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Bag-slashed but not bothered in downtown Quito

Our time in Quito can be divided into two parts: the few days before our volunteer project after flying in from Mexico, and the few days at the end of our time in Ecuador. It did not begin well. For one thing, we flew out of Mexico City just as swine flu was breaking out, just one week before Ecuador closed its borders to travellers from Mexico- phew!

What this did mean for us though was that we had to wear face masks the entire flight- especially pointless given that we had to take them off to eat- and then upon our arrival in Quito, we were interviewed by men in biohazard suits about whether we had any symptoms or not. (As if you’re going to fly all that way and be like “Oh yeah, well now that you mention it, I do have this funny cough…”). Anyway, the whole thing was being filmed by Ecuadorean news teams, so that was pretty cool.

In Quito we stayed at “hostel el centro del mundo” in the Mariscal area, which is very dodgy area but also gives all guests free rum and coke three times a week, and for this reason is packed with mostly Brits. Nightlife there is good. Unfortunately, it was on our excursion to the Old Town that the horrors began…


Let me explain. There is this RIDICULOUS scam in Quito where you’ll be walking along in a perfectly normal public area, then suddenly realize that somehow, mysteriously, it has rained mustard on your back and all over your belongings- specifically, your bag. Fancy that! Thank god there’s a lovely man walking closely behind you brandishing (in the hand minus the mustard bottle) a million tissues, very nicely and kindly offering to help clean you up! OF COURSE you say to him “Oh thank you! Please, take my bag whilst I tidy myself up! What a pleasant fellow!”

So of course this isn’t when we got robbed. This is when we get our clothes and bags ruined and scream at the man responsible, then in a bad mood decide to return to our hostel to get cleaned up as best we can…
…and of course my bag gets slashed on crowded trolley, and my purse snatched out.

Of course I have a hissy fit at the entire carriage. In English. Of course it does no good. My money, bank cards and student ID are long gone. Argh. Still, could be worse, they didn’t get my camera because I noticed almost immediately before they had opportunity to rummage. Still, sad and inconvenient times.

Our return to Quito was better, having learnt not to take anything valuable outside the hostel. We went to nearby Otavalo for the Saturday market, the biggest indigenous market in Ecuador, with three people from our hostel. We went on the Friday and visited a condor rescue centre, which was fun and especially recommended because the Dutch guy who works there gave us a lift back into town. In the morning we got up early and went to the animal market, which was full of pigs, cows, llamas, and a horrible corner of rabbits and guinea pigs…. I quite seriously considered buying a guinea pig with the object of liberating it in mind, but this wasn’t a practical idea. For one thing, I’m headed to Peru, where “cuy” is a national delicacy…

The market itself is a place where we did quite literally shop ‘til we dropped. It’s HUGE! And full of llama products of all descriptions. Oh dear. I am now the ultimate gringo. Not only do I have the traditional bag (necessary replacement for one that was slashed, in my defence), I also own a llama hoody. And socks… and scarf. And, erm, two pairs of the tremendous, pyjama-like gringo trousers. God, I look a fool. But god, I am comfortable.

Me and Amy also got a bus from Quito to the equator, which was really good. The funny thing is that the bus drops you off at this big complex called “el mitad del mundo” with this huge monument marking the equator built by the French… and it’s wrong! The real equator is a few hundred feet off down the road, at the Inti Nan Solar Museum, which was brilliant! You do all sorts of equator-related activities that you wouldn’t think work but somehow do… for instance, Amy managed to balance an egg on a nail head on the equator line. It is quite possibly the crowning achievement of her life, as pictures will prove. They also did that trick with the plugholes where 1m from equator water falls down clockwise and 1m the other side it falls down anticlockwise, and just drops straight down in the centre! Madness! Also you can’t walk along the equator with your eyes closed- you just veer everywhere like you’re drunk. And you weigh 2lb less than normal! Apart from equator craziness, we also saw an Amazonian penis fish, and learnt how shrunken heads are made- always a useful skill.

Our last night  in Ecuador called for celebration, and so we headed to a local club. Here I was forced into salsa lessons by middle-aged local men. I am not a dancer. It was an excruciating experience, but a necessary one for all gringas in South America. It was sad to finally leave Ecuador; we felt we’d been there so long. But still, leave we did, heading for the golden shores of Peru… just after discovering that two people from our hostel got diagnosed with swine flu flying out, and that medics came to our hostel whilst we were out and tested everyone. And yet we still don’t have it! Still, it does seem to be following us, doesn’t it?

More by Leah at her own travel blog

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