We immediately fell in love with it, even though it was very cold and wet when we entered the country at something above 3,000m. In Tulcan, right on the northern border, I met a butcher in the local market while looking for our morning juice. Rodrigo just wouldn’t let me go, he wanted to practise his English so badly, and then meet his son Patricio, so that he could practise too – then his daughter and his wife … you get the idea. We ended up staying there for 5 days when we hadn’t even planned on staying one. And it was so worth it - Rodrigo took us to some local thermal baths, which we reached by walking back over the border with Colombia in a tiny village. No passport control, woo hoo!, v exciting. While in the pool, we chatted to a young army guy who was there protecting some important dude – all the while his machine gun was pointed directly at my head, that was different. Rodrigo also took us to an amazing ecological reserve near Huacha, about 35 km from Tulcan, where we saw real cloud forest for the first time and real ‘Paramo’ (high altitude plains), with weird plants that reminded us of climbing Mount Kenya, which is also on the equator as it goes. This place is like the only place in the world where the Guandera tree grows – check the website here.
So anyway, enough of this writing business - how about a list of the things we will remember about Ecuador?
Best hot salsa in Latin America (ok - so far) – looks a bit like satay sauce, loads of chilli, lemon?, something else and loads of red onion. Mayonnaise flavour crisps. Guinea pigs as food. Preachy, semi-religious sellers on the buses. Best quality hooky DVDs in Latin America - apparently. Weird, crap pop music, as well as interesting traditional music, different from the rest. Ridiculous changes in altitude over short distances. Cheap travel – a dollar an hour. Better food than Colombia. Real poverty on the coast. Footballers don’t like to play in Ecuador because you lose your strength on the Equator.
Quito is an awesome city. We loved – climbing the towers of the very gothic Basilica (people younger and fitter than us didn’t make it to the top); taking the teleferico up to 4,100m to look down on the city; the incredible Guayasamin (Ecuadorian Picasso) museums; the Jardin Botanico, one of the best I have seen; the massive Parque Metropolitano, which definitely has live bears in it; the Museo Intiñan at the REAL equator, not the monument the French built in the wrong place – and, a 3 hr ride from the city, the absolutely incredible Papallacta thermal baths, beautiful blue-tiled pools amidst mountains in the Amazonas region that every parent will definitely want to go to. I never thought I could spend like a whole day in a bath, but that was very more-ish indeed. And cheap at 7 dollars entry.