Ecuador - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 396 (206)

Quito

Friday 8th April (2005)

Perhaps it was the alcohol that was adversely affecting my senses last night but I didn’t notice the fact that my mattress was slightly leaning to one side until early this morning. I was suddenly aware of the fact that I was constantly trying to prevent myself from falling onto the floor. Bloody hotels – there’s always something. We went downstairs to the dining room to meet Alyson and Albert for breakfast as per the arrangements we made last night. I was particularly looking forward to getting that American breakfast but it turned out to be nothing more than a scrambled egg to go with the piece of dry bread and a cup of tea or coffee. The waitress also brought us all out a glass of some sort of fruit punch but I saw her making it from where we sat at the table and she had put a huge mug of sugar into the solution before dispensing it into glasses so I asked for a glass without sugar. Unfortunately, with communications being what it was, the only thing I could get out of her was a sense that I would have to make do with this or nothing at all. I wasn’t going to take this lying down, especially from a hotel, so I went to speak with the English-speaking receptionist about getting a glass of something else without sugar. After a while, a glass of lemonade arrived but when I took a mouthful, I could see a half a centimetre of un-dissolved sugar in the bottom of the glass. Do these things just happen to me and me alone?

The hotel charges a small fortune per item for laundry but there is a launderette just across the road. Today would be the last opportunity to get the wash done and we desperately need some fresh clothes so I took about four Kilograms of clothes over there. There is a two-hour turnaround and all they charges was US$1,56 (€1,20) so you can’t say fairer than that. We’ll collect it when we return from our day-trip out to the equator today.

It was just a fifteen-minute walk to the bus stop and we stopped in at a couple of places along the way to pick up some bread rolls and bottled water. There are lot of poor people in Ecuador and although the roads and pavements are well formed, they are badly maintained and there is a lot of littler about the place. Still, Quito has a certain charm to it and the streets were buzzing with people going about their daily business. It was interesting to see the way many of the people of Quito dressed in their traditional clothing and different types of hat that give away their cultural backgrounds.

Our clapped out rattletrap of a bus was full to bursting point not long after we got in but the forty-five minute ride out to where the equator lies was not too uncomfortable. We each had to pay US$0,40 (€0,31) for the ride. There is a small complex of craft shops and little museums at the site of the equator and a huge monument whose four walls are lined up with the north/south and east/west directions. We had to each pay US$1,50 (€1,15) to get in. Atop the monument stands a large globe with a heavy line visible around the equator. A yellow line on the floor marks the exact spot of the equator itself and, naturally, we took the necessary photos to mark the occasion. It was quit the geographical milestone to be standing actually on the equator itself. Quito is about two and a half thousand metres above sea level and it wasn’t nearly as warm as I might have imagined it to be at the centre of the earth.

We were offered a US$6 (€4,62) tour to the top of the nearby volcano and back. With my arms and legs exposed, I was a bit worried about the cold temperatures at that still higher elevation so we decided to give it a miss but Alyson and Albert wanted to go. We picked up some postcards from the small post office inside the complex and had them stamped with the equator stamp. We thought it might be nice for someone to receive a postcard from the equator. Since it was just about lunchtime, we also grabbed a bit to eat from one of the several restaurants inside the complex. The whole place was strangely empty of other tourists with no more than a dozen other people wandering around. By the time we finished out lunch, the volcano had just about disappeared from view as huge clouds had lowered over the entire mountain to just about completely obscure it from view. With that, Alyson and Albert decided to forgo their hour and a half return trip to the top of the volcano’s rim after all.

