Wandering in America del Sur

Ecuador-Travelogue  |  Travel time: July 2005 - March 2006  |  by Allison Webb

The Old and the New

Arriving in Quito we were less than enthused. Not only did we have Galapagos withdrawal, but the city did not a good reputation among travellers and we were going to altitude which meant shortness of breath and headaches. We had to switch our mindset from bare feet and no locks on doors to high security alert! We left the airport reluctantly and got ready to have to argue with a taxi driver as he tried to rip us off. But once again, like Guayaquil, we were surprised and nicely so. The taxi stand was orderly and the kindest and friendliest soul took us straight to our hostal for the fixed rate, no discussion. Our impression of Quito was beginning to change!

Headed off to our hostel in the New Town which is also known as Gringolandia for its spread of hostels, international restaurants, travel agencies, and internet places. Our street was quaint with small guesthouses all the way along and trees lining its sides. Got settled in to our cute little room in the sprawling Posada del Maple, showered and then got ready for a great reuion. My friends Lori and Catherine from Vancouver had made the long trek to meet up and travel with us. After hugs, we headed off for some typical Ecuadorian food, drinks and a long catch up session.

We managed to convince them that the Galapagos was the place to go and spent the next am and early pm, helping them sort out boats and options which in Quito turned out to be overwhelming in terms of choices! I was starting to feel that we might be hindering rather than helping them with all of the information overload! Left them to book their tickets and set off to explore the city.

Hopped on the trolley which is a fabulous way to access the city as it travels in prescribed bus lanes free of other traffic and for a mere $.25 you can get anywhere, but the downside, we found out was that it was incredibly squishy and safety of your personal possessions was a real issue. However, we escaped without incident and got off in the Old Town, the historic centre. We wandered the small cobblestone streets where there was a whole battery of police officers with huge guns to wander and protect. It was a strange feeling seeing so many police, but totally necessary because Quito has such a problem with incidents on tourists. In the New Town it is allegedly even worse and on every corner there is a privately hired security guard complete with personal fierce looking dog! Takes a little getting used to I have to say especially after spending 8 days without even having a key for your door on the Galapagos!

Feeling really architectured out after all the cities we had seen we were skeptical, but the Place de la Independencia was incredibly beautiful and so was the entire area with churches almost every other block. Many of them were build in the early 1600s and one of the most ornate, La Compania de Jesus used 7 tonnes of gold in its construction and it shows! Just looking into the entrance you need to shield your eyes from the glint! Incredible.

After a coffee on the square headed over to another area in the old town, San Blas to try to track down Kelly and Rob. But over in that area, outside the main few tourist streets, things began to change, and we could feel the edginess of the city beginning to take hold. We knew that Quito was a city on the edge, with crime on the rise and it was there that we first began to see that other side, where many people live well below the poverty line - almost 50% in the country.

All grabbed a taxi and headed out for an excellent dinner of Mexican food and catch up over a pitcher of most excellent margaritas! The next morning we met them again and spent the day wandering through the city starting in the new town and then walking through an artists market browsing at gorgeous canvases too large to fit in backpacks.

After that it was on to the Basilica from where it was rumoured the views were spectacular. It was no lie. The only thing was that having flown in from sea level, we were all panting walking on flat ground in Quito at 2850m, climbing up and up and up would end up to be quite a challenge. But it was well worth it, huffing and puffing we climbed first the normal set of stairs, to the gift shop - how entrepreneurial - and then the stairs turned to a narrow spiral staircase and finally to ladders to the belfrey. Only Rob and Kurt were crazy enough to get to the top, but I also climbed to the top of the other tower with them and oh, what views! It was incredible to see the dense city, neatly divided into old and new surrounded by the green mountains. In clearer weather the volcanic peaks would also appear making it truly magical. But for today, we would have to make ourselves content with the red tiled roofs and churces of the old town and in the other direction, the highrises of the new town.

Having worked up an appetite, ate on the square at the San Francisco church and watched the people coming and going with huge cakes topped a foot high with cream! After that had a little dessert of our own, as we grabbed ice cream in a family run place 140 years old. Then, sadly, walked Kelly and Rob to their street and said goodbye and wished them well on their trip home.

But not to leave without a bang, right in front of the taxi stand on the street was a big bust and police dragging people out of a "disco" and throwing them into the back of a van. Of course, this was after we had witnessed a minor skirmish in the main plaza and another 2 young guys being hauled down the street by police. Obviously things were not all well and good in Quito.

Met up with Lori and Catherine again for dinner who had returned from Otavalo the famous market town and had shopped ´til they dropped and found some amazing bargains while soaking up the local culture. We feasted on Thai food and then planned to pick them up the next am for another short trip.

And what else do you do if you are a self respecting tourist in Quito, but join in with the locals and visit the Equator which has a Disneyland feel to it, but hey, where else can you stand with 2 feet in different hemispheres at the same time?! It´s great for photo ops and we completely indulged! It is a favourite place on Sunday for locals because there are concerts every afternoon and the city runs regular buses up to the gate! Not a bad way to spend the day I guess!

But we were to be on our way and south to Riobamba. Got the sweetest taxi driver in the world who drove us right up to the door of the bus and wished us well. Left the dizzying sprawl of Quito with mixed feelings. It is a beautiful city in a stunning setting. A place of cosmopolitanism, a place where old and new intersect, not just with the buildings, but with people and their dress and customs. It is a city trying to support investment in tourism and be open to the world, but it exposes the social problems of the country and lays them wide open for all to see. And unfortunately many go home with a bad feeling about Ecuador after having their backpacks, purses, cameras or wallets stolen. But for us, it was a vital piece of Ecuador and still surprised us with its vitality and beauty. It kept us on edge for our personal safety and we were reminded that all is not well in Ecuador - a harsh reminder, but important. We were curious to see how we would feel after seeing more of this incredible country.

And so we headed south ...

Our special featured guests, Catherine and Lori and our first lunch together in Quito - note the mega huge juices

Our special featured guests, Catherine and Lori and our first lunch together in Quito - note the mega huge juices

Old Town, Quito

Old Town, Quito

Art market, Quito

Art market, Quito

Fruit vendor

Fruit vendor

The Basilica

The Basilica

The view from the top of the Basilica

The view from the top of the Basilica

Having fun at the Equator, Catherine, Lori and I

Having fun at the Equator, Catherine, Lori and I

Freshly squeezed oj anyone?

Freshly squeezed oj anyone?

Another view of Quito

Another view of Quito

The Compania de Jesus Church

The Compania de Jesus Church

Farewell lunch with Rob, Kelly, Kurt and I, San Francisco Plaza, Quito

Farewell lunch with Rob, Kelly, Kurt and I, San Francisco Plaza, Quito

Stained glass window, Basilica

Stained glass window, Basilica

© Allison Webb, 2005
You are here : Overview The Americas Ecuador Ecuador-Travelogue
The trip
 
Description:
My trip through Peru before heading to Chile to work for 6 months and then travels afterward in South America
Details:
Start of journey: Jul 05, 2005
Duration: 8 months
End of journey: Mar 02, 2006
Travelled countries: Peru
Chile
Argentina
Uruguay
Ecuador
The Author
 
Allison Webb is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 15 years.