A Travellerspoint blog

The only tourist in Quito

So I did it, I actually managed to leave Montanita! Sounds strange but it's amazing how quickly you can become attached to a place, and more specifically, to people, so a big shout out to the Montanita massive, missing you already!

This past week travelling on my own I've found it near impossible to find exact information on how to get from one place to another so bear with me if I put in some unnecessary details (you never know, it might help someone else).

So I left Montanita on Sunday with a heavy heart and even heavier rucksack - I swear it has trebled in size! I caught the 5pm bus from Montanita to Guayaquil, a pleasant enough 3 hour journey, but was recommended to buy the ticket in advance as a lot of guayaquilians (?!) go home after a weekend partying. The bus terminal in Guayaquil is fairly easy to navigate and I located a company called panamericana that had direct buses to Quito for the princely sum of $9. Had to wait a couple of hours and amused myself watching the locals, was expecting there to be a whole load of gringos waiting for the same bus but no, just me. When the bus arrived I was a little perplexed as it looked pretty shabby, but what do you expect in South America right? When they started frisking people as they got on my consternation grew but I took a deep breath and on I got (not frisked however!). Although my plan was to sleep for most of the 8 hour overnight journey I barely got a wink as I swear the bus was going to flip over at any moment due to the crazy driving. I was bloody glad it was dark so I couldn't see the ravines I was sure we were about to fall into on either side of the road! (Sorry mum, I know you probably don't want to hear this!) When I eventually did fall asleep I was awoken by a police officer who had boarded the bus to check ID, he looked at my passport for a long time - I assume he was trying to work out how long I'd been in the country! That test passed, we eventually made it to Quito at the ungodly hour of 5:30am. As my hostel didn't open until 8am I decided to wait in the bus terminal for a while as opposed to roaming the streets of Quito. I then got a taxi to my hostel, which actually cost the same amount as the entire bus journey to Quito but was marginally safer!

Hostel Revolutions is based near Alameda Park on the border between the new and old parts of Quito and I can thoroughly recommend it. I was in a 6 person dorm, but only actually had 2 others sharing, comfortable beds, hot showers, a good sized kitchen and a nice terrace with a view of the city. It's a good job too because thats where I spent most of the next few days! Quito is the second highest capital city in the world and at 2850m above sea level I think I fell victim to altitude sickness. It's like the worst hangover you can imagine but without any of the fun preceding it! I managed to do a quick tour of the old town on my first day - a UNESCO World Heritage Site, full of colonial charm set against a backdrop of volcanic peaks so very beautiful but felt a little uncomfortable as I had been warned by several people about safety and as I seemed to be the only tourist around I felt a bit of a target. Spent the evening at the hostel with the 2 guys in my dorm, had a couple of beers and watched the sunset on the terrace.

Next day I got up early to visit 'Mitad del Mundo' or the equator line, which is about an hour and a half away - you need to catch the trolebus to the Ofelia terminal, then catch a feeder bus on to the site for about 40cents in total. The equator line is marked by a monument and there are a couple of museums and shops etc but not a lot else to warrant the 3 hour round trip but I felt it was a must to get a photo straddling both hemispheres! However, GPS actually now says the equator is 100m from this spot - modern technology huh! Again I appeared to be the only tourist here, where is everyone or am I just being too gringo for words?! The return journey was a bit fraught as that's when the altitude sickness kicked in and I all I wanted to do was get to bed.

The following day I'd planned to go to Otavalo Market but as it was a 2 hour bus ride and I was still feeling pretty ropey, I really couldn't face it. I was quite disappointed as this was one of the places I had planned to visit before I came away but no point stewing over it, so I decided to have a stroll around the new town instead which to my surprise was a lot like Leicester Square so not really for me! Then walked up to Park Itichimbe which has spectacular views of the whole of Quito, which just seems so enormous as it's in a valley so you can see it stretching out forever, quite mind boggling really. And that I'm afraid was enough for me. Quito didn't quite do it for me but I'm not sure if that was feeling unwell, or whether it was too overwhelming after the Montanita bubble, or whether I just didn't feel the vibe but never mind, plenty more places to discover!

So on to Latacunga and the Valley of the Volcanoes next... Let's hope I've acclimatised!

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Posted by christinahicks 16:10 Comments (1)

Last week in Montanita

So I'm afraid I have no grand stories to tell of UN negotiations or the like this week but it being my last week in Montanita thought I'd best fill you in before I hit the road and have no idea where my next wifi hotspot will be!

Had a chilled out weekend which included a trip to the thermal spas in Baños San Vincente which is about an hour south from Montanita. It was a proper school trip with a hired coach etc and of course I sat at the back, although this time round we had cubre libres instead of panda pops (would school trips have been more interesting this way?!) The 'spa' is quite a loose description, nothing like what you would expect in England, so not a lot to look at but set in the crater of a dwarf volcano and basically consists of a series of pools, all geothermally heated and is renowned for it's MUD. Oh yes this mud got everywhere! You sit in a pool, you get covered in mud. You have a massage and get covered in mud. And let's just say the masseurs were none too shy where they put said mud! But a great day out, with a natural jacuzzi to finish - there was no bottom to this jacuzzi, as the naturally hot, bubbling water just came straight up from the centre of the earth through a series of caves! KK - reminded me of the blue lagoon in Iceland!

