London to Quito: 2 Days in this Uber Cool City
The day we had been dreading for so long was also upon us. We left Juno in the safe and friendly hands of my parents but nonetheless it was an emotional exit walking out of the door. Juno knew something was up – tail firmly between her legs – and Mich and I (prompted probably more by my emotional stuntedness) took the approach of rushing out of the door as quickly as possible lest the floodgates opened. It was a subdued drive to Heathrow and there is no doubt that we will miss her terribly.
Heathrow and the flight all went smoothly and we landed several hours later in the behemoth airport which is Miami international. At this stage due to tiredness I was in somewhat of a grump but managed to keep it in check as we toiled through the immigration process – a somewhat daft and over-elaborate affair including fingerprint scanning, multiple queues and finally a long wait for our luggage whilst several helpers were taking all of the bags off the carousel and piling them all up…kind of defeating the whole point of a carousel and meaning a bit of a passenger crush all in one tiny section of the belt. I am sure (?) there was method to this madness but I failed to see it, no matter how much I tried.
Anyway, we had checked into a Marriott by the airport for B&B using the remnants of the benefits of our corporate life (Marriott rewards points for a free stay) and vowed to make the most of our last night of luxury for several months. Instead however we walked into the room, crashed and slept right through. As a stopover place though the Marriott Residents Inn Hotel in Miami could not be faulted and was perfect for a layover.
The following morning we hopped onto a short 4 hour flight to Quito and the adventure into the unknown really begins.
Neither Mich nor I have ever been to South America and we had been feeling pretty anxious about what we would encounter, I think we always knew that this is when our travelling would start to get serious and we would begin to really step into our unknown. South America (Brazil aside) is fully Spanish speaking and unlike mainland Europe English is not widely spoken. Luckily Mich can speak a little Spanish because despite having listened to a Learn Spanish CD in Knigel for all of an hour during the last 3 months it is fair to say that my grasp of the language is “limited”. I have however mastered the gormless “turn to Michelle” look to ensure that when spoken to I can easily accommodate tricky conversations beyond Buenos Dias by utilising my interpreter.
We landed at Quito airport and our entry in South America went smoothly. We were advised to jump into a yellow cab and again no problems, the process was very easy to navigate. The drive into Quito town took an hour; I think it should actually take slightly longer than that but luckily (?!) our driver seemed to be practicing for the Cannonball Run (80s flashback!). I loved the fact that when he dropped two quivering wrecks off at the Hostel he had the audacity to offer us his business card and offered to take us on a city tour or drive us back to the airport when our time to depart came. I’ve kept his card in case we decide to rob a bank and need to get out of town in a hurry.
We had booked into Hostel Revolution near the Old Town of Quito. This (not unsurprisingly for those that know me) was to be my first ever experience of a hostel. Luckily the experience has been a positive one. We have a private room which had a comfortable bed and plenty of space, the facilities were really good and clean, the welcome was very friendly with lots of useful hints and tips to get us by and so all good. We had arrived early afternoon so decided to venture out for a walk – the sun was out, it was really warm and our first impressions are that Quito is a very lovely place.
We did find that we were getting very light headed, short of breath and walking some of the minor hills near the hostel was wearing us out. Neither of us had anticipated that impact that the altitude was going to have on us. Quito is 2800m above sea level and you really could tell. As such we kept our tourism to a minimum and spent a bit of time chilling out in the room and going out for a bite to eat at a lovely place (Café San Blas) nearby in the evening.
The following morning and our only full day in Quito got off to a bad start. I woke with a terrible headache which tablets would not shift, unfortunately this is a sign of altitude sickness. Mich hadn’t done any research on the matter and took my symptoms in a carefree manner. After being prompted however to google “altitude sickness” she soon improved her bedside manner and spent a couple of hours nursing me back to health with plenty of liquids and some healthy food from the local supermarket. Having been awake since 4am (jet lag) the symptoms finally cleared about 10am leaving us the rest of the day to slowly explore Quito.
And it turns out Quito really is a lovely city indeed. It is home to over 2 million Ecuadorians with the main tourist areas around the Old Town (which is a Unesco World Heritage site) and this is where we focussed our exploration for the day.
We had a lovely time walking through the colourful streets and admiring some impressive architecture and also spent some time eating local delicacies (humitas and bollas), drinking coffee and watching the daily Quito world go by.
One of the highlights is the Quito Basilica, an imposing Gothic church built in the 1920s which stands proudly overlooking all of Quito.
There is a chance for a couple of US$ (Ecuador’s official currency) to climb all of the way to the top of the tower for an amazing view. The guide books suggested to do this “if you dare” and this became apparent as the final couple of ascents were via very steep external ladders and it turned out Mich “didn’t dare”. I did and the view was worth it, although I had to take several deep breaths at the top to stop from passing out as the altitude and lack of general fitness took its toll.
We had planned to take the TeleferiQo up to the top of one of the surrounding mountains – Cruz Loma – but as this would have taken us up to 4100m and given my struggles with the altitude we took the sensible option and gave it a miss. It’s a bit of a regret though because with the surrounding populated hillsides overlooking the city itself I am sure this would have been a great thing to have done.
All in all the day had taken its toll on us and wearily we headed back to the Hostel and spent the night chilling out…and eating at the same place we ate last night (if it ain’t broke…). We cut short our time in Quito to get to the Galapagos earlier and that’s where we are heading tomorrow morning. We both wished though that we had factored in a little bit more time here because the city really does have a cool and welcoming vibe. We hope to return to Ecuador in the future.