About an hour into it we passed the equator and all its paraphernalia at the Mitad del Mundo. I had really wanted to visit this, but we were running out of time and choices had to be made. We opted for the drive-by viewing and reading about all the cool stunts you could try in the unofficial museum (balance an egg upside down on a nail anyone?).
We arrived back into Quito just before lunchtime, so checked into our hostel and sorted out our clothes for our last laundry of the year (!) before going for some food. After lunch we'd decided to walk around the historic centre of Quito, but first we needed to go to the airport to buy tickets for our flight to Cuenca the following day. Plane tickets here are a bit like bus or train tickets at home - you don't always have to buy them in advance, but we didn't have much leeway so wanted to have them in our hand before turning up at the check-in desk.
Chores completed we got a taxi to drop us off at the Plaza San Francisco and went for a hot drink in an open air café next to the grand Jesuit church to recover from the effects of altitude again. It was a great place for people watching, older American tour groups and young Ecuadorian out-of-towners vied for space to photograph the massive building while shoe-shine boys and souvenir sellers tried to distract them.
Once we'd finished our drinks we dodged the crowds to take our own pictures and took a peek inside. The construction of the church started in 1536, shortly after the founding of Quito. The interior is suitably grand with lots of gold-leaf, but it pales into insignificance when compared with our next stop - La Compania. The altar and main decorations inside this church weigh an estimated seven tonnes!
It's so over the top, and while beautiful it's run more as a museum than a church now, so you don't see any of the locals coming in off the street to pray to the Virgin, just tourists trying to take photos surreptitiously (it's not actually allowed, but please don't tell on us).
After looking around the square we walked down the road to the Plaza de la Independencia - this square was first laid in 1534 and contains all the city's most important civic and religious buildings. We didn't bother going inside - many of them are closed to the public anyway - but took a seat in the sun for a while and planned our next move.
The last church we visited was just up the hill from the square. La Merced deserves a mention for it's spectacularly tasteless statue of Jesus which was surrounded by several different coloured neon halos. Definitely worth a photo. We finished our walking tour of Quito by doing a tour of the Plaza Santo Domingo - a smaller square without any tourists, but some nice architecture.
We had a dinner in a great Italian restaurant and got a relatively early night. We managed to see pretty much all we wanted to, although we didn't make it up the cable car - it climbs to over 4,000 metres above the city, but the weather was never really clear enough to get out there, so we've got something to do next time we find ourselves here.
When we got down to Nanegalito from the cloud forest lodge we had to run to catch the bus back to the capital. It had actually already set off, but one of the many food vendors trading through the open windows whistled loudly for the driver to stop. We got on gratefully and settled down for the two hour journey.