Quito: The City and our Homestay
Quito Travel Blog› entry 2 of 8 › view all entries
With a population of 1.4 million, Quito is nestled along a valley floor beneath a number of large hills and dormid volcanoes. Running North to South, it is about 6km wide and 50km long so its very narrow and it is also very high, sitting at 2,850m above sea level - which when you first arrive, makes walking up anything beyond horizontal quite a task.
The city itself is broken into 4 major parts:
- In the south, the working class suburbs. People who live here generally range from very very poor to just getting by. Its a place where tourists rarely go and if you read the guide books, is said to be a little dangerous
- In the North, more working class suburbs although the people living here generally are a little better off than their southern counterparts
- And the two sections in the middle you have "El Centro" (the old town) and the New Town (nicknamed "Gringolandia" and for good reason!!)
Most tourists stay (and mostly only see) the New Town.
The place where Quito really does differ from many other cities I have visited (maybe Hanoi is in the same class) is in its old town. Its full of narrow streets, spanish colonial buildings, small family shops in every nook and cranny, wonderful plazas with gardens and very very old churches...oh yeah, and it also has an outrageous number of police officers carrying everything from swords to big-ass shotguns. I think it used to be quite a dirty and unsafe part of Quito (and there are definitely still a few streets where this remains the case) but over the last 5 years the city has made a definite attempt to make it a more attractive place for both locals and tourists alike.
Yep, I definitely liked the old town. I loved wandering through the streets, smelling those big city smells of street side cooking mixed with exhaust fumes and sitting in the plazas doing a bit of people watching while revising spanish which was proving more and more elusive to me as the days went by. The only thing a little tricky to come to grips with at first was not flushing toilet paper, it goes in a bin, once I had that sorted it was all good!!
After our first week staying in the Secret Garden, Anna and I decided to try a week long home-stay with a local family, in order to fast-track our spanish and get a better insight of life in Quito. As luck would have it we stayed with a family in the old town who lived 1 block from the S.
After living in Quito for two weeks we had managed to get out and about and see a little bit of the city.
- The Basilica - A huge gothic church that dominates the smaller buildings of the old town, you can climb up inside its spires and out onto the roof for some awesome views ($1)
- El Panecillo - The hill at the very south of the old town. Its got a massive statue (Virgen De Quito) depicting a lady with a dragon. Again, awesome views of the city but make sure you take a taxi as muggings at the bottom of the hill are said to be common. Also, if you are travelling from the old town, make sure you negotiate a price of no more than $10 return with the taxi driver, we were quite proud of ourselves for getting $7 but then when we got to the top it was "doble" to get back down.
- The TeleferiQio and Rucu Pichincha - The TeleferiQio is like a cable car ($4) that goes for 2km up a hill above the city. The top sits at about 4200m above sea level and the views are incredible. From here, Nicholas, Anna and I made the 3 hour trek to the top of the nearby volcano Rucu Pichincha. Behind the Point to Pinnacle race back home, it was probably the toughest thing I have done. I have always wondered why people climbing in high altitude walk so damn slowly, now I know, its because you are dizzy and can hardly breathe. Ridiculous experience number 1 in Sth America - finding myself on 90 degree rock face in the middle of nowhere with no safety gear at 4900m struggling to maintain any rational thought process!! We made it to the top though, unfortunately couldnt see a whole lot because the clouds and then walked back down.
- Mitad Del Mundo - The site of the equator where you can stand in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres at the same time. There is a monument located here which is actually 200m off the mark, apparently a dutch bloke measured incorrectly in the 18th century (was a good try back then though). The actual site (measured by GPS) is marked by an interesting (well I thought so, Anna wasnt quite of the same opinion) museum. If you have time, make sure you visit the crater about 2km from the equator, its an awesome site over small farms and crops which preside along the craters floor.
- Otavalo - Yes I know that Otavalo is actually a town north of Quito but Anna and I did a day trip with Nicholas there so it gets a guernsey in this section.
- Guayasamin Museum - Visiting this museum was one of those unexpected highlights. We heard about it from a guy at the S.G. and decided to give it a go, accompanied by Sandra, the French girl we met at the hostel. It was brilliant!!
- Guapolo - Probably our best night in Quito. Anna, Beatriz, Nico, Daniel and I all piled into Daniels 1978 VW beetle for a tour around the New Town. We dodged through traffic, went through red lights, saw some street theatre and finally ended up in one of Quitos oldest suburbs called Guapolo. Built into the face of hill, its cobble stone streets and terracotta roof house make for a great view in the daytime.
Well thats about it for Quito. Damn that was a long one, sorry about that.