Anthony on the Gringo Trail 2005 travel blog

Quito Basilica

Typical street in old Quito

Where the bad people live

Another fine Fransiscan monastery

Cotopaxi - can you see the tiny people? Start with the two...

Really enjoyed chilling in Puerto Lopez yesterday and was quite sad to go, I could easily spend days there. The people are really friendly and laidback and I was getting to know a few of them a bit, and being such a small place you see people often.

My overnight bus journey to here was pretty grim though. The bus was packed, when the air conditioning was on it was too cold, and when it was off it was too hot. The driver drove like he was rushing a sick child to hospital, so we were all thrown all over the place, and on some very bumpy roads too. It might look like a straight line on the map, but Ecuador is very mountainous and it wasn't straight at all. But what really finished me off though was having the radio blaring until 5.30 a.m. when for some reason it was turned off. When I find one of those shaman I will pay him to curse that bus driver most fiercely.

I am now in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, 10,000 feet up and 20 kms south of the equator. I am so tired I can't tell what is the bus journey and what is the altitude, but I do feel a bit fucked at the moment. My plan to climb the 6,000 metre Cotopaxi Volcano tomorrow is being revised. I think I shall pay a taxi driver to drive me round to a cafe instead. Quito is a great looking city though, the old bit built over all these ravines and cliffs, and the whole place surrounded by huge mountains, mostly volcanoes. Also, in common with Lima, all the young men seem to be into heavy metal, and mostly death metal at that.

Much later: I still have a raging headache, probably compounded by overexposure to the sun, but I have had a fun day. There is more of an edge here than Peru, and considerably more people with guns, and bigger guns too, but quite a nice buzzy edge. I had a fab breakfast in this very latin place where they were playing intense pena music, and I felt transported right into a Tarantino film. This was reinforced throughout much of the day, not least when in a quest for multi-coloured houses to take pictures of, I went to the bad part of the bad area. This bloke warned me not to go any further, so we talked about that, and then this tough old bloke joined in who was going the same way anyway, and we agreed we could handle any problems between us, and had a good chat as we carried on walking, without incident. I wouldn't go there at night though, I'll stick to the Stapleton Road. I believe I am a good judge of danger however.

I also had a good chat at lunch. I tend to do lunch in local places and evening meals in gringo places. Always meet more people in the former, oddly enough, though this evening I got a free drink in this Indian for chatting to them about Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I need to learn a lot more Spanish a lot faster though. Pretty much 'did' the Old City today, which was really atmospheric (and very hilly and hard on my altitude sickness) and nice, better than Lima I thought. Highlights included scary climbing around the towers of an unfinished cathedral and monk and nun dolls. I would have bought some of these, but they were a bit big. And I even got my first nice coffee. Round here in Mirascal in the 'New' City is nice too, it is not as posh and soulless as Miraflores in Lima, and is quite happening, and there appear to be loads of travellers around, though I am still pal-less since leaving Puerto Lopez.

I did also talk to this Colombian guy about what's the risks there, etc, and have decided as a result to go to Colombia, though not to do the trek to the Lost City, which he was very firm was a very bad idea. I may just do the south, I will think about it more tomorrow. That is one of the bits the Foreign Office is very against, but they are always saying things like that, and I'm not scared of a bunch of desperately poor, coked-up psychotics with guns. If I was I would live somewhere else than I do.

9th Sep - Headache thankfully gone. Relatively easy day, and have planned out the next week or so. Tomorrow I head to Southern Colombia - not very far away - do my touristy thing there, and head back sharpish before the Cali Drug Cartel hear a rich gringo dedicated to the war on drugs is in town. And then on the 13th and 14th - after I have hopefully fully acclimatised - I am climbing the Cotopaxi Volcano just south of here, courtesy of this slightly crazy viking guys climbing outfit. There is this fab picture of the route in various travel agencies round here, but at the resolution I can post it at, I am not sure if you can see the climbers, but have a look, that will be me! If not, mountains/ecuador/gallery/ is where I got it from, and you can see the tiny people on that one. This looks like the business. At nearly 6,000 metres it will be the highest I have ever been, and is meant to be a bit hard. We will be in roped teams, with crampons, ice axes, etc, etc, as most of the way is across crevassed glacier. Should be an experience anyway.

And I did a bit of shopping, got a yellow fever jab for the Amazon jungle, and went to a few museums to educate myself about local history, which was very interesting, and some rather good art galleries. I do like this city a lot. Failed in my bid to avoid American students though. I was in a Mexican place for dinner, and about to tuck into my chimichanga when about twenty valley girls came in, it

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