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Quito & its Surrounds, EC


November 28th, 2017

Quito is Ecuador’s capital city and sits high in the Andean foothills at an altitude of 2850m/9350’. It was built on the foundations of an ancient Inca city. Its official name is San Francisco de Quito and was founded by the Spanish in 1534. There are 19 volcanoes in Ecuador and Quito is surrounded by eight of them: Antisana, Atacazo, Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Illiniza, Pichncha, Pululahua, and Sincholagua. Like Medellin in Colombia, the weather here is spring like most of the year with a drier time from June to September. According toUNESCO, Quito is home to one of the largest, least-altered and best preserved historic centers in the Americas. The City is the second named world heritage site in the entire world (Galapagos is number one) and was so named in 1978.

Quito with Cotopaxi in view (can’t take credit for this one)

Today we headed northwest to the small town of Mindo which is famous for butterflies and hummingbirds and many outdoor activities.  Enroute we stopped at the “middle of the earth” equator site (the legit one – there are two “fake” ones that are slightly off). We had stopped at this one back in 2011 but this time we received a great explanation of the site and the theory that the globes we use are actually quite off and should be horizontal, not vertical based on the way the earth revolves over a 24 hour period from east to west.

As we were fixing to leave, two overlanding motorcycles pulled in; Charlie is from Toronto and Joseph is from Texas and they’ve been travelling south together since they met in Mexico. They were able to actually drive their motorbikes right onto the equator lines for pics; Tigger is way too tall and wide for that option; dang! We mentioned to Josue, our guide, that we were sure people would pay “extra” if they were allowed to drive onto the line….He laughed. He did tell us about his father who runs a nearby campground and we decided to go there for a night. We met his father, Señor Valentin as well as his brother, Fernando.  Señor Valentin welcomed us and got us settled with power and offered the use of his home’s bathroom and shower, as well as the internet password.

We had planned to leave on Thursday, but were invited by Fernando’s wife, Ley, to join them this evening for a special dinner called “pancha manca” which means “cooked in an earth oven”. This family offers tour groups packages where they come to see some cultural ways, have a typical meal and spend a night in a family’s home. (Valentin’s extended family lives all around on this property.) So we accepted and then Fernando and Ley took us for a short walk on the property to see the projects they have in the works to enhance their tourist attraction and show the natural beauty of the area.  We saw stick bugs and a grass spider with 50 babies on its back!

We went for a walk on our own later to do a Spanish lesson and stopped at a Café where another son of Valentin’s works, Estefan, and enjoyed a cup of tea and some Bizcochas. (These are a specialty of this region – they are similar to a shortbread cookie but not quite as dense and they are rectangular shape with a folded over end.)

Valentin also has a daughter who works at a local chocolate factory and we also purchased some of that chocolate at Estefan’s café.

Across the street was a monument about people “Greeting each other” across the equator donated by the South Korean government.

The busload of tourists arrived at Valetin’s place around 3:30. They were a group of gastronomy students from Italy (but they were not all Italian). They partook of several activities and we were invited to join or watch some. We saw them crushing herbs/nuts/chilies to make sauces/dips, then milling grains/nuts to make flour, took part in a sort of astronomy demonstration and then the main attraction, the dinner.

The pancha manca was chicken with herbs, veggies and spices cooked in clay pots covered with leaves in a one metre dip hole in the earth. To take it out they actually step into the hole and remove the pots. It was served with potatoes (no rice!) and broccoli. It was very good.

Next morning we left and went north back to Otavalo on a recommend from Mark & Christine to stay west of the city at a hostel called La Luna. The drive up was beautiful and sunny, we actually saw Volcan Cayambe peaking out before we left.

We arrived before lunch, got parked and Doug decided to walk into Otavalo (about 4km) to look for a hardware store and Fran took a hike around the hostel area.

Then later in the afternoon, we spent some time on the painfully slow internet and it clouded over and got quite cold. We are at nearly 3000m/10,000’ here. It did rain some overnight and that actually took the chill out of the air.
We decided to move on the next morning after a lovely breakfast which was included in the $8pp camping fee. It was very good (unlike the internet and freezing cold showers!)

We had experienced a wobbly sensation a few days ago while braking so we thought it best to get the brakes looked at while passing back through the northern end of Quito as we saw a good recommend on iOverlander. We SO love this app!  As with most other mechanics we’ve stopped at, they took us right away and checked the front brakes – they were fine then the rear, not so much.

Now we do have a spare set of brake pads for both front and rear but they told us they had the rears and this allowed us to keep a full set. They installed them for us and in just over an hour, we were on our way.

We arrived in Mindo by midafternoon and parked at La Bicok Lodge. This place is run by an ex-overlander from France named Sebatian and he has set up six camping stalls on the side of his lodge complete with power and water and little covered patios. He has a restaurant/hang out area and a beautiful swimming pool in a lovely garden setting.

banana tree with blooms

Unfortunately, the weather was not great today but we plan to stay through the weekend as we want to check out the hummingbird gardens in this town as well as the butterfly reserve too.

