South America 2009 – Ecuador

Sunday, 22nd February – Thursday, 26th February

We arrived in Quito (the capital and second largest city in Ecuador) by plane from Cuzco via Lima. Our hotel, Patio Andaluz, was in the Old Town close to the Plaza de la Independencia and the Presidential Palace. The Patio Andaluz is a colonial building with inner courtyards. Our guide told us we had arrived in the middle of the Carnival holiday and the city was quiet as most of the residents go off to the country or coast for the holiday.

On our first full day our guide took us for a tour of the city (after we had first dropped off our laundry). Many of the museums and churches were closed for the holiday but we visited San Francisco Plaza and the ornate La Compania Jesuit church which contained seven tons of gold covering the screens and ceiling. We watched the changing of the guard in the main square which put the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace to shame. There were foot and horse guards in bright blue tunics parading and a band played in the square.

In the afternoon we took a taxi to the Mitad del Mundi where there was a theme park at the Equator. We went up in a lift to the top of the tower which marked the Equator and came down through a museum of the different ethnic groups in Ecuador, and stood with our feet across the northern and southern hemisphere.

The following day we set off down the Avenue of the Volcanoes with our driver and guide. The road is part of the Pan American Highway which we had first seen at its southern extremity at Chiloe in Chile some 3000 miles south. Unfortunately all the volcanoes were shrouded in cloud. We had to reach Riobamba by early afternoon because the main road then became one way to allow the holiday traffic back to Quito. We stopped on the way for ice creams and at a large Indian market at Latacunga. Our hotel for the night was the Ambraspungo, situated in the countryside.

The next morning we travelled on to Aluasi, on the way glimpsing one of the volcanoes. In Aluasi we caught the little train to travel down to the Devil’s Nose and back. This is a very famous rail trip in South America with switchbacks down through the mountains. We travelled on to Ingapirca, the main Inca ruins in Ecuador. On the way we ate a picnic in a service station as the weather turned wet after a fine morning.

We spent the night in Cuenca at the Hotel Carvallo, another old colonial style hotel, in the centre. The following day we were on our own until the evening. We looked around the central square, old and new cathedrals and the markets but it was very wet most of the time. We took an evening flight to Guayaquil; on the coast and the largest city in Ecuador. It was very modern after the other cities we had seen in the rest of South America. We arrived there late in the evening with just enough time to walk to the waterfront and buy some Macdonalds! We were up early the next morning in our room at the Hampton Inn for our flight to the Galapagos Islands (still part of Ecuador).

Trad. – Carnivalito (from ‘The Soothing Sound of Pan Pipes’)