So I'll do the best I can with what I've got. We left you with a snap of the boobies (heh) we saw on our sea trip from Puerto Lopez. Our next stop was Quito, the capital city of about 2 million people. Like La Paz, it is at elevation and surrounded by beautiful mountains. Unlike La Paz, we did not get robbed in Quito, which may be part of the reason I liked it so much.
Central Quito is divided into an Old City and a New City. We stayed in the New City, which had more amenities (like camera repair shops, and yogurt-and-pan-de-yuca shops, which may be the best shops ever invented), but visited the Old City to check out the churches and lovely colonial architecture.
Here are two shots we took (blind, btw--the screen on our camera was still busted at this point) facing in two different directions from the same street in the Old City. In one direction you can see a huge statue of the virgin, keeping an eye on the town...
...and the other way you can see the towers of the basilica. Neat!
Quito had more old churches in the town center than almost anywhere we've been. Unfortunately, our first day in the city was a national holiday, so they were all closed to visitors. "God is on vacation from Ecuador," Andy said.
Another street in the old city...the closest we got to visiting the real thing. Ah well, next trip to Ecuador! One thing that was open on the holiday was the Teleferico, or cable car that takes you hiiiigh above Quito up a nearby mountain. I suggested we walk from the Old City, but our guidebook map gave me a really innacurate estimate of how far it was, and we ended up walking for about two hours, most of it uphill. The book also goofed on the price, which at $8 per ticket was twice as expensive as we'd expected.
But we'd come so far, we had to go up. And in fairness, the Teleferico took us at least twice as high as we'd expected, too. Well up into the clouds, in fact. So, no more pictures of Quito, as early the next day we found a repairman who had the right parts to fix the screen. We kind of got the sinking feeling that said parts may have been supplied by stolen cameras through some chain of suppliers. I hope not, but unfortunately I can't say for sure.
Katie D., this is for you: One thing I wish we had a picture of was the public transit system, which I thought was really great. Quito has a really nice, efficient Trole (trolleybus) system and bus system, with subway-like stations in the streets where you buy little plastic tokens for 25 cents, enter though a turnstile, and wait for the bus or trolley to come. They run on fixed routes to other little stations; we never had to wait long, and the system was really easy to figure out (much easier than the similar Transmilenio system in Bogota, which cost 75 cents a ride and in which we were constantly getting lost!).
That night, as we were going to bed, Andy mentioned that his stomach didn't feel great. A couple of hours later he woke up, ran off to the baño, and thus began the first bout of food poisoning either of us has suffered on this trip. We knew it was bound to happen, but had been happy to be lucky so far.
He thinks it came from a cup of fruit salad we bought (where else?) on the street in Quito. We have had countless similar fruit salads before, but apparently one bite of this one tasted like poison to him, and though he should have spit it out, he didn't. (My prince charming, swallowing the poison to spare me!) So poor Andy was in for 24 hours of misery. I ran a few errands to get him Gatorade knock-offs and find food for me, but mostly hung aroud the hostel as well. Luckily we had sprung for a room with private bath this time around.
Happily, he was much better the next day, and after picking up our fixed (yay!) camera, we headed off to Otavalo, the town 2 hours away that is known for its giant Saturday market. And the next day just happened to be Saturday!
Here is a fun huge statue you pass between the bus station and the center of town in Otavalo. For once, is not Jesus/the Virgin, but local people dancing. The main church in Otavalo is lit up beautifully at night. It's not quite so impressive in the daylight.
The next day was market day! Most of what we bought was food (which you'll see in our next foods post) or gifts for people (which we're not going to post, of course), but I did finally get a Peruvian-style hat with earflaps of my very own! The vendor wanted $3 but I used all my shrewdness and cunning to bargain him down to $2.50.
A note on money--did you know that the official currency of Ecuador is the US dollar? Yup, the country made the switch in the 1990s to curb inflation...so all prices are now in dollars, and you pay in US cash. This was wonderful for me and Andy, of course, because it took away the need for us to, as my friend Jan C. would put it, "commit math." No longer did we have to go up to street vendors, hoteliers, etc., ask "¿Cuanto cuesta?", and furiously multiply or divide to figure out how much things "really cost"...we just knew. (Also nice was that hotel rooms generally cost $15-$25 and street food was often as cheap as 25 or 50 cents.)
The only confusing thing about the money was that Ecuadorians use dollar coins and 50-cent pieces regularly (the rest of their change is actually a mix of US$ and Ecuadorian coins that are the same size as their US equivalents but wouldn't be valid tender in the US). I got into a bit of a mess at an ice cream place when I took back my change in bills but told the scooper to keep the coins as a tip, not realizing that she was giving me two dollar coins as part of my change with the rest of the small change, which I'd meant to leave her. She thought I was the most generous tipper ever until Andy caught my mistake and made me go get our $2 back. D'oh.
Speaking of ice cream, the last town we visited in Ecuador was Ibarra, which is famous for its helados de paila, or fruit-flavored ice creams made fresh in huge copper pots. As soon as I read about this place, I knew that we would have to make a pilgrimmage there.
Turns out that there is a whole street in Ibarra lined with heladerias serving this kind of ice cream, and we visited four of them. The oldest (from the late 1800s), most expensive (at 65 cents a cone rather than 50 cents), and best was the first place we visited, La Heladeria de Rosalia Suarez. Pictures from our five rounds of ice cream to come in the next food post!
In closing, Ecuador was pretty great; nature, shopping, city life, delicious food, pretty cheap, and no currency converting. It seems to be the country where Andy is cursed to get sick (when he was there eight years ago with his sister, he had a bad reaction to malaria medicine and couldn't swallow for a few days), but marred by no such experiences myself, I give it high marks.