Anyways, decided to volunteer in the afternoons this week so that I could help with the after school club and so pleased I did as the kids are amazing. For someone who is usually scared of such creatures I completely fell in love, they are so happy to do anything and just want to learn. We basically just walk around the aquarium and they point out things they want to know the words of in English and laugh at my posh accent, don't know what they could possibly mean! I also got invited to a community meeting where they discussed the plans for the new aquarium, wish I had my camera with me that day as I was the only woman in a battered old room full of old ecuadorian men, not something you see everyday. I had to sign the register of attendance too so a little bit of me is there in the history of the new aquarium which, thanks to last weeks inspection, will hopefully begin reconstruction in December. I hope I can go back and check on it one day.

And that's about it from Montanita! I am mostly writing this blog for my friends and family but I know people might be checking it out for tips on places they may travel to so here are my Montanita do's and don'ts!

Do's:

Best music - Caña Grill
Special mention to Kieran the rock star from Manchester, but the band is just awesome anyway.

Best bar - Maholo's
I really liked the chilled out vibe here and it has a pool table and a crazy bartender who let's you change the music on his iPod!

Best wine and wifi - Tiki Limbo
It takes forever to get served but you can surf the Internet all day on one purchase and they serve the wine in boats!

Best place to stay - Las Cabañas
They may be affiliated with the school but it is the best place to stay as just outside of town so not nearly as noisy as I imagine the other hostels must be and everyone is super friendly, great vibe.

Best food -Wipeout
A great little place by the church, just tucked away from the main hustle and bustle. Takes a while for food but it's amazing and you can get cheap deals from the board out the front.

Best shop - Walmart
Not sure what this is actually called but what we all know it as, again near the church and has everything you could possibly need with helpful staff.

Best day trips - get on a bus!
Although I did some organised trips such as Isla de la plata and horse riding in Dos Mangos, which were both great, I recommend just hopping on a local bus and seeing where you end up!

Don'ts:

Don't dive - not just cos I had a bad experience but there really aren't any good dive sights nearby and is very overpriced.

Don't sign up for too long at the school - although I do recommend the Montanita spanish school, I have discovered it is quite expensive compared to other places and it's very difficult to get your money back if you pay upfront for your full term. There is only so much information you can take in so take it (and pay for it) week by week.

And I guess that's it, I'm off to get drunk for the rest of the week in all probability in true Montanita style! Chao for now!

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Posted by christinahicks 19:16 Comments (3)

Saving the turtles!

Yesterday was probably my strangest day so far in Ecuador, but I'll start from the beginning... So I started volunteering on Monday at the Acuario Valdivia, which is not so much an aquarium but a centre for rescued animals. And not so much a centre but some shacks with tanks in them but with very dedicated staff, who not only look after the animals but organise activities for the local community, including teaching kids about conservation and training them to be guides for the centre.

Valdivia is a small town on the coast about 30 mins south of Montanita. You get there by local bus which you can pretty much flag down anywhere then have to hop off when you get to your destination. It only costs 50 cents and I'm pretty much always the only white person on it. Anyway, at the aquarium my main job is to feed the animals which consist of blue-footed boobys (do they follow me everywhere?!), a sea lion called Leon, 3 penguins, and my favourite, the turtles! All the animals have been given to the aquarium by locals who have found them injured and the idea is that they are nursed back to health and then returned to the wild.

Now bear with me on this... Acuario Valdivia is the only aquarium in the whole of Ecuador so a few years ago it attracted government interest, who decided to build a new facility with government funds to move the animals into. The problem is the new aquarium, however lovely it may look, is not fit for purpose. None of the enclosures have been designed properly for the animals so it has sat for 2 years not being used which is such a colossal waste. Yesterday however, some people from the Ecuadorian ministry of tourism turned up with some experts from an American aquarium to inspect the place, and the guys I work with, speaking very little English, asked me to translate for them! Now I know my Spanish has improved but seriously not that much so as you can imagine I was pretty freaked. Luckily they did actually have their own translator but my aquarium guys still wanted me to explain their side of things which I hope I understood correctly! I also entertained the Americans over lunch and stressed the importance of the facility to the local community - fingers crossed they will make some recommendations to the ministry to get the new aquarium fixed. A very odd situation to find myself in but in my own small way I feel like I've helped save the turtles!

Other than that things have quietened down a bit in Montanita as most people have left so am just hanging out with the remaining crew and preparing myself for the next stage of my adventure - it's been nearly 7 weeks and it's almost time to hit the road, South America are you ready?!

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Posted by christinahicks 12:31 Comments (3)

A day in the life...

semi-overcast

I know I haven't updated this fora while but life has been ticking over nicely here in Montanita. Have been going to classes as usual, studying a bit, partying a bit and went horse riding at the weekend to a nearby waterfall that will apparently grant you wishes if you wash in it (I'll let you know on that one!). Realise however that I haven't really elaborated much on the general goings on so thought I'd give you a typical day in my life, ecuadorian style!

