Quito: dancing angels, walking in the clouds, and the comatose.

Sorry for the delay in posting, but today is the first time the guards have let me use the computer. Ecuadorian prison is worse than I expected, and I can’t help but wonder how the hell I got here. I should have known it was a setup from the moment I saw her. No one wears a dress like that in Ecuador. Not red like that…
Just kidding. We found a hostel full of good people, and when there’s good conversation it’s hard to go fibble on your computer. But they’ve all moved on while K and I took a daytrip to the indigenous market in Otavalo, so we came back to a quiet hostel, with just a few Israeli’s who are not interested in talking to anyone else. And K and I have had plenty of each others company today, so here you go!

Yesterday we saw two of the primary Quito destinations: El Panecillo, and the teleferico.

El Panecillo (the little loaf of bread) is a hill just southwest of the old town, crowned by a 40 meter high statue of The Virgin of Quito, who has a more mythological flair than usual, given her wings, and the fact that she seems to be dancing on the dragon chained at her feet. (They say she’s actually getting ready to fly away, but her nickname is “La Bailarina” so I’m not the only one who sees divine boogying.)

The statue is pretty cool, and the view is excellent. That lasts a few minutes, then you’re looking for a taxi down. You see, the hill is rather tall, but that doesn’t matter because you reportedly have a 100% chance of getting mugged if you try to walk up or down it.

The Plaza Grande. (Please don’t let this post mislead you(?) I actually do like Quito very much.)

We looked around for a taxi and found none, until a little gentleman approached us to offer “transporte” down the hill in his little black car, that looked sorta official, but was definitely not a normal taxi. I balked for a minute, then we climbed in.

His name was Pedro, and he convinced us to try Quito’s main attraction (if you ask me): the teleferico cable car. We climbed in, he locked the doors, drove us across town, through a tunnel visibly full of smog, then into a sketchy-looking neighborhood…at which point he slowed down, unlocked the doors, and pulled over right by three shady looking guys who watched us approach, smiling.

My feet started sweating a bit, I reached up and relocked the door and wondered what was about to happen. Pedro turned around…and gave me his telephone number in case we wanted a ride to another local tourist attraction. The guys on the corner peered at us. Pedro finished writing and we pulled away from the curb, reaching the base of the telemetric a minute later.

Shit, Pedro! Don’t do that to me!

The teleferico is a rather epic piece of French engineering, covers 2500 meters (wow) in about 15 minutes (wow), starting at an altitude of 2950 meters and ending at 4100 (WOW!!)

Remember the cable car in Manakamana, Nepal? This one is much larger, longer and higher. At least, that’s what I would have said if you’d asked me yesterday. Looking it up now, turns out they’re remarkably similar in size, but I was flamstaggerblasted by the epic view of Quito as we ascended. (To be fair, it was foggy in Manakamana, so I’ll have to go back and redo it when it’s sunny…)

At the top you can look down at the wee planes flying beneath you, drink coca tea while admiring the signage and facilities for anyone suffering from altitude sickness, then walk, at a snailish altitude-pace, up to the peak of Mount Pinchincha. The wind is blowing, it’s cold, you’re out of breath and have a slight headache. The sun will burn the skin off your face since you can’t feel any heat, and the views are phenomenal, with Quito’s bumpy urban legs stretching way off out of sight up and down the valley. I frickin loved it up there.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to walk the whole way, only making it one rise past where a couple rugged Andean fellows will rent you a horse to carry your anaerobic arse up the mountain. And of course it’s Latin America, so you can stand, leaning into the wind, on the edge of a mind-slappingly high cliff with nothing to hold you back beyond some ankle-high grass.

To complete my catch-up blog, as I mentioned today we went to Otavalo. I heard from a friend that this was a good place to try the famous Ecuadorian “cuy” (guinea pig) but we didn’t see any. What we did see was a decent Latin American market (the main day is Saturday, so today’s was a more modest quotidian version) with a lot of women with faces and clothes that were just so fantastically…indigenous!

However, we also found that irritated familiarity with tourists who wander around taking pictures and not buying anything. So we took a few pictures, bought plantains, uchuva, and carrots, wandered around for awhile, and came home, watching another kung-fu movie along the way.

We got back to our neighborhood of Quito during rush hour, and walked down the street among crowds of people, all of us stepping around the man lying face down on the pavement. I barely noticed him until K, face troubled, said quietly “it’s not right. That we all just walk past.” And she’s right. But this is the world.

We felt our helplessness, coughed up a lungful of Quito’s heavy smog, and decided we’re ready to leave Quito. So tomorrow morning we’ll be up at 5:30 AM in order to catch the 8:00 bus to the cloud forest of Mindo. 250 species of hummingbird, man.

See you in the forest.