Quito, the Capital and Latacunga

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Our new destination after Colombia was Ecuador – we are really curious if this country amazes us the same way Colombia did… let’s see! 🙂

In the evening we landed in Quito and took the bus to the city centre. It was quiet a way and took us around 45min until we got to the Old Town part. Once we arrived at our hostel and checked in, the friendly guy at the reception showed us the city map and firstly indicated all the areas where we shouldn’t go after 7pm – well, good to know! 😉 We were really hungry and asked for restaurants close by. Surprisingly, almost everything such as supermarkets or restaurants close at 7pm. But we found one small bar where we ordered lasagna; and we were shocked by the prices! Since Ecuador uses the US dollar as their official currency, prices were way higher than in Colombia! And what we found out later: they don’t have good coffee and additionally not everywhere available. We miss Colombia already. 😉

By now a free walking tour became mandatory, which is why the first thing we did was participating in one the next morning. 🙂 Again, it was very interesting for us to learn more about Quito and the times during Ecuador changed its currency from Sucre to US Dollar  – it must have been crazy! This American expat puts the situation very well in a nutshell:

It was so strange; I left the country for a few months to find that they’d thrown all their money in the trash (not literally of course) and switched to the money I’ve known my whole life. We arrived in Ecuador in 1997. At that time the Ecuador sucre wasn’t fairing too well. The value quickly diminished.

At the beginning of 1997 we were getting 4,000 sucres for every dollar we exchanged. By 1999/2000 it was up to 25,000 sucres for every dollar. For those of us who had dollar accounts, life was good. Since the dollar was much more stable, we did not have currency that was loosing value every day. But prices of food and our rent contracts were in sucres. Because the people of Ecuador only had sucres, the prices of everyday things could not be hiked at the same rate as the devaluation of the sucre. This was in our favor, especially when it came to rent.

At one place we signed a rent contract for 800,000 sucres which was 200 dollars. By the time we moved out, a year later we were only paying 75 dollars [Source: http://www.life-in-ecuador.com/ecuador-currency.html#sthash.6GICDFan.dpuf%5D.

Plaza Santa Domingo

Plaza Santa Domingo

Food market

Food market

Endless sweets and candy

Endless sweets and candy

Street food: Salchipapa

Street food: Salchipapa

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Later in the afternoon, the big mission was “Finding cheap last minute deals for Galapagos”. What a mission!! In the end, it took us 2,5 days and 7 travel agencies to find a suitable (we won’t use the word “cheap”, since it is everything but cheap!) offer. Jippiii!! Jakub did some intense research before we went to the agencies, which is absolutely necessary. There are several islands in the Galapagos area and each one of them offers a variety of animals and has their own charm. We made a list of which islands we would like to see, to be able to tell the agencies the route we’d prefer for a boat. Jop, boat! 🙂 Although I swore that after our Panama sailing trip, I would not go back on a boat, admittedly the easiest way to explore Galapagos is to book a boat tour, including visits to different islands, accommodation and food. The offers we received varied from small boats, holding 25 passengers and cruising around Galapagos for 4 days to 6 days on a big ship with up to 90 passengers. The very best offer, eventually was a so called “luxury cruise ship”, with a tour where we might see whales, lasting 6 days and even including a small surprise for our honeymoon trip. Haha yes, we pretend to be on our honeymoon. 🙂 Although the price was still high and includes neither flights nor the entrance fee, it was still approximately 50% cheaper than anything we would have booked from Germany or too many days in advance! AND: it will be a big ship and not a small sailing boat where at some point you feel claustrophobic. 🙂 Now we still have 12 days until we leave and we’re so excited and happy to start another great adventure! ❤

Until that, we wanna discover Quito plus surrounding a little bit more and decided to go to the middle of the world, “Mitad del Mundo”. It’s a monument a couple of kilometers outside Quito and shows the exact location of the equator with the coordinates 0’00’00. It was build in honor of the first geodesic mission of French scientists in 1736, who conducted experiments to test the flattening at the poles of the characteristic shape of the Earth, by comparing the distance between a degree meridian in the equatorial zone to another level measured in Sweden . Later they found out, due to latest GPS technology that the equator actually lies 240m north of the monument…well…what can we say. 🙂

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At the middle of the world together

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The next day we decided to meet up with Kerstin, a German girl we met at the walking tour to go to the Teleferico. It’s a famous lift which takes you from 3.120m to almost 4.000m height to see Quito from above and do some light hiking. Kerstin was joined by a Canadian girl and we additionally met a guy from Kazakhstan, so a nice group of 5 started to walk up in direction to the summit. The view was stunning. Not only could we overview Quito, we also saw the volcanos Cotopaxi and Pichincha. But the weather can be a big drama queen and typically changes within minutes. 😉 Dark clouds rolled oved the mountains and it was too instable for us to continue up until the summit. We still had a nice hike though and headed back to the city for late lunch together.

Quito from high above

Quito from high above

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We decided to not stay longer in Quito, but to make our way to Latacunga, from where we wanted to plan our further steps. One was to visit the great Cotopaxi volcano. 🙂 You can easily do it with a planned tour, having lunch included, a guide and bikes to speed downhill from Cotopaxi. But of course it has its price, which is why we decided to do it on our own. 😉 Early in the morning at 7am we headed to the bus terminal in Latacunga and caught a bus with direction Quito. It dropped us off at the entrance to the Cotopaxi national park after around 20min. At the entrance, we were welcomed by some friendly guides (we read that since a couple of months it is only allowed to enter the park accompanied by a guide), offering to accompany us. Luckily, another tourist couple showed up in that moment and we could get a better price for the 4 of us. We hopped in the guides 4×4 truck and entered the park area. First task: registration. Continuing for another 20 minutes we stopped at a museum, where our guide told us a lot about the Cotopaxi volcano and the surrounding area and villages. Heading further into the park area, we stopped at a small lake to acclimatize to the height (at this point we were on approximately 3.500m) and take pictures.

Cotopaxi in the background

Cotopaxi in the background

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The last stop with the car was a parking lot, where we all got off to start our 50min ascent  to the “Refugio”, a wooden cabin as high as 4.860m! 🙂 The path all up to the summit is closed and it is prohibited to go any further than the refugio due to the instable activities at Cotopaxi. Anyway, almost 4.900m is already something and once we got out of the car, we immediately perceived the thin air, letting our lungs feel 30% smaller than they are. Luckily we got used to the less oxygen surrounding quickly and started to walk up. Snow was lying everywhere, combined with stones and ashes from the last erruption dating 130 years back. After 50min we reached the refugio and were happy that our guide obviously showed us the easier way up, walking zigzag instead of straight. 😉 Once we reached the highest point, we felt really happy and good – the first time for both of us that we were that high up!! In the refugio, we had hot chocolate, which let that nice winter cabin feeling come up and had a light lunch. After 1 hour we headed back down to the car and we were so glad that we started early! The weather changed again in the afternoon and most of the surrounding hid in the clouds.

We're soon up...

We’re soon up…

We made it!!

We made it!!

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Such a great day! We decided to end it with a homemade dinner, which we cooked in our hostel kitchen…which was not a normal kitchen, but belonged to the restaurant adjacent and we cooked in a fully professional equipped kitchen! 🙂

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