22nd September – We arrive in Quito in good time to find somewhere to stay with secure parking. We try Hotel Inca suggested by another traveler but the dark and drab exterior continues inside…..like entering an Inca tomb. We are not sorry therefore, to find the parking unsatisfactory, a massive and lonely yard without a guard and although it is gated, it is open on the inside to some very run-down rooms and workshops. Would probably have been OK but we have to follow our instincts and we don’t feel happy.
We call in at Hotel Quito in passing, a lovely, light and modern hotel, but as we anticipate, it will turn out to be very expensive to stay here for a week or more. However, the guy at reception is very helpful in suggesting Hotel Tambo Real, a medium range hotel. As we return to our Land Rover parked just outside the hotel entrance, a guy is standing looking at our vehicle. Moby has often been the starting point for interesting conversations with people, and with Fernando, the talk soon turns to Land Rovers, traveling and his home country – Ecuador. He very kindly offers to find further information for us from friends, regarding a visit to the jungle and promises to be in touch.
And so Hotel Tambo Real it is, with 24hr. parking and a spacious and light room on the 8th floor, with views across to the ‘new town’, the Mariscal Sucre which we can walk to easily. The helpful girl at reception is prepared to give us a good discount for the number of nights that we want to stay.
23rd – 26th September – At 2850m Quito is the second highest capital city in the world after Bolivia’s La Paz. Its name comes from the Quitu people – early inhabitants who gave their name to the city. Founded in 1534 on the ruins of an ancient Inca city, it lies between two mountain ranges, its closest volcano being Pichincha at 4680m which covered the city in ash when it suddenly decided to explode into action in1999. Despite an earthquake in 1917, the city is said to have the best preserved, least altered historic centre in Latin America and was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1978.
We take a taxi to El Centro Historico (Old Town) which has most of Quito’s famous colonial architecture. The Palacio del Gobierno – (the Presidential Palace) and the Cathedral both overlook the main Plaza Grande along with other historical buildings.
Quito buzzes with life and colour and its narrow streets have many beautiful, old buildings that have been well restored.
A short distance from Plaza Grande is the incredible Compania de Jesus church, regarded by many as being the most beautiful and the richest in the Americas. It has a beautifully sculptured facade but the splendour that meets your eye as you enter the church, is quite unforgettable. This church was built by the Jesuits in the 17th and 18th centuries and took around 160 years to complete. It is said that approx. 7 tons of gold were used to completely cover the incredibly ornate interior with gold leaf. Unfortunately photos were not allowed to be taken inside.
From here we walk to the huge, open Plaza San Francisco with Quito’s oldest church – the Iglesia de San Francisco with its twin bell towers. There is also a museum and monastery, making it the city’s largest, religious complex.
A steep climb through cobbled streets takes us up to the Basilica del Voto Nacional located high on a hill in the northeastern part of the old town, with views of Quito’s colourful houses. This massive Gothic church, has iguanas, monkeys and Galapagos tortoises protruding from its sides and an enormous vaulted interior.
To complete our day of sightseeing we take a taxi to Parque Carolina to visit the Jardin Botanico. This is a great escape from the city with all of Ecuador’s ecosystems represented and some amazing plants.
The covered buildings containing many species of orchids, are a real highlight. These beautiful and very colourful flowers have so much exquisite detail, whatever their size.
La Mariscal area of Quito (or new Town), is in complete contrast to the Centro Historico. Considered to be the modern, entertainment district of Quito, it is full of shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, and travel agents ready to whisk you away to the Galapagos Islands or into the jungle. We make enquiries ourselves about the latter at Sangay Touring in Av. Amazonas, where we are introduced to Robin. We find him incredibly honest and helpful, giving us lots of advice and information. Nothing is too much trouble for him and we would definitely recommend him at this tour agency.
Fernando has very kindly invited us back to his place for an evening. He arrives at the hotel to pick us up with his father (also Fernando) and a friend and his family, all keen Land Rover fans and interested to see how Moby has been converted. They have a very nice TD5 and it feels quite strange sitting in the back of a ‘normal’ Land Rover with just seats and lots of space! Fernando lives in a lovely apartment with a spectacular view of the city, lights are twinkling everywhere and the Basilica is just to the left looking beautiful. Fernando makes excellent pizzas…..2 go into the oven and all made by hand! Fernando’s father has very kindly offered to find out if he can arrange parking and accommodation in Lago Agrio should we visit the jungle from there. We really appreciate his help. We have a lovely evening with some very special people…….thank you everyone!
We make a visit to Autec for some Land Rover spares, where everyone is incredibly helpful and patient making sure Bill gets the right filters and parts.
We would love to stay longer at our hotel but our treat must come to an end, as although they have kindly reduced our room, it is still expensive. So it looks as if it’s going to be Hostal Zentrum in the Mariscal area where we have heard there is room for 2/3 vehicles in the small garden area for camping. We discover our South African friends there whom we have not seen since Lima, so there is a lot to talk about over an evening barbecue! However the traffic noise right next to our camping place is horrendous, beginning around 5.30am.
We decide to leave the next day to visit the cloud forests near Mindo, and Robin has suggested that we stay at the English owned Bellavista Lodge on the 700 hectare Reserva Bellavista. It sounds really nice and we keep our fingers crossed that they will allow us to camp there.