Last known location: London, England

Queasy in Quito!

Quito, Ecuador’s capital and its second largest city, sits high in the mountains amid dramatic mist covered peaks. We were back at high altitude again, 2850m, but felt more or less normal despite climbing up a relatively steep hill to get to our hostel, Quito Cultural, right in the heart of the historic old town. This area is a Unesco World Heritage site and it’s easy to see why. Dotted with 17th century facades, pretty plazas and spectacular churches that mix Spanish, Moorish and indigenous elements; it’s quite beautiful.

Our first afternoon in the city was spent soaking up the colonial buildings and exploring a couple of the plazas. We grabbed a late lunch in the Plaza San Francisco which is flanked by a monastery of the same name. It’s an enormous building with massive white towers but unfortunately the front of the church was covered in scaffolding and green netting during our visit. We did venture inside to glimpse the main altar which was covered in impressive baroque carving. There was also a vast organ in the choir section upstairs. We did think, however, that the bells needed a bit of re-tuning. They clanged in a rather flat tone! We had time to check out La Compania de Jesus too, known as Ecuador’s most ornate church. Vast amounts of gold gilding – perhaps one of the reasons the church took over 160 years to complete!

That night we ventured into the Mariscal neighbourhood, known as gringo land to locals because it’s where travellers tend to stay and many ex-pats are based there. The area houses lots of hostels, travel agencies (Quito is the starting point for lots of Galapagos trips), international eateries and vibrant nightlife. Dan is beginning to really miss the classic British pub scene and the Mariscal promised at least two opportunities to experience it. Our first stop was the Queen Victoria pub, a surprisingly authentic, if a little dated, British pub. Not quite Eastenders but we had a couple of drinks. Instead of peanuts as bar snacks we got plantain chips and popcorn, much healthier, sort of! After the Queen Vic we walked down the road to Finn McCools, a very popular expat haunt. We arrived just in time for the weekly pub quiz which I was very excited about. Dan has a huge amount of information knocking about in his head so I was relatively confident we’d at least place! We were coming 3rd at the halfway point but fell down in the art and music categories. Disappointing stuff! Loads of people were clearly cheating, using i-phones and the like, so that’s obviously the main reason we were in the lower positions! Not that I’m bitter or anything. We did win the prize for best name but that was down to a misunderstanding; they thought we were DJ Trip, and using some clever irony on the drug situation in South America. In fact we just used our blog name! Whilst at the pub we thought we’d try a few British classics from the menu; fish and chips for Dan, which turned out to be quite tasty, and shepherds pie for me, which had to be sent back for re-heating and wasn’t nearly as good as Mum’s!

There were lots of expat’s in the pub – we chatted to the guy running the quiz, an American who’s been in Quito for five years. He gave us a few tips and said he thought Ecuador was the best of the South American countries. We’re yet to decide on our favourite! At 2am we realised we’d inadvertently been taking part in a lock-in but, out of money, couldn’t stay any longer. So we got a taxi back to the old town and collapsed into bed.

The next day, surprisingly fresh faced, we explored the old town further. First stop of the day was La Basilica del Voto Nacional. It’s a 20th century gothic creation, the highlight being the towers which you can climb to the top of. The ascent requires climbing up some car park style industrial stairs and then crossing a rickety wooden plank inside the main roof. Then you have to clamber up a series of ladders to get to the very top. We were OK until the 2nd lot of ladders which looked decidedly dangerous so we enjoyed the view from nearly all the way up!

That afternoon we did some sunbathing in the Parque La Alameda before getting a very cheap lunch of the day from a nearby cafe. We walked back to the old town via Plaza del Teatro and the national theatre. At Plaza Santo Domingo I stopped to have a cuddle with the smallest puppy I’ve ever seen. His owners offered to sell him to us and if we’d been at home I honestly don’t think we could have refused. So cute! Before retiring for the day we checked out Iglesia del Carmen Alto, the house of Quito’s first saint. It’s now a functioning convent where cloistered nuns produce and sell traditional sweets and homeopathic remedies. This is all done through a revolving door contraption that keeps them hidden from shop staff and the general public. Ingenious!

We’d planned to spend our last day at the Mitad del Mundo museum which celebrates all things to do with the equator, which Quito is very close to. As exciting as this sounds it didn’t come about. Poor Dan was a bit poorly thanks to some ribs he’d eaten at a seemingly delightful roof top restaurant the night before. He couldn’t really stray too far from the hostel so we ended up relaxing in Plaza Grande watching the shoe-shine boys and ice cream ladies come and go. The Plaza houses the government building which is very much still in use so there were lots of armed guards eyeing us up, too!  I did manage to try a local delicacy, despite Dan’s illness; cheese dipped in hot chocolate. Disgusting as it sounds it was actually OK. Can’t see it catching on at home though!

And so the next day we moved on to Otavalo. It’s only an hour and a half or so north of Quito but this doesn’t include the painful metrobus trip and quick taxi ride to get to the bus station. Which, incidentally, we never actually saw because our taxi driver pulled up on the side of the road and flagged down a bus going our way. Still, it took us safely through the mountains and dropped us at the side of the Pan-American 5 minutes from the centre of town. Market day tomorrow!

1 Comment:
  1. Al 27 May, 2011

    “we realised we’d inadvertently been taking part in a lock-in” Sure, that old story…

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