It was February 1st and we were ready to explore a new country once we had sailed through the migration desks in Colombia and Ecuador. When we had officially entered Ecuador we shared a taxi with a Venezuelan couple to the nearby town of Tulcan which is the main transport hub for onwards travel. Our first stop in Ecuador was Quito, the capital city, and we took a 5 hour bus from Tulcan to get there. As first impressions go, our particular bus driver did not make a pleasant one on us…He drove off without me during the toilet stop with Gavin hanging out the side of the bus trying to tell him, and on arrival in Quito he forked us off the bus a half hour and a stop earlier than we wanted. I reckon this was because of my new education of numbers in Spanish which allowed me to barter the cost of our ticket with him…! Anyways we did eventually arrive to our hostel in one piece. There are two main locations for tourists in Quito, the old historical and colonial part or the newer modern part called La Mariscal. We chose the former in an appropriately named “colonial house” hostel which was over 200 years old! We ate in the closest place we could locate food that night before crashing, it ended up being a craft beer bar which is quite highly rated on trip advisor! I was looking forward to being based for a few days after some long bus journeys.
Quito is located 2,850m above sea level and we really noticed this altitude on arrival. We were out of breath with basic movement but any stairs and up hill stints were actually a joke, not helped by the fact that our hostel was located on the top of a hill!!
We had an early start for our first full day in the city to take part in a walking tour of the city which our hostel organized (our new favourite thing- I know!) and we met lovely siblings from Philadelphia over breakfast who would be taking part too. We immediately bonded with Meredith and Dave and ended up spending our whole day and night together and it was super fun! The walking tour was informative and our guide was excellent. Our first stop was for some free bananas and our guide informed us we were in the banana republic!
The second stop was at the local market, this has been our favourite part of any of the tours so far! As absolute foodies it was such a treat to spend an hour with a local going through the two floors of stalls and learning about the local cuisines and traditions. There was fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, potatoes, herbs, flowers..and all so fresh!
We played a game at the fruit stands where we bought fruits that we didn’t recognise. Our choices were yellow dragon fruit, granadilla which is very similar to passion fruit and a plum which are apparently yellow here. We learned that one of the biggest exports from Ecuador is roses. There are 100 different colours and they export 100,000 roses a year and last for 15 days in the temperatures here. They were all beautiful!
After the market we visited some beautiful churches, all of which were very ornate and prominent in the skyline. We learned that there are 30 chapels, 4 monasteries and 6 convents in Quito so religion is very important. We also visited the presidents house and our guide explained that later in February the election will be held in Ecuador. It is obligatory to vote for everyone between the age of 18-65 and if you don’t, you do not receive an ID which enables you to travel.
When the walking tour finished we returned to the market with our new American pals and had a local “plate of the day”. Enough food to feed an army- ceviche (raw fish in citrus dressing), sea bass with rice and noodles, popcorn and plantains on the side. Apparently you are meant to put the popcorn into the ceviche! It was a super feed for $3 each!
For the afternoon we headed to visit “la virgin del panecillo” which is a statue of the Virgin Mary which stands at about 3,000m above sea level and is 45m tall. We waited a while for the rain to clear so we would have a good view of the city but the clouds were with us to stay.
From there we took a local bus for an hour to “Mitad del Mundo” or middle of the world, the equator line. It is basically just a monument for a photo shoot surrounded by many museums and cafes at a latitude of 0’0’0!
We had some fun posing on opposite sides of the world 🙂
On leaving the monument we were greeted with a convoy of jeeps lined with security guards. It caught our attention and despite the severe cloud and fog we were interested to see what was going on. Thanks to Meredith and Dave and their fluent Spanish we learned that it was none other than Mr Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador! Little did we know earlier in the day when we visited his house that we would actually see him that afternoon.
We returned to the hostel and finished our fun day with some beers before calling it a night.