The first few days in Quito have been spent acclimatising to the 2,800m altitude and battling with the excruciatingly slow wifi in the hostel, which, apparently, nobody else was experiencing. Being ever conscious of having 3 weeks of Cuban blogging and photos to upload, I became increasingly frustrated. Sunday passed mostly in my room with a slight headache and drinking gallons of water. Knowing that I am prone to altitude sickness, I had taken a small dose of diamox and started drinking water even before I arrived. This appears to have helped as I did not suffer as I had in Bogota last year.
On Monday, I joined a guided walking tour around the historic centre, with an Irish guide who also works at the hostel. It was quite informative but, unfortunately, a lot of the information passed straight through my befuddled head, which was trying hard to relocate itself to Ecuador and not remain in Cuba.
There seem to be an infinite number of churches in Quito, some of which I will return to look at later. As it was Monday, the Changing of the Guard takes place at the Palace at 11am so we stopped to watch that.
The President, Rafael Correa, made an appearance on the balcony and was greeted with loud cheers from the crowds. Seemingly, he is quite popular, although apparently this occasion could also be used by people demonstrating against unpopular policies.
After watching the ceremony for half an hour, we continued our tour, stopping for very good fresh juices, which are served everywhere here, and then at an Ecuadorian/Swiss chocolate shop in La Rondo, where I purchased the most expensive chilli chocolate bar ever, so it is being savoured very, very slowly, piece by very small piece. La Rondo is a narrow, cobbled street that is dead during the day but becomes extremely lively at night.
Our tour also encompassed a visit to a Shaman’s ‘office’ (for want of a better word) where he undertakes various treatments using herbs and sometimes guinea pigs. For the latter, the guinea pig is waved around the sick person’s body and it absorbs whatever illness exists. Subsequently, the guinea pig dies whilst the sick person is healed. Obviously not a treatment for the animal lover! Apparently, there are many cases recorded of this being a successful treatment but our Western culture would probably be quite sceptical.
After the tour, most of the group adjourned to the market where we all had an excellent fish lunch. The starter was a delicious ceviche, which was unlike any other ceviche I have tasted and was more like a cold fish soup. It was infinitely preferable and I will have to return for more! The main course was corvina, a fish typical of the region, cooked to perfection and accompanied by rice and potatoes. Far too much food, once again, of course.
The following day I enrolled for Spanish classes at Yanapuma Spanish School, which is a not for profit organisation that supports local indigenous communities. I was totally spoiled for choice for language schools in Quito where there is an abundance, but the ethics of this one appealed. My classes will start next Monday.
On Wednesday, I met up with Carolyn, the English traveller whom I first met in Costa Rica and then again in Portugal. We spent a great deal of time catching up over coffee before taking a bus to Ofelia station and then another local bus to Mitad del Mundo or the Centre of the World. Transport in Ecuador is unbelievably cheap and you can get a bus anywhere within the city for 25 cents. Ofelia is on the northern outskirts, so the second suburban bus cost 50 cents, an amount which is hardly going to break the bank.
Once there, we headed for the Museum, which is at the ‘real’ equator. There are two places that have been regarded as the Equator, one being marked by a Monument where a Frenchman calculated the line in the 1700’s and the other, at the Museum, which was calculated 20 years ago, using modern technology, and which is regarded as the precise one. They are about 300 metres apart so the Frenchman didn’t do too badly in his calculations all those years ago.
We spent some time there, first being guided round the museum and then seeing experiments in physics on the effect of the gravity pull of the poles. The museum included such exhibits as an indigenous house, burial offerings and how to shrink an enemy’s head. These are the instructions for the latter should anyone wish to try it:
- Decapitate your enemy.
- Remove the skull from the scalp.
- Boil the scalp with unspecified, vital secret ingredients until it has shrunk.
- Attach to a piece of string/rope or other suitable material to make a necklace to wear to absorb the strength of the enemy.Easy peasy!
The experiments included balancing an egg on a nail, holding your arms out straight, with your hands clenched together whilst a friend tries to push them down, watching the water in a sink swirl clockwise, anti clockwise or straight down depending on which hemisphere the sink was placed, and putting one foot in front of the other along the equator line with arms outstretched at your side and your eyes closed. The latter is not as easy as it sounds as there is a surprisingly strong pull of gravity when you start so you have to establish and maintain your balance.
Afterwards, we looked at the Monument from the perimeter fence (not wanting to pay the entry fee for a pretend equator) and then caught buses back to the centre of town.
By this time, we were both ravenous as it was 6pm, so we stopped at a pizza restaurant for dinner before heading back to our respective hostels.