A few days in the capital
As I mentioned earlier, our hotel was relatively dark and unwelcoming, even though it had a great location and the price was affordable, and this fact conditioned our stay in Quito. The city itself is nice, and the old city is even considered World Heritage, but as a big capital city, the traffic, pollution and noise is never ending, and it does not feel particularly safe at night. The fact that the streets are mostly deserted after dark and many shops either close or remain open only behind thick bars does not help.
Nevertheless, we tried to make the most of it and since our hotel was in the Alameda area, we were really close to the historic center and the Itchimbia hill with great views over the city. The old city has the typical straight strets from colonial times, and there are well preserved houses every now and then. The fact that still many of the streets are not yet pedestrian does not help to fully enjoy them though. On the positive side, it does not feel overly touristic, with plenty of affordable cafes and restaurants in the area and many locals having lunch there.
The whole historic area is on a slope, and the further high you go, the more authentic it feels, with markets, street vendors, schools and plenty of hustle everywhere. Quito is located among hills, all of them populated and with very steep streets wherever you look around, and also very high mountains behind those hills. The city itself is at 2800 meters, so it never gets too warm and it’s relatively cool at night. You need to be careful with the sun though, as even in cloudy days it is strong due to the location by the Equator.
One of the highlights in the city is to get a cable car to the top of one of the hills for an overview of the city, but since most days we were there it was relatively cloudy, we saved the trip and instead we went to the nearby Itchimbia hill and park, where after climbing a lot of stairs directly outside our hotel, you could get a great view of the south part of the city, including the historical center.
Susanne was not impressed with the Panamerican road so far, and she doesn’t want to cycle on it. The problem in Ecuador is that if you leave the Panamericana, all the roads are much steeper, and in cases not even paved but with cobblestones, something nearly impossible to ride with our heavy bikes and kid’s trailer. North Peru is not great either, you can either ride by the coast on the Panamericana with a lot of traffic in the middle of a desert, or you can take the scenic road in the mountains, beautiful, but with climbs of above 25 km in one go and 2000 meters elevation to change from one valley to the next, again not feasible with our circumstances.
So we have started to consider flying directly to Lima, or even Cusco, and avoid all this part. Susanne has even found some decently priced flights with LATAM to Lima, so the next morning I went looking for bike boxes to pack our bikes in the plane. Like in most South American cities, businesses in Quito are organized by sector, like in the Middle Ages, so most bike shops are all located in just 2 or 3 streets. Luckily for us, those streets are just at the back of the Alameda park, barely 10 minutes walk from our hotel.
Unfortunately, most bike shops were quite basic, offering only repairs but not new bikes, so obviously they had no boxes for me. And the few shops selling bikes had no boxes. In the second last shop I got lucky and the guy had a box left, yes! Then, with little hope, I saw two guys that had picked up something from the last bike shop in the street and they were about to close the shop again, so I asked them. And yes, they had boxes! They had already flattened them to throw them away but I didn’t mind, I could easily build them back with a bit of tape. I put the 2 folded boxes inside the other one, and I carried them in my shoulder all the way back to the hotel.
Once there I spent the rest of the morning packing again the bikes (I hate it) while Susanne took the kids up to Itchimbia. Of course, given our luck, when we decided to finally book the flights to Lima the price had increased by 4, and now it was no longer affordable to fly. What could we do?
On the meantime, we had decided to splurge and spend a week in Galapagos, both to cheer Susanne up after her disappointed impression of Quito, and to show Simon the giant turtles he had read so much about. We would decide about how to continue south on our return.