Over the last week or so in Ecuador, we’ve experienced lots of highs and lows (literally), as well as two fantastic cities, volcanoes, views and vistas of all sorts. This will be a pretty picture-heavy installment, but I’ll be generous and throw in a good helping of my witty repartee as well.
After arriving in Quito, Ben’s mum Kim* swiftly stole him away to a life of luxury in a nearby hotel, preferring not to slum it in the types of hostels that we’ve called home for the entirety of our trip.** She was slightly delayed into Quito so instead of meeting up that evening, I headed up to a nearby highlight of the city with some pals from the hostel – the rather ethereal statue that can be seen in the second image below. There we enjoyed the local delicacy of a strange, hot alcoholic fruit juice named canelazo that, to be perfectly honest, was better for its warming qualities on a pretty brisk evening than it was for its taste.
The next day, we decided the weather was good enough to head up Quito’s teleferica (cable car) and get a good view of its considerable expanse. I’ve seen some big cities in my time, many on this trip, but nothing quite like Quito. It’s almost as if it’s been poured, from miles up, into the landscape it sits in, running up slightly up the sides of hills before cascading back and washing over bumps, cracks and undulations as far as the eye can see. A bit like New York, being in the centre gives you no impression of its immense scale, so a trip up the teleferico was essential to take it in properly.
The next day an expedition was mounted to the Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World), sadly this wasn’t a swashbuckling romp to the earth’s core like Brendan Fraser’s in 2008***, but instead a journey to the various monuments just north of the city that mark this brilliant country’s namesake, the equator. We’d all packed our thrifty and intrepid attitudes that day, so eschewed the expensive taxi fare to brave the local buses for the ride there.
On arrival, we did some more eschewing, this time of the expensive ‘museum’ that is located there. The idea of building an entire museum around a non-tangible geographical phenomenon like the line between two hemispheres being beyond us, so we instead headed to the neighbouring museum that focuses on the culture of the indigenous people, and also has an equator line running through it. After a genuinely interesting chat about the history and culture of Ecuador, the obligatory magic tricks were rolled out, such as water ‘draining in different directions’ on either side of the line, and being able to balance an egg on the head of a nail, which did provide some amusement despite being complete and utter hogwash.
The next day we bid a temporary farewell to Quito, heading out in a rented car in the direction of Quilatoa, a [relatively] nearby volcanic lake that we intended to strap on our boots and hike around the next day. On our eventual arrival we were greeted with sheeting rain, near-zero temperatures and absolutely no view of the lake. Firing up the wood stoves in our rooms soon thawed out any negativity, and we headed to bed prepped to rise early the next day and check out the sunrise.
Sadly the conditions pictured above weren’t kind enough to hang around for us whilst we headed back to bed for an hour and grabbed some breakfast, and things were decidedly gloomier when we emerged at about 08.30 looking to start our 4-5 hour hike around the rim. Making the executive decision that getting caught in the type of rain we’d seen the day before whilst halfway through our walk and at least two hours from the hostel wouldn’t be particularly conducive to a really nice time being had by all, we instead went for a short walk to take a few more pictures, before packing up the car and heading in the direction of another nearby topographical highlight.
Our alternative trip was to Cotopaxi, about an hour’s drive away and the second-tallest active volcano in the world. Stopping for a quick coffee at a hospedaje and restaurant that Ben had stayed at when here a few years ago, we steered our trusty rented Chevrolet up the rocky path that winds as far up Cotopaxi as you can drive before you need to start fighting against gravity with your own two legs. Lacking the energy or desire to climb up the shale slope the mountain’s refuge, and absolutely lacking the crampons, ice axes or guide required to summit, we waited around for the clouds to part and allow us a glimpse of the top, which only actually happened after we’d admitted defeat and begun the drive back down.
