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Thursday 19 Dec 2013
Quito, Ecuador

Welcome to Ecuador

On to the next stage of the adventure: Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands!  Blog regulars will recognise my friend Ailsa from her previous three visits.  For those new to the party, Ailsa and I have been friends for over half our lives and in recent years have travelled regularly together.  Unlike me, she’s still working, but I have monopolised her annual leave over the last 12 months.  The new players in this part of the Big World Adventure are my parents, who are coming out to spend Christmas in Ecuador, followed by a week in the Galápagos Islands.  Ailsa and I are also doing a short trip around Ecuador before they arrive.

After a revoltingly early alarm call, I headed to the airport and paid the $29 departure tax required to leave Costa Rica.  My first flight was 90 minutes down to Panama City, where I had a short stopover without having to collect and re-check my bags.  Luckily, when I looked at the flight departure board for my gate, I noticed the time zone had moved forward an hour or I might have missed the second flight.  I had a window seat again and admired the lush green forests below, but I didn’t see any sign of the Panama Canal. 

Quito is located high in the Ecuadorian Andes at around 2,800m.  The approach was beautiful.  Volcanic peaks and craters mingled with Andean peaks while the relatively flat valleys in between are slashed through with deep ravines in all directions.   The city of Quito itself sprawls along an s-shape valley, around 58km long but only 7km across at the widest point.  It wraps up the side of the peaks towards Pinchicha, the closest volcano, and slopes away up to the North towards the Equator.  The urban sprawl had incorporated smaller towns into suburbs.  The north is relatively wealthy, while the south of Quito is much poorer.  Even within Quito there are still a number of ravines formed by past lava flows, though many were filled in by the Incas and Spanish Conquistadors in order to build the old city.  Coming into land at the new Mariscal Sucre airport, the plane seemed to follow one of these steep ravines, getting closer and closer until I thought we were actually trying to land in the bottom of it.  The old airport is in the city itself, with houses built almost up to the edge of the runway.  It was a difficult landing and planes had the unfortunate habit of over-shooting the runway and ploughing into the buildings at the end, so the new airport is located on the outskirts, an hour’s drive from the city centre.  Peregrine had arranged a pick up for me and Oscar kept up a steady chatter all the way to the hotel, pointing out different areas and the variety of crops being grown in every spare patch of land.  A brand new highway has been built to service the new airport, but unfortunately both were completed long before the new bridge over the top of aforementioned steep ravine, so traffic continues to crawl across a temporary structure far below until the new bridge is completed – forecast sometime in 2015.

Hotel Rio Amazonas is situated in the Mariscal district of Quito, a hotel zone, which unfortunately has a bad reputation for crime, so I chose not to venture out alone.  We had a nice room on the 6th floor with great views of the city, all the way to El Panecillo (the ‘little bread loaf’ hill) with its Rio de Janeiro-style statue of the Virgin looking benevolently over the old quarter.  What makes Quito’s Virgin statue different is the addition of wings, the only winged Virgin in the world.  This was an attempt by the artist to convey the Christian belief in Heaven to the Indians, who believed that it was a condor that carried away the souls of the dead.   There was a lot of criticism at the time, but Quiteños are now very proud of their unique statue.

I spent the afternoon uploading photos of Thomas to create a calendar for my nephew’s Christmas present.  His Thomas the Tank Engine toy has travelled well with me over the last few months.  I think I have more photos of him than of myself! 

Ailsa arrived around 8pm after a long journey via Madrid on an old plane with no seat-back entertainment system - is that still possible these days?  In barely an hour she was fast asleep, leaving me to finish off Daniel’s calendar.  I was too late for a Christmas delivery, but I’m sure he’ll be pleased with it whenever it arrives.

 

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #3 Ecuador and Galapagos Islands

Travel blog by zobeedoo

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This is the big highlight of the year. Joined by my parents and reunited with Ailsa, we'll spend Christmas in Quito, then travel to Galápagos for New Year, celebrating in style with a week on the Queen Beatriz catamaran visiting the southern islands.

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