October 17, 2007

To The Equator and Back: Our First Week in Ecuador

It´s amazing to think what one can accomplish in one week if you´re motivated. In this case, our only job for the next year or so is to get up each morning and see the world. Experience new cultures, foods, and friendships.

We´ve been in Ecuador, and South America for only a week now, and I feel as if I left the US months ago. In this one week, we toured Old Quito (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), went to Otavalo (apparently the largest market in South America), went to the equator, saw a local bull fight, and climbed a 15,200 ft mountain.

Old Quito or ¨Quito Viejo,¨ is a gorgeous old colonial city with iron balconies and colorful buildings centered around the Plaza Grande. We spent the day walking the streets and seeing daily life. I didn´t realize this when we booked our flight, but it´s low season, so there aren´t many tourists around. Strange, but good.

The highlight was climbing to the top of the huge Basilica del Voto Nacional. A beautiful Gothic style church, with stone turtles, iguanas, and birds instead of gargoyles. You can literally climb to the top of one of the towers which gives you the most amazing view of the city. After climbing stairs until you think you can´t go any further, 3 more levels of ladders lead you to the top of the spire. Fun, but freaky.

The bull fight was only a couple blocks away from the church, and here we saw local amateur fighters from up close. The last (and only) bull fight I saw was in Madrid, Spain about 7 years ago. This time I was able to sit in the 2nd row, just feet from all the action. From what I understood, they only have fights several times a year in the Plaza del Toro Belmonte, and we were so lucky to be there at the right time. Oh, and did I mention it was free.

The trip to Otavalo was fun, but I guess I was expecting more. It´s supposed to be the largest market in all of South America. With handcrafts from all over the continent being traded with local food. The main square, Plaza de Ponchos, is where there were the majority of vendors are located, with rows of stalls extending in every direction down all connecting streets. After a while I got a little tired of seeing the same alpaca hats, and silver jewelry. My favorite was all the food vendors. Huge heads of lettuce, a million spices, and chickens galore.

Our day trip to the equator, or La Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world) was cool. Located only 22 km or 45 min north of Quito, it was a must see for us. The place was pretty touristy, but we had so much fun. Took a million photos with our feet on each side of the hemispheres. One thing I have to mention is that it was cold. You would expect the equator to be hot and humid, but to our amazement, it was a classic mountain environment. Quito is located at about 9200 feet above sea level, and the equator in this area was not much lower.

As for my day trip up to 15,200 feet, it was easier than you would think. A large gondola called the TeleferiQo was built to take travelers up to about 12,000 ft to get a great view over the expansive city. From the top you can hike for another 3 hours to the top of a volcano called Rucu Pichincha. It was a pretty easy hike, but the altitude was tough towards the end. The top section consists of a little scrambling, so the adrenaline helped push me on. All good training for the climbs ahead in our trip.

So, my impression of Quito, and Ecuador after the first week is a good one. The people are friendly, the food is pretty good, but the best part is everything is cheap. A hotel for two is $20 a night, meals are $3, and public transport is less than a dollar. Beats New York prices for sure.


LemaLife said...

I'm going to love reading your tales of the trip. As a severe sufferer of wanderlust I'm going to live vicariously thru you guys.

Are you posting pics only to facebook? would love to subscribe to flickr or whereever else :)

Safe travels and have fun.


Anonymous said...

love the posts so far, guys. keep em coming!

Unknown said...

These are so detailed, interesting and exciting! I look forward to the next one and the next one and the next one!!

Anonymous said...

Hey guys!!!

Cannot wait to live all these amazing experiences with you, from my lap top... we are sooo happy we got to see you just before your departure. Be safe and see you in December!!! PLEASE keep the updates coming it's like a book that I just cannot put down.


Erin and Hal