On Monday, June 11th, I left Colombia and entered Ecuador. People had made me afraid of this border, telling me that there are so many Venezuelans trying to cross the border that it can take hours to cross here. Therefore, I had decided to go there very early in the morning and I had ordered a taxi for 6AM via my apartment. Unfortunately, the driver never showed and so, at 6:20, I went to find another taxi in the streets of Ipiales. The border is only 7 km or so from Ipiales away and I got there around 6:30AM, but I couldn’t believe my eyes when I got there! There was already a line of more than 100 people waiting to exit Colombia. Fortunately, there was a nice guy trying to get me to exchange my Colombian pesos with him – he actually had a pretty good exchange rate – and he told me that I didn’t have to wait in this line, but I could go directly to a much shorter line; the long line was only for people from Venezuela. On the other side of the border, at the Ecuadorian immigration, same story: one very long line for people from Venezuela and one very short line – 2 people – for other foreigners.
I told you before that Colombia has a big problem with all the refugees from Venezuela and here, in Ecuador, it’s not much different ; that’s why the lines at the border are so long. It’s only recently that they changed the system and let foreigners and Colombians go to a different line, so that you don’t have to wait; a few days, maybe weeks ago, people had to wait for hours, sometimes a whole day to cross the border. I was very lucky and happy about it. 😊
From the border, you have to take a minibus to the first city behind the border, Tulcan, and from there you can catch a bus to Quito. Buses here in Ecuador are very cheap (6$US for 5h of travel) and really comfortable. A nice change after the uncomfortable, overcrowded minibuses I had taken in Colombia.
From the bus terminal in Quito, I took a taxi to my hostel and I had a nice chat with my driver. He was very kind and told me how cheap taxis in Ecuador are (true) and how much taxi drivers care about the safety and comfort of their passengers. He also told me that food in Ecuador is amazing, they have lots of fresh fruit and other good stuff (true as well) and we talked about prices. I had heard that Ecuador is very expensive because they have dollars, but the truth is that it’s not expensive. I’d even say it’s cheaper than Colombia. He told me that Quito is probably the cheapest place in Ecuador and that other cities like Cuenca are, for some reason, much more expensive. We’ll see about that later.
At the hostel, I was welcomed by Jamshid. He’s from Uzbekistan and has been travelling the world for 11 or 12 years and arrived in Ecuador only a few weeks ago. Now he works for about a month in the Casa Urbana Hostel. He was super nice and we had nice evenings together in the hostel. 😊
Casa Urbana is a wonderful hostel where you just feel at home. Carolina, the owner, is a wonderful and super helpful woman. She helped me plan my stay in Quito and find places to stay on the Quilotoa loop. The rooms in the hostel were spacious and the bed super comfortable with duvets like clouds. Everything was very clean, the kitchen was well stuffed; the common area was cosy with a nice open fire in the evening. The location was perfect as well, Mariscal is a fantastic area.
I spent my first afternoon going to the supermarket to buy some food and water and getting a new haircut. It was all pretty cheap: 10$ for food and water for 3 days, 4$ for the haircut. The rest of the afternoon and evening I spent at the hostel writing and planning my stay in Quito and my next moves after Quito until the beginning of my first volunteering (June 25th). We were only 4 guests in the hostel that night and 2 of them were out, so it was just Jamshid, a guy from the States and me and we had a quiet night watching movies in front of the open fire.
The next morning, after a delicious breakfast, I went to Plaza Foch, a very beautiful square close to my hostel full of nice bars. I went to the office of Gulliver Expeditions to get some information about their tours. I wanted to do a 2-day hike to Cotopaxi Volcano, but there was also a day hike and so I wanted to get more information. The lady there was not very helpful though and she told me that I couldn’t do the 2-day hike alone, you always need a partner for the hike on the glacier. She promised me she would contact me later to see if she could find a second person or else, I could do the day hike.
At 10AM started on Plaza Foch a free walking tour and I joined it. From there, we took a bus to the old town and picked up some more people in the Community Hostel. This hostel has its own travel agency and it’s them who organize the free walking tour. I liked the tour, it was nice to get to know Quito, a very modern and beautiful city. During the tour, I met Pauline, a girl from Nantes in France, and we had a good time together.
First, we went to the public market where we were shown the different types of typical fruit in Ecuador and where we tried some juices – all full of sugar, but delicious. There were also lots of people selling flowers and our guide explained that Ecuador is, after the Netherlands, the second most important country for exporting roses. Then we went to different places like the cathedral and they explained all about Quito’s history. They also explained that they used to have Sucre as a currency, but that often people paid in dollars. The inflation of Sucre was very high and so everybody started using only dollars, because it’s a more stable currency. That’s why now it’s the official currency of Ecuador.
For lunch, me and a few girls from the tour went to a local restaurant where you can get a full lunch – soup, main dish, and drink – for only 2,5$. I had a typical cheese soup and I loved it; it was delicious.
