• Day0

    And so it all begins in Quito, Ecuador

    April 9, 2018 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    If you aren’t doing things that scare or challenge you, then are you really living?

    Colonial streets, rooftop views, chance reunions, an instant group of friends and already I’m wondering why I was worried about travelling alone.

    A whirlwind 4 weeks back in England has come to an end. Finally meeting my wee nephew, spending time with my sister and her husband, catching up with my friends in London. It was all so lovely and I was a little sad to be leaving again but further adventures were to await.

    I’ve been wanting to hit South America for a while now, mostly Peru. Logistics-wise though, it made more sense to fly into Ecuador first to avoid having to double back on myself too much. A 16 hour journey was made worse by the fact that I thought I’d be doing myself a favour by requesting vegetarian meals. It seems they thought I’d requested vegan meals though because I literally got served green salads and fruit salads for both my meals over the 11 hour flight from Madrid. It’s fair to say that there was some serious food envy on my behalf, and I was absolutely starving by the time I reached Quito. Lesson learnt. Never again!

    I had a lovely taxi driver from my hostel called Manuel who met me at the airport, but quickly realised how much Spanish I’ve forgotten as we made some limited conversation over the 45 minute drive into the city. It’s so frustrating to want to say or ask things and not know or remember the words or how to form the sentence to do so! Hopefully it’ll come back to me soon.

    My home for a few days in Quito was recommended to me by a friend who travelled through South America at the end of last year. The Secret Garden Hostel is a multi-level affair with a rooftop terrace which has amazing views over the city. I arrived just as the sun was setting behind the hills, so stunning. Climbing 5 flights of stairs at 2850m altitude with a backpack which is about the third of my body weight though? Not so great.

    Quito is apparently not so safe after dark so a dabble in the hostel bar happy hour ended up in a chance reunion with Suzie - a Canadian girl I met in Laos three years ago. I knew she was in South America but what are the chances of her being at my hostel?! This solved my dilemma of meeting people on the first night, spending time catching up with her and meeting her Australian partner, as well as an American guy they’d met that evening too.

    I opted for the walking tour run by the travel agency within the hostel for my first full day in Quito. Unfortunately this began with a rather lengthy spiel by one of the owners quoting a ridiculous amount of poetry and well known authors - what relevance this had to anything, I’m not sure any of us will ever know but that’s 40 minutes of our lives we won’t be getting back! The rest of the tour was taken by a 5 foot tall local named Stephanie. It definitely wasn’t the best walking tour in terms of the information given but it was an easy way to see some of the sights of the city, particularly in the old town.

    One of the most interesting stops of this tour however, was to a Shaman’s office. We learnt about some of their healing rituals, one of which involved cutting the head off a guinea pig and rubbing the blood all over the naked body of the person needing to be healed. It is believed that guinea pigs will take any of the bad energy or sickness that the person may have. Bizarre.

    The plus side of doing this walking tour was that I met some other people from my hostel who had also only just arrived in Quito, from various directions. By the end of the tour there were 5 of us who had grouped together - Bronte and Kit, a couple from Australia and England respectively, Hannah from Ireland and another English lad, Mark. We all got on like a house on fire and spent the rest of the day somewhat unsuccessfully exploring some of the local markets in the rain and then getting well involved in the rooftop bar of our hostel. Let’s just say the altitude definitely seems to speed up the drunken states!

    Unfortunately Hannah was continuing on a flight to Columbia the following day but the rest of us have been somewhat inseparable since, so it looks like I’ve got some company for the next few days at least!

    A slightly slow morning followed our previous evening’s antics but the remaining four of us were determined to make the most of our time, so we headed to the equator line which lies 22km north of Quito. There are two lines out here in fact, the original line which was calculated in 1736 and then the current line which was calculated using GPS 20 years ago. They’re about 200m apart so the original calculations weren’t too far off considering. Interestingly, Quito actually means ‘middle of the earth’ in the local Quechuan language. It is mind-blowing to think how they would have known this so many hundreds of years ago without any maps or the like; instead using the movements of the sun and the moon to determine these things.

    The short tour at the museum at the equator line was much better than our walking tour from the previous day and gave us an overview of some of the local tribes and some of their traditions, as well as some experiments at the equator line to show differences in each hemisphere.

    The stories about the Shuar tribe were particularly interesting. They would cut the heads off their enemies, take out the skull and brains and fill the head with rocks. They would also sew up the mouth to prevent any bad energy escaping. At this point the head was boiled somehow to make it shrink to about the size of the palm of your hand. To this day it is still not known exactly how they did this in such a way that the skin could be preserved for hundreds of years later. The shrunken head would then be worn on a necklace or put on top of a stick to protect the owner. There was a real example of one of these heads at the museum and as gross as it was, the way it was preserved still some hundred years later was insane.

    We thought the equator line itself would be a bit gimmicky but it was actually really interesting seeing some of the different experiments and also how they could use the position of the sun to tell time rather accurately using shadows. Even just seeing how water swirls down a plug hole one way in the northern hemisphere, the opposite in the southern, but on the equator line itself it just drains straight down. Pretty remarkable to see how moving just a couple metres either side can make such a difference.

    And with that, the first stop of this trip comes to a close. Next I’m going off the grid for a few days, continuing to Cotopaxi with my new friends for a nature fix!
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