According to our guidebook, there is a small museum just up the road from this spot where, amongst other things, we could see a demonstration of the effect of water spin as it falls through a plughole – or lack thereof here at the equator. It was a hundred metres or so from the main entrance but very badly signposted and I doubt anyone would find it without a deliberate search. It turned out to be a very good idea to visit this place since we got to learn a lot about Ecuador’s culture and the way of life here. We also saw various things relating to Ecuador’s past traditions, including a very disturbing look into the past practise of beheading an enemy’s head, removing their brain and skull and preserving the resulting shrunken mass to be mounted on the end of a spear as a deterrent to potential foes. This very unlikely little museum had one such shrunken head on display. What was also a very nice treat for the two of us in particular was the small gift shop run by a local Ecuadorian family. They were not only selling various weaved mats and other decorative throws and such but they had a working loom where they were actually making these things right there on the spot. For just US$2 (€1,54) and US$3 (€2,31) per item, we just couldn’t resist picking up a few things to add to our growing collection of worldly souvenirs. Our English-speaking guide at the museum then took us onto another spot in this open-air museum to where a line was marked on the ground that was signposted as being the true equator. Naturally, we all queried this having just spent the morning at a nearby megalith of a monument where another equator line was also marked. Apparently, this huge monument is not actually on the equator itself but was put at the spot based on measurements taken in the past that have since been found to be in error. It’s apparently a couple of hundred yards off the mark. The line on the ground here at this little museum has apparently been verified as the correct location of the equator based on GPS measurements. I had to chuckle at the irony of the whole thing.

We enjoyed ourselves at the little museum and came away with some nice souvenirs to take home with us to boot. It took us a couple of attempts but we finally managed to find our way onto the right bus back into Quito. We got out at the airport whilst Alyson and Albert went on ahead to explore some dining options for us all for this evening. I wanted to drop into the airline office to verify our flights out to the Galapagos Islands tomorrow morning. We were in for quite a bit of a shock when we got there. I had made the reservation over the Internet the night before last and even received confirmation e-mail from the airline. Subsequent to that, I sent another e-mail asking about the price as well as inquiring as to whether we would be able to fly today if we wanted to. I never received a reply from them and since I already had the confirmation for our flights tomorrow, I didn’t pay it much attention. What seems to have happened, however, is that the airline had taken my inquiry about availability for today’s flight to be a request to change the booking to today. So, not only were we actually scheduled to fly out today instead of tomorrow, but also all the flights for tomorrow are now booked solid. It didn’t seem to matter how much I tried to explain to the woman behind the counter, she was insistent that there was now nothing that she could do. My repeated protestations eventually drove her to providing me with the phone number of the central reservations office here in Quito. She suggested that they might be able to help and sent us over to the International terminal where the information counter might allow us to make the call. They didn’t, as it turned out, but suggested that we go through to the check-in hall to speak to the airline check-in agents. We were lucky enough to find the supervisor there but even after several tense minutes of waiting whilst he and another woman frantically ticked way on their terminals, they were still unable to offer us a confirmed seat. However, they did both assure us that if we were hear an hour before tomorrow morning’s seven-thirty flight, we would stand a very good chance of getting onto the flight anyway. As it happens, this was going to be my original tactic all along for getting onto the flight but it was a shame to have lost the confirmed booking to begin with.

Just outside the arrivals hall, we jumped into another US$4 (€3,07) taxi to take us back to our hotel. I made sure to have the receptionist arrange our wake-up call and taxi back to the airport for tomorrow morning.

Our laundry was now also ready and neatly folded. I can’t ever remember paying so little for a load of washing.

As we were resting in our room, Alyson came in with the results of their evening’s dining research. We all agreed to splurge a bit this evening and so we will travel across town to the one and only TGI Friday’s here in Quito. We were all very hungry and decided to go earlier rather than later. Once again, it was the local bus that transported us across town and this time for just US$0,25 (€0,19) each. With a complete disregard for the bill, we gorged ourselves silly on what for all of us was a bit of a treat relative to how we’ve been eating over the past few months. With the couple of drinks that I uncharacteristically ordered, the bill for Sandy and me came to about US$43 (€33) – quite a staggeringly high bill for Ecuador but none of us were complaining. Now stuffed to the hilt with good food, we decided that a taxi back to the hotel was a better idea than the bus. This just happened to coincide with the recommendation of the guidebook for after dark travel around the city. Our taxi sort of veered off in the wrong direction for a while but we reckon this was a miscommunication with regards to where he thought we wanted to be taken. Since the cost of the ride was just US$3 (€2,31) between the four of us, it didn’t seem to make a huge difference and, again, none of us was complaining.

We have a very early start to the day tomorrow morning so we bid a sad farewell to Alyson and Albert. I envy them with the bulk of their trip ahead of them.

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