I woke early and made it for breakfast. I was greeted warmly by the waiters when I spoke in Spanish, and had an omelette and toast washed down with a cup of tea, hoping it stayed down. It was a bit cloudy and chilly today, but it didn’t deter me from my plan to take the teleferiqo to the top of Cruz Loma, some 4100m above the city. I took a cab to the teleferiqo station, and had a good chat in Spanish to the taxi driver. I’ve noticed an extra warmth from locals in South America when you make the effort with Spanish. At first, you are no doubt seen as an ignorant gringo, here to take from the country lots but give little. Really going the extra mile to learn the language significantly improves your experience. The taxi driver, in Spanish, told me all about Quito and how beautiful it is, basking in that intense pride for their country everybody seems to have on this Continent.
I arrived at the teleferiquo station, and was pleased to find out I was the only one there. Still, I was ushered to the ‘Express’ queue, where I had to pay the $7 express line fee. Paying in dollars is the norm in Equador. In fact, it’s the local currency, and this dollarization keeps Equador economically stable despite its political instability. Put into dollars, everything seems quite expensive, however.
I got into my own personal cable car, and began the long, long ascent up the flanks Volcan Pinhincha. For company, I played some songs on my ipod, songs by U2, the Black Keys, Kings of Leon. I sang along loudly. My mood was lifting with the clouds on the way up. I hadn’t slept very well for some reason the night before. I had had a troubled, feverish sleep. Now, I was feeling much better. As I neared the top, and was enjoying the expansive views of Quito, the clouds rolled back in as though tormenting me deliberately, and my elation was smothered by the blanket of white. It was a bit nippy at the top to say the least. The rolling hills with the mist swirling above made for a lovely sight. I walked up a trail path and came across a man with a few horses. I didn’t hesitate to hire one for a couple of hours trotting around the area, as I still wasn’t strong enough to do much walking. I had a lovely horse, and stablehand walked and sometimes ran alongside, explaining (again, all in Spanish) areas of the land we came to that had special significance, plants that were used in certain medicines, that kind of thing. He gave me an Ecuadorian-style poncho to wear, and I suddenly felt like a true gaucho, trotting along faster now, commanding my trusty steed o’er the hills and streams and far away. I enjoyed the journey, paid him about $25, probably far too much, then headed back down the mountain, saying a cheery ‘hello’ to a few well wrapped-up hikers braving the elements.
I got a cab back into town, asking the driver to drop me off at the Secret Garden Youth Hostel, which is where Carpdm travel agents is, the highly recommended one Charlie told me about. I was hoping I could book a trip to the Galapagos. I asked about boats, prices, leaving times. Most were full, or boats I liked the look of were leaving too late, and I wanted to do an 8 day cruise as early as possible, as I wished to spend a decent amount of time in Colombia later. I had to be careful which one to choose. I’d heard some horror stories about cheaper, Economic-class yachts. I wanted a First-class yacht, or at the very worst a Tourist-class yacht. It was going to be expensive, almost $2000 US, but a small price to pay for such a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As none of the first-class yachts were available, I was left with a berth on the Floreana, a tourist-class yacht. It looked nice enough, but then, brochure photos always do. Still, it was my only chance of getting to the Galapagos islands. A bonus was that it was doing a cruise of the South Islands, and had a fantastic itinerary visting some the less visited islands. It did mean, however, that I wouldn’t be able to recreate one of my favourite photographs of all time of David Attenborough standing next to a Great Albatross almost as tall as him, for they reside on the North islands. Never mind. It was a 7 night 8 day tour. I decided to go for it. I couldn’t pay with credit card for some reason, but I assured the lady I booked with I could transfer the money in the morning for the boat, or get it in cash. Now I just needed to pay for the flight from here to Isla Baltra airport. I could pay that with my credit card. Galapagos is over 1,000km from the mainland, over 3 hours by flight from Quito (via the coastal city Guayaquil). I decided I wanted my return flight to be to Guayaquil, as I thought it would be easier to fly from there to Colombia. With the ticket and the boat the cost was just shy of $1900. A princely sum. I then headed straight to another travel agents to book a flight from Guayaquil to Medellin, Colombia, via Bogota. I timed it so that I would have 1 night in Guayaquil, and a very early morning flight the next morning from there to Medellin, arriving at noon in Medellin and thus still able to enjoy a full day. I was quite pleased with myself, and decided to go and have a drink in the Mariscal to celebrate. I even ate a burger and had a few beers. My appetite had come back too! Everything had fallen into place. I had one more day to enjoy Quito, then I was Galapagos bound!