Middle of the World

Because we were still on British time, we awoke several times in the night, and at 6.00am (which felt like midday) we decided to get up.  Outside, day was breaking and the weather felt cool and refreshing.  The wet ground indicated we’d had some rain overnight.

I took an invigorating shower while Trevor got to grips with the coffee-maker, and at seven o’clock we made our way down to breakfast in the large, airy dining room.

There was a huge selection of breakfast foods available, some of them quite unusual compared to what we’re accustomed to at home.  For example, there was hot potato soup as well as chicken and rice.  In addition, there was a huge array of colourful fresh fruits, pastries, meats, cheeses, egg dishes and cereals.  I opted for a selection of cheeses, meats and fresh fruits, whereas Trevor partook of a plate of Eggs Benedict.  It was all washed down with strong, freshly brewed coffee to set us up for the exciting day ahead.  😊

We were finished with breakfast at 7.30am and, as we didn’t have to assemble in the hotel lobby until 9.15am, we decided to take a walk outside and explore our immediate vicinity.  We went outside to the hotel pool, but it had started to rain again so we decided to go back to room 712 and get our raincoats.

Outside, we walked along the streets, passing the ubiquitous Burger King and McDonalds on the way. Most of the buildings around us seemed to be more hotels, office blocks, motorcycle and auto shops and residential buildings.  There didn’t seem to be many shops, bars or restaurants.  Nevertheless it was nice to stretch our legs and have a walk in the crisp morning air after all the time we spent sitting about yesterday.

Walking up steps or up an incline, my heavier breathing and slight light-headedness reminded me that we were at 9,350 feet above sea level; we would have to remember to drink plenty of water to make up for the moisture lost through heavier respiration and therefore hopefully avoid any symptoms of altitude sickness.  So far, so good though.

Back in the hotel I decided to have another cup of coffee before meeting up with the rest of our group for our city tour.  We then met the Celebrity Cruises rep as well as Dianna, our guide for the day.  There are 91 of us altogether, so we were split into five groups so there wouldn’t be too big a crowd of us seeing the sights.  We were group X4, allocated bus number one.

We set off at half-nine through the busy streets and we were pleased to see that not far from the hotel there was a street with lots of shops for us to explore when we returned to Quito after our expedition.  All around us we could see the mountainous landscape as the bus made its way along the winding roads, climbing steadily and affording us fantastic views of Quito.  Our first stop was at the Virgin Mary with Wings, a massive statue overlooking the city.  We alighted from the bus and took a slow stroll around; I needed the loo as one of the things I’d noticed about the higher altitude was the need to pee more often!

We took some photos of the views and the statue, then looked along some little stalls that had been set up by the roadside, obviously with the tourists in mind as they all seemed to be selling the same stuff; bags, snow-globes, dolls, fridge magnets and the usual holiday ‘tat’. I bought a couple of magnets; one for my aunt (we always bring one back for her) and one for someone who we know who collects them.

I was then pleased to see some servicios, so we went to the loo, got washed and freshened up, then got back on the bus once again to continue our trip.

After about 15 minutes our bus driver, Miguel, parked up once again and we followed Dianna through the Saturday morning crowds to a fabulous, very ornate looking Catholic church, called Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus .  Dianna explained that 85% of the population of Ecuador were Catholic (in keeping with most of South America) and she told us we were not allowed to take photographs inside the church as the flashes would damage the artwork and ornate gold-leaf painted pillars, walls and ceilings.

The décor inside the church was breathtaking.  We were told that it took 160 years to build the church and it was easy to believe because of the detail in the workmanship.  The was a lovely vaulted ceiling with a gallery running around it and, below, a large rounded mirror that allowed us to view the artwork on the ceiling and the gilded reflections of the gold-leaf carvings, cornices and pillars.

We spent about half an hour in the cool church, before making our way outside and back to the bus.  The sky was still cloudy, but here and there the sun was making an attempt to come through.

The bus travelled once again for a short distance before we alighted into a large square and Dianna explained we would be having a short walking tour of the city.  It was quite crowded and there were a lot of hawkers selling souvenirs and scarves; we were pleased that they were not too persistent if you said “no, thank you”.

Our next stop was at San Francisco church in the square; we noticed there were a great many pigeons about and we hoped we wouldn’t receive a little present, ha ha.  😉

Inside the church there was a service in progress, so we listened for a short while to the Spanish sermon as well as to the choir singing, all in harmony.  Then we walked outside in the cloisters and looked some colourful birds and plants.  The sun was out by now and it felt very hot, shining down on my bare head, and I wished I’d brought a sunhat.

