We spent almost a month in Quito (a big chunk of our family gap year), busy attending Spanish school and enjoying just being in one place. Here’s the account of our arrival and first two weeks staying at the lovely Travellers Inn…..
Monday 8th October 2012
We leave Coca and the Amazon rainforest on a bus that leaves at 12.30pm and is supposed to take around 7 hours, climbing up into the high Andes, from little above sea level to nearly 3000 meters. When I bought tickets two days ago, why, oh why didn’t I make sure this bus went via Loreto, South West of Coca, and not Nueva Loja, North East of Coca and up near the Columbia border? (Martin reminds me that I went for the $9 bus fare rather than the $10 one!)
In the shiny new Coca bus station going from booth to booth, I clear forgot to check the route although I asked what time it arrived in Quito and was told 8pm which sounded pretty good to me!
We board to find no air con and no working toilet but the seats are comfy and there’s hardly anyone on board – excellent!
The bus pulls out of the terminal and immediately pulls over for half of the population of Coca province to board. Then it proceeds to drop off and pick up passengers every hundred meters or so for approximately 2 hours. Often vendors get on and sell sweets, empanadas, fruit, pens and some get on and stand at the front and seem to be preaching to anyone who’ll listen, then they hand out sweets, no doubt to the converted!
When we finally reach Loja and have a 30 minute stop, we are three hours into our journey and my map app shows we’re further away from Quito than when we left Coca! Grrr! We use the toilets at the terminal and buy crisps and ice creams. Should I mention how useful empty water bottles are for 9 year old boys stuck in a bus without a working loo? Not so good for girls! I ask the driver what time the bus is due in Quito, he says around 10pm. Oh! So much for avoiding windy mountain passes in the dark!
The bus quits its frequent stopping and we start to cover some distance, but then we’re stopped at a checkpoint and have to get off, queue up and show our passports. Maybe it has something to do with being close to the Columbia border, where there are regular kidnappings and one is recommended to stay away! We start to climb up and swing back and forth around the steep bends. I look across at Ben on the adjacent front seat with Martin. An open door and steps directly in front of him – I hope we don’t make any emergency stops. The girls are behind them and sleep a lot but when they are awake I feel very nervous and read them the riot act about staying in their seats.
It gets dark, cold and rains and we close all the windows and shiver, feeling the dramatic shift in temperature and then we have another passport check and Martin and the kids snack at a roadside food stall. I watch us creeping closer and closer to Quito on my map but I can see we have no hope of making it by 10pm. Luckily the kids snooze and eventually we pull into the bus station at half past midnight. Dragging all our bags through the enormous modern terminal to find a taxi rank is not very popular with our sleepy kids!!!
We’ve booked in at the Travellers Inn the other end of the city in the new town and it takes 20 minutes in a cab. I hope they don’t shut their doors at night. They don’t and we’re welcomed and shown to a lovely room where we fall into comfy beds with 5 thick blankets on each! What a contrast to the past three months of hot nights with a single sheet at most !!! Being cool is surprisingly welcome and not a mosquito in sight!
Tuesday 9th October 2012
We have just under a month before we are expected in the Galapagos for our volunteering program for the family – one of the few things organised before we left the UK. Should we stay in Quito or head to a smaller town to take Spanish lessons and maybe see a little of Ecuador in our free time? First impressions of Quito are good and we love the Travellers Inn too so spend the day checking out language school options in Quito. Favourite is Terra Centro, with great reviews and they give us a lovely welcome and great advice but costs for the kids classes are high. We book a trial lesson for tomorrow, then have delicious lunches nearby in to restaurants! Martin and Ben in a fancy Italian and me and girls in the posh place downstairs which is an Ecuadorean joint full of smart looking business people and one grubby gringo with her two grubby gringo girls!
Back at Travellers Inn we ask about English lessons there and arrange another trial lesson here too. Martin feels tired and poorly by the time we get back (maybe it’s the prospect of going to school, or maybe the street food on our way from Coca?) and he and Lara fall asleep early! Ben and Zoe watch a film in the cosy lounge while I do some blogging & email and I’m grateful to find the hostel offers pizzas and empanadas for supper, albeit microwave cooked from the freezer, when the kids declare they’re still hungry at 9.30pm as I’m not so happy taking them out alone so late! The downside of Quito is the well publicized fact that the streets are seriously unsafe after dark!
