On to Quito then, home for our last leg in South America, specifically at Hausi Lodge near the historical centre. We’d originally only booked there for two nights, with the plan to then head elsewhere to Quito’s surroundings. But with Phil having a job interview bang in the middle, we stayed there for the whole time from Tuesday night, after arriving from the Galapagos, to Sunday. It was a lovely place, and we’ll miss having a fried egg sandwich everyday for breakfast…oh and naturally their dog Olí…
We were absolutely starving when we got there, so we took on board the owners advice and went for a pizza (followed by chocolate cake…) round the corner at Cafe San Blas. It was really notable how much colder it felt in Quito and also a little strange to see rain again as I got a bit soaked en route to the cash point.
There was one priority for Wednesday – find somewhere to watch the Liverpool’s Champions League quarter final against Man City, kicking off at a nice convenient time at 1.45pm. Naturally, as in the majority of the world’s capital cities I imagine, I found an Irish bar – Finn McCool’s.
To take our…mind of the pre match nerves, we did the free walking tour with the Community Travel Group. It lasted about three hours and was probably one of the best we’ve done during the trip. Our guide Angelica was a quitan and took us through it’s central market, squares and churches, whilst providing insights to politics and culture.
At the market she ran us through all the different exotic fruits they have in Ecuador – grenadilla, naranjilla, guanabana – loads of which we’d never heard of before, let alone tried! As we’d seen in Cusco, there was a big juice section of the market, costing a 1 USD each. So we went for naranjilla and guanabana mixed with mora (blackberry). Both delicious and reordered on most days of our time in Quito.
Paying in USD in Ecuador has felt a little strange. But Angelica took us to the ex Bank of Ecuador, home of the Ecuadorian money museum where she explained that due to a tough economic period in 2000 similar to that in Argentina with hyper inflation, the Ecuadorian Sucre was discontinued in favour of the dollar. At the time of the change one dollar was worth 25,000 Sucre (previously worth 40 Sucre), which sadly left those with savings and properties with very little to retire. Fortunately the economy recovered following the change, but had a pretty drastic impact on lots of people.
Oil is one of Quito’s main exports, which makes the economy quite unstable at times. But surprisingly it is also one of the biggest exporters of flowers in the world.
Quito is also UNESCO heritage site, principally due to its historic centre filled with 30 churches. Apparently it was the first in the world to receive a UNESCO billing. We were able to go inside the San Francisco church which was pretty spectacular with a huge amount of gold lining the walls and alcoves.
We finished the tour at La Ronda – a quaint street with artisan craft shops and restaurants. It had also started chucking it down just before we arrived.
So on to the pub then, which is located 5 or 6 km outside the historic centre, near La Mariscal, dubbed “Gringolandia”. Pre match I’d said to Phil that I’d be happy with a 0-0 draw and not conceding an away goal. To have blown away the best team in the country 3-0 at half time was unthinkable. And although in the second half Man City didn’t create too much, I sat nervously counting down the time in five minute blocks until the relief of the final whistle. I think the return leg next Tuesday is going to be a nightmare to watch….
Unfortunately, Phil missed the majority of the game, disappointingly opting to go and get her haircut. This involved two trips to the hairdressers. After showing the first hairdresser a picture of how she wanted her hair, he apparently just hacked a ton of it off, with complete disregard to Phils request. She left without paying and following a recommendation from the pub, went to another to sort it out. She was still upset, despite my reassurances that she still looked great. Perhaps deep down this was because she was jealous that I now had the longer hair in the relationship…
We’d not had lunch (I hadn’t had an appetite during the match as I was too nervous…) so we went to explore a nearby area called La Floresta which was marked as one of the sights on our tourist map. If I’m honest, it wasn’t particularly nice, unless we’d gone down the wrong streets. So we made a quick stop for lunch at the vegetarian restaurant Donde Gopal before catching the bus back to the centre and chilling for the rest of the evening.
After Phil’s interview the next morning, we headed to Mitad del Mundo – the Middle of the Earth – a town famous for being in the middle of the equator at 0 degrees latitude and longitude. It’s located about an hour and half outside of the historic centre, and through two buses cost a total of 50 cents to get there (Ecuador is yet another South American country with ridiculously cheap public transport).
Once arriving, there are two separate sites to visit. The original centre, named Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, has a huge monument built in 1979 to represent the middle of the earth. However, since the invention of GPS, it has been found that the exact middle is at the second smaller site Intiñan.
