First week in Ecuador has been pretty liquid heavy- be it measured in alcohol consumed, rain absorbed or rivers fallen in.
We began in Quito, where all the sights are best enjoyed by climbing up things. From our glamorous hostel roof terrace, we could pick and choose the best spots to go exploring the sprawling expanse of city around us.
From lowest to highest: climbing the gothic monstrosity Basilica was almost an extreme sport in itself. Reaching the organ balcony gave an impressive enough view of the spectacular vaulted ceiling, but then things just kept going up and up. Up to the revoltingly modern clock, via an unexpected cafe and gift shop, to the top of the towers, offering a supreme buenavista over Quito’s colonial Old Town. Further satisfying my penchant for climbing buildings, a rickety bridge, a la Indiana Jones, crossed the length of the roof to another spire. This time the ascent was on some sketchy ladders- adding a level of adrenaline, often lacking from Cathedral visits! From here you could also appreciate that the church’s gargoyles were in fact Galapagós birds and iguanas; way less menacing than usual!
If you don’t want your view somewhat blocked by the church itself, then climbing the hill and, beyond that, the statue of the chainmail-esque virgin/angel/dragon-strangler, offers yet more sprawling vistas along the valley. Unfortunately you can only reach her feet, and the journey upwards is strangely populated by small architects’ models of just about every church in Quito. Still, can’t complain.
Finally, for those who want to climb without risking over exertion, the cable car system can take you all the way from a dodgy looking theme park that time forgot, to the top of the mountain. From here it became apparent quite how unexpectedly enormous Quito really is, and, as we struggled to breathe, how high up it sits! Ignoring all the serious looking hikers, with sticks, boots and all sorts of important looking so gear, Harry and I (yes, we’re still stuck together like glue) flip-flopped our way up into the clouds. So close, yet so very far from civilisation.
Other than climbing things, Quito offers a lot at ground level too. Namely, a LOT of drinking. La Mariscal, the ‘strip’ if you will, offers every cuisine imaginable and can murder every musical genre imaginable! An innocent seeming yellow school bus shuttled to and from our hostel, forcing a unanimous regression to a childlike state. The bonus of this being that everyone in the hostel feels equally terrible the following day, after a night of debauchery, salsa and attempting to teach Ecuadorian’s how we Westerners dance (i.e. vigorously, but terribly!)
Just outside Quito (although it’s takes longer to get to the edge of the city than to reach anywhere beyond) lies the Equator line. Thus, determined to have productive hangovers, a group of us journeyed, quite literally, to the centre of the Earth! Admittedly, it is the world’s most pointless attraction: lie down on a yellow line at any curbside and you can pretty much recreate the photos we journeyed so long for; but boy did we enjoy the ice creams for sale there!
Unfortunately, a little too much fun in Quito destroyed my honourable intentions to see the famous market town at Otavalo, or to reach dizzying heights in the cloud forest at Mindo. Instead, I reasoned that ‘what’s more fun that going miles back on myself on a bus, or hiking the Quilotoa loop in the rain?’; ‘Following Harry to Baños, for rum and rafting!’
Arriving in Baños at night (to a very warm welcome- apparently I was already famous here!) I didn’t quite get to appreciate the beautiful surroundings: to my left, a very Disneyland church, to my right, a gushing waterfall, often complete with a picture perfect rainbow.
These views, all this nature n shit, can be perfectly appreciated during the restful periods on a white-water rafting trip! That is, when you’re not hurtling face first into some treacherous rapids, flipping, flying, partially drowning and (embarrassingly) having to evacuate and carry our raft when we lodged on some rocks. Try as I might, I seemed to lack the balance to pursue a serious career in rafting- I only fell in their river upon being pushed, but I did face plant back into the boat on multiple occasions. I have the facial bruises/ badges of honour to prove it! I blame the terrible, holey wetsuits we were supplied (or perhaps the fact we were a little preoccupied thinking about food and cracking jokes to actually focus on any serious paddling…)
A much more chilled way to appreciate the watery town of Baños (apparently not named after a toilet) is a visit to the thermal baths. Picturesquely situated, steaming below our local waterfall, the glamour was somewhat undermined by the obligatory stupid hats we were forced to don. We piled into the already crammed, disconcertingly orange, volcanic waters and proceeded to prune. But it’s so much more than a relaxing bath, we discovered as we practiced the ‘proper way’ to do the baths: i.e. to broil yourself in the 45 degree heat and then plunge into an ice pool, and back. I probably put my body into some sort of severe shock, but it seemed like a good idea at the time to sweat out some of the week’s cumulative toxins.
Still plagued by rain, and now illness too, movements through Ecuador have been somewhat stunted. Hopefully I’ll be back on climbing, rafting, adventure sporting form soon!