08/03/2015: Otavalo and Mitad del Mundo

June 24, 2016

This weekend was awesome!! Since it is my only weekend in Quito, I decided to spend it doing two day trips that are fairly close to the city, that way I could best enjoy what Quito has to offer before I leave. My friend Anne from Norway became my travel buddy and we did almost everything together this weekend! I'm so glad to have met someone with very similar travel priorities so early in my trip :)

Our first stop on Saturday morning was to a town about 2 hours north of Quito called Otavalo. We took a cheap taxi about 20 minutes to a bus station at the very north end of Quito, and from there, a bus that cost $2 to Otavalo. The trip was very easy, but nothing is really labeled that well or very intuitive, so I was constantly asking police officers and random workers if I was in the right place. The Ecuadorian have been so nice and so helpful and they always point me in the right direction.

Otavalo is known for its huge artesian market, its actually the biggest in all of South America! Anyone who knows me knows that I hate shopping so this was obviously a bore..... NOT. I absolutely LOVED the market!! They had a lot of the same types of things that the artesian markets in Squisili and Quito had, but the prices were so much better and easier to haggle down than in the city. I ended up getting maybe a few too many items, but seriously where else can I buy myself a handmade alpaca blanket for $12??

For lunch, Anne and I went to a restaurant called Buena Vista, very appropriately named for the beautiful view it has from its second floor dining room of the entire market. From there we could see that it is really so much bigger than we thought it was! It was very easy to get lost wandering amongst all of the colorful stalls, but the town itself was fairly small and easy to get around. Once we were done in the market, we stopped at a pastelería for some delicious croissants and took the bus home to Quito. I had just enough time to shower, nap, eat dinner, and then meet my friends out for some drinks and pool at a bar just down the street. It was a very tiring but very awesome day!

Sunday morning, my host mom invited her friend over whose daughters took some of the clothes that I brought to donate. One of her odd jobs is as a nail artist, so she gave me a full manicure and pedicure to thank me for giving her daughters the clothes! It was so nice to feel appreciated and pampered, especially because I picked my nails to death on the plane and I really needed it haha.

Once we were done with our mini-spa morning, Anne and I met at a pastelería for some pan de chocolate and coffee. It was soooo delicious and the perfect way to start out our day. Then, we taxi'd to the bus station again, and then took a 25 cent bus to the equator line, also known as the Mitad Del Mundo! It was super touristy, but honestly really interesting and fun, and I definitely recommend it.

There are actually two equator lines in the city, one is correct and one is incorrect. The wrong one is the one that most people visit, with the huge monument devoted to the equator. Years after it was built, they noticed it was about 7 seconds (240 meters) away from the actual equator line. Therefore, they drew a second line and built a second museum there, called Museo Intiñan. Both parts of Mitad del Mundo are really cool and have different things to do and see, so I recommend them both. Especially if you can go on a Sunday because they have local dances and folk music/costumes all day!

The first equator line (the incorrect one) is awesome because it has a HUGE monument surrounded by tons of flags. It costs about $7 to get in, and that includes access to all of the little museums and science demonstrations inside too. You also get to go up inside the monument for an incredible view of the whole complex and on the walk down the stairs of the monument, they have information about all of the different indigenous peoples within Ecuador, because there are quite a few really distinct tribes. Also while inside the complex, we decided to eat lunch at one of the restaurants there, I had traditional empanadas and chicken with rice. Delicious!

After we ate lunch and grabbed some souvenirs (I get a magnet from every city I go to), we decided to go to Museo Intiñan which is outside of the complex, but still walking distance. This museum was super cool!! Because its on the actual equator, they can do awesome experiments. I attempted to balance an egg on a nail which is way easier there, I tried to walk in a straight line drunk driving test style which was SO hard because the North/South poles pull you one way or another. They also demonstrated how water falling through a drain will either turn clockwise or counterclockwise on either side of the equator and it doesn't spin at all on the equator (which also explains why Ecuador can't experience hurricanes). They had some really cool sun dials that are perfectly exact even though its a few minutes off from our phone's time because the sun dial accounts for leap years and our clocks don't until it actually happens.

After all of that, we got our passports stamped with a special Equator stamp and we stopped really quickly at a chocolate lesson in the museum. It turns out that Swiss and Belgian chocolate are made with mostly Ecuadorian cocoa beans and that Ecuador has won the prize for the best chocolate in the world for the past three years! Because the cocoa tree absorbs so much from its environment and Ecuador's volcanic land is very nutrient rich, the chocolate from here tends to be amazing, I can attest to that.

Having done just about every thing that both museums had to offer, Anne and I ran to catch a bus home. I had to pack up everything, eat dinner, and say goodbye to my friends and host family before my scheduled pick-up at 8:30. I had the best time in Quito but I am so glad to be able to explore and really get to know another part of Ecuador. Quito is really big and it was almost overwhelming to try and explore it during the day when I knew I had so little time there. But that's OK because I still think I made the best of what time I had there! My overnight bus left for Cuenca at 10 pm and arrived in Cuenca around 7am. Although its not technically very far south, because of all the mountains and the stops that the busses make, plus traffic, it takes quite some time. I thankfully got some sleep and arrived in Cuenca this morning pretty much ready to go!

I'm so tired from a very long and adventurous first day here which I will write all about later this week, so I'm going to get some rest! Tomorrow, I start my first day at the orphanage and I am so excited to meet everyone who I will be spending the next two weeks with! Hasta luego :)