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  • Niki Harry

Ecuador - Quito & Surrounding Areas

Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. As of the 2014 census, it has almost 2.7 million residents. It is situated in the valley of the Andes mountains, at 9,300 feet. Its a very narrow but long city. From some viewpoint areas, the city goes on for miles and miles, as far as your eyes can see. What I loved about Quito was the fact that being so high up, the temperature is perfect. 17-25 degrees, not too hot, not too cold. And there are no pesky bugs like mosquitos. All thanks to the altitude.

We arrived on Tuesday evening, Feb 17th. No issues getting here and no issues finding our condo. It was a $25 cab ride from the new airport. So easy. Wednesday to Friday we took the opportunity to discover and get to know the city. We walked and walked and walked. We also did the city bus tour which in my mind is worth it as you get familiar with the area and you can hop on and off if there is something of interest. The pass is good for the day. I could really feel the pressure on the first couple of days and I had a slight headache. But after the 3rd day, I was fine. The only time it was an issue is when I was exerting myself, walking or going up hills. And every so often, all of the sudden it felt like I couldn’t breathe. I had to stop and take very deep breaths and be still. It was exhausting just trying to get acclimatized. This is a view of the western part of the city. The way these homes are stacked and situated reminds me of dominoes for some reason.

The city has a large Spanish influence. Hanging flower pots from the windows are seen in the old part of town.​

And yellow taxi's everywhere.. probably the second most to New York city!

Plaza Grande, principal and central public square of Quito.

This is inside of IGLESIA LA COMPANIA DE JESUS… one of the most elaborate churches I have ever seen. We were not allowed to take photos but I had to sneak one. The entire inside is like this.

A market on EL PANECILLO HILL (above) overlooking the city, where the 45-metre-tall stone monument of a madonna stands.

The old city transitioning into the new, where the high-rises start. This view is facing north east.

Here you can see the BASILICA DEL VOTO NACIONAL, dividing the old and new town.

We did a tour of this magnificent basilica. We climbed up into the towers and then crossed over in the roof area to get to the other single tower.

​The food was great. In most places, they have a daily lunch special. It usually consists of a soup, a main and a dessert, and usually costs anywhere as low as $3 and as high as $9. Obviously in tourist areas its more expensive but if you find the local places, then its dirt cheap and very good. Not worth cooking at home!

Our first tour: Sat. Feb 21st – to the Centre of the earth and Otavalo market. Saturday is the day to go to the famous Otavalo market. Otavalo is open every day but on Saturday’s they extend it out to the streets and close the streets down. We also wanted to go to the equator & see the Cuicocha crater. This tour was perfect as it did all of it. We had to be up at 5:30 and down to the square for 6:45 pick up.

​Our first stop was at Mitad del Mundo “centre of the earth”. This is the real center of the earth (as you can tell by my watch display). There is another location which most tourists go where a monument is erected. That is where they thought the centre of the earth was before technology could prove otherwise. We got there really early so didn’t have to pay the $1 to see it. It was great as we were one of the first ones there so had the place to ourselves for a while to take photos and wander around the site. Oh and you are 1 kg lighter here – woo hoo!

This is Otavalo. The main square and market areas. It was very busy and our small group of 4 wandered around checking out the goods. I was more intrigued with the people then the goods. I loved the indigenous people and how they dress. Very traditional. I was dying to take photos but they dont like it. They think you are stealing a part of their soul when you take a picture of them, so unfortunately I dont have many photos. The goods were so cheap. I was dying to purchase something but with the flight restrictions and all the places we have yet to go to (especially the Galapagos and lack of room on the boat), its impossible for us to bring extra luggage.

We continued on to Cuicocha lake, inside the Cotacachi crater. Cuicocha is a 3 km wide caldera and crater lake at the foot of Cotacachi Volcano. Its name comes from the Kichwa indigenous language and means “Lago del Cuy” or Guinea Pig Lake. It was given this name due to the shape of the island in the middle of the lake. These animals play a significant part in the everyday life of Ecuadorians, as they reproduce rapidly and need a minimum of food and care to survive. They make for a high protein meal especially for populations living in high altitude.

It was beautiful here, very serene and picturesque. We wandered around for a while and took a short hike up to one of the ridges, but if we had the time we could have hiked around the entire crater.

