While we had a great short stay in Quito, I think what I'll remember most are my two amateurish travel gaffes. I'm talking serious failures of World Travel 101. A shame, because Quito is a really beautiful city and worthy of deeper exploration (and recall) than what we were able to do this time around.
Our hotel in Quito was located well outside the old city or tourist areas, so I did some research on getting around before arrival. Taxis are apparently abundant, highly variable in terms of quality, and remarkably inexpensive. Upon arrival we went to the taxi desk and told them our hotel and they gave us a ticket to give our driver. The purpose of this, as far as I can tell, is to keep unscrupulous drivers from overcharging tourists. It's a great system, and one we've used many times throughout this trip. After getting our voucher I realized that Walter didn't have his rolling bag...he'd left it in customs after the x-ray. So, after a 10 minute delay as I got security to let me back in we were finally to our taxi. Our driver was very courteous, spoke some basic English, and his taxi was clean and seemingly in good mechanical condition. Everything one could ask for transport around an unfamiliar town. Of course, if you wanted to get that specific driver again as opposed to the million other taxis in Quito you might go the extra step of asking the driver for his card or number. Makes sense, right? Or at the least arrange for him to come back at a reasonable time the next morning for an all day hire? Nope. Did neither. So instead of being able to hire that nice gentleman we used the hotel car and probably paid an extra $75+ for the following day's hire plus our trip back to the airport. Painful.
On the plus side, the driver we did get was extremely courteous and we had a great day in Quito. We started off by heading up to the Equator. You see, Quito is the only major city in the world that lies on the equator. It's also at about 9200 feet altitude, making it one of the highest points on the equator. Back in the 1700s a French survey team determined the location of the equator in Quito, and that line was later seized on by the government as a great tourist attraction. Unfortunately, that all occurred prior to GPS. The actual equator is about 250 meters north, where there is now a great little museum built on the site of a former farm. So we went to the real deal and skipped the "official" site, well, except to get a picture with the giant monument they resurrected. We had a great time getting our photos taken on the equator, but the best part was definitely the exhibition on the Coriolis effect. They had a basin of water right on the equator and when they pulled the plug the water drained out with no apparent spin. Then they moved the basin about 10 feet north of the equator and repeated the experiment. This time there was an obvious and pronounced counter-clockwise spin. Next they moved 10 feet south of the equator...now you could see the clockwise spin. Very cool.
After the equator we headed down to the old city and walked around the two main squares, Independence and San Francisco. This whole area felt very much like our time in Europe. It was Sunday afternoon, so the entire downtown was packed with people, though relatively few Western tourists that we observed. It was also one of the cleanest city centers we've seen anywhere, which made it that much more pleasant to stroll through and enjoy. Were we not still suffering from Travelers D from Cartagena I think we would have indulged in some really tasty looking street food, but at the moment we're feeling a little cautious... There are a number of churches in the area (like, a double-digit number), but the one I really wanted to see was the colonial era San Francisco, which was built by the Spanish in the mid-1500's. The guidebook gushed about the interior, but that didn't quite prepare me for the grandeur of the building. The decor was definitely enhanced by the standing-room-only mass service going on at the time we popped in, very different than the church services we typically observed in Europe (Poland was an exception). In terms of greatest church interiors I've seen, and that's actually quite a lot, I'm hard pressed to remember one better than San Francisco. Regrettably, given the ongoing mass, I only snapped one mediocre photo as we were walking out.
We rounded out our day in Quito with a visit to the statue of the Virgin de Quito at the top of Cerro Panecillo, a hill at the southern end of the city. The views of the city were spectacular despite the overcast conditions, though unfortunately you couldn't see much of the three (!) currently active volcanoes near the city. We then headed back to the hotel for some much needed rest after a very full day, and also the opportunity to repack such that we could leave behind one of our bags at our Quito hotel while we're in Galapagos.
So we covered my first violation of World Travel 101, on to my second: In order to limit the ecological damage to Galapagos from tourism the Ecuadorian government has instituted a number of controls. Two prominent controls are that you must register to go to Galapagos much the way you would if you were visiting a foreign country and not just another part of Ecuador. This is so they can keep close tabs on how many tourists are there at any time, though to my knowledge they don't limit this number in any way, except perhaps that lodging on each island is pretty limited. In addition, you must have your checked and carry-on bags scanned for food prior to checking them in. Given this, we left a bit early and arrived at the airport a little over two hours before our flight in case it took an hour or so to get through the process. Well, 10 minutes after arrival and we were all set. Well, except for one small detail: our flight was delayed three hours. Even better, they had delayed it around 6a...so we would have known if we had checked our flight status prior to leaving the hotel (or even better, prior to waking up Walter). Such is life...and after a 5 hour stay in the Quito airport we are finally on our way to one of the highlights of this trip, the Galapagos Islands!
You can see the rest of our Quito photos here: https://markandjie.smugmug.com/Gap-Year/Quito