Week of February 08, 2004 (see Mexico/Central America Diary Index, for first half of week)
We flew into Quito, Ecuador and as soon as we found our hotel, Puerto del Sol (we thought the hotel name fitting), we hit the streets for a tour of the "Old Town". Old Town consists of streets and neighborhoods that have been thriving for hundreds of years. Quito is not a city that is under restoration, but rather, a city that has kept itself clean and its beauty has aged well. Needless to say, Quito is at the top of our list (along with Guanajuato, Mexico and Panama City, Panama), as one of the best cities we have visited thus far.
Quito loves its churches and its cathedral and for good reason. We walked for five hours and covered about five kilometers (3ish miles) and found wondrous architecture and extraordinary craftsmanship. And, it did not hurt that the people were terrifically helpful, openly kind and many spoke English. As with other sizeable cities in the Latin American countries, there was a large population of small children selling various trinkets and working in food kiosks or shining shoes. If you ever want to teach your children to not complain about doing their homework or completing chores around the house, send them to someplace like Quito, where they can look into the faces of children their age that cannot go to school because they have to work 12-15 hour days just to make enough to buy food for the next day.
We did run into two adorable little sly ones that wanted $1 to take their picture. We strenuously negotiated $1.50 for their set of colored pencils and taking their picture.
We also wound our way up to the Basilica that is perched on a hill protectively overlooking the city of Quito. We spent over an hour walking around the enormous and exquisite building and climbing the many flights of stairs and ladders into the upper reaches of the spires. Because work is still ongoing and a major earthquake retrofitting project is under way, we were able to use the construction accesses into the highest parts of the Basilica. We even gained entry into the bell tower and while standing literally inside and behind the clocks, we were able to gently ring the bells.
The view from the Basilica was breathtaking and exposed a charming and storied city.
We stumbled back into our quaint hotel and regrouped to
go out for a typical Ecuadorian meal. What we found was that Ecuador loves
its chicken because we found about every other restaurant specialized in chicken
meals and the other restaurants had chicken plates as well. Needless to
say, we indulged in pollo and had an excellent meal.
The Ecuadorian Consulate said "no", we do not need a Carnet and the
Ecuador equivalent to AAA said "yes" we do need to have one. We
also spoke to the shipping company in Panama City and they said "no", the Carnet
is not obligatory; however, we also called the shipping company's preferred
agent in Guayaquil and the well-informed woman there said a definite "yes", the Carnet is
necessary. Since the agent at Trinity (the shipping company) seemed to be the most knowledgeable
and was able to explain the process with clarity, confidence and kindness, we
weighed the scales in her favor as telling the truth.
So, what it came down to is this - as soon as we pick up Cindy in Guayaquil, we will probably be escorted to the Peruvian border and kicked out of the country. With that in mind, we quickly found a local travel agent, booked our flight to the Galapagos Islands for the next day, February 12th, and we spent four days cruising the Galapagos Islands while Cindy was cruising the Pacific. Cindy was due to arrive on February 13th; however, the customs office is closed Friday thru Sunday and we fly from Galapagos to Guayaquil on February 16th (Monday). Then, we don't mind being shooed out of the country because we have experienced that for which we came to Ecuador.