Published: Nov 23, 2022
Today started with an early morning local breakfast: Tigrillo, Mote pillo, toast with guava jam, and guanabana and tamarillo juice. We then set off for a long sightseeing tour that began with the Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world) in the city of Calacali, further into the Andes. Here we were able to straddle both hemispheres at the same time, standing by the monument that marks where the equator passes through the country!
One leg in the southern hemisphere, one leg in the northern hemisphere
Next stop: Ecuador’s cloud forest. On the trail upwards, we saw how the clouds filling the volcanic caldera crater formed a fog that blanketed the luscious green cecropia trees and their hairy white leaves. We learned that Ecuador is surrounded by many active volcanoes and is frequently the target of earthquakes – to my surprise, I was told that yesterday there was an earthquake whilst I was sleeping, reaching 6.0 on the Richter scale! And apparently that’s the norm here…
We then reached Hummingbird’s Paradise, home to hundreds of hummingbirds in so many colours and shades. They aren’t scared of people, so we were able to get really close to them and feed them sugar-water. It was mesmerising, both in a physical sense and in an abstract sense, to come face-to-face with species of birds that I’d never seen before, and yet are the equivalent to seeing pigeons for Ecuadorians. It’s strange to inhabit the world with people who see a completely different world on a daily basis.
The Cloud Forest
On the topic of being in a different world, the hilly city of Quito is full of contradictions. There’s the San Francisco church with seven tons of gold covering its walls in glowing sheets, there’s Quito cathedral, also in the historical centre, and there are art treasures, museums, and beautiful balconies. But then we also saw multitudes of starving stray dogs fighting in the streets with police breaking them up, we saw chickens roaming free, and we were warned not to walk alone too far from where we were staying, as the theft and crime in the areas nearby were very real, very dangerous prospects. A confusing co-existence of wealth and deprivation, all centred within the same few miles…similar to Coca, but more pronounced here.
I think my favourite part of today was probably the simplest part. Before lunch, we headed to a local fruit shop to try Salak (think cross between an apple and a peach), Chicle (the plant used to make chewing gum), red bananas, and Oritos (baby bananas). I was shocked by how unique the tastes were, and I had a moment where I realised how odd it was going to be to return to London’s fruits and vegetables after having my palate opened up to such a new, rich world. The owners of the shop couldn’t hold back their laughter as we walked around taking pictures of their ordinary foods, looking like absolute tourists. I wish I could bottle all the flavours I experienced today and take them with me.
More food after that, obviously. Empanadas, fried Yuca and plantains in chilli sauce, plantain soup, and plantain patties, before we drove back to the hotel in the late afternoon. I think I’m turning into a giant plantain at this point.