The bus from Tulcan to Quito was a good introduction to Ecuador I feel. The air conditioning on the bus not working, the windows not opening, the bus stopping every 20 minutes to have hoards of local sellers climb onboard trying to get you to buy their various Ecuadorian treats, Street performers navigating the cars on the roads for money, all as we pass by mist-topped mountains and hills. Needles to say the journey took longer than it could have, arriving into Quito bus terminal just before 5pm, although they didn’t announce it was the bus terminal and it was only as we were leaving that I realised, so they had to stop at the side of the road to let Zaire and I off, where we then waited for a local bus heading to the nearest Trole station. We paid $0.25 USD to get the bus and then the Trole to Colon station was free. We probably arrived at Colon station, clearly hitting peak time traffic with us and our bags crammed on the tram-like system, at around 6pm and then had to trundle in the tipping, pouring rain for 15 minutes until we reached Blue House hostel in the neighbourhood of La Mariscal. I had pre-booked, paying $8 USD a night for an 8 bed dorm including breakfast, but Zaire was lucky enough to find space in the room, too.
After drying off and arranging our things we headed out on a hunt for some local Ecuadorian food at a reasonable price, bravely (or stubbornly) wandering through the torrential rain as we did not settle for less than this, selecting roads at random and asking locals along the way. We finally stumbled across Cafe Ambassador where we both ordered an Ecuadorian classic of Seco de Chivo; Goat Stew. We were both super hungry and nervous this wouldn’t live up to our half hour hunt, but as soon as the food arrived we knew we had made a good choice and even high-fived after taking our first bite. The goat was deliciously marinated and plentiful, served alongside rice (of course), avocado, salad and a potato. I couldn’t have been more happy than in that moment.
We walked back via Plaza Foch, which was just a few minutes from our hostel, and stumbled across an Ecuadorian rap group performing on the stage in the Square. Despite the rain we stood around for a bit listening to the insanely energising music, before Zaire made his way back to the hostel and I went for a wander. Quite quickly I walked past Dirty Sanchez, a bar that had been recommended in Lonely Planet for live music. On a whim I headed inside, selected a ruby ale ($5.50 USD) and sat down to listen to the 3-man band playing what I could decipher as mellow rock. Enjoying the music and the relaxed atmosphere I ordered a glass of vino tinto ($5.50) and not long after an Ecuadorian – Fabian – waved at me from a nearby table. I waved back and he then came to sit with me, after which followed an hour long conversation in both Spanish and English where we attempted to relay our stories to one another and help one another with each others’ language.
After agreeing to meet for dinner the following evening, I headed back to my hostel to crash for the night. Up at around 9am the following morning I dressed and ate breakfast before heading out to explore nearby La Mariscal and the Historic Center. I had barely made it a few blocks from my hostel (after dropping off a full load of laundry for $2.40) before a man in his car waved at me and I waved back. He drove up and parked alongside the pavement beside me and there he stayed for 20 minutes while we (Patricio and I) chatted about where I was from and his time working in America. He also invited me to join him for a coffee (I was feeling so much warmth and kindness for Ecuadorians already) but with only one full day in Quito I sadly didn’t have the time. Honestly I was feeling so fond of Ecuador already.
Back on the move I wandered around the La Mariscal Mercado Artesanal before stumbling across an outdoors salsa class (which looked more to be for exercise than skill…) before heading to Park El Ejido. On the weekends the park turns into a market, so I spent some time wandering around the various jewellery, painting and clothing stalls before falling into conversation with a guy selling handmade jewellery and then being humbled by the sight of two local men playing chess together on the side of the pavement. I can’t explain it but I felt light and warm in my very first day in Ecuador, immediately liking the people and their ways.
I then made my way into the historic center, I first walked into Mercado Central to peruse (and smell) the variety of food on offer at this local lunch jaunt where you could buy a plate of hornado (whole roasted pig) with various sides for $2-3, and I was lucky enough to sample some of this roasted pig and it was delicious. If only I wasn’t so full from breakfast. I then weaved around the streets of the historic center, passing by numerous Iglesias (churches), plazas, teatros and Museos.
