If you’re running late for a bus in Ecuador and haven’t had a chance to grab something to eat, fear not. Only ten seconds after deciding we felt like some potato chips, a man boarded our bus to Quito offering none other than potato chips. He was soon followed by a selection of men and women selling everything from roasted pork to sliced watermelon, soft drinks and cookies. You’ll never go hungry or thirsty on a bus in Ecuador.
The best hostel kitchen of the trip to date was to be found at Hostel Revolution, where the knives were sharp, the utensils were plentiful and the non-stick pans were (believe it) still non-stick! The owner Sandy is a friendly woman from Poland who’s happy to help with travel advise or just a morning chat over coffee while you cook.
The communal area at reception has a good TV for watching the football and a small balcony area. You’re given your own key for entry after 11pm and the dorm beds are wide and super comfy. Great showers, good WiFi and a TV room which is small though never crowded top it off, and the bonus is the roof terrace which is great to hang out on a sunny arvo. We really enjoyed our two nights here.
Not venturing too far the first day, we found ourselves just down the road enjoying a beer at Bandido Brewing. Prices were a little steep for this part of the world but the hoppy IPA made up for it as did the continuous bowls of free popcorn and inviting oak barrel decorated interior. Another good option for an afternoon pint is the terrace of Secret Garden Hostel, where you can join other travellers for a fantastic view over Quito.
In Quito, Sunday is definitely Funday, and it seems the entire city converges on the old town to sit in the manicured plazas, eat ice-cream, buy dresses for their dogs (we saw no less than 5 people selling these) or do some good old fashioned worship in one of the vast number of churches.
Since the ice-cream looked like it was made from plastic and we don’t own a dog, we decided to join the crowds for some worshipping. Entering the grand looking El Sagario church, we exchanged looks of surprise as the sounds of a brass band emanate from indoors. Sure enough once inside we find a woman with a microphone belting out tunes to her back up brass band, not exactly what we expected but it seemed to set a great atmosphere in the otherwise plain, dark interior.
Taking our leave as they began playing the opening bars of the Pink Panther theme song, we headed next door to the vastly more ornate Church of the Company. With an incredible gold trimmed interior, photos cannot do it justice and the vibe is more sombre, with people lighting candles and quietly praying.
After a few hours of wandering Qutio’s many squares and plazas, we took a back street where a boy of around eight jumped off the back of a passing truck and proceeded to follow us, a little too closely. Too wise for him, we kept him in our sights before eventually stopping, staring him down and daring him to come closer, when a policeman on a motorbike pulled up to ask where the hell we were going. Shaking his head he waved us quickly in the opposite direction as this neighbourhood was too unsafe…we’d only wandered one street away from the main tourist drag!
Heading back to safety we took a stroll down Calle La Ronda, a beautifully restored historical street (one of the oldest in Quito) containing cafes, boutiques and chocolate shops, before stumbling across the excellent Iberoamericana Exhibition of Mexican art at the Iberoamericana Exhibit at the Grandes Maestros del Popular Arte.
One of Quito’s biggest attractions is its massive Roman Catholic Basilica del Voto de Nacional. The largest neo-gothic basilica in the Americas, the exterior is decorated in interesting Ecuadorian gargoyles including armadillos, iguanas and tortoise.
Fully aware that the cost to climb the tower was USD$2 each, we were surprised when a security guard at the front door tried to charge us three times this. Even better, all the locals got to walk in for free. Trying a different tact, we soon realised he was trying to cash in on stupid tourists who thought they were paying to climb the tower, when actually all they got for their money was entrance to the cathedral floor (which should be USD$1) and a security guard with some extra pocket money.
A little pissed off we eventually found the right door, paid the correct fee and headed up into the bones of the building. A word of warning, this isn’t one for those who have a fear of heights, as after crossing a narrow wooden walkway through the roof you reach a viewing platform before making the climb to the belfry via a fairly exposed narrow metal ladder.
There’s little protection from either the elements or the impatient locals who try to climb down when you’re still climbing up, though this didn’t stop one young lady from climbing down one handed with her young baby precariously slung under her arm. One of the best located cafés in town is positioned in one of the towers, and a good tip is to descend the opposite tower to the one you ascended as you get a great view of the church navel. For those who like a bit of adventure this is one of the more exciting cathedrals you’ll ever have the chance of visiting.
After hours spent pounding the pavement we retired to the quiet comfort of the hostel. Making use of the first non-stick pans we’d seen since Porkchop which haven’t been rendered useless by idiots scrapping the Teflon clean off with metal utensils, we whipped up dinner which we ate in silence as a Korean couple slurped their soup so loudly next to us they drowned out the traffic on the street below.
Only 20km outside of Quito, yet still an hours bus ride away, is the geographical phenomena which gave Ecuador it’s name (if you haven’t guessed correctly that it’s the equator, you might want to brush up on your geography). Jumping on the beaten up local bus in the split second the driver gives you to board, we spent most of the ride to Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) holding onto each other to prevent falling out of the malfunctioning doors. Well you get what you pay for.
Having had the chance to straddle east and west at the GMT line in Greenwich, UK, we figured we had to take the chance to stand with one foot in the northern and one in the southern hemisphere. There’s a couple of different entrance fees and we opted for the no frills city entry only, which was USD$3.50 each. A 30m high monument reveals the point where summer and winter divide…until is was discovered the French got it wrong (a GPS will tell you the actual equator is 240m down the road). Some interesting busts and plaques educate visitors on the 18th century French Geodesic Mission to measure the equator (40,075km), the worlds first major international scientific expedition.
Our verdict? It’s definitely worth the trip to tick the box, and while it’s cheap to get here it does take time (Quito is huge!). We finished the day with the long bus back to Quito, then another long bus to the terminal in order to get our longer bus out of town to the next stop, Latacunga and the Quilatoa Loop.