I got into Quito, Ecuador successfully and toured around the city for a day or two and lucked out and met a fellow traveler named Cat (from London) who was interested in hiking Rucu Pichincha, a mountain surrounding Quito. Rumors floated around that the hike wasn’t safe and doing it with someone else made things feel a little better. I’ve met well over half a dozen travelers who have either been mugged, pickpocketed, or robbed by physical force or at knife point. One girl actually got stabbed three times, so safety in numbers helps. Obviously, I was quite excited to hear someone else was interested in the hike so I wouldn’t have to miss out on it.
We decided to take the TeleferiQo (cable car) up the mountainside surrounding Quito to 4100m and hike the next 600m to the top of the mountain. A big concern was altitude sickness as it can start affecting people at 2400m and I figured this hike would be a great first test to see how I might feel summiting Cotopaxi (5943m elevation) in a week or two. We arrived at the top of the cable car but were uncertain of which trail to take to go up the mountain as there were two and the signs weren’t clear. I spotted two guys with full-on trekking gear and asked them if they spoke English. They did. Paulo & Diego are two local Ecuadorians. Paulo is planning on summiting Cotopaxi and has been training with his registered guide Diego for the last month. It’s a really inspiring story.
Diego invited Cat and I to hike along with them and we joined them for the three hour trek up the mountain. The hike was incredible and switched from sunny to rainy to cloudy and foggy in minutes. They say Ecuador often experiences 4 seasons all in one day, and I believe it as I watched sleet drop down on us and the next minute the beautiful sun shine down to dry it all up. With such a thin atmosphere, the opportunity for sunburn was intense as my face proved when it turned quite red that evening, even though the air temperature was only 8 Celsius and the sun wasn’t out very often.
The hike up was quite beautiful and we had to go slowly and take small steps as you could feel the effects of the high altitude and thin air. It resulted in lots of rest breaks and deep breaths to slow your heart rate down. We finally made it to the top but missed out on a great view of Quito below as the clouds had rolled in and blanketed us in a deep fog.
The hike down took a few hours and afterwards we celebrated with a cerveza (beer). Cat and I really enjoyed the guys’ company and after the hike Paulo and Diego were excited to show us some of Quito and asked if we’d be interested in a night on the town. Of course we were!
Paulo drove us to a really good local restaurant so we could try some fritadas, an Ecuadorian dish of yummy fried pork often served with potatoes, plantains, and avocado. Right up my alley. After we ate as much as we could, we got dropped off at our hostel to shower up and change for a night out with the two guys.
They picked us up and we headed out to La Ronda, a beautifully restored area in the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We may have gotten a little lost on the way, but it was a pretty fun adventure seeing the city at night.
When we arrived, we wandered the street and then selected a restaurant to try out a local, hot, alcoholic drink, Canelazo Naranjilla. Alcohol isn’t served on Sundays but we were apparently an exception in the tiny restaurant and the little Ecuadorian Baba served it up very generously. Over multiple glasses of the toasty and tasty drink, we were also lucky enough to be serenaded by a local musician. The only thing I could catch in Spanish was something about beautiful ‘green eyes.’ Paulo is also a very talented musician and borrowed the guitar for a few songs of his own. It was very entertaining!
Overall it was an absolutely unexpected and wonderful day and evening. There is nothing more authentic than having locals show you around their city, and the day spent with Diego and Paulo was entertaining, hilarious, adventurous, and a wonderful way for Cat and I to spend our last evening in Quito before we headed off to Mindo, a few hours northwest of the city.