Ecuador's capital city (although not its largest), Quito is a modern and well to-do place, located high in the Andean mountains. It's also extremely close to the equator: just a short drive north to "Mitad del Mundo", a big tourist attraction, and a spot that the big line itself passes through. Quito itself is the tourist centre of this country, and it's a great place to relax, to party, and to base yourself for various adventures and excursions.
After three weeks in this country, this evening I left Ecuador, from Quito's Mariscal Sucre Intl Airport. I flew with TACA from Quito to Lima, and then connected straight on from Lima to Santiago, in Chile. All went well, and the flights were comfortable and uneventful. Unfortunately, after today's incident, I wasn't in the best of moods, and I didn't fly out with the happiest memories of Ecuador floating in my head. Paying the $40.80 departure tax at Quito Intl was an unwelcome surprise, as well (I thought all taxes were included in my ticket price?). Anyway, now I'm outta here.
I woke up this morning, in my dorm room at the Secret Garden in Quito, to find a very nasty surprise indeed. It seems that yesterday evening — when we were all upstairs on the terrace, having dinner and a few beers — someone came into Dorm F, and went through everyone's bags. They took everything that was unlocked, valuable, and lying around. Sadly, I was the worst hit: they emptied my money belt of its cash (about US$150); and even worse, they stole my new camera. Nooo — not again! Please g-d, why? This is about the worst way that my time in Ecuador could have possibly ended. It's going to leave me with a very bad taste of this country indeed. And as for Quito: well, I wasn't sure before, but now I'm quite certain — I simply am not too fond of this city.
An American guy showed Tony and I a great little restaurant tonight. It's in the middle of Quito's overpriced, tourist-infested Mariscal Sucre district; and yet it's full of locals, and there are only two things on the menu: shawarmas, and beer! Only $1 each, respectively. The shawarmas taste great (be sure to smother them in the provided chili sauce), and they're best eaten on a 1-1 ratio with the large-size Pilsener beers. Relish the chow, get a bit drunk, and enjoy the local company. Nargila pipes (known as pipas around here) also available, if you're into 'em.
I met Tony here at the Secret Garden, on my first night in Quito, and I've been bumping into him now and then over the past few days. I ended up convincing him to come and climb Cotopaxi with me: which was just as well, because otherwise, I might not have been able to climb it at all. Tony's an Englishman, who gave up his boring day-job about 7 years ago, to become a permanent traveller, and a virtually full-time scuba-diving instructor. Quiet chap, but he's up for any adventure that comes his way.
I first met Oly almost three months ago, when Chris and I bumped into him, along with his girlfriend Stef, and their crazy friend Sophs, on Lake Titicaca. Well, what do you know: I've bumped into him again, here at the Secret Garden in Quito. Oly's a web designer from England, a guy who likes a beer or two, and (at the moment) a travelling junkie.
When I went exploring in Quito yesterday, I also did some shopping around for Cotopaxi mountain-climbing tours. One of the tour agencies in town, Gulliver, told me that they had one person looking for a partner, to do the climb on Monday and Tuesday. I told them that they could put me down as confirmed for going on the climb as well. However, when I got back to Quito from Pululahua this afternoon, and phoned them up to confirm for tomorrow, they told me that they now had 4 people for the climb, and that I couldn't come any more! Gulliver's have ditched me: not the nicest thing a tour agency can do to its customers.
After visiting Mitad del Mundo this morning, I continued down the road, to the nearby volcano crater of Pululahua. This is a giant volcano, that's been inactive (although it's not extinct!) for several thousand years, and that has a massive crater floor which is filled with populated farmlands. Great lookout at the top of the crater, and it's great to walk down to the bottom, and to hike around through the countryside on the crater floor. Just a quick little day hike (I spent about 3 or 4 hours doing it — up to you how long you want to spend at the bottom), but fun and very scenic.
For a little Sunday morning excursion, I decided to visit "La Mitad del Mundo" (lit: "The Middle of the World"), the famous spot where you can stand on the equator, 25km north of Quito. Mitad del Mundo is one of the most famous and popular attractions near Quito — and like everyone else who goes to see it, I didn't consider it one of the "must-do" things for my trip, but it was kinda cool to go there.
After the all-night affair that was last night, I took it nice and easy today. Got up waaay too early (like, 9:30am) so I could catch the Secret Garden laundry service, as well as their rooftop breakfast. Hey, let's face it, everything that happens at that place, happens on the roof. Considering my physical and mental state today, it made a perfect day for staggering around the streets of Quito, getting acquainted with a city that seemed to be just as tired and hung-over from a big Friday night as I was. That's right: nice place, but absolutely dead on a Saturday.
Tonight was one hell of a welcome and an introduction to Quito for me. After a sensational dinner of Thai curry chicken — on the rooftop terrace of the Secret Garden — I went out with some of the staff and fellow guests of the hostel, for a very big night on the town. The Mariscal Sucre area in the new town (otherwise known as "gringoland") is the place to go at night: and this being Friday night, it was absolutely packed with people. Can't remember what time I got home tonight, but it couldn't have been too long before the sun rose. Quite a few drinks, quite a few venues, and quite a lot of dancing. The parties never seem to end, here in Ecuador.