After the rural experience in Otavalo, big city life was a shock to the system so it makes sense that I didn’t last too long in Quito before escaping to Mindo. In the city we were told not to carry valuables at night, gringos and locals hung out in different places, public transport replaced walking everywhere – in a city of 2.7 million people, it’s sometimes easy to get lost in the mania.
The popular tourist spots in Ecuador’s capital Quito are the historical centre and La Mariscal, where we eventually found a home at Blue House. Immediately I felt comfortable there for running in to Jane, a fellow Aussie I had met in Baños – in a city of 2.7 million people, it’s also uncanny how often travellers bump in to each other.
The highlight of Quito’s beautiful historical centre was La Basílica, officially Basílica del Voto Nacional. The way up via the stairs was a winding, multi-level exploration of neo-Gothic architecture and stained glass and the 360° view from the top was stunning. La Basilica is still under construction and has been since 1883 but it is still well worth a visit. There’s something nice about perching high up above even the gargoyles and looking down at a city, trying to spot your hostel and see how far you walked yesterday.
What time is it?…
As for La Mariscal, we dubbed the area Gringo Square and avoided it as much as possible. Hypocritical? Maybe, but for a bunch of tight backpackers the food and drink prices are a little outrageous and the offerings markedly un-Ecuadorian. The wider city is also tending towards Americanisation – Parque la Carolina is reminiscent of Central Park – and while I couldn’t pass up a Dunkin Donut I did get a little too comfortable in Quito. The parties are easy and I’m a sucker for a decent iced coffee from a café.
My friends are dorks.
Nevertheless I got restless and so journeyed to the centre of the earth for a day. Only about 90 minutes away by local bus is Mitad del Mundo, the equator line. Actually there are two equator lines. Apparently the Ecuadorian government built a huge expensive monument where they thought the equator was, but once they measured it realised they were off by some 250 metres.
I still had both my passports stamped at both sites (for science) but the smaller site just down the road is the accurate marker for the middle of the world. Here they conduct experiments illustrating the effect being in the middle of the earth has on water, eggs, and my balance. Our demonstrator admitted the water one is unfortunately faked, you’d need to travel 12km either side of the equator to start seeing the effects they show.
I would have left Quito the following day if I wasn’t so hungover. Instead I left the next day, on a bus to Mindo.