48 Hours in Quito, Ecuador 

 The capital city of Ecuador is the second highest city in the Andes behind La Paz in Bolivia, at an altitude height of 9,350 feet (2,850 metres) above sea level.  It’s not only the second highest city in the world, but also the first city in the world to be named a UNESCO World heritage site. 

Quito is the first South American city I’ve visited, having never travelled to this part of the world before. My first impressions of the city on my first day was how beautiful it was, especially being surrounded by the Andes. I also found the local Ecuadorians very relaxed and friendly. Here’s what I got up to while in Quito along with some tips and advice to consider. 

Centro Historicos 

When I think of Quito, the word that comes to mind is architecture! I can see why Quito’s centro historico (the old town) is Unesco listed. In the main square,  the buildings very much reflect colonial Spain. It’s a great place to just sit and watch local Ecuadorians relaxing in the square, while street vendors walk about selling various things like ice cream, scarves, and corn snacks.

 
Iglesia de San Francisco and La Compania de Jesus

I’ve seen quite a few churches and cathedrals around the world, but Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus and Inglesia de San Francisco are the most impressive, lavish and opulent I’ve ever seen! I wandered into Inglesia de San Francisco in the middle of a church service and sat to marvel at the Moorish designed architecture. It’s the first church to be built in Quito, with construction beginning in 1535 and lasting for 100 years. But the most lavish in design was Inglesia de La Compania. You’re not supposed to take any photos, but I managed to sneak in a few! It costs 4 USD to enter Inglesia de La Compania.  

Teleferiqo
For $5 USD, you can take a taxi from near Centro Historicos to Teleferico, a gondola that takes you up the east side of Pichincha Volcano to the look out point Cruz Loma. The final altitude height once you reach the top is 4050 metres. 

The cost of the cable car for an adult is $8.50USD, which seats six people, and takes approximately eight minutes. 

The views of Quito and the Andes from the gondola are amazing, and on a clear day, you can see the snow covered volcano of Cotopaxi. 

There are several trails leading away from the kiosk, which give you stunning views of Quito and the surrounding Andes. If I was less jet lagged and more acclimatised to the altitude, I would have hiked some of the trails leading towards the dramatic mountain ranges. 

You can also choose to hike back down to the start of the gondola on a clearly marked path visible on the journey up. My outdoor adventurous spirit really wanted to do this, but my body was still in protest with jet lag  and the effects of the altitude. 

Make sure you wrap up warm and wear several layers. It was really cold and windy. Also make sure  the taxi driver drops you off at the gondola and not at the amusement park. The short walk up the steep road is so much harder at altitude. It’s also worth paying the extra $2.50USD so the taxi drives you past the entrance gates. I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to walk up that part of the steep road as well!

  
Ecudorian Cuisine

Those of my friends who know me well, know much much I love food and eating, so sampling the local Ecuadorian cuisine was a must. But, given the only meat I eat is seafood and free range or organic chicken, finding something appropriate was challenging. 

One evening I set out into town to grab a quick bite to eat. Instead, I discovered the cutest plaza, east off the main square, and discovered a traditional Ecuadorian, trip advisor recommended restaurant called Hasta la Vuelta. It was here I sampled Locro de Papa, an Ecuatorian potato soup with soft cheese, milk and slices of avocado. I also sampled a Humita, sweet corn tamal steamed in a mascara leaf. Both were delicious! My dining ventures have also included sweet roasted corn snacks, churros filled with hot chocolate and caramel sauce, and the fresh fruit drinks called Jugo.

 

Altitude

The first indication of the effects of altitude was when I walked up a steep road to view the Basilica. I consider myself to have above average fitness, but I was so out of breath by the time I reached the top, I can only attribute it to  less oxygen in the atmosphere as a result of being 2,850 metres (9,350 feet) above sea level.

When my taxi dropped me off at Teleferiqo, I had to walk further up the road. And although the incline wasn’t steep in my normal experience, at altitude, I felt like my heart was about to explode out of my chest! (see image below),

The two other things I experienced were burst blood vessels in my nose, and a constant thirst. The advice regarding altitude acclimatisation is to drink loads of water and to take it easy in the first few days. 

  

Spanish
In spite of enrolling into a Spanish for Travelling class prior to this adventure, (see related blog post), I still wish I knew more Spanish! The only other foreign language I know very well is Dutch, which means every time I ever go to speak in a language other than english, Dutch words and phrases come to mind first. However, I must have learned something in Spanish class as I’ ve engaged in some interesting conversations with various taxi drivers here in Quito. On one occasion, I managed to tell him where I live, my job, where I went to school and university, plus lied about my age, (8 years younger than what I am), pretended I was married for five years,(easier then trying to explain widowed!), described my “husband” who was tall and thin, and that I had no children! I definitely recommend you know some basic Spanish before you travel to South America. It has certainly enriched my experience in spite of knowing the very basics. 

