Reaching The Middle Of The Earth In Quito, Ecuador
Our flight from Bogota to Quito is delayed by an hour, so it’s evening by the time we arrive at the Ecuadorian capital’s airport. We’re staying at Community Hostel, in the old town, and have arranged a pick-up service with them as the journey is around thirty to forty minutes by car. There turns out to be a group of eight of us heading to the same hostel, which is always a good sign. Upon arrival at our home for the next three days, we are welcomed by hostel staff with a very detailed and impressive check-in process, considering there is such a large group of us. I’m particularly excited by the fact they offer free American style tea all day, and waste no time in downing a cup!
After dropping our bags next to our bunk beds, Dave and I head out to dinner with a lovely couple from Adelaide that were on the same flight as us. We’ve been advised by hostel staff not to walk around after dark as Quito can be unsafe, however the restaurant they recommend is just three blocks away and with a group of four of us and no valuables, we think it’ll be OK.
The restaurant is called Cafe San Blas and contains no more than four tables. It’s run by an adorable elderly Ecuadorian lady who greets us with a friendly smile and shows us to the only table free. It’s one of those delightful hidden gems you would never find by yourself and we eagerly settle in for a cosy dinner.
A glance at the menu tells us a local beer costs just $1.50 and a giant, freshly-cooked pizza is only $15; at these prices we’re already liking Ecuador! We spend the evening chatting and swapping stories with our new Australian friends about our hometowns, travel and the countries we’ve visited so far. Then, we head back to the hostel to get some sleep in preparation for a busy day of sightseeing tomorrow.
The next morning it’s an early start, kicked off with a huge egg and avocado breakfast wrap and fruit salad with yoghurt cooked up by our hostel staff. We’re taking part in a morning walking tour of the old town, so feeling fuelled and energetic despite the slightly high altitude of Quito (2,500 metres above sea level), we gladly tour picturesque streets, churches and colonial buildings in sunny weather, lapping up the facts given to us by our guide.
The walking tour ends around midday and our guide takes the entire group to a typical establishment for a traditional almuerzo; a set lunch menu of soup, chicken and rice, and a juice for just $2. In Ecuador, lunch is a popular meal as not many locals eat breakfast, so there are similar, basic restaurants dotted in most of the central streets.
Shortly after we finish eating, we head back to the hostel’s in-house travel agency. We’ve signed up to spend the afternoon at Quito’s famous landmark; the ‘Middle of the Earth’. There are actually two landmarks, one which was built originally and the other that was discovered to be the real centre of the Earth just 500 metres away, once GPS technology became available. We visit the real landmark and have a guided tour and explanation of the sight. We’re told that the point we straddle is not only the Equator, meaning we’re officially in both the Southern and Northern hemisphere simultaneously, but it’s also one of the four markers of the middle of the earth and the only one that’s land-based. Pretty cool!
Of course, there are a number of “experiments” set up for visitors to play with, including a sink that seems to rotate water in opposite directions when moved from one side of the Equator line to the other, as well as an egg that must be balanced on a nail right on the equator line itself. I use quotation marks when saying “experiments” as we’re pretty sure these are tricks set up for our enjoyment, as opposed to real scientific tests.
Still, it’s an entertaining and novel afternoon that rounds off a lovely first day in Ecuador.
That night, we take part in the family meal organised daily by our hostel, which means the majority of backpackers sit together at a long dinner table and tuck in to that day’s selection. Today it is hamburgers, which are delicious. The family dinners also make it very easy to get to know others in the hostel and we chat with plenty of fellow travellers while washing our food down with beers. Following dinner, we’re told it’s ladies night at a local bar called Bungalow, which means free entry and drinks for the girls before 10pm. Not having partied much recently we agree to head out and the night starts by squeezing twenty people into the hostel driver’s eight-seater van.
The hostel staff join us on our night out and make sure we all get in the club with no problems. The men are made to enter through a separate door and are literally held in a separate room to the women while the free (and extremely strong!) rum and cokes are dished out. Madonna and Spice Girls tunes blast from the speakers and it feels like I’ve gone back in time to a junior school disco. I can just imagine Dave and the lads running into the room and sliding on the floor on their knees any minute now! It’s very amusing and the other girls and I lap up the drinks until we are allowed to mix and the room is filled with local Ecuadorian men circling us like vultures, at which point we hunt out the boys.
The night is a drunken success and a group of eight of us are the last to return to the hostel, where we sit and chat and get repeatedly told to be quiet by the hostel staff until 4am, when we finally head to bed. It goes without saying, the next day is nowhere near as productive as the first, however, Dave and I do make it up the many outdoor steps of the Basílica del Voto Nacional, which has amazing city views.
After this, we visit the notoriously bohemian La Ronda street and sample local 80% chocolate truffles in incredible flavours at Chez Tiff Artesanal.
Our third evening in Quito is a chilled one, filled with a Peruvian family dinner and talks with backpackers in the communal room. We try to get an early night, but we’ve had to move rooms as we booked an additional night last minute and our new roommate is …disturbing, to put it nicely. He’s a middle-aged German fellow who sleeps in his clothes and talks consistently to himself. When Dave and I enter the room to go to bed, he is laid on his bed in the dark with one arm raised to the ceiling, counting repeatedly on his fingers in a whisper. I’m quite freaked out as I’ve got the bottom bunk and so does he, so I make Dave sleep in the same bed as me and we try to get to sleep, succeeding only after plenty of giggling and looks cast across the room in curiosity/slight fear. The joys of dorm rooms!
Our next destination is the town of Baños, just three hours south of Quito. We decide not to catch a bus the following day until the evening because we’ve enjoyed this city so much. Our last hours are spent back on quirky La Ronda street, eating more chocolate truffles, drinking real, pure hot chocolate and learning about the process of making such tasty chocolates in Chez Tiff. As a chocolate lover I could not ask for a more perfectly relaxed day!
Eventually we drag ourselves away and jump in a taxi to the bus terminal. We buy our tickets for the short journey and grab some dinner in the terminal canteen, selecting and ordering completely in Spanish, might I add! Baños is supposedly the activity adventure town of Ecuador, so we’re intrigued to see if we love it as much as we did San Gil in Colombia, which is renowned for similar reasons. To find out, head to the next post here.
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