We’d promised the owner of our earlier coffee stop that we would return after heading up the mountain to sample his menu del dia, and true to our word stopped in for what ended up being one of our best meals of the trip so far. Beyond the great food, the owner provided a musical demonstration of Ecuadorian instruments, fantastic hospitality and the company of a particularly brilliant puppy named Dolly, whom you can see below that I was fairly enamoured with. If you do ever venture to this neck of the woods, definitely gird (or reward) yourself with a stop (or even a stay) at The Rondador.
From Cotopaxi we headed to the nearby town of Latacunga for an overnight stay, and then drove back to Quito for one night, before catching a flight down to the smaller city of Cuenca, where we’ve now been for three nights and have managed to pack a pretty good amount in. The drive to the airport wasn’t without stress due to Ben’s reliance on memory, gut instincts and poor road-signage to navigate there rather than the conventional map, but we won’t dwell on that or I’ll get shouted at.
After our flight we grabbed some lunch and headed up the winding staircase to the roof of the impressive Catholic cathedral adjacent to the main square. We were rewarded for our efforts with a great view over one of the more handsome city squares so far, particularly due to the mighty presence of some rather fine pine trees.
On our first full day here we took a taxi up to the city’s mirador to examine the view and take a few snaps, before heading back down to the city for a stroll along the river to a nearby cultural museum. Our interest was pricked on the walk by a tiny empanaderia offering delicous-looking, multicoloured pastries that we decided we couldn’t continue on without trying.
The empanadas ended up being so good that the remainder of the walk to the museum was spent discussing business plans to franchise the spread of them around the world and retire with unearthly amounts of cash, and the condiment selection was even branded by Ben as “the best of the trip so far”. From a man who loves a good condiment, this is high praise indeed.
The museum, Museo Pumapungo, ended up being firmly in the bracket of ‘mildly diverting’ rather than ‘jaw-droppingly fascinating’, but we did all enjoy the attached collection of birds designed to resemble the aviary that indigenous locals had on the same site hundreds of years ago.
That night, our musings on why it was so hard to get a table for dinner at a cafe on the main square were rapidly answered by a rowdy religious festival that took over the plaza. As hundreds of people spilled out of the cathedral, our attention was first drawn to a display of Ecuador’s version of Morris Dancing, and then to large wooden structures that looked like they might just be designed to burn.****
Sure enough, we were treated to a display of increasingly elaborate, and increasingly dangerous street-level fireworks, as complicated, multiple-metre-tall structures erupted in showers of tiny explosions, flares and sparks, with crowds of people***** standing feet away. Around two hours of madness later, I was heading back to my hostel with a couple of holes singed in my beanie, smelling strongly of cordite and with my British, health-and-safety-infused mind spinning at the sheer, well, unsafeness of it all. My ears were also ringing, not only with the noise of detonations, but with the words of the chap next to me’s response to my thoughts…
“Hahahahaha, it used to be much more dangerous. More explosions.”
Yesterday, deciding that the weather would hold, we headed slightly out of town to a nature and zoological park set into the side of a mountain. Although the rain made the paths slightly treacherous in places, it was a brilliant park where the enclosures were completely natural. For or against zoos as you may be, and not without good reason I admit, this was a great example of indigenous animals in fenced off pieces of their own natural habitat, rather than completely incongruous animals man-made areas. Only the lions were strikingly out of place for the area, and the comprehensive collection of critters was thoroughly South American in origin. My favourite was the ocelots, Ben’s the capuchin monkey and Kim had a great time feeding the deer.
After the zoo we actually headed back to the same brightly-coloured empanada dispensary, so impressed were we with the condiments, and whiled away the rest of the day recovering from a surprisingly long walk through the mountains.
That brings us to today, where Kim has just boarded a flight home and our numbers are back down to two.
Plans currently look like heading to Peru in the next couple of days, and a return to the beach!
*Probably fair enough to be honest.
**Mrs Kim Silberberg BA (Hons). Trained lawyer, resident of Spain, part-creator of Ben, lover of tomatoes but not tomato soup, dis-liker of beer, hater of gin and all-round good egg.
****The presence of multiple fire-fighting vehicles didn’t hinder our reaching of this conclusion either.
*****Including me, I’ll admit.