We were surfing the internet one day and discovered that flying to Quito on December 25th was a bargain. So we went. We had a blast bumbling our way around a country where people went out of their way to help two clueless Canadians. The next few blog entries chronicle our trip. I would describe our trip as top end budget travel.
We arrived in Quito at midnight on Christmas Day. Not the best time of day to land at the airport in a country where your vocabulary is limited to what you learned from a CD in the car and your knowledge of the country is limited to what you read in Lonely Planet and Rough Guide. We had booked an apartment for the week but with our late arrival we had to spend the first night in a hotel.
Thanks to Lonely Planet we knew to go to the desk and pre-arrange cab fare. Harold had the foresight to print a Google map of our hotel location, It turned out to be useful as the cab company were not sure where the hotel was. Always a little alarming at one o’clock in the morning when you booked a cheap hotel on the advice of someone you have never met.
We eventually got it straightened out and for $26.00US we got a longer than expected ride to the Grand Hotel. A side note here there are two Grand Hotels in Quito the one we stayed at is definitely the less grand of the two.
Hanging out on the streets of Quito after dark is not recommended and at 1:00am there was almost no one on the street. When we arrived at the hotel it, and everything else in sight was completely sealed up behind a full steel door. It looked pretty closed to us but the driver leapt out of the cab and banged on the door. Sure enough a door big enough to see through opened and soon after that we were let in.
We paid our $20 for the night and were escorted to a basic but cleanish hotel room. We hung our packs up in case there were mice and went to sleep.
When we woke up we needed breakfast. We had seen a sign for the cafeteria in the hotel so we headed off hoping to find coffee. We were disappointed to discover that the cafeteria did not open until 11. The owner of the apartment we were renting for the rest of the week was meeting us at 10, it was 8. It was looking like one cold egg roll (left over from the Huston airport) two granola bars and some peppermints for breakfast.
We asked the proprietor of the hotel about finding breakfast in our very poor Spanish, he took one look at us, said something we thought was about our friend and started making phone calls. We were worried he was calling a cab to send us somewhere but as it turned out he was contacting his wife. We were sent up to their home in the hotel where she made us a breakfast of fresh fruit, fresh pineapple juice (which I am sure she made because her husband came in with the pineapple.), coffee and buns. It was excellent. We were joined by a man who had been there for a while and spoke French which turned out to be useful as we had no idea if we were paying and how much it was. We were asked if we wanted eggs, we said no but our table mate said yes, what he got looked to us like raw egg in a parfait glass, we were glad we said no eggs. During breakfast the owner’s mother arrived and gave us biscuits and a soft cheese as a gift. We paid $3.50 each for breakfast.
We moved from the hotel to the apartment we had rented which turned out to be two doors down the street. Old town streets are vibrant but a little rough around the edges. Everything is barred and locked but many places including the one we rented are quite fancy once you get past the locked doors. The apartment was very nice and better than we expected.
After we settled in we headed out to see the sights. We started at the nearest square, Santa Domingo it had a market of crafts and local snacks and a band.
From there we went to Plaza Grande which is the site of the Presidential Place.
We stopped at the tourist office and got directions in English for our trip the next day. We then walked to San Franciso and paid $3.00 each to enter the grounds.
There were parrots and what looked to us like two squirrels in a cage!
The church is beautiful and as it was the season, they also had a large display of Nativity scenes which many local families were lined up to see. The featured scene included several guinea pigs which we found odd but apparently (or so one travel book said) traditionally guinea pigs were kept around the home and then eaten on special occasions. Cuy (guinea pig) is certainly still served in Ecuador.
The streets of old town Quito are full of people selling things and most of them are one dollar. The vendors walk up and down the street yelling “dollar, dollar uno dollar”. They are selling all kinds of things: bags of mangos, cherries, tomatoes, chip like things and papayas, toothbrushes, lighters, candy, cones of gelato, fresh coconuts, brooms, glue and what we think were stove covers but they must have been more than a dollar.
As we were staying in an apartment we needed to buy food. Local stores in Quito are in the lower levels of homes and in some of the smaller shops you don’t go in you stand outside and tell them what you want (Harold discovered this when he got in trouble trying to buy something around the corner) even the larger local stores have everything behind the counter. This makes buying anything a challenge when your Spanish is almost non-existent. I can count to five in Spanish so I never buy more than five of anything. If the bill is less than a dollar I just give them a dollar and get change because 79 cents in Spanish is way out of my league. Harold takes a different approach he just buys as many as he gets for one dollar.
We did find a larger grocery store where we could actually read the packages. We bought pasta, wine and some tomato sauce to make dinner. The wine was good, the pasta was ok too but the tomato sauce turned out to be ketchup. So we had pasta with ketchup for our first dinner in Quito. I would not recommend it.