I had met a Swiss girl whilst in my hostel in Mindo and we teamed up to go to Quito together. Martin (of the frog chorus) joined us on the bus trip back and after me and Kath had checked into our hostel (the Minka Hostel – more about this in the next post) Martin showed us around the night life sights of La Mariscal in the new town. This is an area of several streets based around a lively square, edged with restaurants and pubs and jam packed with people all out to have fun. It is knows as Gringo Corner or Backpackers Alley and is where many tourists and travellers gather both during the daytime and at night.
The following day was a Saturday and Kath was planning to visit the market town of Otovalo. I was originally going to give it a miss as it was physically impossible to put anything extra in my rucsac but I am so pleased that I changed my mind and I went along. Otovalo is said to have the biggest and best street market in Ecuador and it didn’t disappoint. It was enormous and the stalls spilled out of the main square and took over many of the surrounding streets. It was a riot of colour with stalls selling material and ceramics but the best bits for me were the different clothes worn by the local women who were sat behind the piles of merchandise.
Many of the women wore crisp white cottons shirts with fabulous embroidery around the top half. They had long skirts made of wool – in most cases these appeared to simply be a large length of woollen cloth which they had tucked into a waistband. And hats. There were all sorts of hats but the strangest headgear appeared to be a large amount of material which had been folded down into a large square and just popped on top of the owner’s head. The majority of the ladies wore their hair long but in a single plait or a pony tail and many had wrapped a length of elaborately embroidered material around and down the length. They also had wider embroidered strips which they wore as bright belts.
After trawling around the market we had a bit of a wander around the other streets and then we got the bus back. We were treated to the usual violent film on the bus, and after being escorted to the correct Trole bus across the terminal by our own personal armed guard we very quickly got ourselves lost when we disembarked. I don’t know what it is about Quito but for the life of me I cannot get my bearings and I have no idea where I am for most of the time.
Quito stretches along a thin valley for some forty kilometres but it is only five kilometres wide. Add to this, the fact that it is built on hills and on the sides of volcanoes which slant away from the run of the grid structure, and it contains many old streets which do not conform to the grid structure which is trying to impose some order on the map and you have a recipe for losing your way.
The following day me and Kath met up with one of my Ecuadorian friends who lives in Quito and we were treated to the most amazing guided tour of the city. If you are going to see a city, then the best way is with a local. Tanya, Daniele and Lys tried to encourage me to climb the ladders up the turrets of the Basillica (do they think that I am completely mad??), but they did persuade us to clamber high up onto a ledge in front of a massive round stained glass window for a photograph.
We saw the old town on a Sunday morning when many of the streets are closed and are given over to the population who walk and ride their bicycles. We popped our noses into a few of the many churches and convents and wandered around a food market sampling many of the local flavours. And then we strolled down La Ronda – a series of narrow streets which used to house poets and writers and now house artisan products, workshops and traditional restaurants.
After a lunch, in my case a warming, filling local soup called locra, we got a cab up to the top of the smallish hill called Panecillo (because it is shaped like a little loaf of bread) and we climbed up inside the large statue of La Virgen de Panecillo which dominates the skyline. The statue is made up of thousands of squares and has been constructed like a three-D jigsaw. She faces the city with her back to the south and is believed to protect the city from the volcanoes in the region.
Me and Kath returned back to our hostel and both agreed that we had been very lucky and privileged to have such amazing tour and experience in Quito.
We parted company the following day when I set off for Latacunga on my own but I left my larger rucsack behind at the hostel, as I would be returning and hopefully meeting up with my Polish friend at the end of the week.
I am becoming unhealthily focused on what I can possibly leave out of my rucsack so that I am carrying less, but it seems that this is an affliction that strikes all backpackers at some stage. Paint on carnival clothes – a good excuse to throw them out. Thousands of mozzies – great – spray on the poison – it will reduce the weight. Toothpaste finished – this is a cause for celebration until I remember that I have to buy more and that loads the grams back on.
And yes, of course I bought something at Otovalo market!