“I had pushed my body to the brink, and climbed to a place where few plants grew, few humans traveled to, and the snow solemnly hugged the rocks…”
After so many weeks of trekking through the rainforest, the city lights of Quito were a welcome relief. We started out by staying in a hostel called “The Travelers Inn,” but due to the sketchy clientele and lack of hot water, we quickly decided to switch accommodation! That is when I found the most amazing hostel I’ve ever stayed in! It is called “Boutiquito” and in located more on the outskirts of the city, and while that may be a bit annoying if you are going to visit the historical town center, it is totally worth it! For the common area was very homey with the softest couches and the most incredible view of the mountains! The staff was fantastic, the beds fluffy as all get out, and the showers ran with endless hot water! You know you’ve found a right place when it is more fun to stay in and talk with fellow backpackers or have a movie night rather than go out and explore the nightlife (which is more advisable considering night-Quito is a bit dangerous).
So we had about four days to spend in the city (by the way, “we” refers to my friend Jenny and me) before we head to our internship at an organic farm, but we quickly realized that four days was a bit much! At most stay three days in Quito because while the city is enormous, the number of interesting things to do dwindle quickly. But for those three days, here are a couple of stuff that we found enjoyable! The first day was spent mostly moving from our sketch hostel to our resort, as well as letting our sore muscles have a bit of a break. So It was the second day that we were able to venture out into the city! The bus system is pretty basic, costing $0.25 and has three lines spanning the city. But beware! Keep all bags in front of you and valuables tightly tucked away! The buses get super overcrowded in the afternoon, and is a smorgasbord for pickpockets! Sadly Jenny was a victim and had her camera snatched! So be very careful, and if in serious doubt use a taxi (the better option if with a group that can split the cost!). We made it down to the historic center and spent most of our afternoon just meandering around. Like I said, not too much to do, but we did have two high points of the day! The first was visiting the Basilica in the middle of the city. It’s situated on a hill and for $2.50 you can climb to the top (really really high up, and a few parts with see through stairs!). My childhood fear of heights made a reappearance, and Jenny has some memorable photos of me crawling on my hands and knees at a few points (will destroy later), but the view from the top is most definitely worth it as the entire city just lays out before you! The second place that we enjoyed was the artisanal market, though it was very similar to the one in Otavalo, so if you have to make a choice go for the day trip to Otavalo!
The third day Jenny wasn’t feeling a hundred percent (turns out she had Giardia! Untreated water will do that to you), so she stayed back at the hostel while I decided to venture out. Quito is a mountain valley situated between two volcanos. The first is Cotopaxi with a summit of 5100 meters and being the tallest active volcano in the world according to my taxi driver, and then there is Ruku Pichincha (bigger than its counterpart Wawa Pichincha) with a summit of 4670 meters! Cotopaxi was a good drive away, while Pichincha was merely an hour walk, so I decided to see the latter! At the base was a tram called the “TeleferiQo” which for $8.50 it would take you a little over halfway up Pichincha to 3700 meters and give you the most incredible views of Quito! There was also an additional option for intrepid travelers to climb to the summit of Ruku Pichincha (Old Pichincha) and have eternal bragging rights! I’m planning on doing the five day Inca Trail trek at 3000 meters, so I thought this was an excellent way to train! So with my summit pack, full water bottle and a few Advil I started my ascent! It was only after about 5 minutes that I passed a stables where you could rent a horse to take you most of the way up, but me having hiked through the rainforest for the past few weeks was brimming with overconfidence and was not about to take the easy way out (OMG I should have taken the easy way out!!!). After about two minutes, my heart was racing, and I was completely out of breath! I took a seat on a nice patch of grass and looked back to discover I had moved only about 30 meters! I had been expecting the altitude to effect me, but I had been seriously underestimating to what extent it would take its toll! The entire hike was like this, me stopping every few minutes to sit down and catch my breath. I measured my heart rate at 192 beats per minute at the end of one of these two-minute intervals! As fellow mountaineers passed me coming down the volcano, I received two different kinds of reactions. If it were an Ecuadorian, they would snigger (not in a malicious way) at the gringo who couldn’t catch his breath, and if they were told gringo they would look at me sympathetically, having just gone through it a few hours prior! Slowly and steadily I made progress on my ascent, relishing every area of flat terrain and looking ominously at every hill. The number of people I saw started to dwindle until I was left alone on the mountainside, trudging slowly along. The silence was astounding, having been in the heart of the city just a few hours earlier, and my only company was the sound of my shoes hitting the dirt, my ragged breaths attempting to suck in what little oxygen was floating about, and the pounding of my heartbeat in my ears. I finally understood what made people climb mountains in the most remote parts of the world. The rush of pushing your body to the limit to take you to greater heights while surrounded by natural beauty, and the great solitude.
