Jana tha Japan pahunch gaye Chin – its all about timing! A well planned first anniversary hiking trip to the Machhu Pichhu booked months in advance had to be salvaged after my husband suffered a knee injury from skiing. We had had endless debates between Peru (a place he always wanted to visit) and Ecuador (my dream destination for years). What better way to score brownie points with wife than to choose a place of her liking (especially when you can’t make most of what you really wanted to do)! And thats how our last minute planning for Ecuador started……
Quito and around: 4 days
The UNESCO World Heritage city of Quito is breath taking – literally at 9350 ft! It is the second highest national capital and a place where even a little exercise can leave un-acclimatized travelers out of breath. So slow down your pace before setting off to explore this former Inca site! Complete with cobbled plazas and lavishly decorated cathedrals, its retained the colonial look from its Spanish rulers. Knowing the altitude – I reminisced reaching Leh and how hard even simple tasks there felt. It reminded me of extremely expensive diesel and basic infrastructure……..far from it, this place blew me off! Very developed city with extremely good public transport and a thriving 15 Lac+ population, this place was an ACTUAL city!
I was on a budget and scouting for cheaper accommodation, albeit last minute. I shot emails to a few hotels and finally struck a deal with Hotel Antinea in the lively Mariscal district – in the heart of city’s night life area! Thumbs up! It was an old German house (a heritage property) converted to a hotel. Warm and friendly staff – very co-operative and awesome coffee with fresh juices every morning for breakfast! (Fresh juices for breakfast are a luxury if you live in the United States!). Living in Mariscal worked great, as each day after we returned exploring the city bit by bit, we were able to hit the bars to enjoy the night life and walk 2 blocks back to our hotel.
On our first day, we took off on our foot to explore the town off the tourist track! I wanted to try the public transport and so we started walking towards the bus stop, grabbing a map from the hotel. The people are very friendly and helpful – despite zilch Spanish speaking skills, I managed to get off the wrong bus and have someone help me get on the right one to Mitad-del-Mundo (Spanish: Middle of the World). Felt great to set one foot in the north hemisphere and one in the southern hemisphere. Also enjoyed playing all the equator games at Museo Solar Inti Nan, like weighing less or balancing an egg easily on the equator line.
On the second day, we took off for a day trip to Otavalo handicraft market, 2 hrs away from Quito. The journey to the Otavalo was as much fun as shopping there. On the way we got to experience some latino ‘chaat’ made of fried corn, boiled fava beans with tomatoes and onions and usual nimbu, namak and mirchi! Not just that, even the fruits were delicious – something very close to sitaphal and lots of passion fruits! During the entire journey, both sides of the roads were dotted with green houses cultivating roses! Yes, its a tiny country with the world’s highest rose export.
Reaching Otavalo we shopped a lot of exquisite handicrafts like chess boards, carved gourds, silver jewelry and alpaca wool shawls. The markets are exactly like the Tibetan markets in the North Indian hill stations, where bargaining is a must! (Tip: Learn to say the numbers in Spanish) On our way back our guide took us to a restaurant over looking a beautiful Lake – Laguna de San Pablo where we tried some delicious Ecuadorian potato soup with avocados and cheese and a vegtarian platter! Who thought there was so much in Ecuadorian cuisine for vegetarians! Another thumbs up!!
Day three was dedicated to old town, the historical part of Quito, where most attractions are located. It is a relatively poor andcharmingly unkempt neighborhood. Wandering here, you’ll mingle with indigenous Ecuadoreans whose multicolored ponchos create a fascinating visual effect set against the backdrop of whitewashed colonial buildings. Don’t forget to try some banana chips or nuts from a corner shop.
We ended the last day in this magical city by visiting the botanical gardens to view hundreds of varieties of Orchids and the carnivorous plants and visiting the Guayasamin Museum (Picasso of the Ecuador), since we have a lot of interest in art.
Ecuador is a country of active volcanoes and humming birds, rain forests and the amazon……… it offers a lot to explore, and we packed our bags for home taking with us some handicrafts, great memories and a promise to return!