Orchids, cable car and more altitude sickness

I had to move accommodation on Saturday, as there were no rooms available for the next couple of nights in my current place, so I had booked another Airbnb on the other side of the Mariscal Foch district.

Tree lined street of my latest house
Tree lined street of my latest house

Once I had packed up, I said goodbye to Beatrice (not a quick process as I stood with my backpack on whilst she continued to natter) and then walked the kilometre to my new abode. In an economic mode, I had booked a room with a shared bathroom but I was in luck. I was offered a huge room with a private bathroom for a couple of nights, after which I would have to move into the room I had originally booked. “Muy bien”, as the Spanish speakers say!

In the Botanic Gardens
In the Botanic Gardens

I could not have been made to feel more welcome by Ana Maria and her husband, Francisco, and their house has a very homely feel. After partaking in a cup of coffee and settling in, I headed off for the Botanic Gardens. These are located in the Parque la Carolina and it was most enjoyable to wander through them. There are a couple of orchid houses (Ecuador being well known for orchids and having over 4000 species in the country), as well as a variety of other plants including roses, cacti, medicinal and Amazonian ones, most of which I did not recognise, of course. (Where is my personal plant/tree guru when I need him/her?)

Afterwards, I wandered through the park once again, stopping to people watch as I went. It still never ceases to amaze me how many people make use of the facilities.

Dispensing 'slushies'. (The block of ice is first ground in the machine.)
Dispensing ‘slushies’ in the park. (The block of ice is first ground in the machine.)

Once I had reached the big shopping centre I had visited earlier in the week, I sat with a coffee and watched the swarms of people in yellow football shirts. It was totally unclear as to which team they were supporting as the shirts were covered with Pichincha Bank and Pilsener logos and the only other name that was apparent was Barcelona. However, this seemed a little improbable in relation to the team (but what do I know?). Judging by the number of people wearing the shirts, as well as the street vendors selling them, I had to assume there was a game on somewhere nearby.

Lots of yellow shirted people
Lots of yellow shirted people

After another wander around the Mall, I caught the bus back, along with hundreds of other people. Like the parks, the buses are very well used and it is sometimes a mission to get on and, even more importantly, get off! So far, I have been lucky and have managed to follow someone who is pushing their way through the crowds to get off themselves. I am also convinced that the bus drivers deliberately travel as fast as they can, jerking the bus to a stop at lights and racing into the bus stations to see how many people they are able to throw off balance. My day was rounded off with a very mediocre vegetarian falafel dish at a restaurant/bar around the corner. It is not one I will be frequenting!

Busy street in Quito
Busy street in Quito

On Sunday, I decided to tempt fate and go up the Teleferico. This ascends to 4,000 metres in 10 minutes. I was not only anxious about the steepness of the ascent and, more especially, the descent, but also, of course, the altitude. I left early, as I had read that it gets very busy at the weekend, and walked part of the way up before deciding to get a taxi, which was very cheap and definitely worth it!

On arrival, there was no queue and I was put into a car with a group of young American students who were quite entertaining. They had obviously had a few exploits and one girl said that she couldn’t believe how many fears she had overcome since being in Ecuador. This included jumping off a waterfall! Sounded a bit too adventurous for me but I could name one of my offspring who would probably have no problem with it.

At the top, I walked in Pichincha Park, Pichincha being an active volcano, although I have to say, it didn’t look very much like one. The views were quite spectacular and I could see as far as the snow covered peak of Cotapaxi. However, I was up there for a couple of hours and, in that time, the clouds covered the mountains so I was glad I had gone early.

There were beautiful cloud formations over the mountains
There were beautiful cloud formations over the mountains
At the bottom of the Teleferico
At the bottom of the Teleferico

By the time I was ready to descend, a headache had started. This time, I was in a car with an Ecuadorian father and his two teenage (possibly) daughters, one of whom was petrified. Luckily, she sat straight in front of me so I didn’t have to look at the vertical drop we were undertaking. She gradually went as white as an Ecuadorian brownish sort of complexion could go. I think we were both relieved to be at the bottom.

I then walked a very long way down very steep streets until I reached the trolley bus that would take me into the historic centre. I hadn’t had any breakfast and was quite hungry. However, once I arrived, my headache was so intense that I could hardly eat. Somehow, I got the bus back to the house and spent the rest of the day in bed. Altitude sickness is becoming a very big issue for me as it is certainly going to restrict the places I am able to visit.

Commuting in Quito

The week seems to have flown by. I have joined the ranks of commuters once again and have been travelling on the trolley bus for all of 10 minutes to go to my Spanish classes, which take place each morning from 9am – 1pm. My head is now a complete jumble of irregular Spanish verbs that never come to mind when they are required. My teacher’s name is Cecelia and she has had to be very, very patient, correcting the same mistakes over and over again each day.

