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Tuesday 7 Jan 2014
Quito, Ecuador

On my own again...

We all slept well and enjoyed a late breakfast in the hotel, a change from the 5.30am alarm calls we’d had every day on the boat.  Torrey left early in the morning, so we'd said goodbye last night.  Tim and Kate had been great company on the trip and we were sorry to say goodbye to them.  I hope to cross paths with them again in future. 

We spent the day sorting ourselves out, getting laundry done next door and getting utterly drenched in a misguided attempt to go out for lunch.  When it rains in Quito, it really rains.  Deafening thunderclaps echoed across the valley and the road quickly became a river.  We ventured out again a little later and discovered a square full of restaurants and cafes a few blocks from the hotel.  Jacky was the only other member of our group left, so she joined us for dinner again at, yep, the Argentinian place again.

Mum and Dad weren’t leaving until 9pm, so stored their bags with us.  We shared a final drink together – that bottle of rosé I’d been carrying since Napa on 28th October!  It would have been better slightly colder, but as our room had no fridge this time, we’d had to settle for an ice bucket in the bath to keep it cool.  It was still very drinkable and I'm pleased to have shifted that weight out of my backpack at last! Mum also took a bag of stuff home for me, mostly made up of scarves and jumpers as I'll no longer need them in the warmer climates I am heading to next.  Ailsa was happily smug about not having to carry anything of mine this time.  We waved them off in their transfer car and Ailsa gave me a much-appreciated hug.  I’ve loved having them here and, after the initial incongruousness of seeing them in South America, it now felt odd to see them go.

Having packed our own bags fully, Ailsa and I decided that another visit to the Artisanal market on our last morning was probably asking for trouble.  Instead we headed for the old quarter again – via an interesting route that made us suspect the taxi driver was running the meter deliberately, but it still came to around the usual amount.  We spent an interesting half hour in the banking museum, attempting to interpret the Spanish display boards and admiring the shiny coins.  They had coins from hundreds of years ago, banknotes from the mid 1800s and even a huge cache of the old Ecuadorian Sucre coins.  These were poured into a glass case over 6’ high, 4’ wide and maybe a foot deep, but their total value by today’s market would have been barely $100 US. 

Ailsa and I enjoyed our last ceviche and popcorn from our favourite café in the corner of San Francisco Plaza and bought some more chocolate from the souvenir shop next door.  Ailsa also bought me a lovely rainbow striped scarf from a lady in the square – possibly just to stop me stealing the one she bought in Otavalo last week? – and we soaked up our last moments in the old quarter before heading back to the hotel. 

There were a number of people demonstrating along the edge of the square, waving green flags with the number 35 on them.  We didn’t know what it was about, presumably something political, but we kept a nervous eye on the police gathering slowly in the corner of the square.  The spread of Cuban communist influence has reached Ecuador and freedom of speech has been curbed dramatically.  In a recent Presidential corruption trial, the judge was changed the night before the verdict and his summing up of several months of evidence – impossible to have been produced overnight - exonerated the President.  The paper proved it had actually been written by the defense lawyer, but in spite of overwhelming evidence to back their story, the newspaper editors (not the journalists) were jailed for political libel. Today’s demonstration was relatively peaceful, but we decided to make a move before anything worse started. 

Ailsa, Jacky and I shared the transfer to the airport as all our flights were within a few hours of each other.  We bade Jacky farewell.  She too had turned out to be an interesting travel companion.  I was able to check in and get rid of my bag, then we had some lunch before we could check Ailsa in too.  Thinking we could stay together a bit longer, we headed to security, but then discovered I had to go through a different channel for Domestic flights.  It was sad to say goodbye again, but we’re getting used to it now.  I think this is the first time I’ve had to leave before Ailsa though.  Unfortunately, her flight was delayed over two hours, so she was still sitting in Quito airport by the time I’d arrived in Cuenca.  She missed her connection at Madrid, but they got her on another flight to London before too long.  

I arrived in a very wet and windy Cuenca, another colonial town further south in the Andes.  I had a chance meeting in the summer with an old school friend I hadn't seen for nearly 20 years.  She now lives in Chile and is married to an Ecuadorian.  On her recommendation, I was going to spend the next few days in Cuenca until my epic journey around to New Zealand on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday... Well, technically I would skip Tuesday by crossing the International Date Line the wrong way, but the journey will still take three days.  

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

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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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