Wednesday, 4 July (Part I)
Nope, not practicing to be Santa. The HO-HO in the title is in reference to what we did in Quito today. But more about that later.
Considering it was 3:00a when we fell into bed this morning, we should have slept in longer. Instead, at 7:41a, we were up and raring to go. First, though, we took time to unpack our Quito bag and settle into our room. We debated having breakfast in the hotel, but neither one of us had much of an appetite — a side effect of being at altitude. Instead, we made do with the protein bars we’d tucked into our carry on bags to snack on during our travel day.
Around 9:30a, directions from the concierge in hand, we set out for El Jardin, a modern mall within walking distance of the Marriott. The temperature was a confortable 65F (18C), the air was crisp and clean, and the daylight was simply brilliant — it’s the only word that makes sense, and yet it falls short of really describing the quality of the light. (The day’s high was 70F [21C]; pretty much close to the year-round average — nice!)
The pedestrian path just outside the hotel grounds and the sidewalks were crowded with locals walking and cycling to work. We felt safe and comfortable walking this area, but I do have to note that might not always be the case. Timing of day is critical. In fact, two of our cruisemates were nearly mugged at gunpoint when they walked the same route a few days later. The difference: they were on the path in the early evening on a Saturday when the area was nearly deserted. They managed to fend off the attacker, and in the end no harm was done — but it could have easily gone the other way.
So, why were we off to the mall? We’d been told that there was a supermercado (supermarket) there and we wanted to check it out for snacks and bottled water. Our recon trip completed, we continued on to Parque La Carolina. Once a farm by the same name, this huge greenspace is in the center of Quito’s business district — an oasis amid the daily chaos. The park was filled with Quiteňos playing ball, skateboarding, walking dogs, jogging, and using the open-air calisthenics equipment placed there for public use. It reminded us of Central Park in NYC.
Parque La Carolina — an oasis in a bustling city.
Though the park invited us to dally, we were on a mission and kept walking.
You see, just weeks before we were due to leave on our trip, I’d learned about the new HO-HO (Hop-On Hop-Off) bus service in Quito (website in Spanish). As soon as I read about it, I knew it was the perfect way to get our bearings around the city without exerting ourselves too much on our first day at altitude (~9,350 feet/2,850 m).
The only problem — there was little info on the internet about this relatively new service. As luck would have it, a TripAdvisor poster who lives in Quito kindly played tourist and provided enough information for us to go ahead with this plan for an easy day of sightseeing. (Link to the forum thread.)
By surreptitiously peeking at our map and also asking a few locals about the red tourist bus — they don’t know it as the HO-HO — we made it to the stop on the side of the park that is bordered by Avenida Naciones Unidas (United Nations) just in time to buy our tickets for the next departure. Collecting a bottle of water each from the guide, we made ourselves comfortable on the top level.
We would have preferred to have taken an earlier bus, but what with our late arrival in the wee hours of the morning, the 11:00a bus was the best we could do. It gave us plenty of time to ride around — last bus at 5:00p — but we didn’t hop-off at as many stops as we might have otherwise done. Still, worth the $12/person fare.
(By the way, Ecuador’s official currency is the US dollar.)
[Tour route map courtesy of the Quinde Tour website; click here for an interactive version.]
I will say that photo ops while riding the bus were not good for the most part — especially in the Centro Histórico (historic center; centro for short) where the streets are narrow and the buildings are too close to photograph from a good angle. But picture-taking was not our primary focus, so no problem.
In an effort to blend in with the locals, we’d left our wide-brimmed hats at the hotel. That was a mistake as there was no shade up top. Even though Quito has a temperate, spring-like climate year-round, the sun can be brutal. Luckily, being just over 5 feet tall (~1.5 m), I could take advantage of the one row of seats in the back where the rain-cover is stored; Mui was too tall to fit under the cover. The SPF 50 sunblock kept us from getting sunburned, though, so that’s something to be grateful for.
Proof that we rode the HO-HO (before I moved to the shaded back row).
So, on with the tour. The part getting from La Carolina to the Centro was nothing special, but we weren’t bored. First of all, the action all around us gave us a glimpse into the daily lives of the Quiteňos. And the recorded commentary informed us of basic information about the city, which is situated in a long and narrow valley boxed in by high mountains. The narration also pointed out buildings and other sites of interest along the way. The commentary was supplemented by a live guide who added new, updated information about what we were seeing.
Once we got into the Centro, the pace slowed down considerably due to traffic on the narrow streets. At the same time, the tour became much more interesting. No wonder Quito, which was founded in the 16th century upon the ruins of an Inca city, has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Center. As we traveled along Avenida Garcia Moreno to Calle de las Siete Cruces (Street of the Seven Crosses), we passed one magnificent edifice after another: the Basilica, the Cathedral, the Archbishop’s Palace, many churches, and countless buildings — some colonial — sporting wrought iron balconies decorated with flower boxes. And, of course, people, people, and yet more people filled the sidewalks and plazas along the way.
El Panecillo and the statue of the Virgen de Quito from a very steep street in the centro.
Look at how narrow the street is! Yet, the bus driver maneuvers the bus with ease.
Plaza Grande, home to La Catedral, the Palacio Arzobispal (Archbishop’s Palace), and
the Palacio Gobierno (Presidential Palace) is the scene of a peaceful demonstration.
If you look closely at the right edge of the photo, you can see one of the seven
crosses for which the street is named.
Iglesia de la Compaňia
Built between 1605-1765, this Jesuit church is the most impressive of the city’s 86 churches.
completed in the mid-1700s as a sanctuary for priests, today it serves as a parish chapel.
After the slow drive through the Centro, the tour continued on to El Panecillo for views of Quito. But I’ll leave that portion of our ride, as well as the edifices we explored on-foot when we hopped off the bus a few times, to another post.
I’ll wrap up this entry with dinner. By the time we got off the bus and walked back to Mall El Jardin to make a few purchases for our next few days in Quito, it was getting on towards 6:00p. We decided to have dinner before doing our shopping, so we checked out a few of the restaurants on the third floor (a food court is also up there). Without much of an appetite, picking a place for dinner became a drawn out process. In the end, we settled on Bocatto Da Fiorentino, an Italian trattoria, which had reasonable reviews in TripAdvisor. That it had seating out on the mall floor so we could people watch did factor into our decision.
As this was our first meal in Ecuador, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into :-) … tasty, but we should have ordered one main course to split!
full of hot air, the calzone (left) was quite daunting when first served;
Mui’s grilled salmon with mushroom sauce tasted better than it looked.
Later, a quick wander through the supermercado netted us some fruit, cheese, and whole wheat melba toast for quickie in-room breakfasts, quinoa protein bars to snack on, and a couple of gallon-bottles of water to fill the Camelbaks for our upcoming days of sightseeing in the highlands. A $1 taxi ride — yes, taxis are incredibly inexpensive (by our standards) — took us back to the Marriott where a relaxing evening and an early night to bed was just what the doctor had ordered.
P.S. For those interested, today we saw gas ranging from $1.45 to $2/gallon; and diesel for $1.06/gallon. Yes, those prices are per gallon, not per liter. Maybe we should downsize to a smaller motorhome and go roaming about in Ecuador instead of the US :-)