View from my bedroom window
View from my bedroom window
Early morning view
Early morning view
A wet day in the Grand Plaza
A wet day in the Grand Plaza

On the first day, we were locked out of the building. It was fiesta/carnival time and the owners had gone away, with the key, for the long weekend. (And, no, nobody had a spare, apparently.) Instead, Cecelia and I had a walk in the central city and then settled down in a courtyard, surrounded by restaurants and shops, for the lesson. This was conducted entirely in Spanish so required a great deal of concentration on my part. Amazingly, I understood a fair amount as Cecelia talked slowly and clearly.

Sadly, when I go into shops or cafes, they might as well be speaking Double Dutch, as I have no idea what they are saying. The fact that it was carnival also meant that a lot of the shops and businesses were closed so the area around my house was exceptionally quiet until Wednesday when everything re-opened and the area came alive again.

Each day, after class, I have tried to visit one place so, on one afternoon it was the President’s Palace, another the Cathedral and another the Cepilla de Hombres, which houses works by Guyasim, the most well known Ecuadorian artist. Unfortunately, having taken a bus and then a long, hot walk up a very steep hill, I discovered it was closed on Mondays, (naturally the day I visited) so I have yet to return.

I have been trying out various places for lunch, having decided that it is easier and cheaper to have the daily menu of the cafes rather than eat out at night. In the Mariscal area, which is extremely touristy and full of backpackers, the restaurants are quite expensive, as I discovered on the one occasion I decided to eat there. Luckily, I was able to find a relatively cheap Mexican place but the food was nothing like the quality of the lunch I had had at the cafe next door to my house for the same price. There is little choice for the daily menu and it usually comprises soup, a main (with a choice of two), dessert and a glass of juice. This can be had for as little as $2. Some of the cafes only have the daily menu and no other food.

Stained glass windows in the Cathedral
Stained glass windows in the Cathedral

My room overlooks a plaza and I think, is probably the best room. It has been quite entertaining to watch the people below and on a couple of evenings, I was serenaded by a saxophonist playing underneath my window. Nothing like your own personal musician!

My host, it seems, is not so much Miguel, with whom I made the booking, but his mother, who, as one of the other guests put it, is a self absorbed Prima Dona of the first order! A couple of Swedish ladies were also staying and, one evening, we were all summoned for a cup of tea at about 8.30pm. There was no declining the invitation, despite the fact that the poor ladies had to leave at 4am the next day for a flight to the Galapagos. Food was forced upon us until we all had to politely decline and start yawning! Even then, it was quite hard to escape. Apart from having to tip toe past Beatrice’s door to get to my room each time, the only other drawback of the house was the battle with one of the locks on the front door. To open it, I had to put the key in, pull it out 2mm and hold my tongue in the correct way. Even so, it took me several attempts each time I wanted to come in.

I have been very impressed with the number of parks there are in the city and they are all extremely well used by pedestrians, cyclists, families and individuals alike. Parque La Carolina, which is huge and through which I have walked a couple of times, is always busy and has a very large area dedicated to soccer pitches. There are also some excellent cycle paths along the roads and ‘bici’ cycles for hire. The cyclists tend to whizz along these lanes so it can be quite precarious for a pedestrian!

Police amassing for the Graduation Ceremony
Police amassing for the Graduation Ceremony

There is a strong police presence all over Quito. They not only stand around the main Plazas, but there are often three or four of them controlling the traffic at intersections, even when there are traffic lights. I’m not sure in this instance, if they are a hindrance or a help! These traffic controllers all have whistles, of course, but they do not seem to be standard issue as they make a noise rather like a chirping bird. I love them and want one!

When I was at the Cathedral, there was a great deal of activity with bus loads of police and dignitaries arriving. It transpired that there was a Graduation Ceremony taking place so presumably there will now be even more police taking to the streets.

Park in front of the Cathedral
Park in front of the Cathedral

My other mission for the week has been to try and replace some of the t shirts I bought in desperation before I left Montreal. The choice then was limited as it was the middle of winter and I have been wearing clothes in which I was not entirely comfortable. I can now confirm that it is impossible to buy middle of the range clothes in Quito. The city has some very modern shopping malls but they are completely (and, I mean, completely), full of designer shops, which are outrageously expensive. In the streets, there are a myriad of small shops selling cheap(er) quality clothes, but I do not want glitter, sparkles, pictures of boy bands or even the manufacturers label plastered across my chest. Where is M&S when you need them?!

All in all, it has been a very satisfactory week and I have marvelled to myself several times about the unlikelihood of living, albeit temporarily, in a place like Quito.

View to the south of Quito
View to the south of Quito
View from the Cathedral Clock Tower
View from the Cathedral Clock Tower