Wednesday 10th October 2012
We have an hour of trial language classes at Travellers Inn followed by an hour at Terra Centro then find a great looking bagel shop for lunch – it’s an amazing find as Zoe has been pining for bagels and cream cheese for a few weeks! Coming back we’re caught in a typical Quito afternoon downpour and get drenched! Once dry, I decide to go running before dark – my first run for 6 weeks. I’m pleased the thin air at nearly 3000m doesn’t deter me!
Back at the Inn, we bump into another blonde gap year family from Seattle, just back from an Amazon trip. John and Gretchen with Emma and Mia,who are 11 and 8, from Seattle.
We’re all really chuffed to find each other and we head off to a nearby steakhouse together to spend the evening comparing experiences and plans.
The kids enjoy hanging out with one another and we have a really lovely evening in each others company! They have travelled through Central American and Columbia and been on the road a little less time and we find that unfortunately their plans will take them more quickly South. It would have been be great to spend a little time together!
Thursday 11th October 2012
Ben, Zoe and Lara hang out and play around the Travellers Inn with Emma and Mia, while we look at flights to the Galápagos and our accommodation options over the next month! We go to view an apartment I’ve found which is gorgeous but not available till 21st!
After wandering round the city and getting hot and grouchy (it gets cold at night but when the sun shines, it’s hot!) we go back to the Travellers Inn, the kids all play some more and watch movies together, then John and Gretchen very kindly feed and watch all five kids whilst Martin and I snatch a welcome dinner for two at a lovely restaurant called Zazu! Everyone’s moods are much lifted by bedtime!
Friday 12th October 2012
Sadly we have to say goodbye already to our new friends from Seattle who are heading to Cotopaxi National Park and further south. We hug like old friends and promise to stay in touch and really hope we might meet up again along the way – you never know! it would have been really fun to travel along together a while.
We have to move to small rooms at back of the hotel for a night so have a packing frenzy followed by lunch at a typical backpacker hangout The Magic Bean Cafe – all burgers, chips, milkshakes etc….
The city has ground to a halt as there is an Ecuador-Chile World Cup qualifier. After picking our way through streets full of supporters and police we watch the match back at Travellers Inn and Ecuador wins 3-1. We enjoy dinner at a good Indian restaurant right across the road with Abbi and Loraine, two lovely English girls we’ve met at the Inn.
Saturday 13th October 2012
We meet for coffee with Kaya volunteering rep Pablo who gives us some Galápagos and Quito tips then come back via the supermarket to shop for supper for me and girls. They are keen to ‘eat in’ !
Back at the Inn, we move to new rooms again – this time two great big rooms – One room has a bath! So the kids all enjoy their first bath of the entire trip! Then we have a late lunch at MacDonald’s! I don’t know if it’s the excitement of the bath, the fast food or the sweet deserts or the fizzy drinks but some fairly hyper behaviour follows which results in another 1 week fizzy drink and snack ban – Zoe is devastated!
Ben and Martin go out to Zazu for posh nosh whilst me and girls chill and eat tortillas which we prepare in the shared kitchen. Pretty yummy and they love staying in! The boys have a lovely time too. Spending time separately with the kids works superbly sometimes, especially when our gourmet son gets a special grown up supper with Dad! By the time they return and put their heads around our door to say goodnight the girls are fast asleep and I’m busy writing a blog!
Sunday 14th October 2012
We go on a day trip to Mitad del Mundo (aka Middle of the World, aka the Equator) and to Quito Old Town with a small group from the Travellers Inn. It’s an hour drive through north Quito, climbing up and enjoying views of snow topped volcanoes of Cayambe and more distant Cotapaxi.
Just North of the equator we stop to peer into the beautiful, giant crater of Puluahua volcano, containing smaller volcanoes within. It is one of only two inhabited active volcanoes in the world.
Heading south again and slowing down to view guinea pigs roasting on a spit at the roadside, I check the latitude on sat nav and see we are indeed just at the equator. We turn into the Inti Nan museum.
