I tried using the online bus route planner but I could not figure out how to get there by bus. Lonely Planet said it would be about $5 by taxi so we decided to go that way. We started by walking to Plaza Grande in search of the only post office listed in Quito by the guide books. We wanted to send some postcards home (so our children would remember us) and although we still had not found any to buy if we had stamps we could mail them. I am quite sure we were there or close a number of times but we never did find it (truth be told although we did find postcards about a week later we never did find any stamps). We gave up and took a taxi to the teleferiQo instead.
The books are full of warnings about the hike up to Rucu Pichincha. One book claimed it was not safe and that we should not go and the other said there have been armed robberies. The books are full of warnings about a lot of things: not getting in an unofficial taxi in case you get robbed, not going out at night, not using the public buses, not wearing fancy jewelry… We did follow some of the advice and we were careful but in general we felt as safe in Quito as we do in any big American city.
We set off in a taxi (which was official, yellow and with a four digit number on it) and as would become the pattern, the driver was friendly and tried to engage us in conversation. None of the drivers spoke any English and we tried but we felt really bad about our inability to hold a conversation! We passed a vendor selling the giant puppets for burning at New Years and we tried to ask what they were called. The driver started to pull over in the middle of the highway determined to help us buy one! He must have thought we were really weird if we wanted to go on a hike up a volcano carrying a giant puppet!
We arrived at the base of the teleferiQo, paid $8 each and up we went in what is basically a gondola lift. There were even downhill mountain bikers at the top.
When we got to the top there was a sign warning not to leave the limits of the compound but there were other people walking up the trail towards the peak so we did too.
We agreed that we would turn back if we felt unsafe. We ended up going to 4500m and there were always other people ahead of us. We did not do the scramble to the very top but only because the weather was looking poor and it was a strenuous walk given the altitude. The views and the landscape are beautiful which makes an excellent excuse to stop. It took us over three hours to get to 4500m and the trip to the top would have added an additional 1 1/2 hours.
On the way down I stopped to use Los bandos (the bathrooms). A digression here. In Ecuador as a general rule you do not put toilet paper in the toilet. There is a basket by the toilet for used toilet paper. I think we encountered two toilets in the Ecuador where this was not true and both had signs telling you to put the paper in the toilet.
In most public bathrooms there are no toilet paper dispensers you pay to go in and when you do you are given some toilet paper. Rather a lot of toilet paper actually. I always had way more than I needed and ended up sticking the extra in my pocket. By the end of the first week I had a pocket full of toilet paper (great for confusing pickpockets). The bathrooms at the bottom of the teleferiQo actually had a toilet paper vending machine! But I got away without paying a cent because I had a pocket full of toilet paper!
We took a cab back down, our drivers name was Jesus and he was very friendly. He gave us his card in case we needed a taxi later (several drivers did this).
We got him to drop us off at Plaza Grande and walked back home. Along the way we discovered the oldest street in the city La Ronda a strip of art stores, bars and restaurants which actually took credit cards we didn’t buy anything we headed back to our neighbourhood store and bought a couple of $1 beers!