Lucky to be in Papallacta and Mitad del Mundo
Trip Start Jul 19, 2006
22Trip End Sep 19, 2006
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Where I stayed
The bus left us on a dark street sometime after midnight. Having just come from the jungle, the cold hit us hard. Papallacta was at an elevation of about 3300m (10,800 feet) and it was raining lightly. We were in front of the Hostal el Viajero, a cheap place to stay for the night. The building appeared to be dead, but after a knock on the door a small woman wearing a number of layers let us in. We got a 3 bed room for the night.
As we sat in the room we discussed what had just happened with the kind of nervous energy that comes after being held up at gun point. We knew we were lucky. We had heard stories of people being kidnapped near Colombia. We lost a lot of money, but only about an hour or two of time and we came out of the conflict completely unscathed. It could have been much worse. We were swimming in an ocean of What If's
After paying for our stay the next morning (Thursday) the woman who had let us in the previous night handed me a card and told me to tell others about them. I told her I would tell all of my friends. So here goes: Hostal el Viajero is freezing cold (we slept in our sleeping bags) but a relatively cheap deal (I think it was about $4 each, plus like $1.50 for breakfast). I think I'd stay somewhere else if I went to Papallacta again.
We went to the main hot baths in Papallacta where we were greeted with a $6 entrance fee. I was the only one with any cash left (thanks to the secret passport pouch) and there were no ATM's in this town. After paying for our admission, I was left with only $8, which would be just barely enough to get a bus back to Quito for $2 each.
The baths themselves were spectacular. There are a couple dozen baths of different temperatures that are well landscaped with a tropical feel. Beyond being the best actual baths in all of Ecuador, the view itself was well worth the trip. Lounging in a steaming pool, we were surrounded by green mountains on all sides. A glance in one direction even gave us a breathtaking view of the snow capped Volcano Antisana
We had about a 20 minute walk from the baths down to the point where we could catch a bus to Quito. Along the route, a truck drove by and a familiar voice called out "Hasta la vista, baby!" It was Hernán from the jungle lodge! Dan and Paula (the older couple we had met in the jungle) were staying at the fancy resort hotel located in the spa at Papallacta and Hernán was just going to pick them up to bring them back to Quito. We explained our story of the hijacking and Hernán became very sympathetic. He told us to hop into the back of the truck and that he would take us back to Quito. We returned to the spa with Hernán and reunited with Dan and Paula. We were all happy to be with some familiar faces after our experience. Dan and Paula said they would send us copies of all the photos they had taken in the jungle, and would have no problem with sharing the ride back to Quito with us. They even treated us to lunch at Don Wilson's right near the spa.
The drive back to Quito was a little cramped as we had to fit three people into a space that was designed for only two. Azalea ended up having to sit between laps. But we were just happy to be going back. The skies were now a clear blue and coming along the mountain ridges into Quito we were able to see the peak of Cotopaxi. It felt like months had gone by since we stood at the mouth of that resting giant.
After a quick stop to Hernán's house to pick up Dan and Paula's luggage, we headed to the airport where they would be getting on a plane to Cuenca and Azalea would attempt to switch her Monday flight to Friday, Saturday or Sunday (she was a little eager to get back home for a number of reasons)
We had to move out of Nelly's because she was having family over and they were all going to be heading to the beach so we packed up our belongings and took a cab to the tourist area of Quito known as Mariscal Sucre. This was a mistake.
Mariscal Sucre: Don't stay here
The Mariscal Sucre is known to be the most dangerous area of Quito. Large frequencies of armed robberies have resulted a general recommendation to take cabs everywhere at night time, even if it is only for one block. We got out at the Hotel Bonaventure on the main street, Amazonas. This area looked as scary as we had heard. The hotel was very nice, though, and was also the most expensive hotel we had stayed in the whole trip. We each paid $15 to get a room with three beds. It was almost worth it though since the place was secure and had a TV, hot water, and even soap and shoe shiner with the hotel's name on it. I grabbed a pack of the soap for my younger brother who strangely collects soap from hotels. I don't get it, either.
That night we ventured out of the hotel to a pizza place and then an internet cafe. We walked down a block that had a cop sitting on one end with a large dog. I think it says a lot that, even with a cop less than a block away from us, this was the scariest block I have ever walked. Brett had a computer by the door at the internet cafe. He heard sirens a number of times, and saw a strange variety of people walk by, including what appeared to be prostitutes, transvestites, and even a woman walking with her chest completely exposed
We stepped out the door of the internet cafe as it was closing late that night. A quick glance to the left and right revealed at least 10 people who seemed like they were just waiting to do something to us. We huddled in the doorway to the cafe until a cab came by and then we ran out to it. Apparently the cab driver knew the drill as his doors were locked when he pulled up. We hopped in very quickly and then relocked the doors. The ride for a block and a half cost us $1.50, much more than it should have been, but well worth it to us.
First thing the next morning we woke up and checked out of that hotel to move to another place outside of the Mariscal Sucre. We decided on La Casa de Eliza, a nice family-owned place that donated a portion of its profits to protecting some region of the amazon rainforest. They advertised themselves as a budget and environment friendly place for travellers. We all felt safe there.
La Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the Earth)
On Friday we decided to visit the Mitad del Mundo north of Quito. I had already visited it briefly, but Brett and Azalea had not yet had the pleasure of standing with one foot in each hemisphere
I haven't done my research on this, but what I've heard is that the extremely touristy Mitad del Mundo where there is a large statue of the globe represents a line that was determined by some french guy a long time ago. However, that line is apparently incorrect according to GPS information and the actual equator is about 200 meters away. Although it is hard to find, and barely advertised at all, we managed to make our way to the real middle of the earth. It looked like a very elaborate Incan miniature golf course.
We had to pay a small fee of $3 each, which included an english-speaking tour guide. Our guide showed us a number of remnants of the Incan village that supposedly used to stand on the ground that was now full of tourists from around the world. We learned a lot of interesting facts about the Incans, like the idea that they would hold their thumbs pointed upwards in order to draw energy from the sun, and that they used to actually make shrunken heads out of people they didn't like. Also, a foundation of three moral guidelines defined the society: No mentir, no robar, y no ser perezoso (Don't lie, steal, or be lazy). If you broke any of these rules, you would be castigated by your parents, usually by whip.
The real center of the earth also had a line drawn along the ground, only they insisted that their line was drawn using advanced GPS technology so they knew they were right
After our tour, we returned to La Casa de Eliza. Brett and I decided we would leave the next day (Saturday) to head to the beach town of Atacames, near Esmeraldas. We got on a bus to Esmeraldas after saying goodbye to Azalea, who would be staying at La Casa de Eliza two more nights before flying back to the US Monday morning. After climbing snowcapped volcanoes and being hijacked by guerillas, we couldn't wait to soak up some rays at the beach.
Hostal Viajero (Papallacta, Ecuador): 1 night, $5.50/person including breakfast, very cold.
Papallacta Hot Baths: $6/person, excellent baths, better views.
Ride back to Quito: 2 hours, normally $2 but we got it for free in a cramped truck ride.
Hotel Bonaventure (Quito, Ecuador): 1 night, $15/person, too fancy for us.
La Casa de Eliza (Quito, Ecuador): 1 night, $6/person, great place, I recommend it.
Mitad del Mundo: $2, very touristy, not much to see except for a large statue and the line.
Real Mitad del Mundo: $3, includes guided tour and was much more interesting/entertaining than the other Mitad del Mundo.