By this time it was after 12 o’clock, so our next stop was to a restaurant for our lunch.  It must have been reserved in advance because we were told it was a buffet lunch, and we wondered how the restaurant would cope with five busloads of people turning up.  We needn’t have worried on this score, because ours was one of the first buses to arrive, so we were straight in and at the front of the queue.  😊

Lunch consisted of a selection of typical Ecuadorian dishes.  We enjoyed a tasty potato soup to start with, which was garnished with mozzarella cheese and avocado.  Our main course included chicken, lamb, pork, sea bass and fresh vegetables, served with rice and a fairly spicy chilli sauce.  We washed it down with a glass of local beer and finished off with blackcurrant sorbet, a fruit salad basket and some sort of pastry cake.  A delicious and substantial meal to sustain us for the afternoon ahead.

Fed and watered, we waited outside for everyone else to finish.  Several ladies milled around on the pavement selling scarves and wraps in myriad colours; they only cost two for $5.00 so I bought a light green scarf/wrap with a fine gold thread running through it, and a darker green and brown wrap.  At that price you couldn’t complain!  I put the light green one on straight away; I noticed quite a few other ladies in our group had bought them as well.

Presently we all boarded the bus once again for the 45-minute journey to what would be the highlight of today’s tour – a visit to latitude 0˚ 0’ 0”, better known as the Equator, what the Ecuadorians call la mitad del mundo (the middle of the world).  We would, however, be visiting the real equator and not the location where, for decades until the advent of GPS, the equator was believed to be, and where there is a monument to mark the imaginary line around the earth’s middle.  The actual equator is 240 metres away from the line shown at this monument.

On arrival, we excitedly got off the bus and made our way to the museum where we were given a tour guide to show us around.   She explained to us some of the history of the location, starting with the indigenous Amazonian peoples, from the fearsome head-shrinkers to the hunter-gatherers and the various traditions and cultures of the South American natives.  It was all very interesting indeed.

We were then shown into the chocolate centre. Ecuador grows the cacao plants from which cocoa, or chocolate, is eventually extracted; our guide opened a fresh cacao pod and showed us the seeds inside; we were allowed to taste the pulp that surrounded the seed (it was sweet) but not to bite into the seed itself as unprocessed cocoa is very bitter.  We were then shown the various stages involved in the production of chocolate and, at the end, given a small piece of pure bitter chocolate to try; to me, it was far superior to the milk chocolate (e.g. Galaxy or Cadbury) that you can buy back home.  The guide said we could come back after the tour and buy some if we wanted.

We then made our way to the famous Equator, which is indicated by a red line dividing the northern and southern hemispheres.  The line was measured using military precise GPS.  Of course, I could not resist standing astride the red line, with one foot in each hemisphere.  Our group also queued up so we could do the touristy thing and stand behind the Latitude 0˚ 0’ 0” sign.  😊

Afterwards we had some free time so we spent it wandering around, looking at the souvenir shops selling the inevitable Panama hats.  You would think, from the name, that these distinctive hats come from Panama, but in actual fact they are made in Ecuador and must be among the most famous of its exports.  We didn’t buy one, but I might just be tempted later on in the holiday.  😊

It was then time to board bus number one again for the return journey to our hotel.  It took just under an hour and we arrived back at around 4.45pm.  We had an hour and a half before we had to be ready to go out for dinner so, because of our early start, we decided to have a power-nap until half-five to refresh ourselves for the evening ahead.

Afterwards, we got washed and changed; I wore a long cotton tropical print dress that I bought last year in Antigua, as well as my new light green wrap.  My colourful ensemble elicited quite a few comments from our fellow travellers in the lift going down to the hotel lobby.

Off we went to the Restaurant Gloria, where tables had been reserved once again for our trip.  We had done a lot of eating and drinking once again, and I would have to watch my waistline for the remainder of this trip if I didn’t want to gain any more weight than was necessary!

We shared a table with a very pleasant American couple, Mike and Mary, who were from Virginia.  They told us they had retired in their mid-50s (20 years ago) and had taken up farming since then, owning 20 acres of land.  We enjoyed interesting and lively conversation with them as well as a delicious three-course meal which we washed down with a beer in Trevor’s case and a margarita in mine.

The time passed all too quickly before we had to leave the restaurant and return the Marriott Hotel.  On the way out, we were surprised and amused to see all the chefs and waiters lining the pathway and applauding us all as we made our way back to the bus.

We arrived back at the hotel around 8.15pm and we had to go up and pack all our stuff into our cases (apart from what we would need in the morning) as tomorrow we were due to fly out to the Galapagos Islands, and they would be coming at 5.00am to collect our luggage to transfer it to the ship for us – the next time we’d see our cases would be in our cabin.

After dropping the bags off in the lobby, we saw the couple from our flight from Amsterdam whose luggage hadn’t made it; they were very happy to tell us that their cases had turned up at five o’clock, so they could now relax and begin to enjoy their holiday in earnest.

We finished the evening off by going to the hotel bar once again, where we enjoyed a couple of drinks each and I wrote out some postcards I’d bought earlier on.  It was around 10.45pm when we left the bar, so we thought we’d done quite well considering our 6.00am start and the remainder of the jetlag.  We returned to our room and settled down for the night, where we slept very well.  What a great day it had been!

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