Full of interesting exhibits about the history, indigenous communities and wildlife of Ecuador and fun interactive experiments about the equator; walking in a straight line along it with your eyes shut, watching water go down the plughole opposite ways each side and straight down directly on the equator, balancing an egg on a pin!
Then 300 yards down the road to el Mitad del Mundo. A huge monument and virtually an amusement park that actually isn’t on the equator but marks the spot which French explorers defined 500 years ago and used to measure the distance to the North Pole, later dividing this distance by 10 million and thus defining the modern measure of the meter!
Next we head back to the city and into the old town where we walk around the attractive colonial streets, and explore city squares, churches and look up a long straight road, originally built many centuries ago by indigenous people stretching up to a hill where a monument to the sun once stood. Overthrown by the Incas and then the Spanish who built a giant winged Virgin Mary on the hilltop and many churches and crosses along the street.
Out for dinner at Crepes and Waffles, a nearby Columbian chain restaurant. For pudding we share an amazing chocolate fondue plus huge ice creams that are three times the size they were in the menu photo!
Monday 15th October 2012
Our first day of Spanish lessons, which we’ve decided to take at the Traveller Inn – Our teachers are Steph and Anita, wives of Carlos and Daniel, part owners of the Inn with Dad Carlos Senior and his wife, and Steph’s friend Catherine. It’s quite a family business. Ideal to have breakfast then have our teachers there and waiting, rather than rush across town to school! We have two hours in morning, rush to move rooms again – back together in 201 where we started! Will miss the bath in 203! We lunch at a cafe around the corner – burgers and ceviche and then rush back for afternoon class.
We’ve noticed the worm like thing has returned on Lara’s foot but underneath where she’s complained of an itchy bite for a few days so Lara, Catherine (mi Profesora) and I head to the Pinchincha clinic where a clinical pediatrician inspects and prescribes two creams for a fungal infection and assures me it is not hookworm or any other kind of parasite!
It’s all good Spanish practice for me as no-one speaks any English but very helpful to have Catherine at my side helping! Lara’s doctor then helps me get an order for a blood test from another doctor in the clinic for myself, as I have to have regular tests just to make sure all is OK due to arthritis meds, and this is my first since we’ve travelled. We head upstairs to Haematology for that – it all seems very clean although I wobble a bit when he takes what seems like 3 times the amount they take back home! Lara’s doctors fee is $50, the clinic charges $11.30 (and give Lara the thermometer as a souvenir!) the blood tests cost $65 and are ready in 1 hour to collect though I end up not going back till Thursday! It was a pricey outing!
Meanwhile, Martin, Ben, Zoe and their teachers have a great afternoon at the supermarket, purchasing surprises for my birthday tomorrow and practising some Spanish as they go around. I am not sure if I should hope their afternoon is
just as expensive as mine or not! In the evening the kids are busy making stuff for tomorrow and we all make and eat Tortillas together at the Inn.
Tues 16th October 2012
Its my 47th birthday!! Yikes, that sounds sooo old . Ten years since I was pregnant with Ben – it’s a lifetime!
We have a lovely day!
Homemade cards, flowers, Ferrero Roche, lots of lovely messages on Facebook from home! Morning Spanish lessons and then a fabulous lunch at the wonderful Noe Sushi restaurant.
Afternoon Spanish lessons are ‘al fresco’ in Carolina park with a visit to the National History museum, finally seeing sloths – sadly stuffed!
After classes, we visit the up market El Jardin shopping centre and get Zoe some much needed leggings and also Lara – then head straight to our evening dinner at Cafe Dios no Muerre – a cool little converted annex of a convent in The Old Town with great steak and amazing baked cheese and homemade bread.
We dine in the tiny candle lit top floor room around a coffee table in comfy chairs! Its romantic and cosy and the kids enjoy playing cards but in the comfortable half light,
Zoe and Lara are fast asleep long before we come home, although manage to wake for cake and candles and a rendition of Cumpleanos Feliz once we’re back in our room at the Travellers Inn!
Weds 17th October 2012
Lessons in the morning. Martin, the children and their teachers go to the supermarket to get provisions for a cooking lesson! Lunch at Waffle & Crepe where WiFi and amazing download speeds lure us! – Martin and I have more classroom lessons in the afternoon and the kids cook with their teacher Anita! Later we all have my birthday cake and Ecuadorian champagne!
