Week 4 – Quito, Ecuador
Hi everybody! We’ve just come to the end of our fourth week in Quito. As well as having our own adventures, this week the city has started celebrating its ‘Fiestas de Quito’, so we’ve had the opportunity to attend some events with the local Ecuadorians!
Today we went on a tour with Washington to see Quilotoa Caldera. This has been one of the things that has been on my bucket list ever since I started researching our South America trip. Quilotoa is a dormant volcano that last erupted around 800 years ago. The eruption left behind a massive crater. Over time a lake formed inside it – this is known as a caldera. The water is a beautiful colour because it contains so many minerals (I think including sulphur).
On the way, we stopped in a town called Pujilí. They had a big market going on, and Washington took us to one of the fruit stands. He obviously knew the owner well. She gave us different exotic fruits to try. Most of them we had already tried before, including granadilla (a type of passionfruit), tuna (prickly pear) and really sweet tasting mangoes. Their approach to eating a mango is to soften it up and then bite through the skin at the top. It’s very messy – I think I prefer the English way!
We had breakfast in the town, then as we were about to leave we noticed that people were starting to line the streets. We stopped to see what was going on, and there was a big parade! We think it was advertising the sports clubs and dance groups in the town. There were loads of people dancing in traditional costumes, so it was really fun to watch.
Our next stop was the Toachi canyon, a huge rift in the landscape formed by the last eruption of Quilotoa. It’s over 10km long and really deep. Washington encouraged us onto a narrow jutting out bit of rock where we could have precarious photos taken.
After this, we got back into the car and drove the remaining distance to Quilotoa. The town itself is right by the top of the crater. We parked and walked through the village up to the view point…. and there it was!
Quilotoa Lake was absolutely gorgeous. We visited on a bit of a cloudy day so didn’t get to see it at its most stunning, but when we contemplated the 280m descent to the lake (and more importantly the climb back up), we were glad for the clouds. The path down to the lake was quite steep. The walk was made more difficult by the fact that we were constantly passed by people coming back up on horseback. The locals had clearly cottoned onto the fact that the walk back up was a tough one, and were standing near the lake with horses for hire!
Once we got down to the lake, we stopped to admire the scenery. It was so beautiful. We noticed that there were people hiring kayaks, so we decided to have a go! It was really fun.
The climb back out of the crater was not so fun. It was super steep, and I almost gave in to the people offering us ‘un caballo’ (a horse). We eventually made it though (Ben had to give me a lot of encouragement).
We had lunch in the town and Washington found us a special treat… guinea pig! We’d said that we would like to try this local delicacy. We had a tiny bit but the flavour is really strong, gamey and salty. Neither of us were fans!
Today we decided to take the ‘hop-on hop-off’ bus tour of Quito. We actually had a lie-in (amazing!), and picked up the tour bus at 10:45 from right outside our house. We’re lucky to live next to the Basilica, a major tourist stop.
The tour bus gave explanations in English and Spanish as we drove through the town. We’d been to most of the stops already, but thought that it would be interesting to hear the history given by the guide. It was, but we got stuck in so much traffic that in the end we mostly listened to random instrumental Spanish music between stops!
We got off at the top of the Panecillo, the large hill at the southern edge of the ‘Centro Historico’ (historic centre) of Quito. We’d been up here before with the panoramic night tour, but we wanted to appreciate the view in the daytime. We paid a dollar each to climb up the statue of Mary, where the view was even better. It was pretty spectacular! I liked identifying the landmarks that we’ve visited over the past few weeks.
We had an hour to wait for the next bus, so we made the most of it by buying a snack from one of the many wooden huts selling hot food, and sitting down on the grassy side of the hill to enjoy the sunshine and the view.
The next stop that we decided to get off at was called Parque Carolina. It was AMAZING! I guess it’s sort of the Hyde Park equivalent in Quito, but it was so busy. The park had lots of football, volleyball and basketball courts, all of which were full of people playing sports. We bought a smoothie and sat watching one of their football games for a while. It was really fun to feel like we were enjoying the weekend in the same way as the locals!
As we carried on wandering through the park, it got even cooler. There were people everywhere selling street food, and all over the park people were having picnics. One group had clearly brought along a saucepan full of stew! The park also had boating lake, on which you could hire pedalos. We continued walking through and there was a small stage set up with a band playing. It was such a fun atmosphere.
We came across a botanical garden in the centre of the park and decided to have a look. There was a path to follow through various areas, where they were growing plants typical of different regions of Ecuador. They also had large greenhouses for ‘Amazon plants’ (it was super humid in there!), carnivorous plants, and different types of orchids. The orchids were incredible. Apparently Ecuador has hundreds of native species. Once we got past the slightly intimidating sign threatening us with imprisonment if we stole any flowers, we got to enjoy looking at all the different types of orchids. We even got a mini guided tour by one of the workers! Some of the flowers were absolutely minuscule, and all of them were very intricate. It was very cool.
We started our fourth and final week of Spanish lessons today. Our morning teacher was a man called Tito, who looks really serious but who has a great sense of humour. We were finishing off level three today, and revising the complicated “complemento directo and indirecto” that caused us so much grief at the end of last week. It was quite good to go over it all again; I feel a bit happier with it now.
We had the afternoon off after today’s morning lessons, and decided to visit another one of the ornate churches in Quito, the “Iglesia de San Francisco” (the church of St Francis…. not the city!). Sadly we weren’t allowed to take photos inside this one either. It was bigger than the golden “Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús” from last week and beautifully decorated, although not quite so lavishly. The churches here are definitely awe inspiring!
With not a lot else planned, we headed to the Plaza Grande to enjoy a glass of fresh fruit juice, a slice of cake and a spot of people watching. It’s always interesting to sit in the Plaza as it’s full of people going about their daily business. We kept being asked if we wanted our shoes shined, which considering Ben was in trainers and I was in converses might have been a bit difficult!
In the evening, we decided to go to one of the “Fiestas de Quito”. For the next two weeks, Quito has a lot of different events going on all over the city, I think to commemorate the founding of the city. We’d been given a program of events that were running, and this evening there was a free ‘traditional music’ festival.
We turned up to the “Coliseum” where the event was being held and managed to get some tickets at the gate. The arena was a bit like an ampitheatre, with everyone sitting on concrete steps. Again it felt fun to be joining in with some more local activities rather than just touristy ones. The acts came on and we tried and failed to understand the lyrics! There was a lot of acoustic guitar accompaniment, and a lot of what were evidently very famous Ecuadorian songs, as the whole stadium started to sing along! One of the singers wore a poncho and would sweep it side to side as she was singing.
Today was our penultimate day of Spanish school, which was sad, because we’ve had a great time here and learnt so much. We had another cooking lesson at lunchtime. This time our “traditional Ecuadorian food” was Mexican burritos! I think they may have missed the point slightly there. They were really yummy though so we didn’t mind.
This evening we went to another of the Fiestas de Quito. There’s an event called “carreras de coches de madera” which means “wooden car racing”. Quito is pretty hilly, and one of the steep roads had been closed ready for the races. We turned up at seven when the event was supposed to start, but nothing happened till at least eight. The pavements were crowded with people, and there were lots of stalls selling street food. We had a sort of sausage kebab from one stall, and we bought a drink called canelazo from another. I think I’ve described it before – it’s a hot cocktail of naranjilla juice and a sugar cane liquor. It was good for warming us up when it started to rain!
The actual races were slightly anticlimactic. It felt like the sort of event that would have been a lot of fun before health and safety went mad. Every ten minutes, two wooden cars would go past, then there would be a wait while the road was cleared and the next group were set up. It was fun to feel the street party mood, but we’re not sure we’d watch it again!
Exciting fruit of the week this week is a Chirimoya, which apparently we call a custard apple. It’s a large green fruit that has white flesh, similar to a guanábana. It tastes slightly sweeter and doesn’t have quite so many seeds. This was the last fruit on my Ecuadorian checklist so I’m pleased we got to try it.