Quito and the middle of the world

Quito, the capital of Ecuador and the start of our adventure in the southern hemisphere.

We arrived by plane from Guatemala to the first city (along with Krakow) to be named a UNESCO World Heritage site. The oldest capital in South America, founded at the end of the first millennium, is situated at 2,800m (9,350ft) above sea level. Whilst researching Latin America we’d read horror stories of travellers being hit with altitude sickness who had been unable to function for several days, in rare cases the height had been fatal as it caused swelling of the brain and/or fluid in the lungs. Symptoms include; dizziness, confusion, severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, convulsions, swelling of the extremities and shortness of breath. Not wanting to be bed-ridden or end up six feet under we took the precaution of buying some Diamox (altitude sickness pills). Thankfully however our three-day stay in the elevated capital produced no ill-effects.

The allure of capital cities in developing countries has never been appealing to us with a mixture of poverty, crime, congestion and dirt all being repellents. But in Quito, we were pleasantly surprised.

We landed around midday and after passing through immigration, baggage and customs we were confronted with a lively wall of merciless taxi drivers. The most persistent of them had us haggling until an agreeable 7* USD** was reached to take us to our hostel.

We stayed in the new town, which was saturated in tourist comforts with western food being the staple.

Heading away from the familiar we went into the colonial centre which had countless Christian churches their interiors engulfed in gold, small dirty-faced children with palms outstretched, huge skewered cuy (guinea pig) grilling on the roadside, a storyteller surrounded by a captivated crowd, a man of God screaming about the end of days and a strong Spanish presence in the architecture.

San Francisco Church [Quito, Ecuador]

The Presidential Palace adjacent to the Plaza de la Independencia [Quito, Ecuador]

A day trip away from the hustle and bustle took us to the Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world). Although the tourist attraction (and also live-in village) had gigantic monuments, a museum and a hatful of information about being situated on the equator, science has proved otherwise. The real location of the equator lies roughly 200m from the impersonation.

Mitad del Mundo [Ecuador]

Unsurprisingly, equidistant between the North and South poles lies another museum, the Intinan. Although unlike the previous one this offers interesting experiments; balancing an egg vertically on a nail (which Alicia successfully did), proving the Coriolis effect – water disappearing down a plug hole three different ways – are just a couple of enjoyable things to see. Also there were replicas of native’s homes, an attention-seeking alpaca and a camera-shy sheep.

We left Quito the following day wishing we could have stayed a little longer, there were still city parks to be explored, duck boats to be ridden and other sites to be seen but we moved forward onto Banos, which for us, was the adventure capital of South America.

© John Brownlie 2012

Click here to see some of the photos that didn’t make the cut.

* This was the most expensive taxi ride so far outside the U.S. but is not an indicator of one’s daily budget; as both public transportation, food and accommodation could be had for $20-30 here.

** In January 2000 the U.S. Dollar became the national currency of Ecuador.

Getting to the colonial centre and Mitad del Mundo is made easy with the public transport. From new town (tourist area) to the centre takes 15-20 minutes by frequent bus for about .50c. New town to Mitad del Mundo can be done in about one and a half hours for $1.50. There are agencies that will organise it for you at an inflated price.

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