Tuesday in Quito!
Woke before the alarm to drizzle and gray outside my window…looks like Seattle weather. Putzed around until about 8:30 a.m. and went downstairs to wait for my 8:40 pick-up (they call it Transfer) to the tour bus for the day trip to Papallacta Hot Springs at an elevation of 3307 meters! I waited and waited…cab after cab went by and though all the empty cabs wanted to give me a ride, none of them appeared to be my pick up person, and I waved them on.
Finally I determined they must have forgotten me – the tour was leaving at 9 a.m and it was already that time by my estimate, so I walked across the street to the little shop where there is a Cabina (Pay telephone) and was just dialing the tour office number when the tour company pick-up van came by! I couldn’t believe it! They were a full 20 minutes late, but I was so happy to see them! I really didn’t want to miss Papallacta.
I was the only passenger in the van, besides the driver and the guide, and everything was different than I had expected. There was no other bus we were going to, this was it – a very new and modern van that seats 9 behind the driver and front passenger seats. And we were on our way to pick up the other 3 tourists who had arranged this trip.
We introduced ourselves: Vince (or Vinnie) is the driver, and Felix is our Naturalist Tour Guide (with excellent English). Winding through all the traffic jammed streets we arrived about 20 minutes later at another hostel, and picked up the three tourists: Sallie (a nurse) from Australia, Jay (worker at an RV park in British Columbia) and his father who owns the RV park and whose name I can’t remember.
Leaving Quito took a very long time on a road that was once an ancient trail descending steeply down into a valley. The trail has now been turned into a narrow two lane road, well cobbled and cared for, but originally it was a foot path and then later a horse trail. We almost got into an accident around one sharp corner, and it really rattled our Tour Guide for a minute. Thankfully, both vehicles stopped in time and avoide contact.
Finally we were in the country away from the city and the landscape became the gorgeous Ecuadorian mountains and valleys I’ve come to enjoy so much for their spectacular beauty.
The road started climbing and eventually we were at the top of a 4000+ meter pass and Vince, our driver, pulled over to let us out. Though it was drizzling with high billowy clouds, you could see across the valley a huge snow covered volcano mountain – it was immense. clamored back into the van and descended downFrom there we descende down into a verdant pristine valley with a large clean-looking lake. After passing the lake we turned left and onto a dirt road, then descended some more, then up again and finally!! Voila! We arrived at Papallacta!
What a spectacular place! Nestled just below a saddle pass between two mountain ranges, there are large organic gardens with extremely healthy, gargantuan vegetables growing (giant kale, swiss chard, lettuce, dill, everything). The buildings are very well maintained and look classy enough to be from Santa Fe or Santa Barbara. There is a hotel, restaurant, and other offices, but all so un-signed that it just looks like a highly attractive small villa.
Felix, our Nature Guide, led us on a 45 minute trail hike through the rainforest along the river that feeds some of the cold water to cool the hot springs. The hike brought us by many tropical plants – bromeliads, bamboo, flowers of many kinds and colors, fungi, and always the heavenly sound of the rushing river over giant rocks. Walked back on a dirt road, fairly wet and getting a little cold, and majorly starving. I ate the apple I had brought with me, but the others had nothing.
We paid our $7.00 admittance fee and walked through the gate into the hot spring pool area. Wow Wow and more Wow! Extremely well done stone work, flower gardens, artistically designed pools – the whole place was thoroughly enchanting! There were at least 10 pools of various sizes and temperatures, some painted with pale blue bottoms, others left natural with rock. There were lockers to store our things, dressing rooms, bathrooms, a steam room (but we couldn’t figure out how to turn it on) and cold plunge pools. I felt like a kid in a candy store…which pool first, which pool first! They all looked so deliciously inviting! And while there were a number of other bathers, there really weren’t all that many – it wasn’t overcrowded by any means.
We four touristas started out in one pool and then decided after a few minutes it wasn’t hot enough, and migrated to another blue pool that had steam rolling off. We stayed in that one for the rest of the time, with little jaunts just to toe-test the others, then back to the perfect temp pool. Every 5 or 10 minutes we did the cold plunge pool – that was really refreshing and brought the tingles to your skin when you were back in the hot water.
Finally it was time for us to rendezvous with Felix again (he and Vince didn’t join us in the pools but were out in the van, reading and napping). We departed the lovely hot springs and drove down the hill to a restaurant they dearly wanted to take us to, not too far away. It was large and clean and nicely decorated with wood and warm paint, with varnished wooden tables and bench seats. We had a window next to our table where we could look out across the entire valley to the mountain range on the other side – breathtaking! We all ordered exactly the same thing – trout with rice and salad and potatoes, and a cervesa! It was delicious! Everything was very tasty and prepared excellently. Total price of the meal – $6.00 (that includes the beer).
On the drive back we stopped at the lake and took pictures of it with the mountains as backdrop – ahhh gorgeous Nature! Then we all slept quite a bit on the drive home, and arrived back in Quito about 5:30 p.m. (only 2.5 hours later than originally scheduled). I was the first one they dropped off. It was strange to be back – I felt like I had been in MagicLand and now I was back in – a small boring hostel room all by myself.
Walked downtown to go to an ATM machine – took me three tries before I found one that worked, and it was way on the other side of the large park not too far from my hostel. On the way back I saw the Hilton and went in to ask for room prices for the night of the 28th – I thought it might be nice to have my final night in Quito be at an upper class hotel – $200! The hostel will be fine. But I did go to their restaurant and ordered Seafood Soup. It was excellent! Huffed and puffed my way back to the hostel in the dark (still not used to these high altitudes, and with a full stomach it’s even harder!) with a wad of bills in my pocket totaling $500.00 – I kept a sharp eye out and no one looked twice at me.
Now I’m hopeful to get to Mitad del Mundo tomorrow – “The Middle of the World”. It’s the equatorial line which is still somewhat disputed in that several different places claim to be sitting on top of it. I have heard from people who have been there that they have a moveable toilet that you can take to one side or the other of the line, and even put it on the line itself, and the water goes down differently each time depending which side or the middle that you’re on. Also, an egg is supposed to balance on a pin there, and we are supposed to way about a pound less! I can’t wait to see this!