28.12.2014 - 31.01.2015 22 °C
After flying back to Guayaquil I retrieve my bag and take another flight straight to Quito where I am met at the airport by Pedro, the taxi driver sent by my hostel, and who gives me a kiss. Ok I have to say I was a little surprised to be kissed by the taxi driver - is this the custom in Quito?
Quito (pop 2.6 m) is spread out all in length as it is located in a valley surrounded by high mountains. At 9,350 feet (2,800 meters above sea level), it is the highest official capital city in the world as La Paz in Bolivia is not officially a capital .
I decide to do the free walking tour in the historic centre of Quito and our guide is an irish guy who's been here about 17 months. We visit the Basilica which was designed by the Frenchman Emilio Tarlier and is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. The entrance looks a bit like Notre Dame in Paris. They started building it in 1892 but it is not yet completely finished.
As it is Monday, we also see the change of the guards in front of the presidential palace which is quite fun. Lots of people, tourists and locals come to hear whoever comes out on the balcony to speak. The president was not there today but other politicians and whatever personality guest made an appearance.
After lunch at the market, I take the local bus to Mitad del Mundo which is where the equatorial line is. It is a little tricky to get there and it is about 1hr1/2 from Quito with a bus change, so I'm grateful to find in the bus an Argentinian guy who speaks english and is also going there. I swear I have a Fairy Godmother looking after me (may she continues). Anyway we get there and take the usual photos which are here. There is also an egg which you can stand on a nail head and a notice to say that you weigh less on the equator line. I try the scales and it seems to be correct although to be fair I have not weighed myself since leaving the UK.
The bus back is a total nightmare, it is dark by the time we get back to Quito and the bus is absolutely crammed and no one moves. I actually worry that I may not get to the door in time for my stop. I'm told to just push my way out which I eventually do. it's dark and I have to cross a park to get back to my hostel. Quito is not a place you want to walk at night but it is only about 7.30pm. It gets dark at 6pm in South America. Anyway I make it back safely - another little prayer of thanks.
I get up really early to take a tour to see the Quilotoa volcano. We go through 'Volcano Alley' as there are 30 volcanos around Quito, some active, some extinct.
After 1.5 hr the bus blows a tyre and the driver cannot change it because he can't get the tyre off. We have to wait 1.5 hr for another bus to come from Quito. We are on the Pan American highway (I did not know until then that it runs from Alaska to Patagonia), 6 lanes of traffic and there's an old lady walking her 3 cows on the pavement! We are just by a parachute commando base. To pass the time, our guide negotiate a visit of their museum where we are escorted by two fully armed guards.
The replacement bus eventually arrives and another hour later we get to the Quilotoa volcano, walk 280m down the crater which is 3kms wide - a bit tricky as it's loose dry soil - to the lake at the bottom. I decide to take the local taxi back up
Ecuador has a special way of celebrating New Year. They make puppets of people or things that was bad about the past year and burn them on New Year's eve to start afresh on New Year's day.
This concludes my time in South America. Tomorrow I fly to San Jose in Costa Rica.