Quito - centre of the Earth

Trip Start Sep 06, 2010
Trip End Sep 04, 2011

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Friday, October 22, 2010

After nine nights spent on unforgettable Galapagos Islands, here I am back on the South American mainland. Where else to start discovering the rest of Ecuador, than in its hectic capital Quito.  Already by reading through the Lonely Planet's sleeping option section I could judge that Ecuador is not that touristic, as the      Central American countries I have visited.  That meant that the pool of international hostel is very limited. At the end I opted to spend two nights in Secret Garden, a hostel located nearby of the historical old town.  I also observed another immediately noticeable aspect. I do not know if I should be happy, or not, but backpackers in South America are fairly older than those in Central America.  The age average of the Secret Garden guests must have been somewhere around 26-28 years. I spoke, or saw there, a lot of people around their thirties, or above it.  What has also changed was a nationality composition of fellow travelers. Predominant group is Anglo-Saxon part of the world represented by mainly by the Brits, Ozzies, and some Kiwis. Surprisingly enough, Ecuador seems to be also very popular amoung Dutch people, who could be heart in many places around Quito, including Secret Garden.  Overall, the hostel was very nice having a friendly and helpful staff. Nevertheless, what I appreciated and enjoyed the most was a terrace with a sublime view at the historical part of the city, and surrounding hills.  

My time budget for the first day in Quito was fairly limited, as the plane from Galapagos landed on Monday at around 4 p.m. Besides, the hostel staff strongly advised not to walk around Quito after a sunset, as robberies are not uncommon here.   The only part of the city I was recommended to visit during that evening was the old town’s La Ronda, a narrow street lined up with recently renovated 17th century buildings. The street definitely has its colonial charm further underlined by number of cozy restaurants and stores located there.  During cool evenings, you can warm up by sipping Cenalazo, a hot drink prepared from rum with sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice…really yummy. The night at the hostel was not already that enjoyable, as it really gets cold in Quito during this part of a day. Yet in the early morning, a steam was coming out of my mouth…..brrr, a bit of Caribbean sun is needed in this country.

The next day was devoted to an attempt to be in one moment in two different places. To accomplish this task, I headed 22 km north of Quito to place called Mitad del Mundo. Over there, or almost there, the equatorial line is located, and commemorated by a monument.  This "original" equatorial line was measured by one Frenchman in 1736. Unfortunately for him, and us, he missed the real equator by bare 300 m.  Though, Mitad del Mundo  still remains a favorite touristic place to take nice pictures on supposed equator. To really stand with one leg in the northern hemisphere, and with the other one in the southern one, you must visit Museo Solar Inti-Nan located just those 300 meters further north.  Visiting this museum was one big fun. The guide served us with interesting information about a wild life and Indians living in the Ecuadorian jungle. Speaking of jungle animals, we were showed the famous fish, which loves to swim into the male urinary tract. Not surprisingly, the fish is called “Penis fish”, and if inside, it can be removed only by a surgery…..that really hearts. Then the guide terrified us with pealed skin of baby-anaconda measuring “just” 7 meters (adults measure up to 12 meters)! At the end of the educational part of this tour, she spoke about an Indian tribe called “shrinking heads”. This tribe used to shrink heads of its enemies, or very important members of its own community. Heads of those folks were made boneless and then impregnated, so they shrank to the size of a fist!! These miniature heads were then worn on a neck as a talisman. The more shrank heads worn, the more social prestige, and power. It is incredible how those shrank heads kept all features and details of a normal-sized head. After this, the most eagerly awaited moment came.…..walking and experimenting on the equatorial line. After taking obligatory pictures, we got an interesting lecture of equatorial physics. For example, the water in a sink placed on equator falls directly down the whole.  Once you move a sink just 2 meters off the equator, the water spins either clock-wise (southern hemisphere), or anti-clock-wise (northern hemisphere). It is also very easy on equator to balance an egg on its tip.  This is caused by gravitation power, which is the strongest on equator. Lastly, you would not believe how difficult it is to walk on equator with eyes closed, and hands out of your body.  I was not able to do more than 3 steps before losing a balance.
As usual, on the way to the city, I took a public bus. Buses in Quito are chapter of its own. Firstly, they are super cheap, costing just $0.25 for a ride. This obviously pays its price at being horribly overcrowded, and consequently full of pickpockets.  Besides those, you can see various crazy individuals there. I was lucky to experience a guy with a bible who came to one part of the bus, introduced himself and started to preach to passengers.  After apaprox. 15 min monologue, he finished his appearance by singing religious songs. All that in fully packed bus. Then, do not love traveling in public buses.
In the afternoon, I walked into the centre of the old town to check all those historical buildings, cathedrals, churches, or presidential palace which put this part of Quito on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.   The old town is not that big, and you can tour it within 2 hours.

Wednesday was my last day in Quito, as my plan was to travel further south to track Andes Mountains. Before that I had managed to reach the highest point of my RTW trip. In the morning,  I took a taxi to TeleferiQo, a sky tram which takes you for a 2.5 km ride up the flanks of volcano Pichincha (4,100m). From there,  it is another 3 hrs swift hike on the summit of another non-active volcano Rucu Pichincha. It was very nice hike with some beautiful views over Quito’s mountainous landscape. On the other hand, the hike was really tough, as volume of oxygen in the air is already rather limited at these altitudes. During the last 200 altitude meters, when the slope inclination was around 40-50 degree, I had to make a few minute break after each 10-20 steps. Happily enough I did not suffer from the altitude sickness. The summit at the altitude 4,698 m was conquered around 1 pm. The view from there at below stretching Quito (its altitude is around 2,850 m), and surrounding mounting peaks was truly magnificent. After having a nice chat with other successful hikers, I began the descent which took around 90 minutes.

After this strenuous, but rewarding exercise I was ready to get on the tram-bus heading at the bus terminal serving south-bound buses. This bus terminal is fairly out of the city center, and it takes around 45 minutes to get there. The hostel crew was persistently recommending taking a taxi to minimize a threat of pickpockets. But, a taxi was $10, and taking a tram-bus, which actually finishes at this bus terminal, only $0.25. As I really was not in a mood paying 40 times more for a taxi, I carefully packed all my valuables into the backpack, and hopped on the bus where I literally did not put my eyes off it. Obviously nothing happened, and I was very happy for saving money, for which I can have 4 dinners here!!

Guys that is it for now.  I am going to do some serious hiking in Andes.

Greetings from Chugchilan, Ecuador
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