[Lesson #1 of maintaining a travel website...don't wait two weeks to make an entry, there's too much good stuff in the intervening time to recall what went on that long ago.]
Flying into Quito was quite an experience. For miles around you see lush, green mountains with fields and pastures reaching from the valleys as high as the farmers and cattle can reasonably climb into the mountains. Filling the main valley is the city of Quito, its millions of shops, apartments, tenements stretching for several miles, and in the very center of it all is a little patch of tarmac for the international airport.
We arrived on April 24, discovering that the country's conversion to the US dollar as its currency makes it no longer the bargain that we had expected. We settled into a hotel that was (a) not as nice as we'd been accustomed to in Argentina and Chile and (b) about three times the price we anticipated. Within a few minutes, we discovered that Abi's jacket had been left in the shuttle from the airport. We found a bus back to the airport (overshot the airport by about 20 minutes and had to find another bus to backtrack), and thankfully it was still in the van we had taken. (We wouldn't be so fortunate with the next lost jacket.) We found a nicer (and cheaper) hotel later that evening, tried to get out of the first place, but they were going to make us pay for that night whether we stayed there or not so we made due that first evening.
The next morning we switched hotels and set out to see the city. We mostly toured the colonial parts of town, but also toured a mansion-turned-museum and a museum about Ecuadorian money (we had intended to go to a museum curated by the Banco Central, but ended up in a museum in the lower level of the main branch of the Banco Central by mistake--oh well, we had a personal guide and learned alot about south american currency!). After lunch a storm came through and trapped us indoors as we waited for the hail and heavy rain to let up. We spent some time that afternoon comparing prices for our Galapagos trip at different travel agencies.
Saturday (the next day) we went to Otavalo for the weekly market. There are three plazas that are filled with textiles, crafts, food and knock-off designer labels--all of the streets connecting these plazas are also filled with booths. We had a great time browsing, and Abi enjoyed beating the vendors down to shamefully low prices on the items we purchased. We got back to Quito too late that afternoon to pay the balance for our Galapagos trip, which made us have to wait around until Monday morning.
On Sunday, we hopped on a bus for Mitad del Mundo, a complex of buildings and musuems on the equator about an hour north of Quito. The biggest decision of the day was whether to eat lunch in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere (feeling a tinge of homesickness, we opted for Northern). While the idea of the complex was a little gimmicky, it was actually quite nice. Inside the monument was a museum highlighting the various indiginous peoples of Ecuador that we both enjoyed.
Since our Galapagos trip wasn't to begin until the following Friday, we decided to leave Quito and see some areas to the south before catching our flight to the Islands from Guayaquil on the Pacific Coast. We started out with a bus ride to Banos on Monday morning. About four hours away of Quito, I noticed that the jacket I had placed in the overhead bin was missing. Abi was asleep across several seats in the back of the bus, so I asked if she had taken it to use as a blanket--nope. Our seats were near the door, and passengers and vendors were constantly getting on and off the bus, one of them with a nice North Face jacket, which just so happened to have our passports, credit cards, cash, etc. etc. in the pocket (I know, how stupid can I be?). We immediately got off the bus and flagged down another bus back to Quito, where the U.S. has an embassy to get new passports.
This detour started about 1:00 PM on Monday, and we ran ourselves ragged over Quito until 6:30 on Wednesday night making police reports, completing passport applications, begging at banks (several branches) to get our emergency cash advance from Visa, conferencing on Instant Messenger with Abi's family in the States to work out things that couldn't be easily handled from South America...all on the $23 I had in my pocket before we had our money stolen. Luckily, the hotel we stayed in before in Quito agreed to let us stay on credit until our cash came through, and the Quito Marriott allowed us to make a few international calls to Visa (collect calls are completely blocked from calls originating in Ecuador). We had a steady diet of bread and water and did a lot of walking. After all of that we were ready for a week in the Galapagos Islands; it was an exhausting few days. After looking for bathing suits Thursday morning (most stores were closed as it was Labor Day), we spent the rest of day on a bus to Gauyaquil to catch our flight on Friday morning.
Nothing against Quito, but I'm sick of it!