Sunday 28/11/04

Posted: November 29th, 2004 | Tags: | Comments Off on Sunday 28/11/04

Today we bought a clock in one of Quito’s fanciest shopping centres (the only places open on Sunday). Wow, the prices are more crazy than at home – like $160 for a diesel t-shirt. The shop is full of chains like the usual clothes and fastfood shops and rich Quiteños love them.

The city is run properly on a Sunday. Many roads are shut off for cycling, no-one has to work and there’s loads of entertainment piled on in the public spaces.

Saturday 27/11/04

Posted: November 29th, 2004 | Tags: | Comments Off on Saturday 27/11/04

More crazy fiesta shenanigans tonight. A bandstand has been set up in the local plaza. One of the bands was two lads in Warlords of Pez t-shirts singing ‘Smoke on the Water’ as Español. There was also a Finn serving sandwiches, (which the guidebook describes as the local firewater), and some indigiños selling what I can only think are pig intestines with a glass of mud on the side.

Earlier today we intended to go to ‘Pallalacta’, the local hot springs, for a nice soak in the tub. However, it was not to be. Despite being in plenty of time for the bus and having bought our tickets we failed in our attempt to actually board the bus due to the ‘exit tax’ in the bus station and the fact that we had no change. So, while desperately asking the local stall owners for change, we watched our bus depart. The tickets were not transferable, so the rubber ducky will have to come out another time.

Instead we visited the ‘Vivarium’ and gooed at some snakes and lizards. We walked around the main park, ‘La Parque Carolina’ watching the locals do their weekend thing. Couple of beers and sharwarmas latter and we were having a go in one of the pleasure boats around a man-made river in the park. Lots of fun.

Monday 29/11/04

Posted: November 29th, 2004 | Tags: | 2 Comments »

We started the first of two weeks of intensive one-on-one Spanish lessons today. It’s refreshing to have someone talk SLOWLY so you can actually understand words. It’s also good to practice talking for a while without the usual rolling of eyes or blank stares.

We’re staying with host families for the two weeks. This week we’re staying with the owner of the language school, so we have it good. Maids and handymen and all sorts. Speaking of which, they loved our Butler’s chocolates we brought them. The maid makes only Ecuadorian dishes, so we’re getting a good taste of local specialities. They want us to make an Irish dinner. WTF? Cabbage and potatoes! Maybe we’ll buy them some tins of Guinness.

Friday 26/11/04

Posted: November 29th, 2004 | Tags: | Comments Off on Friday 26/11/04

Yesterday, I took it easy after the ol’ volcano climb. Slept in, logged on and visited “La Basilica”, a concrete gothic edifice in the old town. It’s impressively massive with stained glass windows, faux flying buttresses, the works – but it’s made of concrete!

You can go right up the bell tower and actually ring the bells! You go up rickety spiral staircases and skinny ladders – something which in no way would be allowed in a European cathedral. Someone would inevitably fall and sue, but here it’s presumably your own fault if you let go of the ladder. From the top you can see the entire sprawling city – old and new. I captured the fantastic views with some pictures that I will upload at some stage.

At the highest level, with the bells ringing in our ears, we spied some “ducks” and chickens and things in a carpark beside the Basilica. When we decided we asked the carpark attendant could we see his ducks. “No” he says … “they’re geese”. So we visited the carpark geese and chickens and tiny children right in the middle of the city. You walk down the street between hotel chains and supermarkets and there’s sheep grazing in a garden.

Later we went to a Cuban bar, ate their fantastic “sanduches” and hung out with a bunch of mafia types – complete with local guide. After that we returned to the hostel, passing a plaza with crazy dancers prancing about in the fountain. It’s fiesta week here in Quito, so we should expect more of this.

Thursday 25/11/04

Posted: November 26th, 2004 | Tags: | 2 Comments »

Today we climbed a volcano. Cotopaxi is 5897m high and the second highest in the country. It’s active and erupts about every 100 years. It last erupted in 1904. We only got to 4800m, but even that is higher than any point in Europe. In fact, because the world bulges at the equator, it’s closer to space than the top of Everest.

It was quite distinctly a volcano. There are huge boulders strewn around the surrounding national park. In some parts it looks like a lunar landscape. We climbed past the snowline (snow on the equator!) and trekked across a glacier for a bit. The snow was beautiful – white, clean, soft and very good for snowball fights. The view from here would have been great, but we were surrounded by clouds. Altitude sickness was not so bad and chocolate helped.

Cotopaxi National Park was pretty. Wild horses, condors, cougars and we saw our first (farmed) llamas. I shall upload photos soon. We drove home past other volcanos along the Pan-America highway. This road, which goes from Alaska to the Tierra del Fuego is very scary at times. Especially when the clouds are low and there’s no lights or lines on the road and the other trucks don’t bother turning on theirs. When they repair the road they don’t bother closing off the section with no tarmac. 4x wheel drive is a very good idea.

Wednesday 24/11/04

Posted: November 26th, 2004 | Tags: | 2 Comments »

Today we went to “Mitad del Mundo”, literally the middle of the world. A complex of monuments, museums, observatories, craft shops and other touristy stuff built exactly on the equator. Through the complex runs a long red line marking the equator exactly. It’s lots and lots of fun to stand on both sides, jump from one side to the other or just dance along the line. The main monument itself is kinda cool, it looks like a giant pawn with a bronze globe on the top. I’ll upload photos at some stage. There was another museum nearby which had cool tricks like balancing eggs and water going down plugholes in two directions, but we couldn’t find it.

Near El Mitad del Mundo is a small village called San Antonio. Here we ate the set lunch (“Almuerzo”). For a dollar you get soup, juice and a huge plate of rice, potato, veg and beef. The village itself is cool – the architypal Hollywood latino pueblo; skinny stray dogs, staring children, chickens, dust. Public transport back to Quito is interesting. If you’re lucky the bus will be less than 20 years old. Peddlers get on every stop to sell sweets, lotto tickets, brooms, everything. In fact there are no stops, the bus just stops when someone has to get on or off. Great fun altogether. I will never give out about Dublin Bus again.

Monday 22/11/04

Posted: November 26th, 2004 | Tags: | Comments Off on Monday 22/11/04

I slept through to 8am this morning, beating the jetlag in one foul swoop. Our hotel, the appropriately titled ‘Hotel Vagabundo’, is very clean, safe and quiet. The proprietors are friendly and speak English, although I do attempt to communicate in Spanish as often as possible. There’s not too many gringos staying here, but the restaurant is definitely “international” with pizzas and stuff. We have a private bathroom with no cucarachas, just a friendly family of ants. It’s hard to remember to put used TP in the basket not in the bowl.

First impressions of Quito, a typical Latin American city: chaotic. I think every car’s accelerator and brake is connected to the horn. Red lights mean nothing. Pedestrians mean nothing. You need your wits all around you when walking. There are huge holes in the pavement everywhere, you’d break a leg or fall into a cellar if you don’t look where you’re going.

The city setting is beautiful. It’s a long city from North to South nestled between two Volcano ranges on an Andea plateau. The number of parks, plazas and open spaces would put a European city to shame. It’s very sunny today – it’s 12 noon and the sun is almost directly straight up in the middle of the sky.

Today we walked through the old colonial part of town and saw many many plazas and churches. Catholicism was – and still is – very important here.

The people here are very friendly, smiley and quite small. Most could be described as mestizo. Young and old alike stare at Jenn’s purple hair and my height and both of our white skin. It’s perfectly safe to walk around the central parts of the city during the day, but it’s best to be home by dark. Dark is 6pm year round.