Just to clarify, this was in fact our 3rd day of the trip. However the first day was spent in the airport and the second day was spent travelling from Toronto to Quito. So day three was really day one in Quito.
In the morning we had some lovely folks help us order breakfast which was served until 10am in the quaint little courtyard of our hotel. We had huevos, pan, jugo and leche caliente for the café con leche. (eggs, bread, juice and hot milk for the “coffee”) I say “coffee” because it was like a super bold espresso that you pour into the hot milk. Strange for us but delicious none the less! It was very similar to a latte. Apparently the locals don’t drink much coffee in Ecuador but they serve it for the gringos, or so we’ve been told. We hope to learn more about this later, but for now if we want regular coffee we should be ordering café negro.
Following breakfast we went back to our room and sorted out our packs. We had arrived at about 2 a.m. the night before and just kind of flopped into the room. So we tidied up the place, got dressed and headed out to see the city in the daylight for the first time. We had no real plan other than to walk around, people watch and eventually look for some lunch (we later learned is Almuerzo).
As we wandered through the streets, hesitant to get lost in a city we don’t know, we managed to stumble upon the Plaza de la Independencia. This was quite obviously the main square of the city and we decided to just grab a seat and soak it in. We had friendly locals try to speak with us and really friendly merchants try to sell us stuff. In the first ten minutes we could have purchased ice cream, coca leaves, scarves, candies, mini jello type thingies and a few unknown items. Right away we got a crash course in firmly saying no. Good thing too, because we were about to get the final exam.
As we settled in to our spot on the bench and managed to ward of the solicitors, two little shoeshine boys proceeded to set up shop at our feet. Now, one of us were sporting a pair of canvas shoes and and the other synthetic sneakers. You’d think that would make for an easy no. However shining shoes seemed to be the least of their concerns.
So we played this game of charades for a while until finally their intentions were revealed. With the widest eyes, almost welling with tears the alpha boy held his stomach and groaned, “lunnnch”. Now don’t get us wrong, we are a sympathetic couple and are eager to help out whenever possible. But we’re on a budget here and have very little money as well. Still the initial reaction is to reach into your pocket and hand them a dollar. But before either one of us could react the little niño was demanding $3 for lunch and pointing to the small restaurants at the edge of the square. “Lunch, lunch!” The sidekick however seemed to notice our reaction to this request and laughed at his friend! But that didn’t phase the little guy and he turned it right up to 11. Now with both hands he grabbed at his stomach and pleaded for lunch, but he was unsuccessful in hiding the grin he flashed to his accomplice. And with that, all feelings of charity went up in smoke. Now our no’s came as easy has his yes’s. We went back and forth for a while until the sidekick gave up and laughed again. Finally they got up and we all had a good laugh as they ran off punching each other like little boys do. The kicker in all of this was the pair of designer jeans poking above the one boys ratty tearaways as they went on their way. It was shaping up to be an eventful day.
Now all of a sudden for some reason, we were hungry for lunch!
So we got up and wandered aimlessly around the square until we saw a pair of ladies we recognized from our flight into Quito. We caught up with them to see if they had any suggestions on where to eat. Upon chatting with them for all of 39 seconds we were invited to join them on a trip to the Middle of the World, otherwise known as Mitad del Mundo…the equator.
Well, we said, we are here for adventure and we might as well start right away! And before we knew it we were headed on down the hill to the bus terminal. Along the way we learned that Bev and Joyce were indeed on our fight and they were Canadian as well! They seemed to be confident, experienced travelers and even though they didn’t seem to know a lick of Spanish that didn’t stop Bev in the slightest from getting us on a bus and on our way to the equator. It was awesome! And hey, even if we got lost, at least we were in a group and could hopefully find our way back. Right?
So we traveled the bus route checking out the city along the way until we hit the end of the line at Ofelia bus terminal. And sure enough before we had exited the bus, there was Bev chatting up a local on the platform trying to sort out our next move. The fella spoke a tiny bit of English and through the notes Joyce had, a few hand gestures and some awkward smiles we were in a cab on our way to Mitad del Mundo! A yellow cab by the way. ALWAYS a yellow cab, with a number plate…especially if you don’t habla Español! (write that down)
The next thing you know we are hopping out of the taxi, paying double what the meter said ($8/4 tourists) and headed to the middle of the world. (Joyce and I assumed we had negotiated a ride back to the terminal and that was why we were paying double. The taxi’s exhaust smoke indicated otherwise)
Oh well, not to be deterred we went on with our self guided tour. Now apparently this park known as Mitad del Mundo is VERY CLOSE to the equator. Despite what the giant bisecting yellow line might imply, we were in fact just under 230 meters away from the real equator. (There’s lots of info about this online, click here for a short post about it) Perhaps we will check out the Inti Nan museum on a separate excursion.
But what the heck? We were there and the park is pretty interesting none the less. There are little shops, restaurants and museums with all kinds of life in them. We got our passports stamped, Bev and Joyce picked up some souvenirs and we finally got the lunch we had been originally looking for hours earlier. (with some giant cervezas to whet the pallet) Now from what we were told this place is usually bumpin’ with tourists, but being a Wednesday afternoon in the off season we pretty much had free reign of the place. Although they charge you for each little portion of the park. In our ignorance of what was what, we decided to buy a pass for general admission and the planetarium. Unfortunately this did not include access to the top of the monument and by the time we made it to the planetarium we’d missed the last show. 😦
*Hot tip – If you travel to “Mitad del Mundo” make sure you pay for access to the top of the monument if you wish to have a birds eye view. And if you get the planetarium pass, don’t be a dummy and check the show times!
Either way we all had a good time checking out the park and all of the information it had to offer. It seemed like the park was closing for the day and night was coming shortly. So we scrambled to catch a bus that seemed like it may be going where we needed to be. The theme for the day was definitely hope! As we traveled through the city we tried to pick out landmarks we had seen on the way there and continued to convince ourselves that we were on the right path. As darkness fell and the bus filled up it became increasingly hard to see where we were. But with our blind optimism and new travel companions we continued on to the end of the line. Which, as fate would have it was exactly where we needed to be! Hooray!
As this was supposed to be a brief post we’ll let you know the remainder of the night went on without a hitch. We had dinner with Bev and Joyce at a lovely authentic Ecuadorian restaurant.
*Hot tip – the further up the building you go, the more expensive the meal! Delicious as you can imagine, but a bit above our budget. But what the heck? We had to celebrate making it home safe from our first crazy adventure!
After dinner we shared contact info and went our separate ways. It was an amazing and at times stressful day with our new friends from Medicine Hat. Thank you Bev and Joyce for breaking us in!
After heading out to find lunch we finally returned to our room just after 9pm and began the next adventure…finding somewhere to stay! Because after 12pm the next day we were going to be homeless in Quito. But that story is for our next post!
TL;DR – We went out for lunch. 10 hours later we had made two new friends, had been to the center of the world and ate two delicious meals.