ARRIVING IN QUITO
After a good night rest in Latacunga, we took a bus to Quito 2 hours away (USD 1.5/seat) in early afternoon. The bus terminal in Quito is quite impressive with its 5 story high building. It almost felt like a mall. Because we had decided to go to the beach on Sunday, so we bought our ticket to Puerto Lopez ahead of time (USD 10/seat, 10 hours).
We took a taxi (USD 2)to a hostel recommended by Lonely Planet, which is Secret Garden in the Old Town. When we first walked into the hostel, it felt a bit cramped and dark. One also had to go through many narrow corridors and stairs to reach the reception area on the top floor. But the moment we reached the top floor terrace overlooking the entire scenery of the Old Town and surrounding hills, we were impressived and made up our mind to stay here. Secret Garden allowed us to cramp all five of us in one double room (with extra mattress) costing $20 + tax, so the price was acceptable, though higher than we normally paid.
Annie really like the way the owner designed the interior with its colors and tiles. The kids really like the place as it has many board games. So we spent the rest of the afternoon playing Monopoly. Originally, there was suppose to be a Salsa dance class that we can join for USD 3/person, but only Annie and I were interested so the teacher decided to cancel the class.
Given this was one of the more unique hostel we had stayed, we decided to stay for dinner there as well although it is much more expensive than our usual cost for food at $6.73 for appetizer, main course, and dessert. (Our usual meal cost $1.5 total) The dinner was enjoyable. There was an Ecuadorian music group playing live on the terrace and the night view of the city on the terrace was also quite unforgetable. All in all, it was a good day of rest and spending some times in a hostel versus going out all the time.
STANDING ON THE EQUATOR
The next day we went to the popular Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) momument. Quito means center and Ecuador means Equator. So given we are here in Quito, Ecuador, how can we miss not going to see the equator line.
We took the Metrobus, which is modern, efficient, and fast. The bus stop is like a train platform where you pay the ticket (25 cents/adult) in order to enter the enclosed platform. Once you are in, you can get off or transfer within the platform without paying for more. We took the Ofelia metro bus and after 45 mintues transferred to another metrobus (USD 15 cents) to Mitad del Mundo (another 45 minutes). On the way, we saw many modern buildings and restruants and malls. We can see that Quito is much more modern and prettier than many other capitals we had seen.
The Mitad del Mundo (USD 2/adult) was not very impressive. The main attraction for us is simply the line that it draws showing the equator line (we were told it is 240m off). To make the entrance fee worthwhile, we took lots of pictures on the equator line. We jumped a lot, took different angles, etc. It was fun trying to jump together as a family speading out left and right (see photos)
We were told by fellow travelers that our kids would love the Museo Solar IntiNan museam next to the Mitad del Mundo (turn left and left). So after some searching, we found the place, which was very unique as it was outdoor and has various types of exhibits in addition to those related with equator (USD 3/adult, USD 1.5/children). The museam is designed to have guides accompany you showing you the different experiments and exhibits.
This place is definitely more worthwhile than the Mitad del Mundo. There were many highlights: 1) Seeing how the water twirl in different direction depending on whether you are north or south of the equator line (afterwards, we tested it over and over again to make sure it is really true). 2) Balancing an egg on a nail. Apparently, due to equal force on the equator line, this is the only place where one can do this. Jon was able to balance it and he got a certificate for it. 3) Seeing a real shrunken head used by the headhunter in the past. 4) A preserved fish in the jungle called Vampire Fish or Penis Fish. It is recognized as one of the most dangerous animal on earth. If one, especially a male, urinate in the jungle river, the fish might drill into one`s penis and latch on! Scary.
TOURING THE HISTORICAL CENTER
After coming back from the equator line, we decided to visit the historical center given it is a Unesco Heritage site.
We were quite impressived with Quito`s historical center, especially when comparing with Lima. Lima`s centro felt a bit shabby and run down and dangerous. Quito`s center looked well preserved and safe, although we were careful with our valuables.
The Gothic Basilical del Voto Nacional on one side and the huge statue of La Virgen de Quito on top of the El Panecillo hill on the other side stood out when viewing around the historical center.
We also noticed that food in the center were very economical. Cheaper than another other cities we have been in Ecuador.
For dinner, we ate at a small resturant next to our hostel. The chicken BBQ stick (80 cents) was the largest and best we had in South America. (see photo) It was susauge, potatoe, banana, large piece of chicken on the stick with green sauce smothered on top. Yummmy...
FUN NIGHT OF TRIVIAL QUIZ AT HOSTEL
At night, the Secret Garden Hotel held a trivial contest for the guests. Our family formed Team Su and competed against other groups. There were questions on Ecuador, General Knowledge, Sports, Entertainment, Hostel, and other funny and wild questions (e.g., what was the longest a chicken lived without its head?) Initially, we surprised everyone by staying near the top of the pack. However, we did poorly on sports and entertainment. We were proud however that we weren`t last place! But the important thing was that the children really got into it and Olivia thoroughly enjoyed it. We even got some wild questions right, such as what would happen if Saturn dropped into water.
Such event as above made paying the extra money for the hostel worthwhile. We like this place so much that we reserved a room ahead for next Wednesday when we will be back in Quito for our last night in South America.
VIEWING OF QUITO ON PARQUE ITCHIMBIA
Right above our hostel is a hill on top of which is the Itchimbia Park. For our last morning here, we decided to go up the hill for a 360 degree view of the city, especially given this was the first morning the sun was out.
The climb was short, taking only 10 minutes to walk to the park. At first, the park didn`t appear impressive as there was a parking lot and some green fields. But as we walked and walked, we realized this was a very large park with bike path, running path, several playgrounds, sport fields, lake, and many view points of Quito. We really like it as it was very green and one has excellent view of the whole of Quito, even the snow mountains to the west of Quito (Volcan Pichincha 4700m).
It was a delightful and fun morning walk.
After the walk we checked out of the hostel and had lunch then we headed off to our next destination, Otavalo, the famous market in Ecuador.