Being on the road can make it challenging to find time to sit down and write. Looking back those first days in Ecuador flew by in an absolute (probably altitude affected) blur!
I had mixed feelings of excitement but also anxiousness about my first venture into South America and solo. Will I like it? What about safety? Though I was convinced the ominous warnings you read were exaggerated, still there must be some truth? Will I get by with my Spanish?
I landed in Quito – the high up mountainous capital of Ecuador. I had pre-arranged transportation via my hostel- Secret Garden, not yet being familiar with local taxi systems, and my driver was thankfully already waiting. 45 pleasant minutes of broken Spanish conversation later – about Mexico, Ecuador weather, culture, and his family … we pulled up in front of Secret Garden. I was told to make sure to only take official yellow taxis and that Uber was illegal (though noted- several travelers I met did use Uber in Quito to get around with no issues, and it’s significantly cheaper than regular taxis, but as a single female traveler, and given the low costs of taxis in general I certainly did not see any point in taking the risk!)
My intro to Quito was breathtaking- literally! Secret garden is a super charming and social hostel with private room options as well as dorms in different sizes. To get to the reception you first have to climb up 5 floors with enormous sets of stairs !! 😱 These are not tiny little regular hotel stairs but seriously high and steep stairs! Out of breath and slightly confused on why on earth a reception would be built in this way, I spun around at the top and realized why:
The friendly staff of Secret Garden are a mix of locals and volunteering travelers proudly wear T-Shirts displaying the altitude of the stunning terrace bar where the reception is.
After picking up dinner at the bar and feeling initially daunted by the crowd upstairs, whom all seemed to be already seated in distinctive groups, I started chatting with a French guy at the bar and joined him with a large group of solo travelers from about 15 different nations in the open area of the terrace. Over a beer I happily teamed up with another Australian and a Swiss German girl to ride up the Quito volcano Pinchacha the next morning by cable car “teleférico”.
For those landing the first time in Quito, or in fact any high altitude place without first having been acclimatized… be aware! The altitude hit me on that first day with a crash. Having been up the teleférico (4050m) and even hiked a little and feeling totally fine up there, it suddenly hit me after coming down. Luckily the symptoms were not too serious, albeit a bit scary (dizzy spells and seeing bright spots, with my right ear temporarily not hearing). It passed after a few minutes sitting down and some light food, and a lie down the rest of that afternoon (!!)
Either way, the view from the top of the teleférico was totally stunning and worth the ride.
Quito as a city itself is ok. It truthfully did not blow me away with charm but admittedly I also did not give it enough time. A group of 4 American friends I met in Galapagos (more on Galapagos coming!) had an amazing time in Quito, and the city gives me the impression that experiencing the real city might need a bit more time and some luck in being in the know on where to go! On the surface it felt a little cold and grey, with few people walking around that seemed to contradict the vibe you would expect from such a big city. The warnings on walking around solo by locals and fellow travelers also did not add to the vibe. First impressions not amazing, but I would give it another go, and it either way serves as an excellent base to explore the real beauty of Ecuador in its raw and wild nature and splendor.
I did manage to find some cute local streets and a food market (mercado central) where you could get some amazingly cheap almuerzo (3 course lunch) for $2.50-3.00 and sampled some great soups- probably what I would recommend the most of Ecuadorian cuisine, and climbed up to the top of the main cathedral, for more views of the city:
Cute streets to find almuerzo.
The next day my new Swiss German friend and I spontaneously booked a trip with our hostel to the volcanic region of Cotopaxi.