattered by the news that England had drawn with the USA. For goodness sake what are you up to England!!! The day was finished off with Mora (blackberry) Margaritas. Believe me when I say these are superb and if you ever go to Quito - you must check these out at Red Hot Chilli Pepper Restaurant.
I enjoyed my time in Quito very much but I would say this was more about the people than the city. I met a nice funky crowd which made my stay absolutely fan dabby dosy!