At one point I even stumbled across some sort of parade with dozens of locals following, as well as the police force, the army and a band. Families were stood on the side of the street, watching, with the children clutching sugary, artificial-looking ice cream cones. I suddenly became aware of my bumbag purely due to how many people there were, passing closely in front of me and darting past behind. However it felt like a day of coming together, and noticing the patriotism of the flag-adorned coloured buildings plus the slightly European feel of some of the narrow, tree-lined streets I felt safe.
Early afternoon I then ventured into Centro Cultural Metropolitano; free to enter, it houses temporary art exhibits and when I visited offered interesting insights into the earthquake in Ecuador, the inequality between girls and boys and the high rate of teenage pregnancy, as well as glimpses into Latin American and the way they hope to move forward. It was equally insightful, shocking and full of hope.
Mid-afternoon I wandered the streets until I found a taxi to take me to El Panecillo; a small hill to the south of the Old Town that is topped with a statue of La Virgen de Quito and provides views of Quito below. The area surrounding the base of El Panecillo is unsafe due to muggings so, reluctantly, I took a taxi to the top, but I had a lovely conversation with the taxi driver and happily paid $2 for the pleasure, tipping about 25%. At the top I can’t say there are the most phenomenal views or that the statue was the most attractive thing I have come across, but the surrounding mountains are beautiful and I had the most amazing cup of hot Canelazo (which I believe you can also have with alcohol) for only $0.50 when the rain began to fall. I also got to sample hot Colada Morada (tasted like hot, blended fruits) and hot Morocho (a milky, lumpy drink that I quite enjoyed).
I then made the decision to head 22km north of Quito to Mitad del Mundo (which, literally translated, means Half of the World) where Charles-Marie de la Condamine made the measurements in 1736 to prove that it was the equatorial line; the centre of the earth, I like to think. I first hailed a cab from El Panecillo as I had been advised of taking 2 buses from Mercado Central but halfway down the hill we turned back up as my taxi driver insisted there was a direct bus to Mitad del Mundo from the top of the hill; this is where speaking slightly better Spanish, and conversing with locals at every opportunity, pays off.
Back at the top I caught the blue bus to Mitad del Mundo, paying $0.50 and taking about an hour and a quarter. At Mitad del Mundo you then have to pay to enter, but as I wasn’t interested in visiting the museums or going inside the building at the centre (I was short on time but also I was more inclined to absorb just being there) I paid $3.50 rather than $7.50, although still not cheap for what you get. It was pretty cool to be at 0-0-0 and I of course took obligatory photos, but the highlight for me was the surrounding spectacular mountains.
Back on the blue bus into Quito an hour later, I made it back to Quito around 6:15pm where I walked through the historic centre and then caught a taxi back to my hostel in La Mariscal for $2. I sorted my things out and then headed back out to meet Fabian at Plaza Foch where we went on another mini hunt for local, not-too-expensive food, settling on Azuca Beach on the edge of the square where I ordered Ceviche de Camarone (with cerveza, for $8 USD) and he ordered Ceviche de Pescado for $7. We spent the evening eating our meals (which came with delicious salty fried plantain chips known as Chifles), drinking cerveza followed by fresh pineapple juice with added rum from the bottle he brought with him (I’m sorry but Ecuador is not cheap, thanks to the dollar!) and sharing stories about travelling, relationships and language. A lovely evening to end my time in Quito!
I was woken early the following morning by fellow travellers leaving so I packed, had breakfast and left by 9am to make my way to The South bus terminal in Quito, Quitambre. I caught the metro bus just at the end of the road for $0.25 which took me all the way to Quitambre in just under an hour, and from there I booked a bus for $7.50 USD to Tena (the gateway to the amazon), leaving at 10:30am and due to take 5 hours. Unsurprisingly, as it made various stops along the way letting locals on and off, it took longer than this and I suffered a bit with a mixture of tiredness and the altitude along the way. However it was absolutely incredible literally driving within the mountains, weaving around the edges and passing by lakes in between. I never expected Ecuador to be so green!