Friday, June 8, 2012

Week 5: Quito, Ecuador - The City in the Clouds

Hello friends! Greetings from Quito, Ecuador. Yes, we are alive and kickin'. Been a long week of traveling all the way from Tokyo, Japan so we've been laying low, but not so much that we have nothing to report.

At almost 10,000 feet, Quito is truly a city in the clouds. The clouds do seem so close, it feels like we could touch them. Although the city sits right on the equator (!), the high altitude makes the climate more like 70 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year; however, when the sun is shining, the rays are direct and strong! Sunburn in a out.

This quote describes Quito quite accurately, taken from the book, South America Insider Adventures by Rampant TechPress. 

"Quito is not your everyday destination.  It's edgy, scary and a tiny bit dangerous because of the constant threat of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions (Quito is located at the base of an active volcano).  On the other hand, Quito is fresh, exciting, foreign and beautiful, making Quito a perfect junket for the adventurous American tourist.  The trick is to see the sites of Quito without getting hurt or robbed."

We've only been here a few days, and getting more comfortable as the days go by, but it's difficult to get past the fact that we are constantly looking over our shoulders to ensure the safety of ourselves and of our belongings. All the travel sites recommend the following: don't stray from the Old Town and New Town areas, even during the day; don't walk around the city at night - take a taxi, even for a few blocks; don't have any important documents on yourself - keep passports, credit cards, etc. in a safe at the hotel; don't leave anything of value in the hotel room, etc. Needless to say, Quito is not the place to unwind and relax.

It's really too bad we have to take a taxi everywhere. It's difficult to appreciate a place without having explored on foot. Old Town could be very charming, but we haven't been enchanted, quite yet. Perhaps the lack of places to hangout, lack of restaurants, and the inability to just go for a stroll at night puts a damper on the experience. The ubiquitous presence of the Policia on every street makes us feel safe, so we haven't experienced any problems so far, and glad that they are trying to make it more pedestrian friendly. Despite the potential dangers, the 500 year old buildings and cobblestone streets is a miracle, considering that most towns around these parts are not preserved due to destruction from volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. There is also New Town which has all the large high-class hotels, backpacker hostels, and generally cater to the foreigners with a large bar, club, restaurant scene. We have found ourselves around Plaza de Foch in New Town on several occasions, just hanging out and drinking a bottle of wine. If we were only here on a short vacation, we would stay at the Nü Boutique Hotel, right on the Plaza. Looks like a nice place.

We have definitely found a nice oasis at our Hotel San Francisco de Quito, and despite the huge culture shock from just being in Japan, we have done quite a bit of exploring. We do feel like veteran travelers and Quito's reputation hasn't scared us off!

Here is The courtyard of "our" place: Hotel San Francisco de Quito.

...We've seen lots of Old Town sights (Plaza de Independencia)

...We've seen lots of churches (Iglesia de San Francisco)

...and no worries, we're not starving; although we have accidentally skipped several meals as we slept through mealtimes. Generally, meals involve corn, plantains, avocado, pork..we haven't tried cuy (guinea pig) yet.

...then, we got out of the city for 2 hours to Mindo Cloud Forest, a nature reserve of the Amazon rainforest. A good way to be in the western edge of the Amazon jungles without having to take malaria pills. Also looks like a great hideaway for a few weeks. There are lots of inns and hostels, and outdoor activities such as hiking, canoeing, white water rafting, ziplining, etc.

...then, we saw lots and lots of butterflies at the mariposa (butterfly) reserve. One landed on Akiko's purse.

...we saw lots and lots of hummingbirds and a green toucan...

...lazy hideaway streets of Mindo.

...then, we saw the big crater of Volcano Pululahua - it's been dormant for a long time.

...then, we got our picture taken at the equator line. Latitude 00°00'00"!

...then, Akiko did some egg trick on the equator, winning the Egg Master title.

...then, we came back to relax at the hotel for a while.

Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) where the equator line is, is on the way to Mindo Cloud Forest, which takes about 2 hours if you have a crazy cab driver like ours (or 4 hours mapped via Google). Despite the expense, we chose to hire a private cab driver for the day at $130 to take us to these places. Our research showed that a bus tour would have cost more, and the 2 destinations would have been done on 2 separate dates. We also liked the flexibility of our own taxi.