Wednesday, 14 March 2012
As it is far too risky to go overland from central to South America we flew from Panama city to Quito in Ecuador. The customs official in Panama decided he was going to give me a hard time although it was nothing to do with where we were going but more to do with what I was wearing. He looked up from his newspaper and saw my Spurs shirt and kindly reminded me that Spurs had just lost to Arsenal 5-2. He kept saying el classico cinco dos! Landing in Quito was the first time being in South America and for me the first time being South of the Equator. It was also the first time we had experienced that much altitude. Quito is 2850m high and you can feel it's effects. As soon as the plane touched down Katie felt dizzy. Walking towards immigration she needed to sit down as the world was spinning and she was feeling weak. The effects gradually wore off over the next two days but it was a good warning for when we want to hike Machu Picchu. On the first morning a lovely Ecudorian woman gave us a tour of the old town. There were many beautiful churches, incredible colonial buildings and interesting facts but embarrassingly the one thing that most stayed in my mind was the story of the architect who was not properly paid so cheekily put large penises on the cherubs decorating the house he was building opposite one of the cities grandest churches. One of the things I most liked about Quito was the statue of the virgin Mary standing on a dragon, which overlooks the city from a nearby hill. She makes quite an imposing presence from nearly any street in the town. To a couple of gringo tourists like us Quito felt wonderfully foreign. Both the men and women wore fedorer style hats and many wore traditional clothes, embroidered shirts and the women had babies strapped to their backs whilst the men had long pony tails. Our attempt to find authentic Ecuadorian night life was however a mixed success. We went out in a part of town which was full of people, bright lights and loud music. It was gave us a sensory overload considering we had only recently left the desert islands of San Blas. We failed to find our dream place with live Latin music and ended up drinking in a club that was playing UK dance music from the early 90's. However by the end of the night they started playing some local tunes and Katie and I "wowed" the locals with our Latin dancing. On Saturday we left Quito for the nearby town of Otavalo famed for its market - the biggest market in South America. The market was an incredible sight, so colourful and vibrant and so different to anything we had seen before. It started in the main square selling beautiful hand crafted goods to locals and tourists and then spreads out to all the nearby streets selling everything from Nike trainers to armadillo guitars to Indian headdresses and ground up bugs which were meant to cure all sorts of diseases. We got tempted by some paintings and jewellery. The people were as fascinating as the goods they were selling. The locals wore beautiful traditional outfits but most did not like gringos taking pictures of them which was a shame because Katie wanted to take a picture of everthing she saw as the scenes were so exotic and a lot to take in. The food in Otavalo was also lovely, although because of my poor Spanish for some reason the waitress in one restaurant brought me two plates of trout to eat. Katie then joked I did it on purpose and called me two-trout Jonty! The next day we did a 4 hour hike around a lake formed in the crater of a volcano called Laguna Cuicocha. The views were absolutely stunning on a lovely sunny day, on one side the sun was shinning on the lake while on our other side we could see for miles the mountains and valleys around Otavalo.