On the 21st we left our lovely beach front hotel outside Mancora, Peru, and set out for Quito, Ecuador. Along the way we took: a rickshaw from our hotel to downtown Mancora; a mini bus for about an hour and a half to Tumbes, a nearby city; a real bus for a 7 hour trip across the border to Guayaquil, Ecuador; a cab from the bus station to the airport; a flight from Guayaquil to Quito; and, finally, an hour long cab ride with a cab driver who spoke German, Bulgarian, Russian and, of course, Spanish from the airport to our hotel. We had an entertaining if somewhat disorienting triangular conversation with the driver (me in German, Rachel in Spanish, and then Rachel and I translating for one another in English).
Before coming to South America, I thought of a few cities as more dangerous than others. Put a different way, I thought my tall, white, touristy looking self would likely be mugged in one (or more) of a few cities. Quito was one of those places. Looking back, I was wrong. Not only was I not mugged, but I generally felt safe walking around the city (albeit limited parts of the city) day and night. So let me begin by saying, I’m sorry for judging you, Quito.
On our first full day in Quito we took a walking tour in the old city. We don’t normally opt for city tours, but we decided to go for it because we had a few days in Quito, we woke up feeling energized after the previous day’s long travel, and the major sites to see in Quito are historic and benefit from a guides knowledge (plus we’d finally recovered from what turned out to be a 7-hour walking tour in Valparaiso). It turned out to be really nice–and not just because the guide made frequent stops for snacks.
Along the way we visited the Plaza de la Independencia, which, among other things, houses the Palacio del Gobierno, aka the Presidential Palace. It used to be the residence of the sitting president of Ecuador, but the current president, Rafael Correa, refuses to live there, saying that as a man of the people a palace was no place for him. Others say he refuses to live there because of the palace’s vulnerability and the high frequency of presidents being unpleasantly shown the door in Ecuador. Listening to our guide talk about the political instability of the last 30 or so years, I’d lean toward the latter.
We also stopped at: the Cathedral on the Plaza de la Independencia, La Iglesia de Compania de Jesus, the Monasteria de San Francisco, Plaza Santo Domingo, a candy store and a chocolate store (food and more food!). It turns out that Ecuadorians love their sweets super sweet. I’m not complaining–I ate it and enjoyed it–but, damn, it was sweet.
After the tour we circled back to the Central Market for lunch. As usual, Rachel had done her homework and we got the corvina, which is fried sea bass with potatoes and a side of ceviche– a huge meal with drinks for under $5.
The next day we continued our tour of the city’s big markets at the Mercado Santa Clara to try the hornado, which is a slow cooked pork dish with a side of potatoes, avocado, pork skin, and other goodness– many thanks to Gina for the recommendation. We did the tour of stalls selling lunch (where we saw a soup dish which includes a cow’s hoof…. you know, waste not want not) and finally settled on a place because of the number of people (particularly military and police people) enjoying themselves. The next challenge was getting the proprietors’ attention– everyone in the market was fixated on one of the many large TVs showing the Champions League match between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich (Real won 1-0… I think we can all agree that that’s unfortunate). I found it hard to be distracted from eating that amazing food but I did sneak a few glances.
Our next few days in Quito were cloudy and rainy, so we spent a little time back at our hotel and at coffee and hot chocolate establishments in the vicinity. It turns out that the party scene on any day in our neighborhood starts at around 3:30PM and goes well past my bedtime. As we ran errands in the neighborhood around 4PM we’d hear karaoke blasting– kids these days.
When we finally caught a break in the weather we visited the Basilica del Voto Nacional and made the somewhat precarious climb to the top of one of the towers. A few rickety ladders later, we found ourselves with an amazing view of the city and its surrounding mountains.
On the morning of the 25th we woke up at about 3:30AM to catch our flight to the Galapagos. That’s a post for another day, but spoiler alert: it was worth it.