A Reddaway Away

Learning to follow my feet


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Looking out over Quito

Recently some friends and I decided to go up the Teleférico, the cable car that goes part-way up the Volcano Pichincha to the East of Quito. The ride starts at 2,950m and goes up to 4,053m, doing a distance of 2.5km. It’s a little dear but well worth it, the views over Quito and the Andes are stunning, the mountains stretch on for miles. When we went it was slightly hazy so I cannot imagine how it would be on a clear day!

Up at the top of the cable car we found out there were people renting out ponies. Rides came with a very warm, very fetching poncho, so we decided to go for it. We were given very little freedom in where we could go with the ponies, but it was fun all the same. Pearl’s decided that it would forge its own path but mine was very obliging, which was a surprise.

You can also walk a couple of hours to the summit but we arrived late, were pretty tired, and the mere act of walking up a slight slope at that altitude had us huffing and puffing in a highly embarrassing way (think fat policemen trying to run in Hollywood films), so we decided it was probably better not to. Next time! We spent a happy couple of hours looking around, admiring the views and then decided to go back down to the comparative warmth of Quito.

Due to a camera mishap, all photos are stolen from my friend:

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Standing at the centre of the world

A couple of weeks back my friend and I decided to embrace being tourists for a day and go to the Mitad del Mundo, the monument at the Equator. It only takes an hour to get there but we still hadn’t got round to it.

It was very liberating to be touristy for a day, a nice break from constantly trying to blend in and integrate into Ecuadorian life. We spent lots of time happily prancing about, jumping over the line and taking cheesy tourist photos. In the Mitad del Mundo complex there are shops, museums, llamas(!), activities such as trying to balance an egg on a nail, and, of course, the monument itself. As it was a Sunday there were also dancers, who were brilliant to watch. Moreover, there’s something very thrilling about being at the centre of the world, one foot in each hemisphere. It may all be put on for tourists but it’s a great feeling.

The funny thing is that the giant monument at the Mitad del Mundo isn’t actually on the real Equator but what was calculated to be the Equator by French scientists in the 18th century. It’s actually about 200 metres of the official GPS reading, which all things considered is pretty impressive. There’s a third line which is also said to be the official Equator, it all depends on which one you’re rooting for.

We also went to the second, “official” line which is in an ethnological museum featuring shrunken heads, anaconda skins and fun demonstrations how water drains clockwise or anti-clockwise depending on which side of the Equator you’re on (I learned this from the Simpsons). All in all it was a fun day! A good excursion if you’re ever in Quito


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La Vida en la Finca

So my host family has a little house they built near a village called Tulípe, where Germán’s dad has a farm, and I’ve now been a couple of times. It was really nice to get out of the city and chill in the country for a bit. Cities can get me down after a while and, as Tulípe is in the cloud forest, the area is overwhelmingly beautiful. Artists would cry.

The first time I went we went to this amazing river where we went swimming. It was a beautiful spot and the water was perfect on such a hot day. Sadly I didn’t take my camera because when I asked if I would need anything Marta said no and then spent a lot of the afternoon telling me off for not bringing my camera.. you just can’t win sometimes! The second time we went to this amazing swimming pool with the most beautiful views over the valley, guess who didn’t have their camera again? I know, I know, I am a failure.

Time spent in the “finca” is mainly spent chilling, reading and listening to music. There I tasted my first “fritada” (fried pork accompanied by mote, corn, potatoes, fried banana, and tostada, which is toasted corn) and also my first “tomate de árbol”, literally a “tree tomato”, which is a sour, orange variation of a tomato which you eat with a bit of sugar. It’s delicious. I also saw my first Latin American cows, and a sheep which reminded me of home.

Last time I was there it rained a lot and we enjoyed the sound of raindrops on the roof while we listened to salsa music and tucked into a bottle of wine. It’s a good life in the country.

Tulípe is also home to a museum about the indigenous community who used to live there, the Yumbo. There’s a visit round the museum followed by a guided tour of the ruins in the village, all very interesting. The museum puts a lot of emphasis on conservation and man’s relationship with nature, which is to be expected in the first country to recognise the Rights of Nature in its constitution.

I also discovered that the town used to be very important in the chocolate industry. Sadly, this is no longer the case.

So if you’re ever in need of an escape from the hustle and bustle of Quito, I recommend Tulípe. There’s even a nice hostel/ hotel you can stay in. It’s a beautiful and relaxing place with friendly people and no sense of time.

More info: http://www.tulipecloudforest.org/


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Places that aren’t Quito

Otavalo

Otavalo is an indigenous town two hours North of Quito which is famous for its markets. Once you manage to navigate Quito’s bus system to get to the terminal in the North, it’s pretty easy to get to Otavalo and it only costs $2 each way. We set off at 7am from our house, missed two buses, got a little bit lost, chose the wrong bus terminal and then arrived to find a long queue for the bus which took about 20 minutes to get through (we Brits took this in our stride). Tickets bought, we got onto an incredibly comfortable bus with great music and the occasional person boarding to sell ice cream, and set off on the beautiful journey to Otavalo through the mountains.

Our delay meant we missed the animal market, but the main market was still in full swing. Stalls line the streets and the squares selling beautiful fabrics, jewellery, wool, clothes, bags, shoes, books and some wonderful tourist tat that I just had to take a look at because some of it was so dreadful. Every stall we passed the owner would greet us with the “Hola ¿a la orden?”, “Hello, can I help you?”. We bought a couple of things, I, as usual, failed at haggling. However the real delight was just to wander around and take it all in. There’s such a variety of things on offer and I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the market as much as the quiet of the side streets around it.

