After a couple of marvellous weeks at sea level in Patagonia and Easter Island, I have been looking forward to some altitude in the Andes. We often speak of ‘Latin America’ in general terms, but my flight from Santiago, through Bogota to Quito, Ecuador took all day and crossed the Equator twice!
Welcome to Quito!
Within 12 hours of arriving, we walked 5 kilometres across the city and paid $8.50 (USD – Ecuador uses dollars) to travel 2.5 km up on Quito’s TelefériQo – the sightseeing cable car on the side of Pichincha Volcano (I would offer a link to their website but it is currently under construction. There is some further information here). We disembark at about 13000 ft (4000 meters) and then walk. The Andes are magnificent, the views of the city spectacular and the air very thin. I’m like a chocoholic – but with altitude!
The only other time I travel from sea level up to extreme altitude is when flying from Lima to La Paz. You would usually followed that by rest, but this was for fun and exercise. A little light-headed but I loved it.
In fact today I went back for a longer hike. Sharing the cabin with me were four friendly Colombians (Colombians are always friendly). They laughed at my t-shirt and shorts and in turn, I noted they were better dressed for a Canadian winter :). Climate is as much perception as reality.
I did not manage the full hike to the very top (about 3.5 hours), but did touch 14000 ft (43oo meters).
I love all the cable cars throughout South America (and there are many on this mountainous continent), but for pure outdoor pleasure, this is my favourite. And the value is outstanding (particularly when compared to the extortionate prices at home). In 2014 – the last time I was here, it cost $8 – a .50 cent increase seems fair.
The Lay of the Land
Ecuador is obviously named for the somewhat arbitrary line that dissects our planet according to its axis (it is argued that Costa Rica sits most perfectly on the equator as defined by the perfect 12 hour day / 12 hour night; click here).
So as not to generate confusion, the city that sits most perfectly on the line in Ecuador (Spanish for the Equator) is called La Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the Earth) and is located less than 20 km north of Quito – the capital.
Quito is the second highest capital in the world (after La Paz, Bolivia) and the setting is dramatic. Having lived in Cusco – the Inca capital – it is little wonder the Inca / Quechua people found these valleys so enticing. The region is lush, high (2850 meters; 9350) and being so central to the planet, the sun’s movements are extremely predictable. They called the city Kitu (probably borrowed from previous inhabitants). Fresh everything is abundant (and juices are a highlight).
As a drawback, altitude is not good for combustion and the air quality along busy streets is poor. I also feel I need to be more aware of pick-pockets in this city than elsewhere(and even more so in Guayaquil).
Life and Lingo
I like the Ecuadorian accent and people are friendly and helpful. There seems to be much more English spoken in this country in general and there is a huge focus on tourism (Ecuador is Galapagos). Quechua is still spoken in some communities, however quite dialectically different from Peru.
Ecuador has all the typically poor income distribution common in the region, but at least minimum wage is substantially higher than in neighbouring Peru and Colombia.
Lastly – no one seems to want to keep Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London anymore 😉
More to come on this beautiful country…. But first – for a good laugh, read this post from Wikipedia. Honestly, I am a huge fan, but there is a reason why Wikipedia is not considered academic. I spent far too long trying to learn about the evil caca dart vader.