After around 6 hours we made it to Quito bus station. The journey had been relatively uneventful, allowing us to take in our new surroundings and to watch the Spanish language movie, complete with Spanish subtitles, that was being played on the bus. Hopefully our high level of engagement with the movie was a sign that our Spanish abilities were finally improving. As we stepped off the bus at Quito terminal, it soon became evident why the government have resorted to handing out safety advice to tourists that largely focuses on taxis.
Despite having read the safety leaflet, it was quite difficult to abide by the guidance as we were swamped by a sea of touts offering taxi services. We declined all advances initially, collecting ourselves and double checking that we had the address of the hostel. As per the leaflet guidance we headed to the taxi line consisting of yellow taxis with bright orange number plates and quizzed the guy standing next to said taxi of the price. He said $10, and with us having no idea whether this was reasonable or not, and trying not to feel too perturbed by the fact he had a scar instead of one of his eyes, we hesitantly agreed.
The alarm bells began to ring instantly as he then picked up Aislings rucksack (which was alarming in itself as it weighed about 65kg) and then power walked away from where the legitimate taxis were towards an unlit car park. Simultaneously, two taxis entering the bus station screeched their brakes on and began to aggressively beep their horns with both drivers gesticulating wildly in our direction. My alarm levels raised to mild panic at this stage. My instant natural reaction was flight but unfortunately gender inequality stated that it was up to me to race after him and attempt to politely explain that our deal was off, as I didn’t know the Spanish for ‘you’re a bit of a dodgy f&*%er’.
Thankfully he passed over Aislings rucksack without too much resistance and we entered the legitimate and apparently condescending taxi where our new driver proceeded to lecture us a bit too aggressively on the correct way to get a taxi in a dark bus station in a country you’ve never been to, in a language you’re not very good at. He also made a point of charging the same price that we had agreed with the illegal one, which was slightly bemusing and irritating, but on the plus side at least we didn’t get sodomised or held up at gun point. In all seriousness if travelling in Ecuador, do try to heed the government advice regarding official taxis as there obviously has been some horror stories in the past regarding express kidnappings, and the effort the two drivers made to prevent us getting into the illegal taxi was certainly food for thought.
$10 poorer, we arrived at the Huasi Lodge Bed & Breakfast and felt a lot safer as we entered the security gate clad property and were greeted by a friendly American guy. As was our custom, we enquired of nearby restaurants, and not long after went to bed happy and full of decent priced and tasting pizza. At breakfast the next morning, which was of a very decent standard and included in the price, we met the owner of the hostel, a very affable Ecuadorian guy who had lived in London for a number of years. However, despite me trying to promote myself as an International Travel blogger superstar he didn’t ply me with the free gifts and special attention I had anticipated my new found calling would evoke. Unsurprisingly the same applied to me continually writing ‘author’ on the occupation sector of our custom/border crossing forms.
Feeling fresh from a $2 Ecuadorian haircut, the next day myself and Aisling took part in the free walking tour. The tour was certainly on a par, if not better than the Medellin equivalent, owing to the enthusiasm, knowledge and likeability of the guide – Obe. As with most walking tours, tips are encouraged at the end. The guide even took us for some local food at a market at the end of the tour which was a nice added touch and insight into local life.
One point to note regarding an incident that occurred during the tour is that we had our first insight into attempted petty crime against us. During the tour Aisling complained to me that someone had squirted water on her arm. On closer inspection she noticed it was actually spit, and somewhat disgusted by this focussed all her efforts on removing the mucus of another human from her skin. At the same time what could only be described as a female Ecuadorian Chav, clad in a fluorescent tracksuit more suited to an inner city arcade, squeezed her way rudely past Aisling’s blind side. Only later when she noticed the zips undone on her handbag did we realise it had all been one swift act from the same assailant. Although not exactly Oceans Elevenesque it was pretty smooth (and revolting). Thankfully, we had little to steal in the pockets she did manage to access except a used tissue and half a piece of chewing gum. The Lonely Planet does allude to this form of petty theft, although it attributes it to Peru, so do beware – in Quito and elsewhere.
Our only other tourist excursion during our brief stay in Quito was a visit to Mitad del Mundo – The middle of the world. First and foremost, despite some internet articles suggesting a shared taxi as a means to get there, this is highly unnecessary. The bus from Marin – the central bus station to most backpacker hostels in Quito – to Ofelia is 0.25c per person and takes around 45 minutes, a little longer depending on traffic and timing. The bus from Ofelia to Mitad del Mundo then takes around the same time, for a whopping 0.15c per person and the driver and conductor both advise when you are at the site. It is all very easy and a massive saving on what a taxi would cost.
Next up is the confusion of the fact that once you get there, there are two separate sites claiming to be the equator. The first we arrived to was the original site, which has been proved to be slightly inaccurate due to modern GPS mapping. It is highly geared towards tourists with shops and extra opportunities for expenditure aplenty, and aside from a monument marking the equatorial lines it is nothing spectacular.
The second site was more impressive for if nothing else, its authenticity. It features less grandeur than the original site, but features an informative tour of how indigenous people lived in the area way back when and also the standard equator ‘tests’ of balancing an egg, walking in a straight line and watching water flow down a drain. The entry fees for both were not bank breaking but visiting both sites is somewhat overkill, and I would personally recommend the second less well advertised site. The photo opportunities are perhaps the main draw, and again that emphasises that bus travel is the only option, time permitting, as a taxi fare would leave you feeling slightly underwhelmed and short changed.
Our time in Quito, and Ecuador, had reached an end for now and we had a flight to catch to get closer to our target destination – La Paz. With little time to spare after our busman’s day out we booked a taxi from the hostel and handed over $30 (which again seemed steep) to get to Quito airport. Next stop…. Peru.
Accommodation Verdict – Huasi Lodge, Quito, $17 per person for a double room with shared bathroom. Very friendly staff and safe location. Definitely a Bed and Breakfast, rather than a hostel, so it is not really for socialising. The breakfast that is included is very good. The price seemed very fair considering alternative options, and the room was of a high standard. The staff were very helpful in trying to assist with Aislings struggles with the altitude.
Quito Verdict – Another place where I don’t feel fully qualified to judge as I didn’t see a lot of the city – including the main night-life area. The walking tour was probably the best we have participated in, and there are a number of touristy things to keep backpackers entertained for a while. Our brief skirmishes with attempted petty crime and illegal taxis perhaps soured our view of the city, but it is definitely worth a visit regardless. Beware of the altitude if flying in from Europe or moving south from Colombia.