We get into Quito on time and though customs, no questions asked. Our bags are all ready waiting for us, what efficiency at Quito airport! Through customs and then we are in arrivals searching for our names from our hostal pick-up. Just after we begin to despair that we will have to find a taxi and bargin and then trust that our taxi driver will take us to the address we ask for, rather than to his aunt's sister's brother's place which has a really nice room, we spot our names in the crowd, well close enough. We head over to the guy holding the 'Richard and Ryan' sign and we meet our driver who we chat with as best we can on the ride to our hostal.
We are greeted by Ornelia, who has waited up for us. After climbing two flights of stairs and puffing like it was 10 (altitude!) we are shown the bathroom (complete with scary looking electrical wired shower!), lounge, kitchen and our room where we gratefully collapse into bed after wishing her buenos noches.
We sleep like babes until late morning and then lay in bed listening to planes roar overhead as they come into land in the aeroporto in the middle of town, the occasional horn, the buzz of the hostal door, and a mixture of Spanish and English chatter in the hostal. Eventually we get up and tackle the deadly looking shower (doche), with Ornelia's help to get it hot. She serves us up two bowls of fresh fruit for breakfast - watermelon, strawberries, grapes, orange, pineapple and banana.
We get our bearings on a map from the hostel and check that it is safe to walk from our hostal into the old town and set off. We walk down jumbled cobbled streets, past children playing on footpaths and old ladies leaning out of doorways. We pass little dairy's, small restaurants, shoe stores, and a surprising number of jewellery stores. We get a glimpse of the impressive basilica and then pass the bustling main plaza in the old town, the Plaza Grande o de la Independencia. We find the small supermarket and manage to cobble together some food that we can cook into a simple pasta meal.
We puff and pant our way back up the hill to the hostal and then relax watching the Motorcycle Diaries, thanks to English subtitles. We cook up one of our worst dinners in all the travelling we've done - not helped by the tin of tomatoes turning out to be tomato paste and the jar of pasta sauce turning out to be very pasty as well!
We meet a lovely British couple and some French people and after dinner Ornelia puts on a birthday celebration for one of the French girls, complete with a couple of guys who come in a sing for us for a couple of hours. Ornelia has us all up dancing in a circle, and clapping hands, the guys even try and teach us some of the words to the songs but we are a bit lost, our espanyol is horribles. Everyone else seems to understand what is being said and sung, and can converse with Ornelia and her singing friends but it is all going over our heads! Oh well, it's only day one! The French have been travelling for 9 months and the British couple for 3 months down through Mexico and Columbia. Ornelia has put on beers and wine and some Ecuadorian party food. It's an absolute laugh for our first night and even though it is recommended to steer clear of alcohol when acclimatising we partake in the pilsner beer and after the singing finishes, have a good chat with the British couple.
Ryan tackles the shower the following morning but can't convince it to come hot. I've just turned the faucet after waiting unsuccessfully for it to get warm, when there is a knock on the bathroom door.
'One second' I say.
'I've been told you tell you about the shower' says British Nigel 'just turn it as little as you can for it to be hot, if you keep turning it, it will go cold again.'
After yelling a thank you, I debate whether to walk out and pretend that my running the shower the first time (cold) worked for me, or to swallow my pride and run the shower a second time, but as per the instructions to get a hot shower. The hot shower wins me over so I turn it back on and lo-and-behold it's hot!
We decide to head up to the Parque El Ejido, a park in the New Town full of trees, which at the weekends hosts an open air art show along its perimeter and has arts and crafts vendors set up stalls all over the park, creating Quito's largest handicrafts market.
We walk through the old town and past the amazing basilica, (Basilica del Voto Nacional), built over several decades beginning in 1926. We carry on towards the park, stopping to try some cake at a little bakery/cafe.
The art along the edge of the park is quite beautiful, it's a shame we are right at the start of our trip and can't take too much luggage to the Galapagos! Hopefully we see some art towards the end of the trip! We wander through the stalls, where there is jewellery, llama clothing - hats, gloves, scarves, jerseys and more. There are lovely bags and embroidered blouses. There are wooden toys, woven hackey sacks, hammocks, and more. So many ideas for Christmas presents for everyone back home! Every now and then a stall holder will talk to us, but we may as well be deaf, we've no idea what they've said! This is quite hard! We sit in the park for a bit and watch small children line up for candy floss.
We walk back to the old town and walk through the crowded Plaza Grande to take some photos. On our way back to the hostal we buy some tomatoes and an onion off an old lady on the street for 50c and then a pepper from a small stall for 50c, trying to give to the little people rather than the supermarkets. We struggle up the hill to the hostal again and stop near the top to get a 25c icecream, proud of ourselves for understanding the price of veintecinco (twentyfive).
We get up earlier on Sunday, woken by church bells around 6.30am! Out on the streets of the old town is beautifully quiet, with cars banned on Sunday's between 8am and 4pm - bliss! We head to the Plaza Grande again and see the Archbishops Palace (Palacio Arzobispal), now a row of colnnaded shops, the Presidential Palace or Palacio del Gobierno (where you can tour for free the rooms, though the president still carries out business there so not all rooms are viewable) and the pretty cathedral which has inside a painting of the Last Supper, with Jesus and the disciples eating cuy (roasted guinea pig!). The shoe shine boys are working the plaza again, but neither of us have shoes on that can be shined so we are no good to them!
We head up to Plaza de San Francicso and see the impressive Monasterio de San Francicso - the city's largest colonial structure and its oldest church (built from 1534 - 1604). We also catch a glimpse of La Compania de Jesus, said to be Ecuador's most ornate church, but we can't find the front facade of the church which is gilded and begun in 1605 and is perfectly symmetrical.
Then we decide to test our Spanish and hail a taxi to take us up to the of El Panecillo (Little Bread Loaf), topped by the huge steel statue of La Virgen de Quito. We manage to ask how much and gesture where our destination is, and that it will be tres (3) dollars. So we jump in and have some sort of conversation with or driver on the way to the top.
At the top we take in the views of Quito, which is massive, sprawling for miles in all directions with buildings clinging to the volcanic slopes surrounding the city. We wander about and watch children eating candy floss and flying kites high in the sky off the mountain. There are some food stalls up there, selling all sorts of what must be national delicacies - pig snouts and the like. I'll pass!
We catch a metro bus back down for just 25c each but it doesn't take the same route so we jump off pretty quick to avoid ending up on the other side of town! We see some costumed dancers and a band dancing down the street beneath the Arco de la Reina, an 18th century arch across the street. We also come across the Iglesia del Sagrario, another church from the 17th century.
We head back up the main street to the tourist office which is now open and inside use some very bad Spanish and our Spanish dictionary heavily to ask questions about buses to Banos, which bus terminal to use, how many hours (not the question we were trying to ask!) Three hours if you're wondering and 3 dollars and eventually managed to ask how many bus per day (Quanto muchos autobuses per dia?)
Back at our hostal Ornelia, our wonderful host teaches us some Spanish words, how to say 'I want' and how to ask for a taxi tomorrow at 10am. We siesta and watch Charlie and the Chocolate factory. Ornelia has done 3kg's of washing for us, for just $3, in less than 12 hours! She is so lovely to us!
Today we have caught our taxi to our tour hotel in the new town, its pretty flash (La Cartuja) and the receptionist has quite good English. We've managed to get our UK cards to work in an ATM and bought Ryan a sleeping bag for Uyuni for $58 (we'll wait to see how warm it keeps him!)
We fly out to the Galapagos early tomorrow morning, very excited, sea sick pills at the ready!
Be in touch on or after 4th August!
Love to you all xx