Mindo is in a valley at only about 1300m/4000’ and much warmer than it’s been up in the mountains but not hot. It’s really in a cloud forest environment so we’ve not had a great deal of sun. The place we’re at is only a few minutes from the village centre via a pedestrian bridge. It’s a cute town, a little touristy but not gaudy and no one is pushing you to take a tour or buy something.

Main Street, Mindo
Butterflies hang in the bus stop
The Dragonfly Inn
half of a mural in town
other half
in the main square
pedestrian bridge near lodge that took us into town

Saturday morning after some chores, we walked over to the Hummingbird Gardens at a hotel in town. You pay an entrance fee and can stay on their patio watching the birds at the feeders and in the trees. We hung around for about an hour and saw probably over 50 hummingbirds, and about four other kinds of birds; mesmerizing stuff.

Sunday morning shortly after we awoke, we felt the camper rocking; Doug asked if someone was outside or breaking in and Fran who can see out the windows from her bed, said there was no one outside, maybe it was a tremor of some sort? Well later that day, we found out there was a 6.0 magnitude quake off the coast of Ecuador, southwest of where we are!

After breakfast we walked almost 4km to the Butterfly Garden on the other side of the village where they conserve and breed butterflies. We learned about their life cycles which have four stages (in case you don’t recall from your elementary school days!):
1. Eggs are laid – takes 8-10 days to hatch
2. Caterpillars are born
3. Takes between 2.5 to 4.5 months (depending on specie) for them to mature and then make their cocoons aka pupas
4. Metamorphosis occurs and butterflies finally emerge and live up to fifteen days. We then walked around the reserve observing the butterflies fly, eat, land and rest. They also have inset windows in a wall where you can see pupas hanging and then three with butterflies emerging from the cocoons.

This sanctuary breeds fifteen types of butterflies including those elusive blue morphos Fran is always trying to get photos of; here she was lucky; first Doug managed to get one on his hand and after many tries, she got a shot with its wings open and then: one decided to open its wings while sunning on the ground right in front of her!

We spent a relaxing afternoon at the lodge and walking a bit in town; found a Swiss bakery that was recommended on iOverlander and enjoyed some pretty good brownies.

That afternoon while sitting in the common area of the lodge, Sebastian called our attention to the wooded area behind the property.  He’d spotted a male  chestnut mandibled toucan!  Doug got a shot with his iPhone and then Fran scurried to the rig to grab her camera.

Monday morning we had hot showers, used some wifi and hit the road before lunch time heading back towards Quito. We stopped near Mitad del Mundo and went back to the mechanic who’d replaced our back brakes as we were getting an engine light advising the MAP sensor was not reading correctly. The mechanics again took us right away and cleaned that right up for us and Doug also had them look into a rattle we were hearing when running the generator; turned out there was a missing piece near its exhaust and they were able to get that sorted as well. There was a hotel nearby that accepts overlanders so after hitting a grocery store we pulled into the Hostel Alemena and spent a night there. While it was quiet and secure, the wifi sucked and the advertised Jacuzzi and sauna were not open to use as it was not the weekend.

Tuesday we headed into Quito and spent the next six days here while Fran had a small medical procedure done (nothing serious). We parked in a large parking lot near the military college that charges $8 per 24 hour period and it’s very secure; not a lot of services but there are bathrooms (with hot water at times in the men’s shower).

It’s very conveniently located near lots of shops and services, a McDonald’s for wifi, the doctor Fran was seeing and the hip area of the city for nightlife where we enjoyed a nice lunch out on the sunny Friday. Usually we can never stay right in large cities so this was a great find.  There were three large malls close to our camping location and lots of Christmas decorations and sales on.

During the week, we walked around, enjoyed the spring like temperatures with sunshine after early morning fog and no rain, ran errands like laundry (55¢ a pound), got a package shipped to our banker, found a new popcorn popper as our had decided it had had enough and on Saturday, we took a cab into old town. As we’d been to Quito before, we really just wanted to enjoy a stroll in the world’s second UNESCO designated site. It was a pleasant couple of hours spent strolling to the three major squares in this district, checking out a few churches, enjoying a cold drink in a sidewalk café and then walking to the Basilica we’d toured in 2011 just to view it from the outside.

The National Basilica is quite unique in that instead of the usual gargoyles adorning the exterior of the gothic style building, there are animals like lizards and turtles!

The Virgen of Quito overlooks the city on the hill called El Panecillo; we did not go up there or take the teleferico for a view of the city as we’d done this back in 2011 but here she is as viewed from Old Town:

On Friday night, a young American couple from New York showed up in a Sprinter Van for a couple of nights. Matti & Ingrid (she’s actually Peruvian) joined us for happy hour both nights and we swapped stories of our travels. They began about 8 months after us but go home during the summer to work each year.

We left Quito on Sunday morning and we met with Fran’s doctor at his family’s hosteria in the countryside to have a final check done (only in Latin America!).  His family makes cheese on this property and we saw the building where the process is done and were given samples of mozzarella cheese to try – yummy.  Then we were on our way to do a circle route tour of a few places before we fly to Toronto for the holidays.