As usual, our trip to Galápagos was not fully confirmed until only days before departure. Up until two weeks before departure, I was torn between Galápagos and Greenland. I even had the connection flights between Greenland and the Faroe Islands all planed out, but in the end it felt like time was running out, and it was much easier to plan the Galápagos plan, mostly because we would stay on the small cruise boat without having to think about the daily itinerary. The week before we left, the cruise boat was finally confirmed, the itinerary was good, and the travel agent gave us a free day trip in Quito.
If you read the online travel forums, Quito is described as an super dangerous city. Someone even said that all taxis in Quito have a Panic Button, and if someone opens the door and jumps in, the passenger can push the button and the camera in the taxi kicks in and starts recording. We didn’t see such devices in a taxi anyway. Quito, like many cities in South America, or most of the less developed countries of the world, is chaotic and noisy, but as long as you don’t go to the unsafe neighborhoods at night, it’s usually far less scary than it’s described online.
Flights from the US to South America always seem to arrive at midnight. We had a connecting flight in Miami, the flight was scheduled to arrive at 10pm, but it was actually more than an hour late. Luckily, we had arranged the hotel pick up in advance. Quito’s international airport is quite far from the city and takes about 50 minutes to reach the hotel. Passing through a valley, we saw city lights ahead, we thought we were not far from Quito. The driver told us it was Tumbaco and was only halfway there.
It was one o’clock in the night when we arrived at the hotel and it took almost ten minutes before anyone heard the doorbell and came out to check on the door. Our hotel is Hotel Casa Q. It is located in the business district of Quito, not quite downtown. The hotel is not large, but well maintained. You can notice that the owner put a lot of thoughts into the design. It was at breakfast time the next day that we were able to see what the surrounding streets looked like.
The booked city tour was supposed to start at 9am and the guide arrived at almost 10am. This is common in South America and part of the local culture. The first stop on the day trip is a cable car ride up
The gondola to Mount Pichincha is called TelefériQo. the station at the foot of the mountain is on the edge of Quito, the facilities were still new and there were not many tourists. Probably the maximum capacity of one car is six people, there are six circles on the ground where the car was boarded, and each one of us stood in the circle waiting for the car.
The cable car took about 20 minutes to get from the foot of the mountain, which is 10,226 feet above sea level, and the drop-off point is 12,943 feet. The vegetation at this height is mostly shrubs with some low trees. Further up, the woods fade away and the grass gets shorter and sparser. At the top of the mountain is the Ruku volcano, which is 15,696 feet above sea level. The most recent eruption was in 1999, falling several inches thick of ash into the city of Quito.
We walked up to an elevation of about 4,000 meters. This is the highest elevation we’ve ever been to. Indeed I had to breath heavier when I walked faster. There are plenty of places in between to stop and overlook the city. July is the dry season in Ecuador. According to the guide, it should be sunny all day, but the clouds were low and the city of Quito was hidden from time to time in the clouds. It’s on the cable car when we ware under the clouds, we were able to get a panoramic view of Quito.
The following day trip was a city-tour to the old town. I will cover it in another blog.
We took the taxi from the marketplace to the hotel in the afternoon. We had book the dinner at Zazu. It’s only one block away from the old, there were plenty of time left to explore the surrounding places. The hotel attendant said there’s a Food Garden not far from where we were. Just make a turn from the hotel to the street where Zazu is, we found the road lined with restaurants from the low-end street food to the high-end establishments. We walked into o restaurant called Swing at the corner. Listening to the familiar disco dance music, there’s suddenly a feeling of lost in time.
La Pradera Food Garden is just two blocks from us at the intersection of de la Republica Avenue. It looks bland from the outside, but it’s getting more interesting when you walk in. The modest area is home to dozens of open space eateries, each with its own distinctive style, with relaxing atmosphere. Such a place to put in America would also be a gathering place for trendy young people. It was 6pm and there weren’t many people. Maybe it’s because it’s not the weekend, or maybe such spending is still a bit high for locals.
Dinner reservations at Zazu are at 7pm. From the design to the plating, Zazu is one of the more upscale restaurants with moderate prices by American standards. We ordered the chef’s tasting menu. It look certainly beautiful, but the taste were not as exciting.