As we had planned to go to Galapagos Islands, we were instructed by the tour company to arrive in Quito 3 days before our cruise, just to be on the safe side. Ben and I were not expecting very much from Quito, as we viewed it as more of a platform to the amazing-ness that the Galapagos was bound to be. Boy, were we wrong.
We had to fly from Santiago to Lima to Guayaquil to Quito. If you are lucky, you may be able to skip Guayaquil altogether, but our flights had to be changed at the last second, so we spent the whole day in 4 planes and various airport waiting rooms.
Quito’s elevation is 3000m. I was really worried about having altitude sickness, but surprisingly I was alright. I did feel a little short of breath particularly when walking uphill, but as long as I stayed calm, it wasn’t too bad to manage. I did get some altitude sickness pills from the doctor, but I didn’t end up using them, as the side effects for popping those bad boys was not worth the stress of dealing with a little shortness of breath. I am talking stroke level side effects.
Quito is a really cute but hilly city, it has a population of about 3 million, and it is quite congested as the people have to space themselves within a very narrow valley that falls between the two opposing mountain ranges of the Andes.
Fun fact: Ecuador’s currency is USD. Ecuador, Panama and El Salvador are the only other countries that use the USD as their local currency.
On our first day in Quito, we joined a free walking tour of La Floresta, a particularly affluent suburb of Quito. Our tour guide, Martin, showed us the beautiful street art and graffiti that you can find on almost every wall in the suburb. Martin was is a graffiti artist himself, and is really passionate about the graffiti movement. Some of the art was really intricate, and each piece had some significance or element of symbolism to it, it was really meaningful. Some of my favourites were the girl with the leaf, the three self portraits with the middle one blacked out (this was a message aimed at addressing the increasing number of women missing every year), a deer/giraffe that was painted with other animals, like whales, fish, and birds, and an Anna Fernandez mural featuring psychedelic 70’s flower power artwork. We also visited the Maestro (he is a very tiny old man, who is a brilliant artist) in his home, which he built himself on the side of an epic hill, with an amazing view. His house was no more than a hut made up of multiple stories, but it was jam packed full of his art, and he is very talented. We had a quick stop at a chocolate warehouse called Pacari, where the chocolates are made from cacao that comes from the different Ecuadorian provinces. It was so tasty, I went back afterwards to buy more!
We did a free walking and food tour of Guapulo later that evening, where we met our guide, Antonio. Guapulo is a very bohemian neighbourhood. Antonio showed us a lot of plants during our tour, these plants are often used to cure ailments or as part of Ecuadorian cooking. Apparently the humble dandelion can be used in a tea. For us Australians, the dandelion is a weed. We walked through a park where there was a beautiful mural of a bee with a needle and string connected to two pink dolphins that were covered in patchwork quilt. It was so creative and clean. Apparently the whole mural was done using a spray can, I just couldn’t believe the detail and complexity in the artwork. We went to a small bar called Ananké where we tasted a drink called “Canelaso”. It was a warm alcoholic drink made of Cinnamon, sugar cane liquor and Narangilla (which is like a yellow and green tomato). It was really tasty, and kind of reminded me of a mulled cider. We took a bus to Parque Navarro (this was an experience, there was hardly any room on the bus!), where there was an amazing selection of street food – we tried Morcilla (rice and cabbage and mystery herb sausage), Tortillas Con Caucara (mashed potatoes, beef chest, sausage, cabbage, avocado, beetroot), Pristinos (Sweet empanada with sugar cane syrup) and empanadas con queso (empanadas filled with onion and cheese and then covered in sugar). Walking up away from Parque Navarro, Antonio showed us a couple of hueca’s serving Tortillas De Tiesto (corn cake with cheese inside, eaten with aji salsa), Colada de Sambo (made with sambo fruit (in between pumpkin and watermelon) (it was a hot drink, similar to payasam), Muchinos (fried yuca with cheese), and Boloneso with queso (fried plaintain ball filled with cheese). I found a lot of the street food tends to be fried. It was really fun hanging out with Antonio, he was very informative.
We did another free walking tour, this time of Quito Old Town. Our tour guide, Andrea, took us to Mercado Central, where we tasted Narangilla juice. Then we went on to visit the Archbishops residence, and La Plaza Grande, also known as the Plaza of the Retired People. Andrea explained about the 1809 revolution against the Spanish and how the Spanish killed revolutionaries in 1810. Then came the Pincharies battle where the Spanish were vanquished, and Ecuador achieved independence in 1822.
Andrea explained that Ecuador used to use Sucré as their currency. At one point in 1999, the exchange rate was $1: 25 Sucre. President Gemil Mahuat put his banking friends in Ministry Positions, and the economy inflation happened. Within a 24 hour period, the exchange rate was $1: 40 sucre, $1: 3,500 sucre, $1: 5,000 sucre, and then it went to $1: 10,000 sucre. Finally $1: 25,000 sucre. In September 2000, Ecuador made the decision to switch completely to USD. It was a really hard time for Ecuadorians as now their money was worth nothing, and a lot of pensioners were left with just USD$200 as their life pension. Many Ecuadorian people moved to countries like Spain, Italy and the US to try to earn money and send back for their families.
We also visited La Ronda, several churches, the Basilica (where we tried to climb up to the tower) and a chocolate museum.
We took an Uber to La Mariscal, where we found the Mercado Artesanal. I enjoyed walking through the little laneways and seeing all of the different stalls, but I did find that most of the stalls sold the same things, and all of those stalls were typically owned by the same person. For example, I wanted to buy two Ecuadorian baby alpaca blankets, and there were around 20 stalls selling the same blankets. Pretty sure they all had the same employer, because I tried to bargain with them, and they ended up colluding against me. No matter which stall I went to, the price was always the same. I think they have cottoned on to us tourists. Anyway, I ended up buying the two King-size blankets for USD$32, which I was happy with.
We ate Guinea Pig (Cuy) for dinner. The skin was quite tough and rubbery, but the meat was tasty. It was like a dark meat chicken. I probably wouldn’t have this again, as it was quite fatty. Apparently, in Ecuador, Cuy is a delicacy.