In Quito, taxis cost about $0.10 a minute, US dollars, well, cents, but still — so cheap. Drivers use their horns often, ducking into winding streets, passing other cars on either side, rounding corners, giving a heads up to pedestrians. It’s fast and loud, if not furious. The buses blow black smoke through the city. But there’s plenty to see.
The Basilica del Voto Nacional is over two hundred years old and it’s a massive fortress. Its narrow stairwells lead higher and higher to spires that overlook Old Town. The highest point of the Basilica is the Condors’ Tower, accessed by a caged-in steel ladder, technically outside. A woozy climb for us adults. Chloe zipped up in her usual fearless fashion and Sylvie pretended she was 8 (required age) and went for it too.
After that we went to the Botanical Gardens and now we’re all orchid enthusiasts.
The teleferico is a enclosed lift that takes you to the highest peaks in the city. We tried to go our first day but it was a holiday so the line was too long. Luckily for the kids, Vulcano Park was right there and they got to go on some decent rides and play some carni games. Chloe took a couple of shots at a basketball game where you had to sink a b-ball through three hoops and she got it, winning herself a teddy bear. It was a highlight. The next day we took the teleferico way up, looked at the whole city, hiked around, pet some llamas, and rode horses . . . because why not?
Sylvie celebrated her 7th birthday in Otavalo! We stayed in cute cabins overlooking the city. So many dogs — some stray, some cared for, some charming, some in rough shape. It was like the book Go Dogs Go, and at night, the dog party was raucous.
The Otavalo market is the biggest and oldest market in South America and vendors set up and sell beautiful textiles, fresh produce, and all kinds of randomness. You can get some deals (leather purse for $20, a « North Face » jacket for $30, fresh juice for $0.15, 40 limes for a dollar!). The place was chaotic and full of energy. We may have seen 5% of it. Basically we had snacks and got a few bracelets for the girls because I can’t be carrying any more on this trip!
We spent a day at Parque Cóndor where they care for spectacular and mostly endangered birds — eagles, hawks, owls, and of course, condors. There’s an eccentric fellow who has been working there for many years and puts on a show. Very impressive. Speaking of birds, we tried caldo de gallino, which was a tasty soup. It was our first time ever spooning up a foot though. Hello.
The road to Mindo spirals through the mountainous cloud forest. Hard on the neck. Within our first hour in town we did a chocolate tour at El Chetzal. Yum. Then we went to a butterfly farm, took another teleferico (why do we keep doing this? So scary.), and hiked to a waterfall. Our last day there we took shelter from the hours of rain by spending the day in a covered hot tub pool at a hotel. Great day.
We soaked even more in Papallacta. We spent an evening and a full day in the Balnearios — a beautifully designed complex of pools of all temperatures and sizes, built into the mountain, fed by the springs.
Also, we met Heather and John in Mindo. They have been traveling for five years! Their blog is www.roamingaroundtheworld.com. They have lots of insight and good advice for traveling, even a guide to Halifax, so they’re clearly good folks.
That’s all for now. Off to Galapagos today!