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Journey to the center of the Earth

November 18, 2009

The three of us at the real Equator

I’ve been in Quito the past few days. I’ve also found that I’m starting to pick up some Aussie slang from spending so much time with Kassia and Lauren. Suddenly I find myself thinking or starting to say things like, “I can’t be asked to do such-and-such,” “I reckon blah blah,” or “We’re just gonna rock on up and see about this-and-that.” So if any weird phrases are sprinkled around in my entry, you now know why.

We arrived on Sunday afternoon, as I mentioned before, to a shiny new bus terminal after a surprisingly short and painless bus ride from Baños. Our afternoon in New Town was fairly pleasant and didn’t feel at all like the scary, dangerous, terrible Quito we’d often heard about.

The next day we dove into the city and took the bus (about an hour and a half, switching buses once) to Mitad del Mundo, also known as the Equator. It’s funny because a visit to the equator actually involves visiting two different sites: the big, touristy Equator town/line/monument, and the neighboring museum that features the real, GPS-calculated equator.

Which hemisphere am I in ?

So first we visited the touristy one. It was kind of strangely deserted. I guess because it was a Monday? It was funny because we sat on the plaza in this big, empty town, eating lunch, and listening to this cheesy, tourist-town (think Disneyland) type music that they blasted over this empty town. It almost felt like a scene from a horror movie! Then we took the requisite pictures hopping from hemisphere to hemisphere over the “we-kn0w-it’s-not-actually-real” Equator line and in front of the big monument.

Then we left the little town and walked a few feet down the road to the Museo Inti Nan, site of the actual Equator, as calculated by GPS. (The first town/monument was erected in the 1960’s or something, before GPS, while this one was calculated and marked in the 90’s sometime, I believe.)

Museo Inti Nan and the real Equator

The museum was much more interesting than the previous place. It was kind of strange and different than I’d expected — all outdoors, and almost a bit hippie-ish looking! — but still impressive. We had an English guided tour included in the entrance fee. First he took us around to show us this little hut that was the home of the woman who first lived on the site, then to some areas showcasing random things: a shrunken head, along with a step-by-step lesson on how to create one, stuffed animals from the jungle, examples of different houses and burial tombs that the Shuar peopled used.

Then finally we were led to the (much less hyped than the tourist town one) line of the Equator. It was much less showy, but we again took pictures on it. Then they showed us some interesting experiments. There was a special two-sided sundial, a “which-way-the-water-spins” experiment (they had a movable tub that they first poured water down on the Equator – little to no spin – then on each side of the equator to show how it spins clockwise in the  northern hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the south), a stand-the-egg-up-straight experiment, and then one where you walk on the line with your arms out and eyes closed and “feel” the pull of the opposing forces.

Satisfied with our equatorial experiences, we made our way back to Quito and took some time to grab a snack in a cafe (just in time to head out into the daily afternoon rain), relax at the hostel, and head out to a late dinner. On the way home from dinner we were talking about how safe we felt in Quito, and how it didn’t seem nearly as scary or dangerous as people said, when of course we found we’d spoken too soon. Our hostel is only a couple blocks from the main plaza/tourist area, but we hadn’t realized we were walking down another street that was a bit more deserted.

This guy came up to us asking for money. I took my usual plan of action and just ignored him and started walking fast. Unfortunately, Lauren and Kassia either didn’t do this or were held back by him in some way, I’m not sure, but apparently he made some very threatening motions at Lauren and when I turned around to see why they hadn’t caught up to me, he was reaching out to grab at her. So I ran back and we grabbed each other and went into an open shop off the street. The guys there luckily came out and got the guy to go away, and we went back down the way we’d came (we were only a block from the main plaza) and walked around another way to get back to the hostel.

I guess because I had been ahead of them and hadn’t been bothered specifically by the guy and hadn’t seen how he acted toward Lauren and Kassia, I wasn’t that bothered by the incident. It was a bit scary, but not something I would have continued to think much of. But they were really almost a bit traumatized by it, and kept talking about it and how they were ready to just give him all their money. So after a while I started to get more freaked out by it too, and so now we’re all much more wary about being out in Quito.


Anyways, the next day we went with two Canadian girls from our hostel to the TeleferiQo, a big cable car that takes you up to 4,100m on a mountain to a place called Cruz Lomo. It’s supposed to be one of Quito’s biggest attractions, and guidebooks all describe it as a “dizzying, hair-raising, thrilling” ride. (They also say it’s $4, but it’s $8. Not a great surprise.) Well, that’s not exactly how I would describe it. I’d more say slow and fairly unexciting. It is really high though, I think one of the highest in the world, so I guess if you were afraid of heights it might be those things.

Kassia and I at the O2 Bar

And the views are pretty great from the top. The Aussies and I also spent a couple bucks to try 15 minutes at the oxygen bar. It was pretty cool, I’d always kind of wanted to try it but they’re pretty expensive (and not exactly common) so I never have. I can’t say that I really felt much difference — I’m guessing the benefits they extoll about relaxing your muscles, increasing memory, awareness, etc. are probably more if you do it fairly regularly, but it wasn’t an unpleasant way to spend 15 minutes (and hey, maybe it did help with the altitude and I just didn’t have time to notice since we did it right away). Plus the O2 was “flavored” (scented?) so you could increase the levels of orange, or apple, or whatever the other one was.

Galapagos turtles, etc. instead of gargoyles at the Basilica del Voto Nacional

Then we took the TeleferiQo back down and took a bus to the Old Town. We visited the Basilica del Voto Nacional, which is this gigantic gothic church. It was really cool, with pretty spectacular, colorful stained-glass windows. The coolest detail for me was on the outside, where instead of gargoyles they had Galapagos turtles and lizards!

From there we walked into Old Town, grabbed lunch (this Krishna buffet lunch recommended in all our guidebooks, called Govindas, which was cheap but I really don’t recommend, unless you like the taste of dirt!), and explored a bit.

Plaza San Francisco

We wandered around the main plazas and saw the “dancing virgin” up on El Panecillo from a distance (we weren’t in the mood to take a taxi up and climb it). Then we headed back toward New Town so the girls could do a bit of souvenir shopping in the market.

By then we were all a bit exhausted, and I had to go pay for the rest of my Galapagos trip. I am heading out tomorrow, which is exciting! I managed to get an 8-day cruise for a little more than half of what it regularly goes for in Quito, and less than half of what it would be for someone booking it online! I also had to arrange for my flights, etc. It’s definitely going to be a pricey trip, but I think well worth it (especially since my boat does a unique itinerary that usually only luxury boats do, visiting the islands of Genevosa, Isabela and Fernandina, all of which are a bit farther our and less visited).

We ran into a Kiwi guy that has basically been a day behind us (ran into in Mancora, Cuenca, and Baños all previous!) and went out to dinner with him. So we felt a little better walking back with a guy after dinner 🙂

Today the girls went on a daytrip to Cotopaxi. I decided to pass as I didn’t want to be too exhausted for my early morning tomorrow, and I still needed to get some things out of the way (i.e. buying toothpaste, getting out even more money to pay for the Galapagos entry fees, etc., all that exciting stuff).

Me & Quito (from Cruz Lomo at the top of the TeleferiQo)

Being alone again felt really weird though. Even just wandering around by myself in the morning (which is also when it’s a little more dead, since the power is always out from 7-11am here as part of the mandatory blackouts), the difference in attention is jarring, compared to when I’m usually walking around with two other girls. Again it was back to everyone staring at me, yelling out things at me, etc. I will definitely be happy to get away from that when I leave South America.

So I haven’t spent a lot of time outside the hostel today, admittedly. There’s a bakery right by the hostel that I frequent for breakfast, and I visited a couple agencies inquiring about jungle tours (still have yet to find one that sounds interesting enough — and different enough from my time in Iquitos a couple years ago — to spend the time and money on), as I will have 10 days to fill once I get back from the Galapagos and I’d like to spend as few of them in Quito as possible! I also grabbed lunch near the hostel and have managed not to stray far from the main La Mariscal area.

Yeah, the equator is cool.

Quito has been really interesting, though. The Equator was cool, the TeleferiQo and Old Town were interesting enough as well. The city itself is just a bit intimidating, though. It’s just so huge, it’s not really somewhere I’d like to tackle on my own. I prefer cities that are more walkable and one-type-of-transportation-friendly (i.e. just a subway or something, instead of like here where there’s three or four different types of transport that aren’t at all connected.) I suppose that’s why I enjoyed La Paz (and of course Buenos Aires) so much. And why I pretty much only stayed in Miraflores in Lima.

Another thing to note about Quito is its diversity. There are people from a lot more ethnic backgrounds here than I’ve seen anywhere else in South America. Again, it also seems that people here (in Ecuador in general) dress more “normal” (aka like people from home).

I’ve also noticed that every time I see a couple with a young baby (of which there seem to be tons!), the man is always the one holding and carrying the baby! That’s something you never seen in Peru or Bolivia (or even Chile or Argentina that I can recall). It really seems like there’s just a bit more gender equality here than anywhere else. In fact, in Cuenca we even had a female taxi driver once. That’s been unheard of everywhere else.

So there are a lot of positives here in Ecaudor. And I’m sure it will quadruple in positives in my mind once I’ve done the Galapagos! It’s a shame now about some of the feeling of insecurity here in Quito, but I think even that will become a bit less intimidating in my mind once I’ve been back to being on my own for a bit. I’ve grown a bit soft and it’s been a bit too easy traveling with Kassia and Lauren for the past week and a half. I’ll harden up and get used to my solo ways again soon 😉

But now we’re off for a farewell dinner before we part ways tomorrow and they head off for some adventures in Colombia. It’ll be at least 8 or 9 days before the next update, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it. Galapagos here I come!

Accomodation: Blue House Hostel – $7/nt for 6 bed dorm, shared bath – pretty good location, nice hostel (wifi, a couple weekly activities including a kind of expensive BBQ, it was pretty social the first night we were here but seems to be kind of hit or miss – a lot of people coming and going, just here before they fly out)

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