If time and altitude adjustment had permitted, I would loved to have taken a day trip to Cotopaxi volcano for some hiking and mountain bike riding, and to stand on the equator. I’ve had a great time here in Quito. Off to the Amazon next. Stay tuned!

Long Haul Flights – How to stay sane and entertained

I both love and loathe long haul flights. I loathe them because I just want to get to my destination. And I love them because it’s a chance to unwind, relax and prepare mentally and emotionally for my adventure ahead. Especially if the days leading up to departure have been busy. With technology these days, there are endless ways to keep both sane and entertained on long haul flights. Here are my personal favourites;

I rarely go anywhere without my iPod and it’s vast collection of music. I have a very eclectic taste in artists and what I listen to does depend on my mood. Music makes me feel excited and happy, but also nostalgic, hyper or melancholy. And although I listen to whatever my mood fancies, I’ve actually created a playlist titled “travel” with songs that make me feel adventurous and care-free, with the likes of Avicii and Jess Glynn. There are certain songs that remind me of a certain place and time, often bringing on good feelings and memories. It’s these good feelings that make me feel extra excited about my adventures ahead.

I just love a good book! And most books I choose I can’t put down. I do love turning the pages of a traditional book and getting to the end, but you can store so many more books online. So I’ve succumbed to kindle on my iPad. For hours at a time, I’m immersed in a fictional world full of interesting characters and plot lines. Weirdly, I love crime novels. I spend endless hours reading about abduction, murders, crime scenes and police investigations. This isn’t always the best genre to read when you’re about to arrive to an unknown destination, but it certainly keeps me the most entertained!

In flight entertainment is so varied these days, I find it can both inform and entertain. I remember watching DreamGirls on a flight from London to Sydney, documentaries about Iceland on route to Reykjavik, and old favourite television programmes like Without a Trace (yes, another crime related theme). On an Emirates flight from Sydney to Athens, I was so engrossed in repeated episodes of Without a Trace, I was annoyed I had to get off the plane, especially as I was half way through an episode.

A writer at heart, I spend my time on-board penning (or typing) up my latest thoughts. Whether it’s in my travel journal, or creating a blog piece, I’m definitely my most creative, reflective, and feel most inspired when I’m travelling and discovering new places. I’m looking forward to sharing my adventures in South America during this trip, so watch this space!

I used to prefer a seat next to the aisle, mainly to have the freedom to get up and go to the toilet without feeling guilty about waking all the people next to me. But now I prefer the window seat. I love photographing the world beyond the window, including the various cloud formations, amazing colours during sunrise or sunset, and of the earth below from 30,000 plus feet high. I love the picture below, taken using my iPhone when on route to Iceland in March of this year.

My pending long haul flight to Ecuador means I could spend time revising my Spanish phrases that I learned in my Spanish for Travelling class. Opening up the language phrase book of the country you’re on route to is a great way to pass time, polish up on language skills and to improve confidence for your vacation. Listening to my language podcasts also helps pass time in a productive way.

I’m a terrible sleeper on long haul flights. I envy those people who can just nod off to sleep and not wake up until the plane descends. If I could sleep, it would be a great way to get through a long haul flight. I also hate night time flights because I’m far too excited and busy with the in-flight entertainment to consider sleeping. So this pending 22.30pm departure to Ecuador is going to be challenging. But fingers crossed my new British designed new J-Pillow will be the solution.

My lonely planet guide book comes in good use during the flight (although I’m not carrying one with me on this trip). I read it to consolidate on prior research, and to remind me of those important practical tips on  safety and how to get to and from the airport. The in-flight magazine often has great information on destinations as well.

I personally feel technology and social media these days has actually reduced our ability to talk to the people around us. I can’t help but notice how many people have their eyes focused on their personal mobile device these days rather than looking around them. My personal pet hate is observing a group of people in a restaurant, all sat around the table on their mobile phones, not talking to each other. But striking up conversation with the people sitting around you would be a great way to pass the time on a long haul flight. On a trip from Sydney to New York City many years ago, I chatted with two boys who just finished touring Australia. I eventually met up with them again in New York and New Jersey, and they spent time showing me around their local neighbourhoods.

I’m sure everyone has their own ways to keep sane and entertained on long haul flights. I would love to hear what other people do, so feel free to share and comment on what works for each of you!