This week I have lessons at 8am so I start the day with a swim... That's a complete lie, I would love to say that I do that but it's too frickin' cold and I'm far too lazy let's be honest. What actually happens is that I get up about 15 mins before class and stumble around a dark dorm trying not to wake my roommates up who are lucky enough to have 10am classes! The dorm is fairly basic with four beds, some drawers and shelves for belongings and a table and chair, plus a bathroom with shower. But it's clean and comfortable and has a beachy feel to it with lots of bamboo and thatched roofing etc.

I head off to school which is literally 5 mins away from the cabanas but up a ridiculous amount of steps on the side of a hill (still not used to these after 5 weeks!). This week I am having private lessons rather than group in the hope it will actually get me to speak more. In the morning classes we learn grammar and in the afternoon it's more application and practical. The teachers are all really nice but you are not supposed to speak any English so there can be very long silences where I'm trying to find the right words! But hopefully I'm getting there, certainly know more than I did before I came. In the break between morning and afternoon class I'll come back to the cabanas and do some homework, play on the Internet, make some lunch, that kind of thing. 

I would like to say that of an evening I study tremendously hard but inevitably I get distracted by one of the cabana crew and it never quite happens! For example yesterday I was on my way back from class when I ran into Jess and Zandra having a manicure and so ended up sitting with them for a good couple of hours, before heading for a glass of wine and then, wait for it, went and got my nose pierced! We had all been talking about getting different things done for a while so why not?! Anyways then we went back to the cabanas and made some dinner (this is usually a one pot job of whatever vegetables and random sauces we can get hold of) and then poor Jess couldn't eat it because she had had her tongue pierced so we had to go and find some ice-cream for her. On our way through town we came across a game of beer pong being played in the street (a drinking game where two teams essentially have to throw a ping pong ball into each others cups of beer) and so of course we stopped to play. I was surprisingly good at this game considering my usual skill with balls but it was slightly hazardous as the ping pong balls kept rolling down the street which is not the cleanest of places (this particular street is known as 'shit alley' due to it often overflowing with sewage) so we had to abandon drinking the beer for fear of contamination! 

But anything goes here. In the streets there are fire throwers, jugglers, people selling everything from maracas to masks made from turtle shells (not impressed by this!) but there is generally a relaxed vibe about the place and it's great to just to mooch round of an evening. You do see some sights though; on an average day you will have been shouted at by the "pollo pollo" man on his bicycle from where he sells chickens, followed home by at least one stray dog, been harassed by the same sunglasses seller even though there is no sun and you say no every time he asks, and on a good day you might even see the midget on his skateboard and a dog in a tshirt! Only in Montanita...

Posted by christinahicks 15:30 Archived in Ecuador Comments (4)

Getting my mojo back

Well another week has gone by in Montanita and it's been a bit of an odd one as not been at spanish school, it's amazing how quickly you get used to a new routine and then are thrown when it's gone again. But you'll be pleased to hear I have my mojo back and have a new plan! Am going to do another two weeks at Spanish school and then I'm going to volunteer at one of the local projects for two weeks to practise my Spanish and to do something slightly more productive than just partying! Ok so it's not a life plan, but it's a start :-)

It's also going to be a bit strange this week as a lot of the people I've been hanging out with are starting to leave so it will be good to have something to focus on rather than feeling bereft. Melissa left at the beginning of the week and I miss my vino o'clocks with her :-( It's a very intense experience being thrown together with new people who you maybe would never encounter in "real" life and it's going to be hard to say goodbye. But there are always new people arriving so will just have to get in there and do my social butterfly bit!

So not much to report on actual activities this week; lots of wrangling with the school over cancelling the diving, a trip to the local doctor's surgery to have a look at my ears, which unfortunately are no better but very interesting to see a little bit of ecuadorian life at the clinic! On the social side, we had another messy Miercoles where we were taken by pickup truck to a party in the next town along. The usual Friday night capers at Cana grill (a picture of me is on the new flyer!) followed by a chill out Saturday, Jo treated me to a manicure and pedicure for my birthday! Then a civilised evening and early night as up early on Sunday for our day trip to Isla de la Plata.

This is a small uninhabited island off the coast from Puerto Lopez, about an hour north from Montanita. It is called the "poor man's Galapagos" as it is home to lots of wildlife etc but way cheaper to get to - I'm sure Darwin would approve! However most of this wildlife appears to be birds, and after having got completely soaked on the boat ride over we were faced with an entire island of ruddy blue footed boobies (see picture). Apparently the island got it's name because it is so covered in bird sh*t that it shines like silver in the sun, hence isla de la plata! We had a nice walk though and the sun came out momentarily, but the best bit was seeing whales on the way back! They were so close it was amazing. Will attempt to upload a rather shaky video!

So that's it for now, sorry for worrying anyone, am back on track and will keep you posted. I have set myself homework tonight of attempting to translate this into Spanish, let's see how far I get!

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Posted by christinahicks 10:01 Comments (1)

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