I didn’t really get off to the best start in this continent. All day flying, waiting in airports, (and eating the biggest steak fajita in my entire life at Houston airport), to get to Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. I arrive exhausted from 8 months of travel catching up with me, emotional from leaving my uncle in LA, and I must admit apprehensive, even fearful, to be travelling to South America on my own. Everyone keeps telling me ‘South America is not safe, especially not for a lone female traveller’ but what do i do? Not go? Miss out on my dream? For as long as i can remember, this continent has intrigued me, the cultural, geographical and biological diversity, and I HAVE TO SEE IT.
Quito old town
. The Amazon, Peru, GALAPAGOS, Iguaza, Patagonia, GALAPAGOS, Oh yes please, whatever to the safety concerns i will just do everything i can and use my well-travelled common sense right? So i arrive in a fragile state, with a bra-full of dollars, to Quito, pretty amazed already just from seeing from the air this huge city surrounded by volcanoes. The landing was pretty tight, the city is at an elevation of about 3000 metres above sea level so you just about get through the clouds, just about squeeze through those mountains, and the city is right there, flying so close to the houses, roads, and extremely close to a bullfighting stadium full of people, AMAZING!! Oh I suddenly saw through the tiredness and became very excited and my thirst for new experiences and discovery kicked in.
Quito old town
So, I told myself when I set off on my flight to Malaysia from England all those months ago, that I must learn to speak Spanish, absolutely essential in South America. Hahahaha ooops to this one! Well apart from the few lessons from Alberto in New Zealand where he just laughed at my inability to roll my R’s, seems like i am going to have to rely on my school girl Spanish then... here we go, we are in for a treat.. I still didn’t quite believe that no English would be spoken, universal language of the world, in the airports and hotels but yep is true. I go to get a taxi at the airport desk and no habla Ingles. I am surprised how OK it is though, I even help out an American lass who doesn’t even have the basics. Luckily she was about to join one of those organised tours so would probably be OK.
Quito old town
I was actually quite pleased with myself that i managed to help her out, get her to where she needed to be and managed to tell the taxi driver that I have a husband joining me in Quito tomorrow!! Oh, we are back to these kind of countries then, good job I knew the Spanish for ‘i have a husband’. But como se dice? ‘Its none of your bloody business just drive me to my hostel or get a kick in the nuts’ I can brush up on a few more phrases I think!! Quito was absolutely mental, first impression. The drive to my hostel, about 10pm, people out on the streets everywhere partying, people blowing whistles, dancing, drunk, being sick, trying to get into my taxi!! Turns out, and i didn’t have a clue before i came, that it was a special celebration, FIESTA TIME in Quito.
Typical Ecuadorian food, churrasco
The 6th December is Quito foundation day and is celebrated with public holidays and 4 days of partying, and I mean partying, latin American styleee. What was i coming into? I felt a bit overwhelmed.
The hostel was surrounded by a big security gate like, it seemed, most of the restaurants, hotels and shops in Quito. YIKES!!! My room was up some stairs and as I went to carry my bags up I felt dizzy and my head started pounding. Oh bloody hell, I was feeling the affects of the altitude. Quito is the second highest capital city in the world, La Paz in Bolivia being the highest. It doesn’t sound that high at around 3000 metres, just under 10,000 feet, above sea level, but flying in from sea level and with a bit of a cold picked up in LA, i felt bloody awful.
One of the party vans
I lay on my bed, listening to my heart pounding, my breathing really deep. My sinuses were blocked from the cold and i felt like my head was going to explode. I could see why when i went to get my roll-on deodorant out of my bag, the roller bit popped right off and went flying across the room from the pressure build up inside. Basically, that was what was happening in my sinuses OUCHH!!! I didn’t feel confident in this city, all the security, the people partying in the streets and the altitude sickness didn’t help one bit. Lucky for me, support arrived, I met Sue and Michael at the hostel, a couple from Melbourne. They took me to dinner, showed me around, reassured me on safe areas to walk etc and with the headache also easing off, I felt so much better.
Viva Quito festival
First things first, why had i come straight to Quito in the first place? Well, not only was Quito a fascinating colonial city itself, right in the middle of the world, good place to start, but from here it is possible to fly to the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin territory, theory of evolution, my ultimate dream destination. The first thing I do in Quito is pop in on all of the ‘last minute Galapagos’ agencies and bag myself a dream 8 day cruise around the islands ,leaving in about a week. Am I excited? Advantage to being a solo traveller here, one last place on a luxury boat, they are looking for a solo female to fill it and here I am.. But i am not sure i can afford it, I think I will go and look elsewhere? Oh hang on, we can give you another 20% off, thankyou very much.
Viva Quito festival
I ended up getting the trip for less than half the price advertised... This left me plenty of time to explore Quito and join in with the parties, my confidence growing every day. I wandered around the beautiful old town, marvelled at the Spanish colonial buildings packed in around the cobbled streets and surrounded by steep side streets and majestic volcanoes. I took a taxi out so that I could straddle the equator and play some fun games, seeing water going down the plughole different directions that kind of thing. There are actually two equator lines about 100m or so apart. The original line has a huge monument, shops and razmattazz, the other newer one is supposedly calculated using GPS, the ‘real’ equator??? and includes the museum with the fun games.
The virgin of Quito
Oh well, it is all just a bit of fun! Another day I also took a white knuckle taxi ride up to the top of a hill, the Panecillo, where a huge white virgin overlooks the whole city, quite awesome..
And well, the parties, oh they know how to have a fiesta here that is for sure, welcome to South America. There is street comedy (I laugh along even though I don’t really understand!), live music, carnivals, all the time I clutch my bag close to me, try and stay safe but no way was I missing out on this fun. Every now and then a brightly coloured van, painted with ‘viva Quito’ would drive past, honking the horn, crowded with locals blowing whistles and getting drunk! Everywhere you are greeted with ‘Viva Quito’ to which you reply ‘Viva’.
Quito old town
I certainly got into the spirit and am so happy to report that I didn’t get into any trouble atall, well apart from being hit on quite a lot by the guys, RAMPANT here, even more so than Asia. One guy in a cafe told me he was in love with me and will leave his wife, i only asked him what time the carnival started!! I did also get followed around the old town by a guy who I had a brief conversation with in Plaza Grande. I turned around a few streets later and he is there ‘oh hello Karen’, then again about half an hour later!! ‘I am not following you’ I reply ‘yes you are, why are you following me?’ which scared him off. That is about the magnitude of hassles that i got here really. Other than this, i found the people here to be friendly and genuine. To be honest, my main problem here was with the altitude sickness, still feeling dizzy, constantly drinking water but still dehydrated, heart pounding at night time. I know the perfect solution though to this... how about getting away to the Galapagos islands? Oh yesssssss.... VAMOS!!!