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...and I took the one less traveled by

Quito, middle of the earth

ECUADOR | Sunday, 19 May 2013 | Views [520]

We arrived in to Quito's new airport shortly after 9pm. The runway had appeared out of nowhere in the dark and clouds, landing high in the mountains. The new airport is about an hour from the city, whilst the old airport is actually in the city. We had no problem getting through customs or getting a taxi and were soon whizzing up and down mountains to our hostel, the Secret Garden, in colonial Quito. The security guard let us in and we went to bed as soon as possible after our 11pm arrival as possible. The hostel was eerily quiet and being in an old house meant that every board creaked as we stepped on it. 
We slept in a bit in the morning and finally set out around 11. Because we had missed breakfast at the hostel, we were hungry. We found a little restaurant under the basilica, and just asked for two set lunches (of the day). We thought it would be more expensive being that close to a tourist destination, but two delicious lunches and two bottles of water later we were only out $5.50. We didn't have time to see the basilica at this time because we wanted to make it to the Plaza de la Independencia to find the tourism office where walking tours of the old town start. At 2pm, our guide, a polizia de Quito, took us to several churches and museums around the colonial part. We saw La Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, Iglesia de San Francisco, and the Museo de cuidad. Great history and impressive. We were really glad we did the tour as all the museums are in Spanish, and while we can interpret some, having it explained is much more productive and informative. At the end, we got a taxi to the top of the hill there to see el Panecillo, the Virgin of Quito and have a view of the long and narrow city. North to South, Quito is about 23km, but only a few wide, nestled between mountains, one being Pinchincha volcano. From here, we had our driver take us to the trendy and touristy La Mariscal area in new Quito. We had drinks and an appetizer while overlooking the central Plaza Foch. From here we decided to walk (not even) a block to Mama Clorinda's for some "comida typica" -- typical Ecuadorian food. We tried the empanadas verde con queso made from green plantains with cheese in them and got a sampler platter with pork, roasted and popped corn, papas fritas (French fries), and more. Once again, Ecuadorian food proved to be DELICIOUS. And they kindly put the spicy salsa on the side (that's how they do it -- I didn't ask). 
After dinner we went back to the hostel and up to the 5th floor rooftop terrace, elevation 2824m. We met some others staying there as well and found an Aussie couple headed to see the Midad del Mundo on Thursday -- our same plan. We all met up at 10:30 the next day and decided to hire a taxi to take us to the various places as doing it by bus takes a long time. Our driver took us to the crater where we could see half of an extinct volcano, the other half being obscured by clouds. We walked part of the way down the trail but didn't do all of it. After, he took us to the real Equator and the museum there gives tours which talk about Ecuador and, of course the Equator. Besides talking about some flora and fauna and the native tribes and traditions such as head shrinking, our guide told us about differences north and south of the equator, mainly with weather. It was a great little tour. After seeing the real equator, we felt a little disappointed when going to the large monument of where the French said the equator is, only around 200m or so off of the actual line, as determined by modern GPS. This park had many shops with traditional wares but felt more like and amusement park to us.  
After returning to our hostel, Jen and I went to the basilica and climbed the towers there for some great views and enjoyed a coffee in the bell tower while trying to decide where to go to eat. We went to a place on Plaza de San Francisco and were disappointed that they weren't serving full food at the time, but were still able to enjoy Chocolate con queso and a ceviche with avacado and hearts of palm in it. The hot chocolate comes with a plate of tiny cubes of cheese and by watching some ecuadorians near us, we found that you put it in and then eat it... Didn't really seem to change any flavor, so we don't understand. After, we went back to the hostel and soon went to bed, around 10pm.
Friday was an early start with meeting at 6:30 to start our day. We were given breakfast and then were on our way with one other guy, Tom, and our guide, to Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, last erupting in 1942. The tour operator had told us not to give up hope of sun (as it was cloudy in Quito) and our guide told us the same. We drove about 2 horas all in clouds, but sure enough, around one final bend driving up to the base and car park, there was a break in the clouds. We parked the car at about 4500m elevation and hiked about an hour and a half up to the Refugio. From there we continued to hike to the glacier and start of the snow and ice at about 5000m. I could definitely feel the altitude during that hike! Although it was extremely windy up to the refugio, it wasn't too bad after, and the clouds were parted only over us for the whole time. As we started our descent, not only were many more tourists arriving, but the clouds were starting to come in more. After making it back to the car park, we stashed our gear and cameras in the car and got ready to mountain bike down the winding and bumpy road to the lagoon below. Our guide took photos of us on our cameras, and no one fell -- we had a blast! On our way home we stopped in our guide's town and had a very delicious and traditional meal. Arriving back in Quito around 3:30, we were clearly tired from the day, but took a rest on the terrace, showered and headed out to dinner. We tried to go to a new restaurant, and although the food looked interesting, it was expensive and with Mama Clorinda's across the street, we decided to leave and go back there before we ordered anything. Once again having delicious Ecuadorian food. The chicken, pork, whatever, just always seems to be so tender and juicy! Although we discussed trying cuy (guinea pig, a delicacy), there isn't much meat on one, so we decided against it. After a beer back at the hostel, we turned in early for another 6:30am morning.
Today was Saturday market at Otavalo -- one of the biggest handicraft markets in South America. We first went to the animal market to see animals being bought and sold. Besides the usual cows, pigs, and chickens, we were amazed at the amount of puppies and kittens being sold (not for eating). This was also a great time to see many people in traditional Quechean dress. We bought a few things at the handicraft market and I was overjoyed to find fresh rambutans (called something else here) and bought a bag of those to eat. Our guide took us and the 3 others to cotacachi to see the leathers there that they are known for and for lunch. After, we went on a mini hike up and down Cotacachi to see the crater lake and had great views of the still active Imbabura as well. A 2 hour ride took us back to the hostel where we will clean up and get dinner early. We will pack up and get as much sleep before our 3am departure for the airport for our 7am flight to Cusco, Peru where we will be doing a hike and of course, Machu Picchu. We'll also set up our tour to Manu Biosphere, a heavily protected natural area. 

Tags: cotopaxi, ecuador, otavalo, quito

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