¡Hola a todos!
After spending a week recuperating from my bout of Salmonella in Baños, I finally felt well enough to pack my bags and take to the road once more. I boarded a bus destined for Quito and settled back to enjoy the view outside my window; one of rolling green hills and steep drops down to the valley floors below. The bus journey passed swiftly, largely on account of the driver, who seemed in a particular rush to be somewhere else. Thankfully I arrived at the terminal still in one – albeit shakey – piece. Once there, I learnt that the terminal was very new (complete with shiny, chrome surfaces and huge, clear window-panels) and very far from the centre of Quito. I was able to barter with a taxi driver and eventually paid nine dollars for the thirty-minute ride into the Mariscal district, one of Quito’s premier destinations and a backpacker favourite. I found a worthy hostel without too much effort and set out to explore the local area in the day’s fading light, my conclusion being that this is indeed an energetic part of town with music and revellers flowing out and down the well-lit streets.
Becoming acquainted with Quito has been a rather strange experience. After Baños, it is the second location that I have journeyed to that has been previously visited by my parents during their own trip to Ecuador. Thus my first few days in the city felt very much like walking in their footsteps, as I retraced sections of the city that they recommended to me in our conversations via Skype. As with Baños, again I felt a tinge of longing for them to appear from behind a corner, to stroll delightedly into view. As it was, I contented myself with knowing that they had seen the same sights that I now saw, trod the same paths that I now ventured down. While in Quito’s charming botanical gardens, I wandered past the café and seating area where they had enjoyed a brief respite from their own visit to the place – alas, the café was closed during my time among the flower beds. Instead I filled my attention with the various colourful, scented plants, flowers, cacti and trees on display: the orchids in particular were a joy to behold and, as ever when I visit a botanical garden – especially in a bustling city-scape, I savoured the peace and stillness inhabiting this fabulous green space.
Again, once my trip to the gardens was complete, I headed across the road to a large, American-styled shopping mall, appropriately named ‘El Jardin’ (The Garden). Here, Mum and Dad had tipped me off to a tasty eatery serving up local cuisine and very popular among the local Quiteños (inhabitants of Quito). Dad had been particularly vocal in his laudation of the restaurant. After much fruitless searching and even having asked some locals without success, I gave up my efforts and settled upon a small restaurant that looked welcomingly quiet among the boisterous activity in most of the shops I passed. Once inside, I took a window table with a lovely view overlooking the public park in which the botanical gardens sit and whipped out a cryptic crossword while i waited for my local dish of locra soup to arrive. Locra is typically a rich, thick soup of potatoes, avocado and cream: it is delicious (another great recommendation from the parents; better than any guide-book!). While I was eating, I noticed that the restaurant had slowly been filling up and that there was not a single free table as I finished my soup. Every table was full of locals, jabbering away in rapid Spanish: perhaps I had found the much sought for establishment after all!
My first few days in Quito complete, I readied myself for the crowning expedition of my South American adventure: on my first day in the city I had visited a local tour operator once again recommended by Mum and Dad, quaintly named ‘Happy Gringo’. The lovely people there had been able to offer me a fantastic last-minute deal to voyage for eight days in the Galapagos Islands aboard a luxury motor-boat. Looking at the pictures and listening to Cristina as she patiently talked me through the vessel’s itinerary, it soon dawned upon me that this was indeed a “once in a lifetime” opportunity: I would be living like a king for a week while visiting some of the most breath-taking, most scientifically important islands anywhere on our planet. I took a deep breath and paid for the trip, reassuring myself that the experience would be well worth the cost and spurred on by the wondrous tales related to me by – surprise, surprise – Mum and Dad after their own fabulous expedition. So it was that I now packed my small rucksack, placed my large bag in storage at my Mariscal hostel and prepared myself mentally for the trip to rival all others. By a happy coincidence a fellow Englishman from Leeds, Mark, whom I had befriended at our hostel, had booked onto the same trip a day after me – it is always nice to travel with a companion, especially one as agreeable and warm as this chap.
We awoke early upon the morning of Friday 14 August and took a taxi to the airport. The formalities were completed swiftly: I had managed to remember to leave my pen-knife with my large bag, as I intended to take my rucksack onto the plane with me as carry-on luggage. Nonetheless, I continued my well-worn trend by setting off the metal detector no less than four times before finally slipping through in peace to find Mark waiting patiently, though bemusedly, for me on the other side. The flight was smooth and uneventful, bar the inspirational views of the two chains of volcanoes rising up on either side of Quito’s sprawling yet narrow mass. In fact, the area is commonly referred to as the ‘Valley of the Volcanoes’: it is easy to see why.
Our arrival on Baltra Island, one of the central islands of the Galapagos archipelago, was marked by a distinct quickening of my heart-beat and tangible heightening of anticipation: we had made it, soon we would be walking in the footsteps not only of my parents but, also of the great man Charles Darwin himself! Of course, my fabulous experiences of the islands – multiple and marvellous – deserve entries of their very own and so I shall sign off this remarkably brief post here. I had written reams of notes already in my personal diary and have no wish to repeat myself here, nor to overly bore people with an eight-part written documentary of all that I saw and did. Thus, at the thoughtful suggestion of Mum, I intend to treat various animals in distinct groups, at times out of the sequence in which I saw them. This will hopefully make my subject matter more managable and perhaps more cohesive: for instance, I may write entries concentrating upon bird-life, sea-life and land-dwellers individually – this remains to be seen! Suffice to write that the experiences I enjoyed upon Galapagos were among the greatest that I have ever been fortunate enough to undergo and I intend to do some justice to them in time.
¡Saludos a todos!