Week 1 – Quito, Ecuador
I can’t believe this holiday has finally started! I’ve been thinking about doing this for years, and Ben and I have spent the last six months planning in earnest. To actually be here now is crazy!
Just to let you all know, the videos in these posts are 360 videos. If you click and drag on them with a mouse, or move around with your finger on a phone, you should be able to look around the whole photo. I hope it feels a bit like you’re there too!
After a very long day of travelling (an eleven hour flight, a four hour stop-over and then another two hour flight), we finally arrived in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. Quito is the second most populated city in Ecuador, and it sits at 2800m in the Andes. I was worried that this would mean we’d suffer from altitude sickness, but actually we were fine, apart from finding the steep streets a bit of an extra challenge!
We were met at the airport by Eugenio, the director of Ailola Quito, the Spanish school that we’ve signed up to. Apparently he makes an effort to meet every new student in this way. He was really friendly, and while he drove us to our Airbnb he chattered away to us in English and Spanish! It was quite a nice surprise to find that we actually understood more than we expected, having only practiced with Duolingo before leaving England. We were able to pick the key words out of his sentences and work out the general gist from that. Formulating replies was a bit harder! But Eugenio was very kind so we didn’t feel too ignorant.
Our Airbnb is really nice. We will mainly be staying in hostels for the next six months, but decided that as we’re here for a month it would be nice to have a bit more space. Our apartment even has a breakfast bar in an outdoor courtyard, with a view over to our nearest landmark, the Basilica del Voto Nacional.
We were pretty shattered after our flight, so we collapsed for about four hours to catch up on some sleep before heading out to explore. Our accommodation is located in the Old Town area of Quito, and it was about a ten minute walk to Plaza Grande, a large open square surrounded by historic buildings including a cathedral and the presidential palace.
We headed home for an early night, stopping at a supermarket to buy dinner and an exciting exotic fruit that turned out to be a naranjilla, a citrus fruit that’s quite sour but really refreshing!
Today we explored the Basilica del Voto Nacional. It’s a huge old church. It has beautiful stained glass windows and stone carvings. Around the outside, instead of gargoyles it had native Ecuadorian animals. I recognised an iguana, a tortoise, a llama and some sort of armadillo.
After looking around the inside of the church, we decided to climb the tower. I was quite proud that my attempts at Spanish were understood (¿dónde está la escalera para la torre?… this actually means “where is the stair for the tower” rather than “where are the stairs”, but never mind!). There were gorgeous views looking over Quito and to the mountains beyond. To get to the very top of the tower, we had to walk across a wooden plank bridge over the main roof of the cathedral, and then climb up a ladder. It would have been less scary if the planks hadn’t creaked quite so ominously! It was worth it though, the views at the very top were even more stunning.
For lunch we decided to go local. In Ecuador it’s common to eat out and in lots of places you can buy a set lunch (Almuerzo). We got two courses (soup and then chicken with rice) and a glass of juice for only $2 each! I couldn’t get over how cheap and tasty it was. This place was only down the road from our Airbnb, so we’ll probably become regulars there before the month is out!
Happy Bonfire Night everybody!
We woke up to clear skies and beautiful sunshine, so decided that today would be a good day to go up the Teleferico, a cable-car that takes you up the side of Pichincha Volcano, 3947m above sea level. The cable-car journey took around ten minutes. When we got to the top, the views were incredible! We definitely noticed the altitude more here… not when we were standing still, but when we were walking we got short of breath much quicker.
There was a route to the very top of the volcano but we decided that it might be a bit ambitious, considering I was having to take a breather every 2-3 minutes! We did walk part the way up though. There were panoramic views over the city. My favourite part was being able to see the mountains all around us. It really made me aware that we were right in the middle of the Andes, and very far from home. We got a great view of Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world.
When we had finished our walk we returned to the area near the cable car. There was a wooden hut where they were cooking and selling barbecued chicken and potato fritters (we later found out these are called llapingachos). It was really tasty.
Today was our first day of Spanish classes. They are so much fun! Our teacher for the week is called Janet. She’s really friendly but pretty much speaks to us only in Spanish. The lessons move at quite a pace, with us working through topics and exercises in a workbook. A lot of it at the moment is revision of things we’ve learnt online, but I’m sure that will change in days to come!
My afternoon lesson was with a guy called Roberto. He’s very nice and seems to laugh at everything – I’m not sure if it’s at my pronunciation or if he keeps making jokes that I don’t understand! We basically just chatted for two hours, touching on topics from our favourite books to the major exports of Ecuador and the social crisis in Venezuela! My sentences are quite limited and I’m having to be creative with my use of words to be able to express myself.
After our Spanish lessons this morning, we decided to go exploring in the afternoon. We’d read about a museum called “Museo de la Ciudad” (museum of the city), which was really well reviewed online. It took us a while and some walking in circles to find it, because I can’t read maps! But eventually we found ourselves in front of a big old colonial building.
After being given student discount entry (one of the benefits of studying at the Spanish school!), we looked around the museum. The building itself was gorgeous. It had a large central courtyard with a fountain. The walls were orange with white columns. It felt very tropical. The museum’s exhibits were about the history of Quito, right back from the first settlers all the way to the present. It had some beautiful displays. We tried to read all the signs in Spanish, but we did resort to the ‘instant translate’ function of Google translate a few times, where you take a photo of the sign and it translates it to English for you!
On the way back from the museum we stopped by a supermarket and I went a bit overboard with exotic fruit buying! Our fruit bowl now contains ‘tomates arboles’ (tree tomatoes – a fruit with a sweet slightly tomatoey taste… nicer than it sounds!), taxos (banana shaped passionfruit), granadillas (a slightly sour tasting passionfruit that’s really tasty!) and prickly pears (I found them a bit bland, but my Spanish teacher assures me that they’re not so maybe we got a bad one!).
As well as our Spanish lessons, the exciting thing that happened today was that we visited one of the local markets. It’s pretty huge! It had a large ‘food court’ area with lots of stalls selling various foods, and communal tables in the middle. We also sussed out the fruit and veg stalls. My exotic fruit senses are on overdrive… they were selling loads of things we haven’t tried yet including guanabana, chirimoya and pepino. I’m looking forward to tasting them all in the next few weeks!
Today was a very busy day! In between our morning and afternoon Spanish classes, we signed up for a cooking lesson where we learnt how to make llapingachos, a traditional Ecuadorian food. We realised that this is what we had for lunch when we went up the Teleferico. It’s basically mashed potato and cheese, which they dye orange with a strange type of oil that is used solely for its colour. You use your hands to make the mixture into balls and then flatten it down into a sort of patty shape, which you then fry. They were quite easy to make, but the recipe was in Spanish and the cook who taught us also spoke solely in Spanish! Definitely good comprehension practice. I’m finding it easier to understand people each day, but only if they speak slowly. All the teachers in the school are sympathetic and speak slowly and clearly for our benefit. Out on the street and in restaurants and shops it’s a different story – we keep having to use the phrases “repita, por favor” (repeat, please) and “¡mas despacio, por favor!” (slower, please!)
In my afternoon lesson I peppered Roberto with questions about phrases that we could use when travelling. We want to go to Otavalo this weekend, which is a town a couple of hours north of Quito, famous for a huge artisan market. He helped me practice phrases like “¿A qué hora sale el autobus?” (what time does the bus leave) and “¿Cuánto cuesta el boleto a Otavalo?” (how much does a ticket to Otavalo cost?).
After our lessons, we went to a free salsa lesson! As we have four left feet between us, we didn’t do very well, but I quite enjoyed it anyway. Even if we were rubbish at the dancing, listening to the salsa music was fun, and we got to explore a new bit of Quito as we walked there and back!
This evening we went on a “night tour of Quito”, arranged by the Spanish school. We’d been told that generally Quito isn’t that safe at night, so we’ve been staying in during the evenings. However for this tour we were taken from beautiful view point to beautiful view point in taxis. The tour guide was a man called Washington, who spoke very good English, and (more importantly) very slow and clear Spanish for us! We got to learn a bit about the history of Quito while taking photos of the night scenery. We found out that while Quito is only around 9km wide, it is around 70km long!
We were taken to special stops where people had prepared speciality food and drink for us. We tried something called ‘tripa mishqui’ that was made from the intestines of a cow! It was surprisingly tasty, but VERY chewy. In the end we had to give up and swallow it whole. We also tried a cocktail called canelazo. It is made of a type of tangy fruit called naranjilla, and a liquor made from sugar cane. It’s served warm and was sooo good!
At the top of the Panecillo is a tall statue that is a representation of Mary. She’s depicted with wings and is standing on a chained serpent. We learnt that this represents her protecting the world from demons. It was quite dramatic up close!
The tour finished at our door, and we had a relatively early night, ready for our early start to Otavalo for the weekend!