I must start by saying that the best way to travel is by having no expectations or always keeping them low. That way you will always be pleasantly surprised. After our two days in the busy city of Guayaquil when we first arrived in Ecuador, I had a preconceived notion that I would not like the even larger city of Quito. However, it has actually been one of my favorite cities. We had planned on two days, maybe a couple more depending on whether we climbed Cotopaxi, and ended up staying a whole week! I would like to credit our fantastic time to the decision to stay at Vibes Hostel in the Mariscal district which was determined through a rock, paper, scissors match and the absolutely wonderful people we met at Vibes. This was our first traditional hostel where the room is never locked, our belongings are shoved into some niche of space not used by the other four people, and we have bunk beds. I scored a top bunk which seems to be perpetually shaking. Though this was really for the best because I had a cold and coughed constantly. I would have hated to be on the other end of that, so luckily I was only keeping myself awake at night.
On our first day Aaron and I wondered around the Mariscal district aimlessly looking for a market. The place we found was a meager supply of things in the back of a department store, but we did find the best bakery: La Union. Amazing! A plethora of fresh bread daily, lunch fixings, ice cream, delicious fruit tarts, and a side snack, drink and yogurt stand. Needless to say I visited several times. That first night we met Hannah from Cincinnati, in our room, and went to supper. Later, the three of us met up with two Canadian girls that Aaron befriended in Baños. At one point the five of us were standing on a street corner deciding where we wanted to go when a few people swarmed us trying to promote their bars. The best moment was when we were following one of the women to her bar and a person from a competitor gasps, “Tiajuana, my God!” (Tiajuana was the name of the place we were heading). Moments later we discovered the validity of that exclamation. HA! We ended up going to a couple other places before the night was done.
One the next day we wondered around in the morning with Hannah then went to the Basílica del Voto Nacional. The basilica is this large, Gothic church that was restored starting in about the 1920’s or 30’s. Now you are able to climb up into the rafters and towers which is awesome. It is nicely situated on a high spot which overlooks most of the Historic district. It is hard to put words to walking on a plank over the top side of roof arches, climbing up rickety stairs into a tower, and seeing the backside of the clock workings in the bell tower. It was really something else. That evening in the hostal’s bar, we first met the majority of the people who we spent the next few days with. Their were the two Germans who were in our room, Oliver and Debbie from London, Amy and Kristine from Texas, Mikael and Hampus from Sweden, Dick from Holland, and Scott from Australia whom we met in Baños when jumping off the bridge, and numerous other fantastic individuals. After many hours of chatting, playing cards, and drinking, we headed to a late night club, The Attic, around 2:00 for many hours of dancing until I exhausted crawled up into my bunk around 6:00 for sleep.
The next day Debbie, Scott, Hannah, Aaron, and I went to the only place you can go while in Ecuador, the equator! We took the bus to Mitad del Mundo and visited the main monument sight with a giant sun dial-looking structure with the lats and longs inscribed into the side. We took turns jumping back and forth between the two hemispheres, took photos, and then headed to the historic museum down the road. The small museum is supposed to be the actual equator sight, lat 00˚00’00”. They show you fun exhibits with the draining of water (counter clockwise North, clockwise South, and stright down on the equator), despite that the Coriolis Effect cannot actually effect water on the scale of a drain. There is also a balance and strength test where you apparently lose your ability in both while on the equator. And you can balance an egg on a nail to become an Egg Master (though I sadly did not succeed in that mission). They also take you around a museum and explain the Shaur practice of shrunken heads, the process of making Chicha the corn beer, and talk about various animals in Ecuador. A very interesting exhibit (which pertains predominantly to males) is the Candirú, or the Penis Fish. This is a parasitic, freshwater catfish that can grow up to 15 cm and is native to the Amazon. This fish is important to take caution of because they are known to enter the human urethra (predominantly for males), where they hook themselves and can only be removed through surgery. They are attracted by urine and can swim so quickly they can enter through your urine stream in the open air. Scary! So guys, be very cautious! The guy at the museum said the largest one documented in Ecuador that had lodged itself was about three inches! Anyways, after visiting the equator we had supper at the Mariachi Taco Factory (funny), and then rejoined the Vibes gang back at the hostel. Hostels are great in how you constantly meet new and interesting people. Saturday was not quite as extreme as Friday, but I still did not sleep until 4:00AM.
On Sunday, our same five from the previous day explored the Historic district which is full of churches, museums, the President´s palace, and all the old scenic buildings. The highlights are Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús: built in 1605 to 1705, a completely gold ornate church which stands for the bells it used to chime, the San Francisco church: which was clearly ransacked at some point but never restored like the Basílica or Compañia, and La Ronda: a rode passage arch which marks the 18-century neighborhood that is full of boutique shops and cafés. At La Ronda we happened to stumble upon this group of musicians that I am still not entirely sure what were supposed to be significant of. At one point I had an embarrassing moment when one of the guys chose me to dance with to get the crowd into dancing. Hah! He did not keep me long before heading to a different girl. Eventually, I am sure to all the victims relief, a couple started dancing and got really into and the musicians seemed satisfied to let them take the dancing area. As with all adventures of exploring new places, we wondered back to the Mariscal district using the map and the shortest path. Later I discovered that we apparently wondered directly through an incredibly dangerous neighborhood that has lots of gang activity. Oops! There are no alcohol sales on Sundays, so we had a much more low-key evening that night playing cards and hanging out in the hostel bar.
The next day Aaron went up the Teleférico cable car to hike on the mountain. I was supposed to go but my cold was growing progressively worse (possibly from the late nights on the weekend, but I am not convinced…) and I wanted to save my energy to hike Cotopaxi. I ended up in the Historic district with Scott, Hannah, and Debbie. I wanted to see the ground level of the Basílica because it had closed already when Aaron and I went.
That Monday afternoon through Thursday mark my hermitation period where I rarely ventured from the hostel, slept copiously, and tried to recuperate. All the while people began leaving the hostel to continue their adventures, new people arrived, and Aaron got to climb Cotopaxi. I have not even seen pictures yet, but Aaron, Scott and Lincoln climbed and succeeded in summiting the peak. It is over 19,000 feet, and they covered an alpine glacier to get there. I am extremely jealous but there will be other mountains… 😦 I am feeling better now, and since last night we are now on the warmer coast so I should be back to full health soon. We will be on the Ecuadorian coast for the next month volunteering with Planet Drum for habit restoration in Bahía de Caraquez. I am excited. We have already been inviting to a weekend beach party that we are leaving for soon, so I must go!