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Friday 19 Feb 2010
Quito, Ecuador

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Leaving Taganga on the morning of the 17th wasn't an easy thing. The heat was incredible and almost "heavy" in such a sense that as soon as you stood up to try to pack your bags, you would feel like you were getting pushed back down onto the bed in a sweaty mess.

To aid matters I had the flu. I was running a temperature in my forehead, while my body had the chills. But despite this, I had a flight to catch and I was determined not to miss it so I stuck in and managed to pack up, then lug the huge 20kg backpack up the hill from the hostel to the main road to get a taxi.

I bid my farewells to Colombia: it is an amazing, if miunderstood, country that's very cheap to get around and visit with surprises at every turn and a friendly enough populace. Yet the North coast has an oppressive heat that I couldn't last in for long so I was looking forward to leaving at this particular moment!

When I got to the airport in Santa Marta more fun ensued: they wouldn't let me board the flight to Ecuador (via Bogota) without purchasing a return ticket or an onward ticket leaving Ecuador!

I had only purchased a one-way ticket (as I have been doing so far with no problems) as this would leave me open to leave the country as I so choose later on (whether by plane or bus). It seems that Ecuador has a particular rule about requiring an onward flight out of the country before you are allowed in. I tried to explain to the guys at the check-in that I intended to leave the country by bus heading into Peru (although to be honest with my limited time I'll probably fly to Peru! Oh the irony!) but that I had yet to purchase a ticket as I didn't know exactly when I was going to be leaving. This didn't fly particularly well with the guy and he wanted to see some sort of "proof" of my itinerary so I showed him my scrappy "Trip plan" text file on the laptop. It didn't seem to impress him, but he told me I could fly to Bogota, then pick up my bag and check in for the Ecuador flight separately and see if they could help me more.

So, on arriving in Bogota, I collected my bag and then went to check in immediately (my flu was pretty feverish at this stage so the sooner I could check in, and then find the nearest pharmacy the better!). Same story here, but they said they WOULD let me board on condition that I went upstairs and used the free WiFi to purchase an onward flight out of Ecuador! OK fair enough, last thing I wanted was to be deported when going through Ecuador immigration.

So I headed on up, and began my flight searches. After spending 30 mins frantically searching for flights, the cheapest I could find were tickets with TACA from Quito to Lima, Peru that cost $450!! Sod that, I'd rather risk being deported! ... I then spent another 30 minutes searching Internet forums on the topic of entering Ecuador with a one-way ticket but the general consensus was a positive one: immigration officials will never check if you have an onward ticket, it's just the airlines that check as they are responsible for taking you back free of charge if you are deported!

So, if I was asked by the airline company (AeroGal) if I had an onward ticket, I'd say "yes" and that it was an e-ticket so I didn't have a print-out handy to show them right now. Needless to say they didn't ask, and the flight up to Ecuador was without problems. Even the guy at the immigration in Ecuador was a friendly chap who wanted me to help with his English... so no problems, and here I was in Ecuador finally! Phew!

So, Quito is the 2nd-highest capital city in the world at 2,800m above sea level. Plus it's located right on the equator, so I assumed I was going to have to deal with altitude sickness ala Bogota along with more deadly heat! How wrong I was: Quito is a lovely FRESH place. It's almost Alpine in it's atmosphere, with a pleasant year-round temperature of around 24C and cooling fresh air from the surrounding Andes mountains. What a relief after Colombia!

I've been here two days, based in a nice hostel with a private room for $25 a night (currency in Ecuador is US dollars.. really unusual to see USD coming out of the ATM machine!!) situated in La Mariscal, or as it's also known "gringolandia" (even some of the signs here are in English!).

Ecuador seems PRIMED for tourism. Many people here speak English. Traffic behaviour is almost NORMAL compared to what I've experienced in Brazil and Colombia (cars here have working speedometers, something that NO cars in Colombia have - as a method of avoiding speeding fines) with people respecting red-lights and even politely waving on fellow drivers.. wtf am I still in South America?!?

Many of the "backpackers" I've seen here are typically Americans in their 40s or 50s. I'm guessing that's largely because of the cost of doing tours to Ecuador's prime attraction: the Galapagos Islands, which is out of the budget of most 20-something backpackers. Quito, from what I've seen so far, is a perfectly safe little city. I'm sure there are some dangerous parts, and probably not good to venture out past midnight, but compared to what I saw in Bogota this is like the Vatican city. My indigenous taxi driver on the first night was saying "Oye.. Peligroso!" (Dangerous) at every point whenever he saw any black people walking the street. To me they looked like perfectly fine well-dressed individuals walking home after a night out with friends. Clearly in Ecuador, racism is somewhat turned around so that, unlike in Brazil, the indigenous indians regard themselves above the blacks!

So what have I been up to? Well yesterday I went to the market in the morning and bought a genuine "Panama" hat from the market for $20. It takes about 4 days to make by hand using a softer fibre than the cheaper ones, plus it can be rolled up so is the ideal hat for a backpacker. Makes me look like a dapper gent too Wink ... Panama hats, for those who don't know, originate in Ecuador and were only given the name after Woodrow Wilson was given one while touring the Panama Canal in the 40s.

After that? Well I crashed out with the flu for the rest of the day, and then today has been spent trying to organise what I'm gonna do in Ecuador...

The main thing I wanted to do when I got here was to see all the "pwetty aminals" in the Galapagos Islands. Typically you visit the islands on a 4 or 5 day cruise. Patrick, the extremely helpful Swedish owner of my hostel (Hostal Jhomana) helped me find a list of prices for liveaboard cruises, but the cheapest one seemed to be $800 for 5 days! This is separate to the $420 you need to pay for the flight to the main island from Quito, and then an additional $110 for the national park entrance fee. Galapagos Islands wasn't going to be a cheap option AT ALL Cry

He listed all the alternative tours I could do instead of the Galapagos but my heart still longed to see the wildlife...

Patrick then led me to a nearby tourist agency. Amazingly the guy didn't try to flog me anything. Instead he told me that it was entirely possible to visit the islands "relatively" cheaply, by just buying the return flight to the main island, and then taking daily tours wherever I wanted once there. Also had the added benefit of freedom to try scuba diving one day, or volcano climbing another, or snorkelling with sharks on another.. without having to stick to a rigid itinerary.

Sorted! ... so I've bought the return flight to the Galapagos, leaving in 2 days and I will be staying there for around 7 days which should be more than enough time for me to be completely turtled-and-penguined-out-of-my-mind!

2 Comments for this Travel blog entry

sis Says:

21 February 2010

Hey Pete, loving reading all the exploits :) You should do this for a living!!! :)))) Hugs and keep safe, N xx

peterforan Replies:

21 February 2010

there's always the dream ;)

Mum Says:

26 February 2010

Hi Peter, have enjoyed reading all your adventures - I particularly loved your account of the turtles, Iguanas on theGalapagos, on other dates. Wow, not too cheap getting around! Hope your money doesn't run out! Tale care, Love Mum,Dad,Gary and Teddy

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  • Mitad del...

    Quito

    Ecuador

    Mitad del Mundo church
  • Large Ecuador...

    Quito

    Ecuador

    Large Ecuador rainforest spider
  • Middle of the...

    Quito

    Ecuador

    Middle of the Earth (supposedly)
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    Quito

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    Making a shrunken head