Hey all! Happy New Year!
It has been a busy four days for us. We flew into Quito on Tuesday night and made our way to Hostal Marsella where we stayed for three nights. They speak almost no English, so it was a good way to test out my Spanish. Nate really loved the place because it was practically overrun by pet dogs. Three full-grown dogs with at least a half-dozen tiny puppies in back.
Our first full day in Quito we spent touring Old Quito, visiting the Plazas and historic churches. We stopped for lunch in a little hole in the wall joint to try out some of the local cuisine. Not quite what we were expecting – Chinese-style fried rice (¨Chifa” cuisine is very popular in Ecuador and you can find Chinese restaurants on almost every corner in Quito) for me and Nate had a fish soup (traditional, I think) and tallarines, which was basically spaghetti with tuna in it. Hmm.
We were sure to leave Old Town before 6PM as we were warned it can become “dangerous”. Not sure how much truth there is in that but obviously we didn´t want to take our chances our first day out.
That night we took a cab out to the Mariscal district, sometimes referred to as “Gringolandia” due to the high volume of tourist. Apparently this district is also rife with petty crime for that same reason. We decided to have dinner at a wine and tapas bar. All you can eat and drink for one price. Sounded like a good idea at the time, but maybe not.
Day two was a little less productive than day one (perhaps due to the all-you-can-drink from the night before…). We headed to the TeleferiQo as early as we could and rode the cable car 2000 meters above Quito to reach 4200 m above sea level. Amazing view from up there!
After a cafe and an hour or two gazing in awe at the city down below we headed back down to Quito and went into New Town for lunch. In the cab ride over we saw people building their effigies for New Years. Some of them were enormous. Roadside stands were even selling headless effigies to which you could add whatever mask you wanted. For those not familiar, New Year’s in Ecuador is much like Halloween. People don masks, men like to cross-dress as the widows of the year past and dance for money, and people build effigies full of sawdust of people who were embroiled in scandal during the past year. We were told they burned these at midnight, but we saw them burning throughout the day.
After lunch at another Ecuadorian restaurant (this one served traditional Ecuadorian food for sure), we attempted to visit the Casa de Cultura museum. We were told it was closing early due to a “city-wide emergency power shortage” but we’re pretty sure they just wanted to go home early to prepare for the níght’s celebrations.
The previous night Nate and I had noticed that people wore fairly nice shoes out and about in Mariscal and we weren’t sure that our sneaker-type shoes would cut it on New Year’s eve (some places had dress codes). So we tried to find some shoes. We had noted on our first day in Old Town that there were shoe stores EVERYWHERE. We thought that Ecuadorians surely loved shoes. In Mariscal unfortunately, not so many shoe stores. It was a little hard to get around because by this time they had closed off some of the streets and revelers were filling the streets. I’d say we walked around for an hour or so before finding a store with shoes that was open.
New shoes in tow, we hopped on the trolley bus for the first time and headed back to our hostal to get dressed for our night out.
For dinner we headed back into Mariscal. The streets were packed. Our cab driver told us there would be no cabs after 11PM. This made us a bit nervous. We didn’t want to go back before midnight, but also didn´t want to be stranded in the wrong part of town. We decided to take our chances as what he was claiming seemed to make no sense.
Dinner on New Year’s eve was in a seemingly popular Argentinian steakhouse. It was a nice place, great steaks, although the evening was slightly disrupted when a family sat at a table nearby to ours and one of the family members proceeded to throw up on the floor at his feet. Even stranger, his family tried to pretend that nothing happened, presumably so they wouldn’t be asked to leave. I think it worked, as the wait staff didn’t seem to catch on.
We headed back into the street before midnight. Strangely most of the massive crowd that had been there before had cleared out! It was like we missed the entire party. We found a busier section of the street but it was mostly foreigners. Fun but kind of anticlimactic. We had no problem finding a cab back.
Friday morning we got up early to catch a bus to Mindo, a cloud forest region about two hours outside of Quito. The woman at the hostel told us there were no buses that day because of the holiday, but two people in Mindo told us differently, so we decided to take our chances. Glad we did as there were indeed three buses that day. We arrive in Mindo before lunch. Strange, small little town where people drive around in pick up trucks back and forth through the main drag. Dogs run back and forth chasing cars, each other, and generally just hanging about all over town (Nate was in heaven).
After lunch we decided to give zip-lining above the canopy a try. Amazing! For $10 we got to ride 10 different zip-lines, flying high above the cloud forest. Super fun!
After that we decided to hit up the one ATM in town to take some money out to pay for a birding guide the next day (Mindo is a very popular spot for birding). To our dismay, the machine was broken. We ended up having to take a rather harrowing taxi ride in the dark 30 minutes each way to another town that had another ATM. Based on all the horror stories we had heard about travelling in Ecuador (mostly from government issued travel warnings) we were certain we would be mugged along the way. We went with as little as possible, but were still very much on edge when the cab driver asked us if we minded if he stopped for a minute to talk to a group of people that were hanging out near the side of the road. Thankfully they just turned out to be his friends/family, but it was definitely a little unnerving!
After a wood-fired pizza dinner (pizza is very popular in Ecuador), we turned in early to be up before 6 AM the next morning (today) for some bird-watching. We had debated whether or not to hire a guide and boy are we glad we did! Our guide, Hugolino was able to spot birds easily and could recognize the various birds’ calls. He also came equipped with binoculars and scope, which really helped to see the birds up close (they hang out pretty high up in the trees). After about four hours of hiking, we had seen many varieties of tanagers, hummingbirds (swarms of them!), two kinds of toucan, egrets, flycatchers, wild parrots, a turkey vulture and many other types of colourful birds. Next stop was a visit to the butterfly (mariposas) farm. Nate was skeptical but I lured him there with the promise of breakfast. Following a nice breakfast, we headed it to the butterfly farm. It was fascinating. The staff there collects the butterfly eggs, puts the hatched larvae into protective boxes and then move the pupae into a hatching area. They hatched dozens, maybe even 100 or more butterflies each day. Half the butterflies they set free into the forest as part of a conservation effort and the rest live at the farm for visitors to see. The variety of butterflies was amazing and most were both fascinating and beautiful – giant owl butterflies, and butterflies in various shapes, sizes and shades of blue, red, orange, black. We were able to feed the butterflies from our hands as well (they didn’t seem to like me much though…).
Well, that’s about it for now! After a shower and dropping off some laundry. We dropped by this internet cafe. It is now raining for the first time since we´ve been here. I’d say we have been amazingly lucky in this regard as it is rainy season and apparently it rained every day last week (usually it only rains for a short time in the afternoon though, so not too bad).
Tomorrow morning we will be headed back to Quito early to try to book some trips into the Amazon and maybe the Galapagos (rather expensive, so we’re trying to be flexible). We might also squeeze in a trip to Mitad del Mundo tomorrow (the Equator!) if time permits.
Some photos of our trip so far:
More to come soon!