We explored the latter first, where we had a free guided tour which began with background to the culture of some of the local Amazonian communities. After killing their enemies, apparently the Shuar tribe used to shrink the heads of their conquest using some secret recipe and wear it around the neck as a necklace. Fortunately they no longer practice this tradition any more…
The tour then moved onto experiments around gravity and central fugal force, which were good fun.
Although we’d heard the other centre was very touristy, we thought it would be silly not to visit it as well after travelling to get here. The monument is really nice, and claimable, giving an excellent view of the valleys.
We also learned that you’re 0.5kg lighter at the middle of the earth due to the force of gravity being less. So feeling good about ourselves, we headed back to the lodge for tea and a good feed at one of the local restaurants round the corner.
Friday we decided to take on board a few tips from Angelica and also explore the historical centre a little more. First stop was the Basilica Voto Nacional where you can climb its towers to get a fabulous view of the city. It does involve a couple of hairy ladders at the top though, so not one for those scared of heights!
After more squares, cobbled streets, and another market (and another juice…), we had a free tour of the presidential palace in the main square. The government gives out a number of free tours each day. You just have to register your interest with a passport in the morning and receive your start time.
The tour was really interesting and the palace extremely lavish with chandeliers and crystals from France and Czech Republic. Its enjoyment was also enhanced by an Asian tourist who showed completely disregard of the tour guides instructions by wandering off into rooms on his own and requesting asking various members of the group to capture some prize photos of him.
I’d forgot to mention but the previous day (5th April) was our 14th year anniversary. So I’d promised Phil we’d do something special Friday night to celebrate. So off to the football we went….at the Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa to watch the two local Quito teams El Nacional and Univeristario Catolica. The standard was pretty low to be honest, and finished an exhilarating 0-0 with the highlight being a red card for Catholica in the second half. But at least we’d finally got to see a game in South America!
After the treat of watching the Champions League game live, on a proper television, I was back to my usual ritual on for the 6:30 am Saturday Merseyside derby – being notifications turned off on my phone and an infuriating sluggish streaming of the game once we’d got back on Wifi (which ended up being towards midnight by the time I’d finished watching another drab 0-0). This was because we were out early at 5.30am to head about two and half hours north of Quito to Otavalo, renowned for its Saturday artisan market.
Before hitting the main market at plaza de Los Ponchos, we went to the town’s other Saturday market – the animal market. This was a bit of an odd one, to walk round and seeing all sorts of animals, some for farming and cooking (like chickens and guinea pigs…) and others for pets, like kittens and puppies. Apparently it’s only set you back 25 USD for the little cockapoo below. We were very tempted to try and sneak one into our backpacks…
Once Phil had had enough of looking at the various different guinea pigs, we walked round to the main market to pick up our last souvenirs,which included a poncho. Should be a good one to wear for dress down Friday once I’m back at work…
About 30/40 minutes walk alongside the train line from the market is the small town and national park Peguche – home of the Peguche Waterfalls. It was lovely area, so green with its many trees and backdrop onto the surrounding valleys.
On the way to the waterfalls we’d passed a little hut doing food. So we headed there for some lunch. On the menu was trout, but we were delighted to be asked by the lady at the stoves if we would like to catch our fish as they had their own little trout stream. Despite four attempts and four bits of lost bait, I couldn’t hook one up. Naturally Phil did within about 30 seconds. Then the cooks let me go hungry by forgetting to do me a plate of food. I think there was a bit of a set up going on somewhere…
To finish the night (after picking up my Catolica football shirt) we met up with a lovely Ecuadorian couple we’d met in Lima, Cindy and Cristian. They’d kindly offered to pick us up and show us some more sights at night, which included a trip to Panecillo, where a huge statue of the Virgin Mary lights up the sky and gives a stunning view over the city. We then went for food in Guapulo, which is really amazing area, that felt so different to the rest of the city and there’s no way we’d have discovered it on or own.
Cindy and Cristian’s generosity continued the next day, as we woke up to receive a message offering for them to take us to the museum of a famous Ecuadorian painter we’d been recommended – Guayasamin. It was a fantastic museum and we both really enjoyed the style of his paintings. I particularly like the fact that in a number of his works, it’s possible to move their panels to create hundreds of different combinations of the same picture.
We said goodbye to Cindy and Cristian again, (and also to Oli) and went for one last trip to the market for an amazing lunch at Don Jimmy’s famous for its sea bass. It was probably one of the best meals we’ve had on the trip.
Its unbelievable that our time in South America has come to an end. I’m not quite sure where the time has gone. Although we’d have loved to have stayed longer, we can’t wait to see everyone back home in a few days time. Final stop up nexts Madrid before home to Brum.
Songs in my head the last few days: