Saturday, 5 September 2015

Quito 1


25/07 -  27/07


We arrived in Quito at 5am after a very quick bus ride. It was suppose to take at least 11hrs but we completed the trip in only 9hrs. Once again the bus driver was taking corners like a mad man causing us to sway from side to side in our semi-detached seats. But we survived, so we were thankful about that. 
We knew that Quito was big and that it had a number of different bus stations but we had no idea where we had stopped.  We opened our Google Maps,  hoping that it could shed some light upon our situation. Luckily after a while, it responded and showed us our location. We were at the South station which wasn't too far from the old quarter where we wanted to stay. As it was still too early for any public transport to be running, we got some warm clothes on and ate our bakery goods for brekkie. 
At 5:45, we went down to see if we could find the Trole. Roxy had read about it in the Lonely Planet and we were keen to utilise the cheaper public transport wherever possible. We bumped into a girl that was on our bus and we were going in the same direction so we decided to try figure the system out together. There was a long line of people so we joined the back of the queue. We asked the lady in front of us if this was a line for the Trole and she responded positively. She started chatting away to us in Spanish and we had to quickly use our most well practiced Spanish phrase,  'Dusculpe, no hablar Espanol'. She giggled and continued on. We were able to decipher that she was actually from Guyaquil so was equally as lost as us. We got to the ticket lady and got directions to which bus we should catch. As we walked to the platform, the same lady came running energetically to ensure that we were on the right bus. She even spoke to the driver, ushered us on and waved us off. What a sweet soul! 
The bus was rather full, even though it was a Saturday morning and we stood squashed with our huge backpacks on our backs for the 45min twisty and turny drive to our stop. We had flagged a few hostels in the area and Community was top of our list. Unfortunately they were fully booked but we were able to get some useful information from them about possible tours to the surrounding areas. 
We continued on, the lack of sleep and extra weight on our backs really starting to take its toll on our usually cheerful morning attitudes. We did eventually find a little hostel at a very cheap price. The first thing on our list was to release the straps of restraint from our backpacks and have a hot shower! There was a free walking tour of the city at 10am which we were keen to catch.  But as we were bushed from the night bus we needed a quick power nap beforehand. 

We rushed back over to Community Hostel just in time for the Free Walking Tour. Our guide was a dread locked, local guy named, Ovie. He had lots of energy and enthusiasm but it definitely didn't match up to Rafael, our guide in Sao Paulo. The first stop on the tour was the Central Market. This was a big building filled with stalls selling meals, fruit, vegetables, meat and much more. 

Ovie telling us about the meat section of the market (not suitable for vegetarians). He told us about his favourite local dish - cow stomach soup. Apparently a must! Not sure if our courage is quite there yet, we had just conquered that ceviche dish. 

Casual pig trotters on the side

The fruit section was a bit more colourful and cheerful. 

Ovie introduced us to a few interesting fruits the tree tomato, mora (apparently good for extra curriculum activities in the bedroom... ), maracuja and many others. 


The juice ladies were beckoning us over and we could not resist trying some new fruit juice. Our choice Mora and coconut milk! 

Joy loving the new pink drink... We might have this again. 

Once everyone had gulped down the delicious juice,  we walked on towards Plaza del Teatro. This was a large square in front of the Sucre Theatre.

This square was originally used as a bull fighting arena. 

Roxy standing right in the middle of the bull fighting ring -  Torro torro! 

The Sucre Theatre -  Greek architectural influence with an Ecuadorian flare

Monastario del Carpenters Bajo

View of the beautiful Basilica del Vito National. We wouldn't visit on this tour but we were keen to climb to the top of those towers in our own time.  

It was a short walk to the Plaza de la Indepencia, or Plaza Grande as it is more commonly called, where we could spend a little time in the park, to watch the local families enjoying their Saturdays, take a few photies and listen to Ovi tell us a bit about the country's politics. 

Pretty flowers in the park. 

Palacio del Gobierno (Presidential Palace) . The President does not live here as he prefers to live in his own family home on the outskirts of the city. The Palace is also open to the public for free. 

Statue of independence marking the day the Spanish were overthrown, 10 August 1809.

The Independence statue had many sculptures surrounding the base which told a story of the road to independence and gave a tribute to the heroes who had fought for it.

Names of the heroes on the Base of the Monument of Independence. 

The lion used to have a spear in its side, representing the defeat of the Spanish, but it had recently been stolen. 

Palacio Arzobispal - Archbishop's Palace

Plaza Grande Hotel -  unfortunately slightly outside our price range. 


Municipal Cathedral

Plaque commemorating the assassination of the President, Gabriel Marino, right outside the Presidential Palace. 

A distant view of the statue of LA Virgin de Quito (the Virgin of Quito), which was built atop El Panecillo (Little Breadloaf Hill). 

Central Bank of Ecuador - Ecuador's economy was strongly linked to the oil as it had rich supplies of this commodity but trouble presented itself when the price of oil began to drop  from 1997 to 1999. In just one year the Sucre (currency of Ecuador) had plummeted from 7000 Sucre to the US Dollar to over 25 000. This rapid and steep depreciation led to Ecuador adopting the US Dollar as the country's official currency in a process termed 'Dollarisation'  in September 2000.

Inside the Central Bank one can see displays of the old Sucre notes and coins which been decommissioned.  But apparently one can buy them from street vendors who now sell the coins as popular souvenirs. 

Entrance to LA Companies de Jesus -  the Church of the Jesuits - apparently filled with gold. It is free to enter on the last Sunday of the month so we decided to save going inside for the next week.



Roxy with the large stone cross just outside the Jesuit church

The Monasteries de San Francisco  (San Francisco Church) is the city's oldest church and is the main attraction overlooking the large San Francisco Plaza. There is a local legend that surrounds the building of the atrium of this magnificent church.
It involves a great architect who made a deal with the devil. Cantuna was a very successful architect and builder in Quito and was commissioned to design and build a large atrium for the church. Although he worked diligently,  his progress was slow and if he did not complete the project in time he would not get paid anything at all and would be thrown into jail. It was the evening before the due date and Cantuna was far from finished. He began to despair when suddenly the devil appeared. The devil had a proposition for Cantuna - his demons would work on the atrium overnight and if it was fully completed by dawn, Cantuna would have to give the devil his soul. Desperate and with no other option, Cantuna agreed to the deal. Suddenly a wave of creatures appeared and started working on the atrium,  lifting stones and putting them in place. Cantuna was happy with the work but just before dawn he began to regret the deal he had made,  so he went to one of the pillars and removed a single stone.  Just as dawn rose, the rest of the atrium was completed and the devil began to celebrate victory and demanded Cantuna's soul. But Cantuna's had out smarted the devil and pointed out that one stone was missing, thus making the deal null and void. Cantuna had completed atrium and could keep his soul. Today,  locals and tourists still search the atrium looking for the missing stone.

Ovie telling us about the Legend of Cantuna

San Francisco Plaza

Joy in front of the steps leading up to the church

We were able to then enter the San Francisco church and admire the artwork and gold laden interior.

Amazingly decorated ceiling

Walking along the streets of the old town

We got to peak into this little courtyard which was part of the Casa Gangotena an extremely expensive Hotel which apparently made the best deserts ever. 

This one street was full of shops selling these amusing pinatas. Roxy was taken back to the Ninja Turtle style pinata she had made for one of her little cousins' birthday party. 

Spanish style roof complete with flowers on the balcony. 

Confeiteria El Gato (a family owned sweet shop) where we got to try some local treats - azucar de mani (sugar peanuts) and fried plantain. We bought a duo pack of guava flavoured sugar fruit square and condensed milk toffee square. Quite delicious! 

Inside the Museo de la Ciudad there was a huge mural depicting a map of the old city. 

Pretty hydrangeas in the courtyard of Museum

We had walked closer to El Panecillo so could get a better view of the statue which marked its peak.

The plaza that used to be used for black market trade. Now they have tried to salvage it by making it a stage for art displays. 

Calle de la Ronda was our next destination. This street is famous for its bohemian style and houses many interesting eateries and drinking holes. A place to visit on a Friday night... 

Statue of Mariscal Sucre in front of the Santo Domingo Church 

Santo Domingo Church

As we reached our last spot on the walking tour around the old town, Ovie announced that he was taking a group to Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, the middle of the world and there were just 5 spots left in the minibus. We uhmed and aahed and then decided to just go for it. After the tour had dispersed we went to Ovie and expressed our interest, luckily there was still space so we were in. The only problem was that we had no more money with us. Thankfully, we lived not too far away so used the 45min lunch break to power walk back to our cheap hostel and get a little more cash. This relaxed day was quickly turning into one filled with unexpected adventure. 

It was about a 2 hour drive to Mundo where we first went to Museo de Sitio Intinan. 

Welcome sign displaying English and even Afrikaans, no IsiXhosa unfortunately. 

Not the real equator - we have to go into the park to see that

After paying our $4 entrance fee, we were led to a few wooden seats where we were bombarded by loud traditional music and a rather interesting 'traditional' welcome dance. 
If the costume wasn't entertaining enough, the actual dance style and moves would definitely do the trick. Just as we experienced in every salsa club in South America,  one cannot just observe from the sidelines, one must join in. This instance was no different, after he had given us a short exhibition, we were then invited/dragged in to join. 

Our entertainer persuading the audience to participate. 

Joy got pulled up (Roxy somehow managed to escape) 

We had been thoroughly welcomed and we were ready to take a tour around the park. Our first stop was to the displays in which we would learn a little more about the indigenous people of the area. 

Our guide telling us about the terrain and animals of the Amazonas area. 

Tarantula and the Canduri fish - the little fish that will follow your urine stream and swim up your urethra if you pee in the water. 

Accurate representation of an Anaconda 

We were then told all about the process of making a shrunken head. There was a helpful step by step mural along the wall so we could get a good visual of the process.

The end product -  A real shrunken head

We then took a tour of the houses where the indigenous Wuaorani tribe lived and shown examples of graves where they buried their dead.

Roxy practicing her spearing 

Thatched roofed huts

The grave where they would bury the dead with gifts and belongings. 

If a woman's husband died before her, she would be buried alive with him under the influence of very strong drug to make her unconscionable until she suffocated to death. One better get a toyboy in that case. 

Monument marking the real 'middle of the earth' 

Statues from all the different indigenous tribes of the area

Straddling the Equator - in two hemispheres at once

Sun-dial - one side for summer,  the other for winter. 

Sun-dial displaying 'morning, afternoon and evening' 

Wahoo...we are at the Middle of the World. In different hemispheres, this was the furthest we had been apart from one another in quite a while.

On the Equator things get a little confused because of the conflicting pulls of gravity. We were able to do all sorts of experiments that can only be done at the real Equator.

The first was to try balance an egg on its head. Our guide did it quickly and it seemed easy peasy... Our turn then. 

It was definitely not as easy as our guide had made it seem - he obviously gets plenty of practise. No matter how much we tried and concentrated, we were unsuccessful! The Equator must be broken. 

It was then time to test which way water spins down the drain in each hemisphere and on the equator line - the Coriolis Effect.

Walking in a straight line with eyes closed is almost impossible with the alternating pull of each pole causing the tug of war effect. 

Superman would be rendered powerless at the Equator as we apparently have less strength to resist external forces here.

Our guide could easily push Roxy's arms down, using only his finger, despite her best efforts to resist.

Easily prying open Rox's kung-fu grip. 

We were then lead to another more modern traditional house

This attractive lady was obviously the boss of the house. Definitely wouldn't dare mess with her. 

They used mud and bamboo beams to build the walls of the houses. 

You might think that it is so sweet that they kept guinea pigs as pets, well you would be slightly mistaken. Guinea pig or Cuy is actually a popular meal in South America. Hmm... They look so fluffy and cute...  and are apparently quite delicious! 

A traditional hat made of compressed alpaca hair. Ooh.. 
So stylish! 

A loom for weaving these very colourful artworks. 

As we wandered around the little Park, we stumbled into one little Hut. To our delight it was a chocolate display area! Ecuador had just been voted World's best Chocolatiers this year so we were super excited to sample their products for ourselves,  just to make sure that the judges were correct. 

Roxy excitedly inspecting the raw product and helping with the grinding

The production process displayed -

The nibs which we were instructed to eat with salt in order to draw out the intensity of the cocoa flavour. 

A large selection of good quality chocolate. Different cocoa percentages and flavours. 

Prickly pears - normally only see these being sold on the side of the road in South Africa. 

The top of this mountain was a significant place to the Incas as it was a place of perfect symmetry as you could see the sun rise over the one mountain, set over another and at noon you would have no shadow. As they worshipped the sun, all these factors were extremely important to them and thus they believed it was the most perfect spot in the world. 

A spot of birdwatching whilst waiting outside the park. 

Little guard tree house

Just outside the park there were two llamas  (or alpacas) and one sheep in a pen. They looked rather hungry and as one of the caretakers brought a few leaves near,  they got extremely excited.

Roxy making a new friend

The view of The Cotopaxi Volcano

This is picture of Cotopaxi was taken two weeks after our pictures above were taken. It was erupting and the situation was so serious that the President declared a state of emergency and some southern suburbs of Quito had to be evacuated. Happy to say we dodged this bullet. 

There was another monument that marked the Equator (although not the actual Equator). It was more a tribute to the Scientists that had completed important investigations in the area in order to locate the exact Equator line and discover its special properties. 

We decided to skip going in to see the monument up close and rather just admire it from the entrance gate (also saving us from paying the $3.50 entrance fee). 

Bust of one of the scientists at the forefront of the Equatorial investigations

After a rather full day of discovering the Old Town and uncovering the mysteries of the Middle of the earth, we returned to Quito where we enjoyed a little local dinner and an early night.


We were up early and made our way to the Central Market were we enjoyed strawberries and a delicious local fruit juice. This market was quickly becoming our favourite hang out spot in Quito.

We spent the rest of the morning finding out information about the Quito and the surrounding attractions and trying to plan our next few days.

For lunch it was back to our favourite place for some world famous fish. The spot that was suggested to us was Traditional Don Jimmy. We could tell that it was the best as all the locals were gathered there. We were inspecting the menu, trying to figure out what we should try when an elderly lady popped up next to us. She could speak English and helped us order our meal - the special: Corvina con papas (sea bass with potatoes) and a side of ceviche with popcorn (to our surprise).

We sat down together and chatted while we eagerly awaited our lunch. Dr Elsa was from a little town South of Quito, Ambato, but had come here to catch a flight to The Galapagos Islands. Her daughter was an Oceanographer who lived on one of the islands. She was going to Australia to do some research so Dr Elsa was going to look after her children for a few weeks. We would have eagerly offered to help with the babysitting in exchange for accommodation!

Our delicious feast! The fish was incredibly moist and the prawn ceviche in combination with the popcorn was actually a hit!

Joy and Dr Elsa enjoying the meal together.

We were absolutely filled to the brim after our decadent lunch (Dr Elsa generously kept sharing her food with us and the owner gave us a complimentary bowl of rice, so we got much more than we had bargained for). The rest of the afternoon was spent Skyping friends and family back home and continuing our research for the rest of our days in Ecuador. That evening we went out to The Secret Garden Hostel, just across the road from us, to enjoy a glass of box wine with a few people from our dorm. The wine was not the greatest but the company and the view of the city made for a most enjoyable and relaxing night out.


We had sent out many CouchSurfing requests the previous week but had not yet got any potential hosts, but late on Sunday evening we received a message from one local accepting our request and offering to host us from Monday night. We were so excited but at the same time a little nervous. His name was Daniel and he lived up in the North part of Quito. We still had a few sights we wanted to see in the Old Town so we arranged to go to his house on Monday afternoon, giving us the morning to complete our missions.

First on the agenda was to witness The Changing of the Guards at the Presidential Palace which took place every Monday at 11am.
As we approached Plaza Grande we could see the crowds gathering and the police standing at attention, ready to deal with any rowdy civilians.

Serious looking police on crowd control

The first music we heard came from young people beating drums and singing war cries. At first we thought they were protesting against the Government but on closer inspection it became clear that they were actually showing their support for the Government and the Army.

The Municipality was trying to promote education and thus honoured school pupils who had achieved good marks,  with the opportunity of being part of the changing of the guard ceremony.


Important people, ministers we are assuming, who were privileged to be on the balcony during the ceremony.

Military looking rough and ready.

Some particularly top achieving students who were allowed onto the balcony and got the chance to meet the President.

This guy was clearly important and everyone seemed to love him as he gave waves to the crowd. We are still unsure who is but we took a few pics of him anyway.

The big band started the ceremony and came marching down the street playing a triumphant sounding song

The guards then all began to march - leaving the Presidential Palace and marching around the entire square


The President, Rafael Correa, appeared on the balcony,  which received huge cheers from the crowd.

Rafael Correa with the rest of the officials and important people

Once the 'Changing of the Guards'  ceremony was completed, the National Anthem was sung by the entire crowd whilst the National Flag was raised. 


Once all the formalities were completed, the crowd returned to their singing of war cries.

Although there were lots of supporters of the Government present, it did seem that there were some protesters within the crowd.

Not sure what these signs say, but they seemed protesty.

Joy standing with the armed forces. They don't seem so scary now.

The children that were honoured to be part of the ceremony were then given a tour of the Presidential Palace

We also wanted to go into the Palace and look around but when we enquired with the guard at the entrance, he communicated that it would only be open to the public at 1pm. This gave us an hour so we decided to go and climb the two towers of the Basilica Del Voto National.

Hey look...we made it to Galapagos, well, kind of! The closest we were going to get to it on this trip unfortunately. 

The Neo-Gothic style towers came into view as we approached the very steep hill. 

Standing outside the huge doors of the Cathedral. 

A beautifully carved door

We had to pay a small entrance fee ($2) to climb the stairs to the top of the towers, which were 115 metres above the ground at the highest viewing point.

Roxy playing us a little tune to encourage us up the many steps. 

From the first viewing point we could look across the valley at the Virgin on the hill. 

From the inside we were able to look down into the heart of the cathedral
The high walls were lined with the most stunning stained glass windows.

Unfortunately we were not permitted to use the camera flash so the pictures really do not do the inside if the church justice. 

Basilica selfie 

A bit of a blurry view of the alter in the front of the church

As we climbed up the steps we got a few glimpses of the arches and mini towers on the different levels. 

As we got higher and higher,  the stairs became narrower and more rickety. The climb up to see the inside of the clock mechanism was a daring ascend up a little spiral staircase. We felt a bit dizzy when we reached the top. 

Looking over the Old Town towards the Southern Suburbs 

Looking across at the adjacent tower

As we went up the wind started to get stronger

We had made it to the top of the one tower but now wanted to climb the next tower which was even higher. 

Sometimes one has to go down a bit to go up even further

Spying on the neighbours 

In order to climb the next tower we had to cross the length of the Cathedral via this wooden plank bridge and then scale the steep steps on the other side.

Across we go... 

... And up we go! 

Once we had successfully summited these we thought we were done but alas, even steeper and smaller stairs still awaited us. At this point Joy realised that wearing a skirt perhaps wasn't the wisest wardrobe option for this activity - everyone below her was getting a great view! 

Health and Safety? What is that? 

Although we had to dance around other people climbing down as we were coming up,  we managed to remain steady footed and made it all the way to the top! The 360° view of the city was definitely worth the treacherous climb. 

Between the Two Towers

Now to head down... Hmm...

Once we were back safely on ground level,  we went back to the Presidential Palace. Unfortunately it was still closed and we were informed that it would only be open at 2pm. We wanted to go inside but did not have the time. We had arranged to meet our Couchsurfing host at 3 o'clock and it would take us at least an hour to get to his place. So we decided to give it a skip and perhaps  try to fit it in somewhere else in the week. 

After a local set meal lunch (soup starter, meat, rice and beans main and local fruit juice), we hurried back to our hostel to collect our big bags. We then had to follow the directions Daniel had given us in order to find his house. 
We had to catch the Trole going South to 'La Y' station and then hopefully navigate our way successfully around the neighbourhood to find his apartment which was on top of a restaurant.  

Catching the Trole was easy and we were lucky that it was not too busy so we were even able to find seats for the 45min trip. It was so nice to look out the window and see the city passing by. It was like going on a little driving tour around the city. We hopped off at the station and then took a walk around. Either our navigational skills are amazing or Daniel gave us really good directions but after only taking one or two wrongs turns,  we arrived at what we verified was the correct address. Unfortunately Daniel did not seem to be there but the security guard at the gate seemed to be expecting us and ushered us up the stairs. We anxiously waited for about 3 minutes before we heard someone coming up the stairs. Our hearts started beating faster. Was this him? What was he going to be like? Eek! 

The first thing that we noticed about our host as he strode up the stairs was his incredible thick black hair, the next was his captivating smile. He had gone to the bus stop to look for us, to make sure that we didn't get lost. So sweet. He welcomed us into his apartment and showed us around. It was a quaint little place but well set out and decorated with all of his collectible figurines. The next, most important introduction had to be made...We had to meet the real boss of the house, his fluffy cat,  Puszek. We spent the afternoon chatting and getting to know each other. That evening Daniel took us and his other Couchsurfing guest for a little walking tour around his neighbourhood. We saw some very inspiring graffiti around the parks and went to the 'best bakery in town' where we treated ourselves, and Daniel, to a yummy pastry. Daniel had to meet his cousin for dinner so we went back to his place to settle in a little bit. As we snuggled into our sleeper couch, with Puszek right by our side, a sense of relief and peace overcome us - what a great host we had found. Yes! 

1 comment:

  1. Have been keeping up with all the recent posts! Keep the pics and the narrative coming.....loving it!.... Continue having a great time! Stuart/Rafa :-)