23rd- 30st August
We had a relatively short journey from Tena to Quito, only 6 hours and after missing our first bus stop we got off in the middle of a dual carriageway, crossed over a bridge and hailed a taxi. For the next week we are staying with Lorene, Marbelita and Juan-Luis. We found the house quite easily and immediately felt at home with Lorene. There were three other travellers staying in the house with us, Alex, Edward and Romana. Although they spoke a lot more Spanish then us we were somehow integrated into most of the conversations. Lorene did say we were in the apartment downstairs as we are a couple and she was worried we would have loud sex! Alex couldn't believe this was one of her first comments to us.
Had a chilled out morning, unpacked some of our stuff, read for a bit and then headed for our first lesson. My teacher was called Juan Carlos and all James can remember from his teacher was his buck teeth. This description made Lorene laugh as all the students recognise him by these unfortunate features! We had a great meal with Lorene and headed to bed early as Otavalo market is at its peak on Saturdays.
It was an early start as we attempted to get to Otavalo to see the animal market. The queue for the bus was huge so we paid £1 more each to get a minibus. This seemed like a good idea but the driver waited until he crammed it full so we got hotter and hotter by the minute. For the first ½ hour we attempted to find the animal market but to no avail so the shopping commenced at lot sooner than anticipated. Alex only had two days left so she was frantically buying souvenirs, in particular hammocks. I think by the end of the day she had bought 5 hammocks and a giant spoon that hit me around the head more than once! James and I got a few bits and practiced some Spanish, mainly 'no gracias, es muy caro'.
In the evening we had another lovely meal and Lorene taught me how to play a card game called Rapido. James was too tired from all the souvenir shopping that he hit the sack early. The game was lots of fun and I was pleased that I could understand the rules, despite being taught in Spanish. However, I did lose and Lorene proved to be a card shark and should definitely play poker, she kept a straight face for the duration of the game.
We went on another day trip to Mitad del Mundo and the museum aka the middle of the Earth. We got talking to the taxi driver, who was driving us to the bus station, and he offered to take us direct for the same price, he was very sweet and I think he liked practicing his English. Mitad del Mundo wasn't that great, it was very touristy and overpriced and it isn't actually on the equator line. The museum that is 200m up the road was really interesting and we were on the Equator. We saw shrunken heads, a ritual that tribes in the amazon do to the Chiefs when they are dead. They had pet guinea pigs that were really cute and we did all the usual Equator line tricks. Walking along the line, water down the plug (that does work Dad!) a photo either side of the Equator and balancing an egg on a nail.
In the afternoon we got a bus to the El pancillo to see the Virgin of Quito and marvel at the views. I thought the most interesting part was how the structure was put together, pretty amazing. We eventually got back to the vicinity of our homestay via three different buses and a sort stroll through the park. We braved lunch from vendors at the park, James trying meat with fried banana, mushed yuka and boiled corn and I had the bean dish that we have seen all over Ecuador. Neither would set the culinary world on fire but they were filling and cheap, something everyone on a budget can appreciate! Lorene did worry for us later in the evening and Alex said she would leave some of her stomach medicine in case we needed it.
The next four days we quickly slipped into a mini routine. Up at 7:30 for breakfast, a quick check of our Tarea (homework) and a 30 minute walk to school. We enjoyed lessons between 9:00-13:00 where, during our break, we were able to try traditional Ecuadorian cuisine with Bolon de Verde as my favourite closely followed by Humita. The afternoons were filled with some more sites around the city. Highlights were the view from the Basilica an evening tour with Lorene's boyfriend and salsa lessons. It was Lorenes' birthday on the Tuesday so we bought her a small cake to celebrate.
We had such a great time at the homestay and learnt a lot during the Spanish lessons, James was on more advance stuff than me throughout the week-annoyingly. We had heard that Quito can be a dangerous city and not very pleasant but we found the people friendly and there was enough to entertain us, after our Tarea was complete of course! We leave for Columbia this afternoon (flying to Santa Marta after a chat with Mum). We are leaving Ecuador with a great impression of a lovely country and would definitely like to come back again and see more of what it has to offer.