I wasn’t sure what to expect before I arrived in Quito, but in total I spent over a week in the Ecuadorian capital. I really grew to love the place, which is in no small part down to the fact that I met a friend of a great friend of mine here and Vanessa showed me the place through the eyes of a quiteña and introduced me to her workmates and another side of the city I would never have seen as a tourist.
Van is working for Asylum Access, an international nonprofit dedicated to refugee rights, and in Quito mainly working with Colombian refugees. After a few days of touristy sightseeing we met up and I stayed with her for the rest of my stay in the city.
My initial stay in Community Hostel, right downtown in the Casco Viejo (Old Town) was lovely too, it’s a really homely hostel, family-run and very comfortable. From there I explored the Old Town, which is beautiful. I found out it was the first ever UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site and is known a the best-preserved historical center in the region! From there I took a trip out to the Mitad del Mundo – something my Dad had been asking me for weeks was “have you crossed the equator yet??!”, so I figured I had to get photographic evidence!
There are actually two Equator museums, the first and biggest is the Mitad del Mundo museum which was built in the 1800s with a HUGE monument to the ‘middle of the world’ point after a French expedition marked the spot. Unfortunately, the Frenchies were a bit off in their calculations, because the actual centre of the world is about 250 yards away and was discovered with the use of modern GPS technology about 15 years ago. To be honest, it wasn’t a bad estimate for the time! The museum isn’t great and you have to pay about $3 for entry – we mainly wanted to go in to get the ‘Mitad del Mundo’ stamp in our passports (yeah, I know CHEESY!) but discovered afterwards that in a small shop across from the museum/monument you can get a stamp for free. So of course we got another one. I actually now have three ‘middle of the world’ stamps in my passport as we got another one next door at the ‘real equator’ museum…don’t really know what I was thinking, an entire page of my passport is now taken up! Oh well…
The Inti Nan museum is actually a lot more interesting, including a guided tour ($4), which some call a tourist trap but I call FUN! We were brought through different aspects of Ecuadorian Amazon history and culture, which culminated in a photo line-up on the ‘real’ equator line followed by lots of ‘scientific’ experiments demonstrating the ‘Coriolis’ effect. This is caused by the rotation of the Earth and the inertia of the mass experiencing the effect, causing moving objects on the surface of Earth to be deflected in a clockwise sense in the Northern Hemisphere, and in a counter-clockwise sense in the Southern Hemisphere. Many people seem to dismiss this theory, but I’m all for believing it!
We also got the opportunity to try to balance an egg on a nail – something supposedly only possible right on the equator line! And I DID IT! Woohoo! Only a couple of others in our group managed to do it, and I got a certificate for the honour too. Nice thing to add to my list of life achievements.
During my time in Quito I also went up in the TelefériQo, the cable car running from the edge of the city centre to the east side of the Pichincha volcano. Supposedly, it is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world, getting up to about 3,945 metres high, which is a swift reminder that I’m quite scared of heights especially when I’m hanging in a small box on a wire. The views of the city from above are stunning and it’s well worth the $8.50 return cost, to take in the glorious surroundings of the city enveloped by the Andean mountains. It can be quite foggy which can seriously hamper your views, so be sure to check the weather before you take off for a morning/afternoon of sightseeing.
Meeting up with Van was amazing and I got to meet all of her friends and Asylum Access colleagues from the US and Peru, amongst other places. We had some really fun nights out around Plaza Foch, the main nightlife area in Quito. One of my favourite places was a karaoke bar featuring a LIVE BAND! What a novel idea. Their songlist was limited but an awesome place to go if you wanna feel like a rock-star for a night!
Finn McCool’s (you guessed it, an Irish bar), was also quite a good spot which surprised me! There’s a chain of restaurants called Aladdin’s where you can get really good falafel and beers too. La Carniceria, near Plaza Foch is a good spot to get some decent meat at good prices and right across the street is a small hole-in-the-wall burrito/taco place where you pick up some cheap and tasty eats on the go. In the old town when I was staying in Community, I sampled some of the local cuisine on the beautiful cobble-stoned Calle de la Ronda, trying Seco de Chivo, or goats stew, for the first time which was delicious.
Vanessa’s neighbourhood, just outside the centre but within walking distance of Plaza Foch, was lovely. Her apartment, terrace and the view across the town below were stunning! It felt safe and quiet yet still central and with its own community of bars, cafes and things to do. Van’s local bar was very cool with a real arty vibe and live music all the time (supposedly Manu Chao played an impromptu gig there a few years ago – the place could probably hold about 60 people absolute maximum indoors and on the terrace!). We spent some time there on my last evening, meeting some locals and fellow travellers, listening to some open mic and drinking some canelazo to warm up (can’t get enought of that stuff!). Que bueno!
I visited the local artisanal market Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal with Van while I was in Quito and found some lovely things – mainly an alpaca scarf for myself (Van has a similar one which I had really admired) and a few gifts like jewellery and the obligatory fridge magnet! The market is great, absolutely huge with lots of opportunities to bargain – something I think I may be getting better at. Turning into my mam a bit more every day 🙂