Like Quito, the town is in the mountains and there are beautiful views. We headed to a small town called San Pablo where there’s a lake at the foot of the volcano Imbabura, which was a wonderful setting. We went to a small café on the lake where we had a drink and the boys rented a pedalo boat while I sat and took it all in. We then headed home in the late afternoon, although apparently we could have also gone to Cotacachi, a town nearby with a leather market. Next time! I want to go back in September when there’s a local festival.

Mindo

Mindo is two hours Northwest of Quito. One of the volunteers at my company wanted to go and so I said I’d go with her. We hired a guide, which was a first for me, who showed us around.

Mindo is in the cloud forest and is famous for its biodiversity and its adventure activities (including tubing down the river, which sadly we did not have time for). The journey there was wonderful, first we stopped off at the Pululahua Volcano crater, which has people living in it even though the volcano is still active! I couldn’t believe it. Then we followed the mountain road, marvelling as the relatively sparse vegetation soon became lush green forest. Trees are covered in ferns and other plants until everything becomes this big green tangle. We stopped off in a town along the road for a guanabana juice, my new favourite thing.

Our first stop in Mindo was the butterfly farm, where I conveniently remembered that I am afraid of butterflies, especially when they are bigger than my fist (most of them had eye marks on their wings, terrifying! It’s like they’re watching you!) David, our guide, could not stop laughing at me. As everyone else delighted in having butterflies landing on their heads and eating from their hands, I found a nice little corner by a fountain where the smaller, prettier and less scary butterflies hung out. There I stayed until it was time to go, cowering away.

Outside we saw hummingbirds, for which the area is famous (also orchids, but it wasn’t the season). Ecuador is home to about 40% of the world’s hummingbird species, which is pretty incredible for a country of such a small size. We tried desperately to get photos but this proved to be very difficult, so instead we just stayed and watched them for a while.

Next on the agenda was walking through the forest to the waterfalls. First, though, we had to cross the valley in an aerial tram, which was absolutely amazing! I loved it. David hung onto the outside because he didn’t want to wait in the queue for the next one. I definitely could not have done that! There was a huge drop. Once out of the tram we walking for about an hour through beautiful trees and plants with leaves bigger than my head until we reached the waterfall. We went to one of the further and less popular ones, meaning we could appreciate the surroundings with few interruptions.

When we made it back from the waterfall it was well past lunchtime and stomachs were seriously rumbling, so we tucked into a meal of fish, rice and soup (What a surprise!) before heading back to Quito. Even though we got stuck in traffic, the journey home was even better than the way there because as the evening fell so did the clouds, which slowly descended over the forest and gave us fantastic views. It all looked very magical.


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And then there was rain

For my first month in Quito the weather was amazing: perfect spring weather with the occasional breeze coupled with cool evenings, thus avoiding any hot, sleepless nights. While my host mother was constantly complaining of the cold in the evenings (and insisting that walking around barefoot was going to make me very ill), I was in weather heaven.

Or was I?

There’s something about being British that makes us constantly aware of the weather: too hot, too cold, too rainy, too dry, too snowy, no snow, etc. I swear I read an article during the recent British heatwave saying “Brits happiest with intermittent weather”, or something to that degree.

Not only that, but as a Brit I grew up with the rain. I swear my skin is slightly more impermeable than people from other countries. There’s a part of me that loves it, in my flat in Edinburgh we had wonderful big windows that I cursed during the winter but that during summer downpours I would leave wide open as I curled up with a good book and a cup of tea. Heaven. Then there’s my house in Devon with a thatched roof and a little bit covered outside my window that amplifies the sound of the rain, the perfect lullaby. Some people run away from the rain, I quite often run towards it, jumping around and dancing. Also, what child hasn’t made races out of the raindrops falling on windows?

Of course it goes without saying that there’s a part of me that hates when it rains and rains without stopping, or when I’m trying to get somewhere or I’m wearing the wrong shoes. Then rain genuinely sucks. I’ve had too many camping holidays and walking expeditions when it has not stopped raining and when little rivers have started to run through the tents. Last Christmas, floods shut railway lines, there was a lake outside my house, a river in the garden and we had to move the annual village Boxing Day duck race to a different place because the river was overflowing. Rain is a fickle friend.

So my first month in Quito may have had perfect weather, but something didn’t feel quite right. It was just that little bit too perfect. The Brit felt a little confused.

And then last Thursday, there was rain. Oh what rain! I could smell it coming from miles away (the smell of rain is the best smell in the world). There was a massive thunderstorm: heavy rain, hailstones, thunder and lightning with barely seconds between. All the sounds were amplified by the mountains, amazing rumbles and shudders as it felt like the universe was emptying itself out onto us. Snug in the office, I felt very happy. It was even considerate enough to stop before I had to walk home.

It has been raining on and off ever since and the ground and plants seem much happier for it.

However, I would be happier if it didn’t start to rain on me while I’m walking home in flip flops and no jacket next time. Today’s walk home was a little wet. Thanks a lot, rain.

Anyway, it’s nice to have a little imperfection sometimes. Now all I need is a decent cup of tea.

the shawshank redemption wallpaper rain