Our hostal in Quito – Colonial House

We´ve left Quito now but thought we´d give a shout-out to the first hostal we have stayed at, Colonial House, in the San Blas barrio of Quito.

We were welcomed by one of the volunteer staff, Pete, on our arrival, who along with the other vols was helpful & friendly. The hostal is owned & managed by an unassuming Ecudorian woman.

The hostal location provides easy walking access to the historic old town (5 to 10 minutes), the not-so-new-at-all tourist district of Mariscal (20 to 30 minutes), as well as a choice of public transport, a local market, plenty of shops and cafes, and much more.

P1000126The hostal occupies an old house reputed to be about 200 years old – like many Quito houses it shows signs of having been added to and/or adaped over time. The house is brightly painted internally, mainly wooden, with a fair bit of art on the walls and a few murals – in some ways it reminded us of a better West Berlin squat in the 1980´s. So Colonial House is 3 storeys tall with a large rear back addition. This creates space for 13 rooms all holding at least a double bed, and many several beds. In addition there are 2 communal kitchens, communal dining areas, a lounge with tv, and a chilled & shaded garden featuring two busy rabbits.

P1000129We paid $25 per night (£16.50) for a double room with bathroom. We usually had their excellent breakfast for $3.50 each – fruit salad-yoghurt-granola, juice, coffee or tea, bread/croissants with butter & jam, and scrambled eggs. In addition there was plentiful free tea, real coffee & good drinking water; decent wi-fi, 2 pc terminals and a printer, and beers to buy in a fridge.

As our first place to stay this was ideal. There was a real mix of international guests of all ages, who were all pretty friendly and sharing info. Leaving there we felt pretty set up for the next step of our trip. Cheers to Colonial House! More info/booking at http://www.colonialhousequito.com

Lastly a pat on the back for CarpeDM tours, who ran a great free walking tour of Quito, and the day tour we took to Otavalo ($25), check them out if you are in town. More info at http://www.carpedm.ca/tours

Pic of the day no. 5

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Street food in Quito-this particular portable grill had been temporarily abandoned by its operator so we took a quick cheeky photo. The combined smell of grilled bananas and corn is gorgeous! We haven’t had the courage/confidence to buy any street food, for fear of falling ill, but it is so tempting. There is such a variety of street food cooked on a range of equipment, including a frequently seen combination of a large white bucket with stainless steel bowl on top (often cooking potatoes)… We’ve yet to figure out what fuel is actually being used…
Quito is filled with street vendors, mostly selling food, but also nail clippers, incense, coca candy, even mops. It seems fair to say that many street vendors (most of whom are women) are working hard to get some much needed cash in a city where economic disparity is pretty blatant. The sound of street vendors calling out prices (usually only one dollar), mixed with car horns and police traffic whistles, will ring in our ears for some time after we leave this amazing city.

Pic of the day no.4

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We’ve taken to spending late afternoons in the garden of the hostel and this beautiful hummingbird has made an appearance each afternoon. It has an amazing call: if you’ve seen Pan’s Labyrinth, just think of the noises the faeries make and you won’t be far off…
The hummingbird appears to be a hugely significant symbol here in Ecuador, not only for indigenous peoples: we’ve seen the bird in several murals and even a church that is built to look like the most giant hummingbird ever!
We haven’t seen much wildlife since coming to Ecuador, though we saw chicks painted blue, green & purple at the Otavalo animal market yesterday (the whole event was an animal rights nightmare!)…as we move to a lower altitude in a couple of days, we hope to see more.

Pic of the day no.1

Our first pic of the day comes from yesterday, 23 January, our first day proper in Quito.
wpid-IMG_20140123_220852.jpgHaving collapsed in bed by 9pm the night before, we awoke about 6am and wondered where we were for an hour. Then it was up to the communal kitchen just after 7am for a cafe and a fag on the balcony – this is the view that greeted us to the west of Quito. Tasty or what?

Hello Ecuador!

Dropping down through the clouds after 11hours in the air, our first view of Ecuador induced a sense of deja vu – the grey skies, rain, and green landscape looked like home.

Our lonely bags at Heathrow T4 - best when it is empty

Our lonely bags at Heathrow T4 – best when it is empty

But fear not, the mountains were a giveaway, we had not been going around in circles. Our 19 hour journey was nearing its end. We’d begun at 4am, Heathrow T4, where it was raining. Never seen it so empty, even the shops were closed. 18 hours later, via Amsterdam, we”d cleared immigration and customs in Quito nice and easy, and our ride to the hostal awaited us.

Rather jet lagged, with stiff legs, we settled into the back of the cab and even managed a basic chat with our driver…football was a topic he was keen on. What followed was a 70minute white-knuckle ride through the rush hour of greater-Quito. The brand new airport is only some 20+km outside the city, and the first 10min on a new 3-lane highway was easy-peasy. Then it dropped to 1 lane…..

The tarmac quality dropped, the roads became steeper, and narrower, buildings teetered on steep hillsides above us, and only the bolshie drivers got anywhere quickly. Ours did and more than earned the $30 fee. About 6pm we arrived at our booked hostal in the barrio of San Blas, on the edge of Quito’s historic old town, overlooked by Parque Itchimbia.

Our online booking worked, we had a double room, with a cloud-shrouded mountain to the west. A friendly Irish guy, with good Spanish, showed us around. We decided to take a quick stroll as darkness descended, to stretch our stiff legs. The local streets were now quite empty, the buildings a mix of newish, old, very old, and almost-falling-down. They were also rather steep and we experienced the impact of the altitude difference at 3000m.

We went back to the hostal, had a beer & smoke, and hit the bed. It was 9pm on 22 January Quito time, but 2am on the 23rd for our body clocks, we’d been on the go 23hours and we were shattered. But we’d made it at last!

Feliz Ano Nuevo! Hola 2014!

January 1st…just over three weeks from today and we’ll be landing at one of the world’s highest & most dramatic airports – Quito in Ecuador.

our first hostel awaits...

our first hostel awaits…

So to celebrate we logged on yesterday, and booked in to our first hostel, where we’ll be staying for a good week in Quito. We’ll be taking our time in Quito – to get used to the high altitude, the cultural differences, a change in diet, tune into ‘el lenguaje’, and of course explore the history of this fascinating old city. Then we’ll be off to the south west coast in Guayas to briefly catch up with a family member. Thereafter we’ll be going south.

We are pretty close to being ready to go. We’ve got sorted the flights, insurance, vaccinations & malaria tablets & anti-mosquito creams (and mosquito net), money, rucksacks & day bags, waterproof footwear & clothes, thermals & shorts, guides & maps & dictionary, camera & tech, and a few other useful bits & pieces. So before we go there should even be time to redecorate the bathroom, rebuild the conservatory, and have a serious last drink with friends.

Tom Dunnill RIP

Tom Dunnill RIP

Sadly the end of 2013 has been marred for us by the tragic death of Tom Dunnill, a mighty fine friend and comrade. Tom died soon after his 61st birthday, having endured a short and nasty illness. Tom was seen off by some 150 friends & comrades, who joined his grieving family at the West London crematorium. Flags were flown and fine words spoken about Tom’s life and ideals. The after-party was one Tom would have been proud of! Tom will be sorely missed, and will remain in our thoughts during our trip. Hasta la victoria companero, siempre!