First up, I have put together video footage from the Galapagos over the last ten days. Seeing as it was made using footage from a fifty quid, no-brand underwater camera, free and very basic editing software, and zero expertise, I hope it gives a feel for the experiences we had. (For the slightly less tech-savvy readers among you, particularly if your internet is slow, pause the video and leave it for a while to buffer, then you should be able to watch it smoothly.)
Our Countryside Break
Once we had returned from the Galapagos, we hardly had any slowing down time in Quito to get rid of the swaying feeling from the boat, before we were moving on again. We spent a couple of days in Otavalo, a town north of Quito. Our accommodation, or posada (meaning ‘lodging’), was beautiful, the entrance hall hung with indigenous art and the garden leafy, colourful and an attraction for hummingbirds.
We wandered around Parque Condor, a rehabilitation centre for birds of prey located just outside the town. There were many species of owls, eagles, hawks, and an individual of the king of them all: the Andean condor. The condor belongs to the vulture family and is absolutely huge, with a wingspan of up to three metres. It is the national bird of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador, and a national symbol for Peru and Argentina, considered sacred in indigenous cultures which grew from the Incas, as a ruler of the upper world or heavenly world. We also saw a few individuals of different species in a flying demonstration, including a large bald eagle, famously the national bird of the United States, which did a large loop over the town below us with a few flaps of her wings, drifting on the wind currents.
Our evening meal in the posada’s restaurant, was accompanied by a local band playing traditional Andean music, the melody created by the distinctive panpipes.
The next morning I woke up to stomach pains, so had to skip out on the main reason for our visit to the town: the Saturday market. However, seeing as the accommodation was so nice, I spent a peaceful morning writing up the blog and relaxing with a view across the garden and the hovering hummingbirds.
Just Act Normal
The next day, having returned to Quito, we found the city struck down by the same Sunday syndrome evident all over the continent, so took the hint and had a more chilled out day. We found our way to Casa Gangotena, an incredibly posh and expensive hotel in the Old Town, which the guide on our free walking tour a couple of weeks ago had mentioned for having a small garden tucked away in a courtyard hidden from the street, as well as excellent coffee. The suited-up security man directed us to a receptionist, who phoned through to check the café could cope with our requests for drinks, and then personally escorted us the twenty metres into the next room, where a waiter tried to graciously help us all into our seats, and we instead filled the room with the sound of our scraping chairs. The place was beautiful, painted a pale yellow, with white columns, a high ceiling, and filled with light, one wall completely made of glass looking into the small ‘secret’ garden. The coffee was, as promised, absolutely excellent, though the pretentious and graceful nature of the place meant that though we tried our hardest to be on our best behaviour, the waiter was still snooty, and at the end Jo declared ‘to be honest, my favourite part of this experience was pretending to be a normal-volumed family’.
Once the working week began, the pace of the city picked up again. We visited the Convent of San Diego. Though we had found out about it from a guidebook, it seemed it wasn’t very well-known; there were no other visitors there at all. An elderly lady, very short with spindly legs and a smart tweed skirt, showed us around, carrying two huge bunches of keys and unlocking various rooms as we went along. We began in the main church, with goldwork and sculptures ranging across several centuries, moving into a small room with four hundred year old frescoes, and she then led us through a hidden stone door in the back of the altar which opened onto a tomb, where we looked down into a pit to see a heap of ancient skeletons. We were shown into the old bedrooms of monks, the refectory for praying, and their kitchen. The culmination of the odd tour came when she gestured up a flight of very narrow steps and told me to turn right, and I found myself on the roof. She led us up and down the red roofs of the convent, as if this was a normal, every-day activity, and showed us the bells, with a demonstration clank of each one and a gift of a small bit of gold leaf which had flaked off the clankers. We had a splendid view of the cemetery next door, down the hill into Quito’s old town, and up the hill to the statue of the Virgin Mary which overlooks the city.
This statue was our next stop, in fact. A taxi rumbled its way up the cobbled street leading to the top of the hill which the madonna stands on and dropped us off. We climbed the steps inside the base of the statue, which had colourful stained-glass windows, and emerged on a balcony which ran around the bottom. We had a beautiful view across the old town, and a strange one above us, an odd angle to look at the ‘Virgen de Quito’, with her halo of stars and large wings, as she stood on a globe, crushing a snake.
Crossing the Line
My family could hardly visit Ecuador without a trip to its namesake. Half an hour out of Quito, the Mitad del Mundo, or middle of the world, is honoured with a large tacky park, similar to a theme park but without any exciting rides, in the centre of which stands a large tower, the pavement on either side marked with a bright yellow line to show the equator. The main problem with the monument, in my eyes, is that seeing as the calculation was made in the 1700s, GPS has since shown that the equator is, in fact, 240 metres further north than the original calculations. Nonetheless, we did the usual ‘we’re at a landmark’ photos, with mum, dad and Jo stood in the northern hemisphere trying to reach across to me so far away in the southern hemisphere. We climbed the tower for the view and to see the museum inside it, with information on different indigenous groups across Ecuador, then left the park and walked the short distance to the Intiñan museum.
This museum was outside and presented a rather interesting but odd sight. A guide led us along a path which wound its way amid totem poles from various Latin American countries, as well as examples of the housing from different tribes of the rainforest region of Ecuador, who were invited to the site to create an authentic example of their living conditions. We then came to the actual equatorial line, as calculated by military GPS twenty years ago, and tried various experiments: balancing an egg on a nail, trying to walk along the line with both eyes shut, and the most interesting of all, observing the coriolis effect: watching water drain from a basin spinning anti-clockwise in the northern hemisphere, clockwise in the southern, and straight down on the equator, though in the light of complete honesty, some basic reading since has led me to believe this may have been a rather entertaining scam to please tourists.
All too soon, it was our last day together. We boarded the TeleferiQo, Quito’s cablecar system, which took thirty minutes in a gondola to soar more than nine hundred metres up one of the mountains surrounding the city. At nearly four thousand metres altitude it was pretty breathtaking work walking between the viewpoints, but well worth the incredible views across the great expanse of the city.
We ate a picnic in our parents’ room at the hotel (yes, we are an odd family) and that evening had a last family meeting/cuddle altogether, before waking up just a few hours later to get to the airport in time for their flight home. It’s always difficult to say something profound at the goodbye moment, especially after such a great holiday together, so we just focused on the hugging instead.
Alone Again, Naturally
As a parting gift, mum and dad had paid for a short flight south to another large city in Ecuador followed by a ticket with a posh bus company which drive straight to Lima, so that a journey which might have taken me fifty hours or more, with several nights spent on buses, actually only took forty-five hours and two overnight journeys.
Having crossed the border back into Peru, then driving for hours through desert and into the mountains, I arrived in the Andean city of Huancayo. I was picked up at the bus terminal by Eli and her two-month-old son, Renzo. Eli and her husband Neto founded and run Carisma Peru, a charity based in Huancayo which links volunteers to medical, educational and social work projects. Eli took me back to their house, where I will be living for the next month, and I met her husband Neto, and six-year-old daughter Maria Fe. And so, the next chapter begins.