In the evening, the kids stay in for pizza and waffles and Abbi and Lorraine very kindly babysit (a very nice birthday present! They have a movie nite together!) and Martin and I go to a really nice Peruvian place.
We get an email today from the owner of Terro Centro saying her film casting friend is looking for a gringo couple to star in an advertisement for the Ecuador Environment agency, horseriding in Puluahua volcano. We decide this could be fun and make contact with the agency, especially as we would get paid!!!
Thursday 18th October 2012
I just have a short early lesson first thing as my teacher has uni commitments for her architects degree course today. The others have usual classes whilst I go to the clinic to get blood results – all good, buy a Spanish study book then meet the others for lunch at Crepes and Waffles!
Then I spend the afternoon studying, blogging and filling forms for the Galápagos project whist the rest have an unsuccessful visit to a market with their teachers. Martin’s not happy and the kids have been disruptive today in and out of class so we agree to try 1 on 1 classes tomorrow just for Ben and Zoe. We have supper at Adams Rib which is a bit disappointing although spiced up by the excitement of a very wobbly tooth!
Friday 19th October 2012
Its a regular day of Spanish Lessons and Ben & Zoes 1-2-1 classes going well. The kids cook their own lunch of milkshakes, pizza and tortillas and watch movies over lunch. We have a visit from Fernanda from the film agency and organise filming for Monday! The downside of the plan is they will pick us up at 3am!!! Having our traveller ‘wardrobes’ inspected and clear instruction on what to wear is funny! Martin and I go for lunch at Waffle, armed with laptop and iPhones! In the evening we go to a diferent branch of Noe Sushi on El Jardin’s Dining floor – its nice but everyone’s tired and grumpy so it feels like a horrendous waste of $130!! Good sushi is expensive in Quito as pretty much everywhere!
Sat 20th October 2012
We take a trip to Otavalo by taxi. Quicker and Cheaper than taking a tour.
We enjoy spectacular distant views of snow clad Cotapaxi volcano and nearer snow clad Cayambe volcano along the route the overall stretch going north and south of Quito is called the avenue of the volcanoes. There are no less than thirty volcanoes along this stretch of the Andes, many still active, three have erupted in 2012.
In Otavalo, we spend some time in the huge market, stop for coffee and snacks in the market square, see the many local people in their traditional dress and do a little shopping.
Then to Peguche waterfall where there’s a lovely trail up past a cool river and pool and then we all get a bit soaked in the waterfall’s spray! Finally to Ciucocha crater lake which has smaller volcanoes rising up from its depths. Its beautiful but we don’t fancy a boat ride after all our boating of late and we’re starving but the cafe is closed so we make do with a pack of cheesy biscuits but can’t help wish we’d headed for the zoo instead of the 30km detour to see a big lake! Sometimes you just feel as if you have had enough sights for one day!
We finally get back to Quito about 6.30pm and find that the filming has been rescheduled to tomorrow but thankfully we don’t have to leave till 8.30am!
Sun 21st October 2012
Our filming day in Puluahua crater with Fernanda and the crew for Ecuador environment agency with Martin and I starring as the token old gringo couple !! The kids are pretty disappointed not to be in it and there seems to be talk of including them but it sounds like its too hard to adjust the script. It’s a long day with a fair bit of waiting around but in a glorious setting and the kids get to ride for a while and just hang out with the horses, leading them around and feeding them! Poor Ben has a surprise allergic reaction to the horses or a plant or something and his eyes puff up. Everyone fusses over him and it seems to subside fairly quickly!
We’re filmed in three separate scenes – twice on horseback and once driving and picking up hitchhikers! We’re very well looked after by a lovely crew and given lunch at a lovely hostel in the crater and drinks and snacks again after filming. Unfortunately the mist rolls in before the final scenes are complete so we agree to return tomorrow.
We all go back to the crater hostel for coffee, cake and empanadas and finally get back to Quito after 9, grab our bags from the Travellers inn and move to our new apartment nearby, home for the next two weeks! The kids are exhausted but perk up to explore their new home and have a bath! It’s the biggest bath we’ve ever seen!