After spending Christmas and New Year in familiar surroundings it was time to get moving again, and start the second half of our travels.
Had we learned anything from the first three months of travel? Well, yes and no. As anticipated, we’d found that it was more difficult travelling with kids than without. It requires a bit more planning, a bit more restraint and a fair bit more money. We’d also had to adjust to spending pretty much every moment together, and again, as anticipated, this took some getting used to. However, during the times when we’d got into a reasonable rhythm we’d had a lot of fun, and in those 92 days we’d packed in enough adventure to fill many photo albums and several lengthy blog posts – if the next few months were as exciting we were in for a treat…(though whether the readers of those lengthy blogs were, is an entirely different question!)
So, we were back on the road again, or back in the air again, and off on a long journey to Quito via Atlanta. The first flight had decent food but lousy entertainment, the second decent entertainment but inedible food. Over four flights we hadn’t been overly impressed with Delta, apart from their amusing safety videos, and we were very glad to finally reach Quito. We’d booked a hostel and a shuttle transfer as we were landing late at night, and for the first time in our lives we walked out of customs to see someone holding up a clipboard with our name on it – it was unexpectedly reassuring! So, as midnight passed, we reached our hostel safe, sound, sleepy and sore after a hard day’s flight.
Waking up the next day we had breakfast in the hostel and looked around – they had lots of flyers about and there was a sense of a new world waiting to be discovered. However we had to get used to a new country and to the altitude – Quito sits in a bowl at around 2,850 metres above sea level, surrounded by mountains that pierce the clouds close to 5,000 metres. So we had an lazy day, and the kids ran off some energy in the fantastic Parque El Ejido, which had more slides, swings and climbing frames than you could reasonably expect in the centre of a capital city.The next few days were spent exploring the city and getting used to life, both back on the road and up in the rarified Andean air. We visited the quite fantastic Basilica, which our friends Isabel and Byron had told us about. Here you climb up inside one of the clock towers, (emerging behind the clock face, ‘Hugo’ style!) then walk along a wooden walkway above the ceiling of the church, to then clamber up incredibly steep ladders to the top of the central tower, where breathtaking views of the city wait beneath you. This was breathtaking in more ways than one, as the climb up those extra few metres of altitude was quite an effort!
Meanwhile, Rach was struggling with strange aches, pains, pins and needles in her leg, and after two days we thought we’d better get it checked out. So we found a local, modern hospital and in our best Spanish tried to find out what was wrong. Rach was quickly ushered through a security checkpoint, plonked on a wheelchair and whisked away, leaving Pete and the kids sitting in the waiting room wondering how long to wait before trying to get past the security guard to find her! A couple of hours later we left with several x-rays, some medicine, a large bill and not much more clue as to what was wrong. We later worked out it was sciatica, and only needed some stretching exercises, not expensive x-rays – the nerve of these private hospitals!
We visited the Museo del Agua, which is set in Quito’s original water treatment plant, and has great interactive displays about water and science. It’s set high up above the city, but doesn’t seem to be high on the tourist agenda. When you read guide books about Quito you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a dangerous city where it’s not safe to venture out at night, use public transport or step off the beaten tourist track – we’d found some fantastic things to do, meandered slightly off that track and had no trouble, though the crime figures are still rather intimidating. You try and take the safer options but just taking a taxi can be a confusing lottery if you’re not careful – there are official licensed taxis, seemingly official community taxis, and then those guys who’ve just written ‘Taxi’ on a piece of cardboard and stuck it in the windscreen of their clapped-out old banger – we always took the former, even if it meant waving away unofficial taxis who pulled up when we were looking for one.
Depending on whose GPS measurements you trust, this may or may not be on the actual equator, but this hasn’t stopped them building a giant monument with huge compass markings, plus the obligatory line on the floor marking the supposed equator. Everybody poses with one leg in each hemisphere, and when you’re actually there it’s hard not to join in! It’s all good fun, and there’s ample opportunity to buy tourist tat, though the girls were much more impressed with the various playgrounds dotted around the hemispheres!
It was all a bit different to the last time we were at the equator, in Kenya – this just had a 6ft high concrete circle by the side of the road, with ‘Equator’ written on it, though I suppose it may have changed in the last 13 years – perhaps there’s now a lion standing majestically astride the equator line.
However, the middle of the world also hides another treat within its grounds -a scale model of Quito, lovlingly recreated in amazing detail. Here are two pictures, one taken from the Basilica, one of the model – if we show them in low enough resolution, they may look quite similar!
And so that was that for our first taste of Quito. Next up was a visit to Mindo, but we’ve got so far behind with this blog that we’re going to try and do a few quick posts to catch up, so hopefully that chapter will follow soon!