Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ecuador -The Middle of the World

This is it! Longitude 0o Latitude 0o
I hadn't planned on visiting Ecuador since  the travel advisory service had said it was unsafe. However, due to some internal shuffling by the airline, I ended up with a couple of days there. I didn't mind this  unscheduled stopover at all. In Quito, another World Heritage site, I got my first glimpse of the Andes and the first of those Andean cities with their cubic houses that climb higgedly -piggledy up and over the hills. I also had my first brush with high altitude environments - Quito is 2850 metres above sea level  (the hostel was at 2869m) and froze after the steamy heat of Cuba.

World Heritage City Quito with dormant volcanoes in the background
At first I didn't walk far from the hostel. Just going up their stairs made me feel weak and caused me to puff and pant, but by taking it easy and resting a lot, I even managed to walk around the block a bit.
Quito does a nice line in vertical gardens. Good use of small spaces
The next morning, having had my fill of grand cathedrals, I bravely took public transport to visit Otavalo, a little town about 100 Km away. This was no mean feat as no one outside the hostel spoke a word of English and my Spanish was limited to "Que tal?" (How are you?) Buenas Dias? and "How do I get to the bus stop?" At first I did the gringo thing and caught a taxi to the bus station. When the mini van was full, the driver crossed himself at the large decorated saint on the way out of town (with good reason I was to discover) and we headed off through the mountains. Although famed for its market and its weaving, the destination was less important to me than seeing a bit of the countryside and the way of life. As we wound our way out of town on narrow cobbled streets, I could see that many of the older houses were still made of pise but between them new multi -storey concrete ones were starting to take root. We also stopped often for roadworks as narrow lanes were being dug up and widened.

It was raining when I arrived in Otavalo and most of the market was under wraps but there were still a lot of people around in traditional dress. It seemed somehow rude to photograph them as if they were objects. Most of the costumes were very colourful, similar to those I later saw in Peru, but one group really stood out. These were the patrician - looking men who wore simple white pants, rope sandals and dark blue ponchos. They also wore their hair in pigtails. As with other anomalies like the Argyle socks and tartans in Bhutan, or the bowler hats in Bolivia, it made me wonder how this distinctive style evolved or where it came from.
Streetlight in Otavalo
I poked around the shops for a while and admired the rather lurid cakes but finally settled on a snack at the bus stop - chips with a boiled egg, mayonnaise and a few bits of salad on top. After the three hour trip back to Quito I was just in time for dinner at the hostel. There were one or two older folk there - by that I mean not just gap year students hellbent on getting drunk and we had some interesting conversations.

Dinner at the bus stop
The next day, not wanting to stump up for another cab and emboldened by the success of my first day - I wasn't robbed or mugged but I did wear my daypack in the front in case, I squished myself onto a very crowded Trole (the Trole is a trolley bus that clatters through the city) and after a couple of false starts and madly showing my map to anyone who'd look at it, I found myself on a painfully slow, stopping at all stations bus headed for La Mitad del Mundo - the Centre of the Earth  where the marker is for Latitude 0, Longitude 0.  Well that was the plan anyway and I did get there after a little detour because the bus driver forget to let me off. At least it turned out to be a pleasant spot. There were little tourist shops and I had a delicious icecream  and had my passport stamped, but there were very few people about and no one pressuring you to buy.

I was quite pleased with myself although the way back proved a bit more difficult.The bus dropped me off at a different terminal  and  then I found myself on the wrong Trole and headed the wrong way. It was almost dark now and I was starting to panic because I couldn't find the hostel and I was supposed to be getting ready for my next flight. Eventually I caved in and took a taxi only to find out that I had another hour because my phone was still on Cuban time. In the end  I even found someone who  was also going to the airport and wanted to share the cost of  a cab. I didn't dare try public transport for this one - the airport was a long way out of town. All in all, not a bad little stopover. Too bad I didn't have time for Galapagos as well. 








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