We arrived at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport just after 10:00 p.m. tired and hungry. On our way to the exit we were stopped by an official (customs I believe) and politely asked to follow her into a side room. My sister and I looked quizzically at each other but obeyed. The officer immediately asked us how much money we were carrying. She looked at me in particular and asked me to empty my pockets, purse, money wallet and loose-change bag on the table. I was puzzled, but complied, all the while keeping an eye on the money (which included a few Barbados dollars). She counted the US dollars and after a little explanation on the exchange rate for the Barbadian currency we were told we could leave. I hurriedly stuffed the bills back into their hiding places and went through the door. Was that sinister or what? No explanations were given and I did not wait around to ask questions in my Spanglish. I was only too happy to leave, with every red cent.
Our driver was anxiously waiting outside holding a sign with my name and we quickly followed him to his vehicle. The ride into Quito felt like an hour, but probably was no more than 45 minutes. For a city the size of Quito, the roads were strangely clear of traffic at that time. I turned and asked the driver where was everybody. I do not think he understood me, or if he did, I did not understand his response. We arrived at our lodging, checked-in and settled down for the night. By now, our total travel time was more than 16 hours, and we were dead tired. We immediately fell asleep. Not even the loud party buses (traveling discotheques) on the outside disturbed our sleep.
On our first day we awoke early, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready for adventure. Our accommodation in the old city of Quito was practically next door to the Basilica, which became our very first stop on the sightseeing trail. Armed with map, cameras and in my case, binoculars too, we peregrinated the city in tourist like fashion, ooh-ing and ahh-ing as we viewed the historical sites with interest. One real concern we had for this trip was how well we would adjust to the high altitude, but while that was a factor, the “little” hills proved to be our undoing. It turned out those “little” hills (to us) were steep climbs. As we walked, it seemed as if we were moving in slow motion, while everyone strode up and down those streets with ease. I am not being melodramatic when I tell you there was a hill to climb where ever we went. Nevertheless, from every vantage point the views, as far as we could see, were simply amazing.
We managed to visit all the major sites highlighted on the map. Many of them were churches. After a while, my sister became tired of seeing one church after another and had had enough. She did not want to see or enter another church door. I, on the other hand, found the historical buildings interesting and the architecture fascinating. As we traversed the calles y avenidas (streets and avenues) teeming with street vendors of every kind , we got lost, we crisscrossed, we back-tracked until street names eventually became familiar and we could maneuver around the neighborhood with ease.
The following day we headed to the GPS location: 0° 0′ 0″ – the center of the world. We were not disappointed. From every geographical location: north, east, south and west, people were busy taking photos standing on the line making sure to capture the symbolic Mitad del Mundo monument in the background. The monument sits in the middle of a square surrounded by cultural exhibitions of beer making, cacao/chocolate processing, Andean products and boutique galleries selling art, ethnic clothing and jewelry, soaps, treats, teas, etc. It was an educational experience at Mitad’s ethnographic museum where several interesting scientific experiments are showcased. The scientific demonstrations are a big hit with children and adults. I had to give up my experiment attempt (causing a magnet to float in mid-air) in order to keep the lines moving. I did not try “standing an egg on a nail” experiment either, but was satisfied to see someone else accomplish the feat. It actually works. We also perused the Intiñan museum where we learned about Ecuador’s early natives, tribes and culture. In the afternoon we headed over to El Panecillo – another monument, set way up on a hill, towering over the old city as if watching over her. From walking around the base of the statue, you can see commanding views of the city. However, it is still worthwhile to visit the museum within the statue and climb to the very top for a panorama of Quito from any angle.
We took a day trip away from Quito in the Pichincha province to the Cotopaxi province. We would tour: an indigenous farmer’s market at Saquisili, hike down and up the Quilotoa Crater – a portion of the Quilotoa Loop, visit Toachi Canyon, and finally meet a Quechua family. For more than five hours we traveled by tour bus along a scenic route which took us through small Quechua communities, over rolling hills, down into valleys and on occasion often spotting mountains like Antisana, Cotopaxi, Cayambe, Chimborazo, and other names I cannot pronounce. At the first stop – Saquisili, our guide told us the market opens once a week for local farmers to sell their vegetables and other ware. We were impressed with the amount, variety and freshness of the produce. Being so far away from a major community like Quito, I wondered what would happen to the unsold perishables, but I am sure they have a system to manage the excess.
Our second stop on the tour was the Quilotoa volcanic crater. Quick facts: elevation – 3,914m, location – Pujili Canton, Cotopaxi Province, Parent range – Andes, Mountain type – Caldera, last eruption – 1280) – Wikipedia
When we pulled up to the quaint Quilotoa community, not many people where around since it was still very early in the morning. We walked the few meters to the landing vista where you could see clear across the aquamarine lagoon below. It is breathtakingly beautiful. Weather conditions at Quilotoa can be unpredictable and we were advised to dress warmly and be prepared for rain. The day turned out to be clear, windy and chilly. I was excited to begin the hike, but my sister had other plans. She took one look at the crater below and decided she was not going down that trail. She opted to sit in the bus with the driver. I was disappointed and had to cut short our subdued argument so as to not delay the group. Again, I am learning two things about her – the overly cautious: how stubborn and how wise she is, and me – the radical impulsive: how competitive and impulsive. Four of us managed to hike down to the caldera in less than 25 minutes, normal descent time is 30 minutes. Unadmitted, I was a little nervous about the climb to the top (280m vertical ascent) so I started back up the steep trail ahead of the younger, more agile folks in our group. Of course, there was an option to take a $10 mule ride to the top. Let me tell you, many times on that trail I considered the ride, but once I am committed to a task I have to complete it (go big or go home). I prayed a lot. I thanked God that my sister had the commonsense not to come. I gave myself pep talks, prayed some more. It took me more than one hour and a half to reach the top. I can only thank God who gave me the strength not to faint, but to complete the hike with a half hour to spare. Yaaay, I did it!
The hike into the Quilotoa crater was the highlight of the day after which we had a delicious meal at a nearby restaurant. Our third stop would be the Toachi Canyons. The wide, open crevasses are similar to canyons in Nevada and Utah but on a much smaller scale. However, there depth and grandeur are nonetheless just as awesome.
The last stop to visit with a Quechua family was vetoed. By now, everyone on the bus were too tired (except my sister, lol) to fraternize and endure the daunting five-hour drive back to Quito.
Before the cat could lick his ear, it was time for us to leave sprightly Quito. We had a blast and would like to go again, because there is so much to discover there. I am not a good photographer by any means, and since pictures can say a thousand words, I will let those I have sprinkled throughout this post speak for themselves. I hope you enjoy my recollections. Indicate with a comment in the box below, like or follow. To find out what other dramas happened as we moved on to Peru stay tuned for subsequent postings. If you have gotten this far, thanks for reading.