Curiosity about the capital of Ecuador is too much and I decide to make a stop in Quito to have a look. Driving around the edge of town to avoid traffic works well until I drive in an un-signed bus-only lane and get stopped by the Police. At first they try hard to bribe me for a few reasons including having only one number plate and the obvious one of driving in the wrong lane. Eventually they ask for my insurance, a touchy subject.
At the border I asked about insurance and the guy kind of, sort of said it was mandatory to drive in Ecuador, but didn’t know where I could get it?! After pushing the issue for a while the guy helpfully suggested I just show my Colombian insurance because the Police wouldn’t be able to tell the difference anyway.
Under the pump in Quito I really have nothing to lose and give it a shot. The Police frown at it for thirty seconds then tell me in the future to show that first when asked for ‘documentation’. Sweet.
I somehow manage to get all the way into The Secret Garden Hostel in Old Town using only the Lonely Planet maps for direction. It’s a grand old building positively packed with westerners and I immediately strike up friendships with anyone and everyone. There are constant warnings about how dangerous the city is, so I stay in at night and walk around with nothing in my pockets during the day. I wander all over Old Town looking at endless churches and squares before making my way into the much more commercial New Town. Western brand names are extremely prominent and every second sign is in English advertising a tourist trip to destinations like the Galapagos. It’s a very beautiful city with a really cool vibe, if not a little crowded and busy for my taste.
I’ve struggled to get decent maps since Guatemala and happily to make a visit to The Instituto Geográfico Militar, high on a hill overlooking downtown. The guys in uniform can’t contain their curiosity about my hair and I wind up with an excellent map of the entire country for $4.
Ecuador might just be the cheapest country I’ve been to yet. Gas is USD $1.47 per gallon and diesel is $1.07. Just to emphasize, that’s USD$ 0.39 per liter for gas. I’ve been buying a standard meal of soup, chicken or beef, rice, beans, salad and juice in markets for $1.30 and I can barely eat it all.
I enjoy my three days in the city, and am thoroughly ready to get back into the mountains.