After a tearful farewell to Colombia (entailing another just-under-20-hour-bus-ride), our travels continued onwards to the south, taking us to the tiny nation of Ecuador - A land of towering volcanoes and not-so-towering people. Crossing the border from Colombia to Ecuador had an eerily reminiscent feel of entering "Its a Small World" at Disneyworld, as school children and fully-grown adults walked shoulder-to-shoulder along the streets. As an individual lacking in vertical development, I have to say, I felt like a giant. Our friend JR, the equivalent of basically two fully-grown Ecuadorians stacked upon one another, well, he was basically God. Adding to the fact that our first meal, a full continental breakfast (eggs, toast, juice and hot chocolate) cost $2, and it was almost impossible to not feel at home in this tiny nation. Onto the highlights:
Quito - With a reputation that follows it across South America as one of the more dangerous, less-appealing cities in this part of the world (almost 25% of people we have met that have visited Quito have been mugged there), I must say, the capital of Ecuador has definitely been one of my favorite major cities to this day. Although I am unable to truly describe why Quito was so amazing, I feel as if a combination of a great group of friends, friendly locals in addition to a beautiful landscape, helped Quito overcome all expectations. And it´s name starts with a Q... how can it NOT be amazing?
Mitad Del Mundo (Center of the World) - For those that have any doubt that the Equator runs through Ecuador, need only re-read these two words together and then release the inevitable "ohhhhhhhh." Approximately an hour north of Quito lies the center of the Earth -- the equatorial line discovered some 30+ years ago via raw scientific calculations. Unfortunately, these calculations, which led to the construction of an entire village surrounding a towering monument in honor of this famous circumferential line, were actually a bit off. The invention of GPS proved the the ¨true¨ equator is actually 1/8 mile away (which in fact places it on a random hill across the highway in the middle of nowhere). Nevertheless, the locals (as well as most tourists) ignore this petty detail, and continue to enjoy the site with a slight amount of ignorance. I mean, it´s close enough...
Finding Fame - Continuing on with our day at Mitad Del Mundo, we decided to take a break from our photoshoot on the ¨equator¨ and check out a fairly popular band Trio Colonial playing on stage (their Facebook page has almost 900 fans -- that´s a pretty big deal in Ecuador). As I sat on the stairs to the side of the stage, reading my loyal Lonely Planet, I soon felt the sensation of several hundred pairs of eyes staring down upon us. Looking up, my sensation proved correct. As the only 4 ¨gringos¨ in the premise, the band decided it would be fun to call us out (my internal Spanish translator was turned off at the moment, thus leaving me ignorant to the shouts in our direction), and persuade us to come up on stage for a bit of a ¨dance session.¨ Thirty minutes after the most awkward dancing experience of my life (despite my attempts to teach the locals how to Riverdance), and we were pretty much declared local celebrities. While we later attempted to google ¨Dancing Gringos, Mitad Del Mundo,¨ no photos of our claim to fame have yet to arise on the web.
Otavalo - Hosting quite possibly the largest and most famous market in South America, the Saturday market in Otavalo is world-renowned (and by world-renowned, I mean it probably is unknown to 99% of the world outside of South America). Thousands upon thousands of small stalls are set up, with indigenous Ecuadorians dressed for the part, cat-calling to all those walking within shouting distance. For those of you unaware of my obsession with Llamas, I will let you know, I am obsessed with Llamas (don´t ask my why, I´m guessing the two L´s or the spitting ability plays a small role). And for those of you further unaware of the Llama´s presence in Ecuador, there are a LOT of Llama´s present in Ecuador (technically Alpaca´s, but for the sake of my obsession, they are Llama´s). Thus, almost every item in the market, from hats and gloves to jackets and blankets, are all adorned with images of this furry/spitting animal. Needless to say, my wardrobe is now stocked.
Next Stop: The rest of Ecuador -- Watch out for an upcoming post later this week from a new series I like to call ¨My Favorite Things About South America.¨
Onto the pics: