My first 'day' in Quito, it was more a night. I had the loveliest taxi driver who was forgiving of my basic Spanish and we managed to chat pretty much the whole ride. After checking into my hostel (where I bumped into two girls I met in Arequipa) I went to the supermarket, got some veggies and enjoyed the luxury of cooking again. Funny how something so simple can be so nice.
My first real day in Quito was great. Being the Sunday of Carneval weekend, f*** all is happening in Quito. So a group of us, Marcus and Markus (both German and from Berlin), Sarah and myself went to Ciudad Mitad del Mundo. Basically it's the monument dedicated to the equator. It's not strictly on the exact equator but it's close enough. After taking the necessary cheesy photos and checking out the museum, we enjoyed some food and beers by the main area of the monument. Then the Carneval parade started and to be honest it was better than visiting the equator. You could tell it wasn't just some tourist trap and the parade meant something to both the performers and Ecuadorians watching. There was a little bit of everything, drummers, dancers of all ages, many different traditional costumes.
In the late afternoon I visited a nearby park and cute little market. Then in rained and my daypack with rain jacket was back at the hostel. Taking refuge under a door stoop, I had a chat with a lovely Ecuadorian man. It felt like something out of a movie. And after that I headed back to the hostel and cooked dinner for Markus, Marcus, Sarah and I. More pasta, more veggies and four happy customers.
On Monday Marcus, Markus, To and I had arranged to go out and see the old town of Quito together. Before that I was hoping to book a jungle tour. Again being Carneval weekend meant that most of the travel agencies weren't open and even if they were, the departures were too late in the week for my schedule. However I did manage to book myself a flight to Panama City. I don't know what the f*** I was thinking booking my flight to Mexico from Panama. I am well aware of the difficulties in getting to Panama from South America but at the time of booking my internal trip flights this escaped me. To get to Panama the easiest way is to fly. The much cheaper but risky way is to take speedboats through the Darian Gap. By now I've met a few people who have taken the speedboat route and none of the stories inspired me. Mostly it took longer than originally said and often the boats ran into trouble either through their state of disrepair or reckless driving. So I decided a flight to be much safer and guaranteed that I would arrive in Panama on time. Through my research (Skyscanner is the best) I found it was cheaper to fly from Ecuador than from Columbia. Given my short amount of time left in South America this suited me as I can enjoy Ecuador without stressing that I need to get to Columbia.
After organising my flight it was time to head out to the old town. We caught a cab ($4 so it worked out to $1 each, winning). Having no particular plan and feeling there were no 'must see' sights we wandered around, which is my favorite way to see a city. The old town of Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage sight and walking around it you can easily see why. The architecture of pretty much all the buildings is gorgeous. There are numerous churches which are all equally grand and stunning. At the main plaza we happened to stumble on some sort of patriotic demonstration which happens every Monday. Guards on horses and foot march out into the square with flags or swords. A band plays patriotic music and this all takes place right outside the presidential palace. Stumbling upon such demonstrations has been one of my favourite aspects of travelling. Eventually we made our way to La Basilica probably the biggest and grandest church, on the outskirts of old town. Paying $2 admission we were able to explore the church, walk up the spires and the bell tower. I have to say the spire stairs did get the best of me. I don't mind travelling up narrow ladders masquerading as staircases, nor do I have a fear of heights. However I do not enjoy going down said ladders. After a certain point where I already had a great view of Quito and the church, I decided not to continue up the last two extremely freaky staircases, knowing coming down would not be an enjoyable experience.
Then of course in true Quito fashion it started to rain and rain hard. Thankfully I had my raincoat! We walked back down to the centre and had lunch. Then Marcus and Markus wanted to get haircuts and why wouldn't you when it only costs $1.50?
That night I cooked again and it was quite successful given the limited ingredients. I cooked what I'm calling Asian veggies, Italian veggies and steamed broccoli. Afterwards we hung around for a bit and I was very much entertained by the three 18/19 year old English boys who were cooking pasta. I'm not quite sure how but it took them 45 minutes just to cook their pasta and the whole operation was amazing to watch. Then Markus and I went out to a karaoke bar to meet some Ecuadorian friends of his. A lot of you know how I feel about karaoke so I didn't participate in the singing, plus the people who did were really good, harmonies and all. It was really nice to meet some local people and I had some really interesting discussions with them.
Today (Tuesday) is my last day in Quito bar the day I fly out. Tomorrow I'm off to meet Markus in Baños for a few days, which should be cool. Today Marcus (the other one) and I went for coffee and had a really fascinating sort of philosophical conversation. Then we wandered around the new town with a couple of other guys from the hostel. I went to a local craft market and had some interesting moments with the shopkeepers. Inquiring about a large duffel bag (a second bag will be required once I get to the US and really start shopping) and if it folded up. The lady just did not understand and kept saying the bag is very big. Then I wanted to see a shoulder bag at another stall and upon closer inspection wasn't interested. The shopkeeper spent a good two minutes negotiating a lower price for me even although I repeatedly said that I was sorry but I didn't want to buy the bag. But I managed to pick up a knick knack or two eventually with no issues.
Last night Sarah was back a little sojourn at the hot springs and massages, so we went for coffee. Which then turned into dinner and then drinks. For dinner we had Thai and this was the first Asian meal I had eaten over here. So good! Rice paper rolls and Thai curry, yes please! It was nice to have something different and the food was really fresh and actually included decent servings of vegetables (and even more excitingly, green ones). Then drinks were in order. How can you say no to happy hour when the deal is 3 drinks for 2? Cue 9 mojitos shared between us and I was a little tipsy. In that perfect travelling way, we met a table of Melburnians who were sitting next to us and had some great travel shenanigan story exchanges. An excellent day and night in all.
So Quito which I hadn't heard many great things about has been a great place and I'm sad to leave.
1 Stay in the new town, La Mariscal.
2 The weather is very like Melbourne, all seasons in one day. Don't go out without rain protection.
3 Visit the Equator. It's cheesy but it is kinda cool.