After breakfast, meandered our way though La Mariscal taking in the sight of Ecuadorians going about their daily routines.
We found our way to the South American Explorers´Club- A helpful resource that I recommend to anyone planning to journey through the continent. They have clubhouses in Quito, Lima, Cuzco, Santiago and Buenos Aires. They provide maps, guidebooks, traveler reports, internet access, and just about anything else that backpackers may need, including English speaking clubhouse managers.
We had checked out of Hostal Galeria, and not wanting to carry our huge packs through the very congested Plaza de Libertad, we were able to store them at the SAE. We caught a cab from the clubhouse to Old Town Quito which is much more scenic than La Mariscal (New Town) where we were staying.
Shopping was also very abundant, which was helpful because me being the obsessive compulsive/occasionally absent-minded chap that I am, I left my jacket sitting on my bed in Arizona. I managed to find a nice store right off the plaza that sold either severely discounted American brand clothing, or the best knock-off´s ever. I bought an Abercrombie track jacket for $26 brand new, with the original Abercrombie sales tags still attached.
After snapping photos of the Plaza, the streets scenes, and a protest of Quito´s bus drivers (they wanted a raise of 15 cents per hour),
we started making our way back to the SAE clubhouse.
While walking through the governmental section of the district, we took some pictures of Ecuador´s national bank and the Vice President´s office (see pics).
Out of nowhere, we saw the same huge motorcade we saw a day earlier in La Mariscal, only this time, it was going much slower due to traffic and it was about to pass right by us. I asked a vendor who´s motorcade it was and with a look that said ¨how can you not know?¨she said it was El Presidente! Sure enough, they rolled right by. It took me a moment to notice since I was fumbling with my camera, but I looked straight ahead, and there was a sharp-dressed man waving out the window AT ME!
I accidentally let the dumb tourist side of me slip out a bit, when I asked (yes, I was that close) him if he was the president. He smiled and nodded and made his driver stop long enough for me to take the picture. Talk about timing!
Re-energized by our spur of the moment diplomatic encounter, we hiked back up one of the city´s many hills on our way back to the clubhouse to take in one last nice view of the city. Upon our return, we told Marcello, the clubhouse manager about our experience to which he replied ¨You should have given him the finger!¨Apparently, he wasn´t a big fan of El Presidente.
We gathered some last minute info from travelers in the clubhouse, collected our bags and headed for Quito´s bus station. We paid $2 for the cab to take us about 15 km to the station which by American standards, is very cheap. When compared to the $3.40 we each paid for the 4 hour (330 km) bus ride down to Baños however, one cannot help but feel slightly ripped off.
By far, the most helpful piece of advice we took from the SAE clubhouse was their recommendation on where to stay when we reached Baños. We arrived at about 7pm in total darkness.
If not for Marcello´s advice, we probably would have jumped into one of the first hostels we saw. Instead, we got into a cab and requested he take us to ¨La Hostel Chimnea¨, which is on the outskirts of the tiny mountain town. What a great decision that turned out to be, as this hostel is by far, the best hostel I have stayed at anywhere in the world. Spotless from floor to ceiling, it has multiple computers for internet access and huge rooms with balconies to take in the GORGEOUS mountain views.
Coupled with the fact that they have a rooftop terrace serving breakfast til 11:30am including a front row seat to waterfalls trickling down a 5000 ft mountain right outside the window, this hostel would be a top-notch B&B anywhere else. Did I mention that for this jungle oasis, each of us only paid $7.50 per night?!
We found an excellent little Mexican restaurant in town for dinner where we gorged ourselves on fajitas and burritos, washed down with margaritas and Pilsener (Ecuador´s version of Budweiser, but much better).
After dinner we were walking back to La Chimnea when we noticed a community gymnasium that was packed with a cheering crowd. We decided to check it out and found a basketball game in progress. As soon as we walked in, we noticed many people were no longer watching the game, but me and the gentle giant with whom I entered instead. When one of the teams called timeout, the referees started shooting some hoops. All of a sudden, on ref rolled the ball directly at Taylor and motioned for him to come take a few shots. Apparently he didn´t know that was Taylor´s kryptonite because before the ball got to Taylor, he had his jacket off and was standing up... Needless to say, the town full of shorties and myself were all eager to see what he could do.. A few minutes and dunks later, a raucous crowd was cheering him on and a few people started chanting ¨Gringo Grande, Gringo Grande!¨¨
In the morning, we plan to visit Los Baños (Volcanoe heated hot springs from which the city takes its name) and possibly do a jungle tour to the top of Volcan Tungurahua (the volcano near town).
Today was a day of changes. We started by having breakfast sandwiches of huevos (eggs) and quite possibly the most unique cheese either one of us has seen (we thought the cheese was the eggs...). Not to worry, as it was very tasty.