The next stop of the (juris) doctors was Quito, Ecuador. Twas but a brief sojourn on our way to Colombia, and yet, another epic stage of our journey.
We arrived in Quito with little knowledge of what to expect and were immediately taken in by its astonishing beauty. Quito is surrounded by large forested mountains and hills and contains brilliant bright colours and colonial architecture in the city centre. I was quite surprised to find so much beauty in a city I so rarely hear of people visiting. Unlike Lima, which though it had it´s charm, was lacking in aesthetic appeal, every corner in Quito revealed either a beautifully manicured park, amazing architecture, or fascinating views. I highly suggest a visit to anyone venturing to the north of South America.
Our first night was spent in Plaza Fech where we took in a World Cup qualifying soccer (or football… as they call it down here) match between Peru and Ecuador. Naturally we cheered for Ecuador, due to a fear for our livelihood. We entertained cheering for Peru, having recently traveled from Lima where we befriended an adorable Peruvian family, but our better judgment and concern for our own well-being prevented such a poor decision.
Das Peter, ever loyal to his German roots, led us to a German pub ¨Brau Platz¨ just off the hectic square full of Ecuador fans. Here, in fine German style, we were reminded of their love of beer and took part in one of the best promotions I have ever encountered: unlimited beer paid by the hour. Needless to say we had a fantastic night cheering “Si Se Puede!!!” in favour of Ecuador who, unfortunately, were eventually bested by their Peruvian rivals. Though we felt quite macho chugging our multiple beers at great value, we were no match for the table of four South Americans to the right of us who went through TWO bottles of Tequila. Mad respect.
The following morning we indulged Peter´s love of driving in foreign countries. We were only in Quito for three days and the Amazonian jungle that we were desperate to encounter required at least 3 nights for the excursions provided by tour companies. We therefore embarked on our own tour (with some advice from our lovely hostel owner) and drove to Tena to experience at least a small taste of Ecuadorian jungle before we left South America.
The three Caballeros were situated across a spectrum of interest when it came to renting a car and driving in a foreign country, which, in our experience, resembled more a game of chicken between all cars and pedestrians than it did a regulated mode of transit. Peter, strongly in favour, and sensing no potential problems with such an adventure; myself, in the middle, keen on exploring the Ecuadorian countryside, but cognizant of the difficulties and frustrations that often accompany international driving, and our dear Alastair, petrified of the certain danger that awaited us on the highways of Quito.
Das Cross assured us that he had driven in Germany and was a master of international travel. While the road trip did end up in a fantastic adventure with no accidents (though we may have cut it close), the Ecuadorian roads proved to be more of a challenge then Peter anticipated. As he said several hours into the journey, “driving in Germany in no way prepared me for this.”
The hilarity that ensued requires a close examination. Google maps estimated that our trip to Tena would take around 2 hours. We took 6 and a half. During our journey, we did not successfully complete a SINGLE turn described in the directions provided by google maps since we never successfully found a single intersection that we were meant to cross. Alastair cackled from the back seat when Peter´s initial confidence was met with our becoming lost literally on the first street we turned on to. After a futile 40 minutes of several circles, the third of which led us back to our hostel, we altered our strategy and just attempted to head in the general direction of Tena. In fact, Peter and I engaged in a lengthy solar discussion about our current cardinal direction which resulted in the following exchange:
Alastair: Wait. Are you guys ACTUALLY trying to figure out what direction your driving by using the location of the SUN?
Peter: That´s how the explorers did it!
Needless to say, our journey led us all over Ecuador before finally reaching Tena. That being said, the drive was incredible, and was yet another epic adventure we have Das Peter to thank for. Driving (which I did on the way back) really is a fun and effective way to explore uncharted territory.When we finally got on track, the drive out to Tena led us through deep jungle with amazing views and flora that none of us had ever encountered.
Once in Tena we traveled to a nearby town called Misahuallí where I got to take in my highlight of the road trip: playing with ADORABLE Capuchin monkeys! They are all over the town square, take things out of your hands, and demonstrate tons personality. Other than that, I was the only one ecstatic to play with a boa constrictor a little boy let me take photos with for a dollar. Pure man. Finally, we went on a boat tour which took us to an “authentic” native Amazonian tribe. We declined the Shaman shaking and watching the village girls perform a native dance for us, but I again accepted to hold an even bigger boa for my fave activity: the candid photo-op.
We then returned to Quito much closer to the google estimated time with a full appreciation of the root we had to take and were left with the final task of returning the rental car. I phoned the man we rented from and he said he required 20 minutes, so we waited anxiously within our hostel. Initially we parked the car in a nearby parking lot, but as we left the car a man came up to me warning “tienes cuidado” (be careful). We weren’t entirely sure what to be concerned about, but after some minutes, we decided to move the car directly in front of the hostel and wait for the man who we rented from. Upon returning to the car, the man approached me again, and assured me that HE was protecting my car from the harms that were sure to become of it. I thanked him, and entered the car. He then approached the side window, and caused the greatest tension we have yet to face in South America: he demanded a dollar for his troubles. Extortion, at the lowest possible cost. I handed him a dollar, and that was that. Success! Only once we were officially behind the three different locked doors leading to the reception of our hostel did Alastair consider the day a success.
Our final day in Quito took us on an excursion to Cotopaxi National Park, where we planned to hike up a small (and according to Peter, distinctly unmanly) portion of the volcano to the beginning of the glacier at its peak. There were strong winds and rough terrain, but in the end we prevailed. It was quite a sight. The volcano was topped with a large glacier and featured all sorts of red, black, and brown rocks beneath its peak. The base od the Volcano also had a large band of wild horses, i didnt even know those existed!!! Once we returned to Quito we ventured into the Colonial quarter and took in amazing views beneath an epic angel statue. As I handed my camera to a frendly looking stranger at the top of the hill to take a photo of us his girlfriend jokingly whispered “you should steal it”. Upon realizing that I understood her, we all shared a laugh and got our photo taken. An interesting recognition from a local of at the least many tourists´ perceptions of Quito.
We ended off our time in Quito with the best meal of our trip so far which included avocado and potato soup and a delicious drink called Canelazo (a mix of sugar cane alcohol and juice). The (juris doctors) enjoyed a delicious meal with live music to set the mood (“Guantanameeeera”). The walls of the restaurant also featured odd puppets, one of which we are fairly sure was meant to emulate Richard Nixon.
The following morning we departed for Bogota, Colombia. Unsure of the airports layout, I instructed our fourth (juris) doctor (Thomas) to meet us just past customs. However, there was no need as we met up waiting in the line at border security. At last, reunited with our fourth caballero, and embarking on the next stage of our journey in Colombia!