. Quitoīs Old Town is a UNESCO world heritage site with its large number of interesting colonial buildings. First choice of hostel was alas full (it has a great view over the city so not too surprising) so ended up staying for one night close by before moving to the New City for the remaining three nights. Quitoīs "New City" , more specifically the "La Mariscal" area , is a very convenient base for travellers with loads of hostels , travel agencies , banks , shops , restaurants & bars ... the locals have justifiably christened the area "Gringolandia" as it is rammed with foreign travellers on every street. The main tourist attractions are in the Old Town , however , which is about a 30 minute walk or a short ride on Quitoīs convenient public transport network. As you walk down from the New City you walk through a couple of parks , firstly through an Arc-de-Triomphe style arch into the very large & popular Parque El Ejido and then a few blocks later the Parque Alameda , which is complete with mini-lakes and pedaloes. The first building of interest towards the north of the Old Town and arguably one of the most impressive in the whole of Quito is the huge Basilica church - it has a gothic style , stunning stained glass windows and the opportunity for a couple of dollars to clamber up the clock tower for some truly fabulous views out over the whole of the city. The centre of the Old Town is Plaza Grande / Independencia which has the cathedral , the Archbishops palace (now a row of shops) , the Palacio de Gobierno and the Hotel Grand Plaza. The other main centre of interest is the Plaza de San Francisco with a church , monastery and good views of the Cerro Panecillo and Virgen de Quito. There are many other churches in the Old Town , with one of the more interesting being the La Compania church which has an amazingly detailed and ornate Baroque interior. Caught a taxi up to the top of the Cerro Panecillo to see the Virgen de Quito close up and enjoy the truly spectacular views over the massive sprawl out into the hills that is Quito - itīs possible to walk up the steps to the top of the Panecillo hill but widely reported as being unsafe to do so
. The taxi driver reckoned 2m people live here but when you see the size of the city as far as the eye can see I think it must be more. I couldnīt come to Ecuador without visiting the place that gives it itīs name , the equator. About 25 km north of Quito is "Mitad del Mundo" , the middle of the world and the location of the equator line or 0 degrees latitude. The originally determined location of the equator by a 1736 French expedition is the site of the official monument but itīs actually in the wrong place , being about 150m or so out according to modern GPS measurements. Nonetheless the large monument and surrounding park complex / mini village is an interesting place to visit and take the photo opportunity. At the site of the real equator there is a very interesting little museum called Inti-Nan which I also visited - it has the real 0 degrees line , a museum of indigenous culture/exhibits and a series of scientific experiments/games which demonstrate the forces operating at the equator and in each hemisphere - such as water going around a different way down a plug hole. There was a tour guide at the museum who was explaining everything and all was very good until he volunteered to take our cameras to take pictures of the people in his group at the equator line ... and promptly dropped my camera onto hard concrete. My face must have been as much of a picture as his - I was horrified at losing yet another camera as it was broken & wouldnt focus to take pictures any more. The guide was apologetic & embarrassed ..