It was fascinating watching the vegetation change as I got higher, going from tall grasses that danced in the wind, to smaller shrubs that protected the small birds living in them, to lichens painting the rocks in hues of green and yellow. The climate also started to change, as when I started, it was a relatively warm day out, and as I climbed my breath slowly became more and more visible. I soon found the well-worn path disappeared as the last hour of the hike was scaling steep crags, and scrambling up deposits of loose rock and silt. The latter has been particularly hard as my feet kept slipping, and I almost took a few bad tumbles. The only way I knew where I was going were the light tracks left in the dirt by the few who had made it thus far. After 3.5 hours of hard work, I finally dragged my body up the last cliff face and onto the summit, where I spent a good three minutes heaving and attempting to get my body back to equilibrium. When finally my breath became normal, and my heartbeat faded, I took in my surroundings. I was alone. The only one sitting on this mountaintop. There wasn’t much of a view, as I was so high that I was situated inside of a cloud. I looked around some more and made out the shape of a small informational board within the haze. It said welcome to the top of Ruku Pichincha, height is 4696 meters. It was staring at that sign that the real significance of what I had just done hit me. I had pushed my body to the brink and climbed to a place where few plants grew, few humans traveled to, and the snow solemnly hugged the rocks. I had never felt such euphoria within such solitude.
Now for getting down. Considering there hadn’t been a path up for about the last hour and I had gotten up by basically climbing to the highest place I could see, I felt like a cat who had climbed to a high place and wasn’t quite sure how to get itself back down. So I picked a directing and started to descend (most of the way on my butt) and tried to not fall the cliff. In retrospect doing this alone was probably not the wisest decision, but eventually, I made it down the steep craggy part and got to the loose soil and silt part. What had earlier been such an arduous task was now pure enjoyment. The soil was so soft I could jump forward six feet at a time and land on a soft cushion, or run down in a sand surfer fashion. While it had taken me about 45 minutes to ascend, it took me about five to get down, and was super fun! It was after this that I broke free from the cloud cover, and was able to see where I was. The top of the world! The surrounding mountains wrapped around below me, with Quito being a small congregation of specks below. I watched as clouds moved below me, gliding across some hillsides while engulfing others. The cloud cover even let up enough so that I could see the white peak of Cotopaxi standing imposingly on the horizon. The sun was starting to set, and the light cast an ethereal glow upon the terrain. Oh crap! Sunset! I had about 1.5 hours of hiking back down, and I was quickly losing light! I wasn’t too worried about hiking in the dark as I had brought my headlamp, but what frightened me was the tram shutting down and me being stuck on the cold mountainside all night! I sprinted as best I could in the high altitude down the rest of the mountainside and made it back to the tram just as the final light of the sun was snuffed out by the mountain. Not only had I made the first 3.5-hour journey in 2, but I was the last person who had made it up and down the volcano! The ride back down is especially enjoyable, as the city lights turned the ground into a reflection of the starlit sky, and I reveled in the afterglow of my day’s accomplishment.
– for those interested in attempting this assent here are a few tips. (1) You need to be physically fit, and even then you are going to be challenged due to the altitude. (2) Drink lots of water! (3) Take painkillers to head off migrants from the altitude (4) bring warm clothes as it quickly gets colder the higher you go. (5) Good trekking shoes are non-negotiable! (6) Camera!!!
The last day was pretty uneventful. Sadly, we had to change hostels for our last night because they ours was overbooked, but we were able to get a room at a pretty nice place called “The Magic Bean.” It’s a good backup option, and is right next to “Plazza Foch,” which is the center of Quito nightlife! We had dinner with some friends and prepared for our trip out to the farm the next day… Speaking if dinner here are some good dining places that we found during our stay!
Strawberry Fields: An entirely Beatles-themed restaurants that have a great atmosphere and excellent food.
Cassolette: a block away from Boutiquito. Has relaxed atmosphere with hanging light bulbs, great Italian food, and desserts to die for!
La Boca Del Lobo: the mouth of the wolf! A super eclectic restaurants with an entirely original menu right next to Plaza Foch.
Thanks for reading, and be on the lookout for a post on my stay at the farm in a few weeks!