Afterwards, I went back to the Community Hostel, because I had decided to do the « Middle of the Earth » tour with them. Did you know that Quito is situated exactly on the equator? Well, I didn’t and it was a big surprise for me. While I waited for the tour to start at 2:30PM, I went up to the reception to get a coffee and there was sitting a girl who looked slightly familiar to me. She looked at me and asked: « do I know you? » So we established that we had met somewhere before, but we couldn’t find out where. Her name is Melanie and she’s from the South of Germany. I still can’t remember where I know her from, but well, the world is a village…
The tour consisted of taking a shuttle to the museum of the middle of the earth and then to the monument dedicated to the middle of the earth. This museum was pretty interesting; it shows exactly the line where the equator is and they make a bunch of experiments with you to prove it. It wasn’t a mind-blowing visit, but it was quite cool to be (consciously) standing with one food in the northern hemisphere and with the other on the southern hemisphere.
They also had an original house of the indigenous people there. As a joke, they still keep guinea pigs in there to show that even indigenous people ate them; today it’s still common food in Peru, Ecuador and the western border of Colombia.
I didn’t go into the park of the monument of the middle of the earth because it’s 5$ and the only thing you can do there is take a close picture with it. It’s not even on the equator; it had been built by the French and they had miscalculated the equator… So, I just took a picture from outside of the park and then waited in the shuttle for the others to come back.
Back at the Community hostel, I went up to the reception to book the day hike to the Cotopaxi volcano for the next day. I hadn’t heard back from Gulliver expeditions and so I had decided to do the day hike with the Community hostel instead, which seemed to be more popular than Gulliver expedition anyway. While booking, a girl next to me looked at me and exclaimed: « Bianca! Is that you?» and when I looked at her, I immediately recognized her: Petra from the Netherlands. I had met her 2 1/2 years earlier in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile where we had celebrated Christmas together. The world is so small! 😄 We caught up on our travels and life, but, unfortunately, I had to leave because I had to go pick up my laundry and I didn’t know how long they were open… Maybe I’ll see her again someday somewhere else.
Now with this day tour planned for the next day, I was wondering if I should take my backpack with me and take a bus from the place where we would have lunch directly to Latacunga. It’s much closer from there than from Quito and I could have saved some time, but, in the end, I decided to go back to Quito after the tour because I just loved my hostel too much to already leave. I had thought about going out that night, but finally I just stayed at the hostel with Jamshid, the American guy and another guy from the States that is doing an internship in Quito and only comes by the hostel from time to time to spent time with Jamshid. He had been in the Casa Urbana Hostel for a week and now had his own place. We talked about studies, PhD – he was thinking about doing one – and travels. It was a very nice evening, cosy in front of the open fire. 😊
The next morning, our shuttle picked us up close to Plaza Foch at 7AM. Then we picked up some more people at the Community Hostel and went to the place where we had breakfast. On the way, our guides told us all about Cotopaxi National Park, the Cotopaxi volcano and the other volcanos around. There are more than 80 volcanos in Ecuador, but only some of them are active. Cotopaxi is the highest volcano and it is always covered in ice and snow. To get to Cotopaxi, we took the Panamericana Highway that crosses all South America and that’s called « road of volcanos » because it’s flanked on each side by mountains and volcanos. The 2 volcano or mountain ranges divide Ecuador in 3 parts: the Coast, the Highlands and the Amazonas, the first and the latter being in tropical climates while it’s colder in the highlands.
The landscape was really beautiful and we were very very lucky with the weather. It was a completely clear day with a lot of sun and we had the best view of the different volcanos.
It took us about 3 hours to get to the parking of the Cotopaxi volcano. The parking is already on an altitude of 4500 m and, from there, we hiked up to the base camp which is located on 4850m altitude. It was a very exhausting hike; it was not difficult or too steep, but the altitude made it hard. I walked mostly with Chris from the UK in front of the group while Sanne, a Dutch girl we had met, walked more on the back of the group. During our stop at the base camp, I met Sebastian from Colombia. He had been living in Uruguay for the past 3 years and was now headed back to Colombia. He was super nice and it was a shame he was not in our group.
From the base camp, we walked another 150 m up to 5000m altitude where we were closer to the glacier, but we didn’t get close enough to touch it.
Afterwards, we walked back down to the parking or, more precisely, we ran down. We took a different way down that was much steeper and the deep sand on the path made if a lot of fun – and easier for the knees – to run down the volcano. 😊 At the parking, we took the bicycles and biked down to a lagoon. I’m not a big fan of biking, but it was part of the tour, so whatever. After this, we went back to the bus and slept until we got to the lunch place. We were completely exhausted from the hike and the altitude and I, for my part, had a huge headache from the altitude.
I had wanted to go out for a beer on Plaza Foch in the evening, but my headache was too bad and I had to pack and finish planning my trip to Quilotoa loop the next day. I had checked for hostels and had to see that there is none or, at least, none that are still free. I was very surprised as it’s low season and usually you never have a problem finding a spot in a hostel. I was a bit panicked because every place I could find was super expensive. Finally, thanks to the help of Carolina, I found a nice – not too expensive – spot in each town that I would cross. I spent the night in the hostel reading travel blogs about the Quilotoa loop and went to bed early because the next morning I had to get up at 5:30 to go to Latacunga where I would start the Quilotoa loop and because my headache still wasn’t better.
I didn’t mind staying in the hostel instead of going out; I love this hostel and the people there. And I will get back to Quito anyway and I can still go out then. Actually, I would spend another week in this hostel, at the end of my trip. But more about this on my blog entry about Mindo and my last weeks in Ecuador.
Quito is a wonderful city full of history, combined with many modern buildings, good restaurants and bars and it’s a perfect starting point for discovering Ecuador. I can only recommend that you go there some day! 😊