. but the show must go on - he said we would discuss him paying afterwards and (very professionally) continued with the tour. I feared the worst ie. 250 dollars for yet another a new camera and I was feeling really bad at the prospect of potentially asking him for what to him must be a massive amount of money when he gave me his phone number & details. As it turned out it wasnīt as bad as I feared - on the way back to Quito I luckily saw a camera service centre near one of the Metro stations and they were able to replace the lens within one working day for a little over 20 pounds ... it meant staying an extra day in Quito to wait but that turned out to not be a bad thing given the Wednesday nightīs excitement . I let the tour guide off the money & took the hit myself. My last night in Quito on the Wednesday was rather special and truly a memorable experience . One of the football teams from Quito , the Ecuadorean champions "Liga Deportiva Universitaria" , reached the final of the Copa Libertadores (the South American equivalent of the European Champions League) , playing over two legs against a Brazilian team , Fluminense. The first leg of the final was in Quito at the weekend and "Liga" won 4-2 (wish I had been in Quito earlier I would have tried to get a ticket for the game at the stadium). Wed night was then the second leg of the final , with the game away in the Maracana stadium in Rio but they had set up huge TV screens in plazas in the city including one very close to the hostel. The atmosphere in the city was building up the whole day with loads of people wearing their "Liga" shirts all around the city , and by a couple of hours before the game the plaza with the TV screens was full
. I joined the crowd to watch the game and the atmosphere was fantastic - very excitable and lots of drinking , chanting and singing ... not entirely good natured as alcohol took its effect and several fights broke out amongst locals (I would hate to see what theyīre like when they are losing). Anyways to the football - Liga took the lead on the night 1-0 and the square went crazy as the title looked in the bag at 5-2 on aggregate. After that , however , Liga were quite frankly outplayed by their Brazilian opposition and managed to let in three goals so the tie was level at 5-5. No away goals rule here so we went to extra time , which was played out without further goals and it went to the nail-biting drama of penalties ... which Liga actually won quite easily so as to become the champions of South America , resulting in total mayhem in the plaza - beer being sprayed everywhere , various objects thrown around the crowd , flares being let off and people jumping up on the stage where the TV screen was. Fair play you can understand the excitement - its an amazing achievement for a team from a comparatively small country like Ecuador to win a tournament which has historically been totally dominated by teams from Argentina and Brazil. "Liga" will now have the chance to play against Manchester United and other regional champions in the World Club Cup in December which I will look forward to watching. There were a number of TV cameras filming in the plaza and it was very humourous as one well-dressed TV reporter tried to do his piece to camera after the game - he was trying to very professionally and calmly speak to camera , whilst all around him people kept jumping in front of the camera and shouting & singing making it virtually impossible to report .... another TV reporter quite sensibly did his piece from on top of the TV van ! As I was lurking around in the background and
Iīm significantly taller than your average Ecuadorean itīs most likely I made my first appearance on Ecuadorean TV !
! All the TV & radio stations here continued to run total saturation coverage of Liga being South American champions right from the last kick into the following day and no doubt for weeks to come. One other exciting thing to note from Quito was that Iīve now booked my Galapagos trip !! Serious battering to the bank balance as its really rather expensive to go there , however you do it , but I figured its a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I would regret it later if I didnt go so I took the financial hit. I went to a few agencies to try and get a last minute deal but the options werenīt particularly wide as itīs the high season. You have to pay 175 pounds for a flight to actually get to the islands , which are 1000km from the mainland , then an 8-day cruise cost over 600 pounds ... ouch !! Its possible to go independently but it wouldnīt have worked out any cheaper once you factor in the cost of ferries or island day trip cruises and accomodation , plus you have the hassle factor of organising everything. So Iīm very excited to be going (next Thursday !) - itīs supposed to be truly one of the most unique and awesome places on the planet. After all the excitement of Wednesday on Thursday it was time to leave Quito and move on as I headed south for some more peaceful trekking opportunities.
I finally arrived in Quito , Ecuadorīs capital , on Sunday lunchtime after yet another very lengthy and tiring journey. Couldnīt get a bus in the afternoon on Saturday so had to hang around in Popoyan until a night bus which finally left at midnight. Arrived at Ipiales , the border town on the Colombian side at around 6.30am , then caught a collectivo taxi to the actual border. The immigration procedure all went very smoothly and I got 90 days entry for Ecuador so there will be no repeat of the Colombian visa time pressure issues. Caught a collectivo bus on the Ecuador side to the border town of Tulcan from where it was a five hour trip to Quito & I arrived about 1pm. Total journey time from arriving (for the first time) at Popoyan bus station to getting to hostel in Quito was thus another 22-hour marathon. Spent three days in Quito , which is infeasibly enormous and really is located in a truly fabulous setting in a valley between a number of hills , including the remarkable "Cerro Panecillo" with itīs huge statue of the "Virgin de Quito" at the top overlooking the city