Our journey from Whitehorse to Quito was long and jumbled, due the combination of physical distance and us using airline points for a portion of the trip:
- Whitehorse to Vancouver
- Vancouver to Calgary (overnight at the Delta airport hotel for a whopping 5 hours)
- Calgary to Houston (departing at the obscene hour of 6:30 am)
- Houston to Quito (a fun filled 5 hour lay-over in Houston)
Needless to say we were quite exhausted and out of sorts when we rolled into the Quito airport at midnight. Chris from Endless Adventures International was there to meet us and we headed off to a small hotel in the town of Tababela, which is a bedroom community of Quito.
It was a small hostel with a beautiful garden behind a large metal gate. Our first impressions of Ecuador at this point were very positive:
- clean, modern, well organized airport with efficient customs staff
- highways that are on par with small cities in North America
- clean basic hostel for incredibly affordable rates (sub $20 US for a room for the 3 of us)
It took a while for everyone to wind down from the travels so there wasn’t alot of sleep on the first night. Day Two started with a simple bread & egg breakfast at the local bakery down the street, supplemented by the bananas and pineapple that Chris bought from the corner store across the street – WOW were they fresh!
Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, is home to 2.7 million people and at 9,350 feet elevation is considered the highest capital city in the world. We certainly noticed the elevation while we were walking around… We started our exploration in Old Town, which is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the least altered, best preserved historic centres in the world.
We spent a fair amount of time exploring the Basilica del Voto Nacional, a Roman Catholic Church that is considered the largest neo-gothic Basilica in the Americas. It stands on a rise in the middle of Old Town and has breathtaking 360 views of the city from the rooftop. The outside of the building is adorned with grotesques in the shapes of Ecuadorian animals (armadillos, iguanas & tortoises) verses the standard neo-gothic bats & dragons.
You are able to go up into the upper structure of the Basilica and actually climb all the way into the spires. From the 2nd level you walk across a bridge that is build on top of the main transept and then climb an almost vertical set of metal stairs to take you to the first roof top. From that point you can then climb a second ladder that is on the outside of the structure to reach a further view point. The boys made it to the top view point (top photo on the post) where you are almost even with the clock.
Ecuador is based on the Inca culture, which was then conquered (along with many others) by Spain in the 1500’s. Starting in the 1800’s there were numerous efforts made to move towards Independence, which was finally achieved in 1822. The historical remnants of the various cultures and stages of growth can be seen throughout the city, as can the Roman Catholic foundations introduced by the Spanish.
Walking through Old Town it was interesting to see the past and present intermingled together – my favourite example was a group of hip hop dancers with speaker blaring dancing in an old historic square with cobblestone streets. Things just seemed to ebb and flow naturally.
Quito seems to be a highly accessible city with lots of taxis and buses, along with well maintained roads. In 2012 the city government launched a bicycle sharing system called Bici Q, whereby people can borrow bikes to run errands and then return them at various stations throughout the city. A large section of the city is closed to cars on Sundays to promote bicycle usage.
We got to experience the Saturday market, held in one of the main parks between Old Town and New Town. It was full of vendors from the country side and a wonderful opportunity to see the local arts and crafts styles and colours. Alpaca products were a big seller and very affordable ($15-20 US per blanket)
Hunter thought it was really cool that he got to see the local police with their dogs. They were very friendly and allowed him to pet the dogs and ask lots of questions.
We grabbed a late lunch just outside the main tourist area in new town and then headed off to the Andes country side and the main Endless Adventures lodge in San Francisco de Borja. Hint: walk a few blocks from the main tourist strip in new town and the prices are significantly less for food, but the kitchens are just as clean.