Our second excursion – Sunday, Feb 22nd. This was an even longer and more strenuous day. It was south of Quito, down to Pujili and to Lake Quilotoa. There were many hours of driving to get there and back.

The drive down was very pretty and I was very surprised by the great roads in Ecuador.

Our first stop was at another market in Pujili. This one was for locals and in a way I enjoyed it more then Otavalo. The women dressed more elaborately here. Every village has their own unique style of dress or something more unique to differentiate them (like black skirts vs colors, etc). I could not get over the amount of fresh produce, spices, beans, corn, fish and meat that is sold here. They went about their own business, barely noticing us or caring that we were there, other then if we photographed them. ​

These photos shows the typical dress of the women in this area. They all have braids tied with coloured ribbon and wear a hat. Depending on how they wear their shawls indicates whether they are married or not.

They are also very short people. Some of the elderly are not more then 4 feet tall. John looked like a giant next to them.

The sun does so much damage to their skin. Some of the elderly were so severely wrinkled and blackened that it was actually shocking to see. A little late for me.. but take notes you young generation who scorches themselves and love to tan!

We stopped to visit an indigenous family to see how they live. Their home was probably the size of my living room. It was made of dung, mud and straw. When we walked inside it was pitch dark and had to wait for our eyes to get adjusted to the light. There was a woman sitting on the floor with a baby on her back. The floor was dirt. The mom of the house was frying something and they were using a BBQ as a stove. The dad was explaining stuff to us. There were beds there somewhere but we couldn’t see them.

​The shocking part was that there were also 100 guinea pigs living in this house with them, running all around the place – not caged! We had to be careful not to step on them! In the Andean regions of South America, they raise guinea pigs for food. The famous dish is called CUY. And you see it everywhere in many restaurants. They fry them whole or BBQ them. They serve it to you with the head and feet still on. How do I know you ask? I’ll leave that to you imagination!

We then continued on to Quilotoa Lake. Along the way we saw vast areas of farmland and they use no machinery. Everything is harvested by hand.

Quilotoa Crater. It was breathtaking being here. The views were surreal. We lucked in again with great weather and got to see parts of the Andes around us.​

​There is a path that takes you down to the lake. It is extremely steep and slippery as its sand and loose stone that you have to walk on. Its only a kilometre and a half down, but with the altitude, the scorching sun and steepness, it is very difficult to walk it.

​It was beyond brutal going back up. Our hearts were beating out of our chests. The altitude and sun making it so difficult. I track all my hikes and walks with my gps watch and I love how it shows the elevation as well. 3800 meters or just under 13,000 feet. Its REALLY hard work!​

So our last tour was on Monday, Feb 23rd. We had arranged a private biking/hiking tour for just the two of us to Cotopaxi Volcano. I was so excited to do this. Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in Ecuador (and some say in the world) and its only 50 kms south of Quito. It is only 6 feet higher then Kilimanjaro, 19,347 ft. VS 19,341 ft.

I was so excited for this tour. Sadly, when I got home from the tour the previous night, I suddenly became ill and Montezuma’s revenge came upon me with a vengeance! I was so ill and became bedridden. I presumed altitude sickness caused it but there was no way I could do this in the condition I was in. So I convinced John to go ahead without me. The weather wasn’t the greatest and it was very cloudy for the most part. It was disappointing not to be able to see the volcano but regardless he had a great time and really enjoyed it. The terrain was very much like Kilimanjaro at that height, no vegetation at all and very barren

Jose Rivas Refuge hotel was upgraded in 2005. Climbers use this location to acclimitize before starting their hike to the summit of the volcano.

They hiked up to the glacier at 16,400 feet. It was not a long hike as they started at 14,400 but nevertheless, 2000 feet in that altitude is very tough due to the lack of oxygen.

Then the biking portion of the tour. He biked down 10kms while the guide followed him with the jeep. And he was nice enough to take photos.

I am very envious that he got to do this and I didn’t! But maybe its a good thing, who knows. Its not easy to bike at 16,000 feet and sometimes I wonder if I push myself too hard and do too much in a short time. Maybe this is part of the reason that I got sick.

Regardless, its been a great week with great experiences and we met some great people. Now on to week 2 and a whole different environment with a completely different theme. Tomorrow we leave for the Galapagos islands! Sun, sea, flip flops, bathing suits & wildlife. And back down to sea level..


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