We left the boat and went to the airport for our flight to Quito. It had been a bit chaotic when we arrived but like any airport it was capable of surpassing itself. We joined the check in queue for Aerogal. Our American friends were flying Tam. We had been in the queue for about 30 minutes despite there being 4 check in staff. A young chap asked us which flight we were on. He then asked us to move to a different queue. Half an hour later we were still stood there. I was pretty fed up. Quaint I like, piss poor organisation I don't. Eventually someone explained that Aerogal had a whole 2 flights leaving today and they had to book the first one in before they could start on ours. So you couldn't have mentioned that an hour ago then?
Anyway we eventually got checked in and boarded. It was a shortish flight with a landing at Guayaquil on the way. We left the airport and grabbed a taxi. Quito is the capital of Ecuador. Like many South American cities it has an old town and a new town. The new town is modern with high rise buildings etc. Quito's old town where we were staying is a UNESCO heritage site and has been well preserved. It has beautiful colonial buildings and lots of ornate churches.
Our hotel was in the centre of the old town and was a converted house. It was very pretty with a central courtyard. There were no big stores in the old town just lots of small traders. We arrived on Sunday and went to the supermarket to get a bottle of wine. Nope. Supermarkets can't sell wine on a Sunday agghhhhh. Is this England in the 70's?
On Monday it was the weekly changing of the guard at the Presidential palace. Lots of soldiers marching and playing instruments. El presidente puts in an appearance on the balcony. There is lots of cheering and singing.
As always we struggled to find anything resembling a restaurant in the evening. Most of South America seems to eat at lunch time. We went to La Ronda a recently renovated area full of restaurants. Not tonight though. Nearly all were shut. We did find one open and had a bite.
We decided to do some culture. In South America that basically means churches. Although I dislike religion with an almost religious fervour I do like church architecture. I'm also impressed by the way they create icons to impress the poor and underprivileged and frankly scare the s*** out of them.
First we went to the basilica. Big building lots of paintings of people in hell etc. The big selling point is that it has two clock/bell towers which you can climb. Fabulous views of the city. After three spiral staircases passing the clocks and the bells the steps go outside. They are wrought iron open stairs outside and they look none too safe. I decided I wouldn't see anymore by climbing them. In short I bottled it!!
Next we are off to the 'most ornate church' in Ecuador. Wow!! . As you walk in it is wall to wall, ceiling to floor gold leaf. A huge church just covered in gold. Impressive but stunningly ugly and frankly obscene when you see the poverty outside the door.
The quirkiest thing in Quito was the local chemist. Periodically 3 or 4 of the staff in white coats would come outside and brake dance while a speaker system played music. Somehow I don't think Boots will be taking it up.
We took a walk down to the new town. Not a very inspiring place. It had a nice park but that was about all. We went into the shopping centre and it was fairly empty. Except, until we reached the food court. It spread across an entire floor and was heaving. Not a spare table. I reckon about 200 people filling their faces.
The other odd thing in Quito was the number of traffic police. It has very narrow roads and can get congested but why does it take 4 police officers with whistles to control a junction which already has traffic lights?
It does seem that in Ecuador you either work in a shop are a security guard or are in the police.
Time to leave Quito and head to Banos. Banos is usually the word for toilet but actually means bathroom. Banos is a spa town with lots and lots of thermal baths. The bus trip was 3 hours and we got to see two films on route. 'Man on a ledge' for the second time and Furious with Van Diesel. Both in dubbed Spanish. Both s***.
Along the way we stopped to pick up new passengers. Each stop meant a line of food sellers getting on. At points there were more sellers than passengers. One poor empanada seller didn't get off in time and was dropped off about 5 miles from where he got on.
We had had a lazy couple of days in Quito so had decided to be a bit more active in Banos. It is a bit of an adventure town. Lots of bike hire, quad bikes and dune buggies. We decided to go hiking on the first day. Off we set to climb up a mountain to see a volcano. It was 4 hours of almost vertical track. The scenery was stunning. Huge forested peaks with low cloud shrouding them. Spectacular.
The climb seemed to go on forever. We had pretty much decided to turn back when a flat back truck with six farm workers and a wheel barrow came along. Volcano? A man shouted. Si amigo we replied. Get in they said (in Spanish obviously!) So we got a lift for about a mile uphill with them. Lots of hand shaking. The men smiled a lot and the two women stared quizzically. It was a welcome respite. We jumped out and continued on our way. Muchos gracias amigo.
It was a long hike through fabulous country but we were now above the cloud line and couldn't see a thing. Oh well lets head down.
We passed through small settlements and everyone said Hola. Ecuadorians are very open and friendly. Back at ground level our legs were shaking from lactic acid. 6 hours in total but a great day.
We had a cold beer in town and headed back to the hotel. It is quite a set up. As well as the rooms it has a thermal bath, a swimming pool and a steam bath room. I've been in a steam room but never a steam bath. We decided it would be good for our aching limbs. If you've never had one think twice. We went down and were met by the owner. He took us to the steam room. Six concrete boxes with steam pipes and eucalyptus branches. Sit down and have a lid put on you so just your head sticks out. Lovely warm steam heats your tired muscles. So far so good. 15 minutes of heat and our man opens the oven and invites us to wash down with a towel soaked in freezing cold water. F*** me it was cold. Then back in the sweat box. This was repeated 3 times. On the fourth go we had to sit in ice cold water and splash it all over. Nothing prepares you for that. Back in the sweat box. Last but not least we stand in a cubicle and he hoses us with a high pressure hose and freezing cold water. Pleasant, painful slightly surreal. Next day though my legs are fine.
So next day we decide to hire some mountain bikes and ride through the rain forest. What a ride. We headed out of town on the main road but were soon going along tracks next to canyons with mountains rising above us. Along the way we stopped to take a photo. A pickup truck stopped alongside. The driver got out. 'We are from Quito' he said as he shook our hands. Then the entire family poured out of the back. 8 in total all smiling all saying' Buenos Tardes'. Lovely friendly people. Along the way we went to some amazing waterfalls. At one we had to crawl on hands and knees through a rock tunnel to see the falls close up. We eventually cycled for four hours to a small commune called San Francisco. The route is pretty much all downhill. We stopped, as the plan was to get a bus back to Banos. We stood by the road ready to flag down the next bus. We had been told we could throw the bikes in the luggage hold. Soon we were surrounded by local kids. So sweet and so curious of strangers. We exchanged names and they excitedly pointed out their village on our map. Before the bus arrived a lorry with people who had been rafting came by. Banos? The driver shouted. Si amigo we replied. We jumped on the back of the lorry and they strapped our bikes on the rear rack. Great way to travel back.
Tomorrow we are off to Riobamba then on to Cuenca. We like Ecuador.