Wednesday, April 27, 2011

WOW, Quito, Ecuador is really high!

        Andes mountains viewed from our Quito hotel

We have always wanted to go to Ecuador. I think this desire came about because of stories from Katy when she backpacked through South America and had such a good experience in Ecuador. I don’t know if the name is a derivation from the word “Equator” but in fact the country straddles the Equator, and Quito the capital, is just 40 miles south of the equator. The country is on the west coast of South America (most cruises take off from Guayaquil on the coast for the Galapagos Islands), is bordered on the north by Columbia, the south and east by Peru, with the Andes Mountains running down the middle with part of the Amazon basin on the east.

All of the guide books warn you about the altitude of Quito. Take it easy for the first couple of days and drink a lot of water, in order to acclimate to the altitude of 9300 feet, and to get used to the weather. We really did not have a problem with the altitude. The city is surrounded by volcanos, so when the clouds clear the views of the Andes are spectacular. Those mountains are perpetually covered with snow, but Quito and its long slender valley never has any snow. The weather is the same year around due to its equator location. The daily temperatures are generally in the 70’s and it is very green due to a daily late afternoon hour long rain freshener. We learned early on to carry umbrellas.

From our arrival we learned how friendly and helpful the Ecuadorian people are. We were to be met at the airport and taken to our hotel. That reassuring guide with your name on it just wasn’t in the arrivals hall, but all the other taxi drivers, tour guides, and staff were very helpful in trying to track down our tour company. Eventually, one of them took us to our hotel, where we found that there was a problem with our reservation due to some renovations, and the company eventually moved us to a very high end international hotel, albeit in a different part of Quito. But once very comfortably settled we were ready to explore.

Quito is long and slender, and contains about two million citizens. It is incredibly clean (maybe the rain helps!) and for a large city has very little graffiti, which is now seen the world over. The main tourist areas are the old town (where we were first booked) and the new town (where we actually stayed). They are actually only a couple of miles apart and it is really easy to get around. Cabs are plentiful and only cost $2 to $5 depending on your location. Oh, by the way, Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its currency so shopping and money issues are no problem. As is our pattern when visiting cities, we started the day after our arrival with a city tour to get our bearings. We thus drove and walked all over old town and then went on to La Mitad del Mundo, “the middle of the world” for the obligatory photos of standing with one foot in the northern hemisphere and one foot in the south.

After the tour we were on our own for the rest of the week. For the “Worlds Greatest Shopper” it was handicraft heaven. The Ecuadorian natives are world famous for their woven goods, pottery, and crafts in general. Katy told her to buy a lot to help the poor natives and she always does what her children ask her to do! We had a great private tour to Otavalo, about 60 miles north of Quito, which is known worldwide for its crafts market. Our guide and driver were great and helped me egg on Mary Ann in her bargaining for enough stuff to start a retail store back home. Because of an early arrival in Otavalo we also were able to attend the animal market where the natives are selling and bartering every animal imaginable. Thank goodness Mary Ann held off on buying anything there.

The other must-do area of Quito is the Old Town. It is a terrific restored district with all the historic churches, public buildings, and magnificent squares, We spent at least three days just criss-crossing the neighborhood from one end to the other, visiting museums, churches and just enjoying the ambience of the area and the fun of watching the people. They really do wear the native costumes. Often we just luck out and we walked into Independence Plaza for the Monday changing of the guard in front of the Presidential Palace, and found the President actually reviewing the pageant. Well, the national election was coming up in a couple of weeks!

This was a great week. I might mention that it was not a difficult flight. We flew Copa Airlines (the Panamanian airline) from Los Angeles to Panama City and then directly on to Quito. To my grief Mary Ann found out it did not take forever to fly to Panama City like we did on frequent flyer miles in January. I thought for sure you had to fly to Seattle, to Miami, and then to Panama City. Go figure?

             The Presidential Guard near the palace

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