We crossed the border from Peru in the south and went straight to Quito. These are our first impressions of Quito: We immediately found Ecuador to be an exciting country and with a lovely capital.
This article is part of a travelogue from of a five month journey in 1987-1988 to several countries in South America: Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile.
(Here is an introduction to our visit to Ecuador at the time of publishing: We entered Ecuador from Peru in the south, and left the same way. When we arrived we went straight to Quito and the surroundings of the capital. We decided to attend a language school there for a couple of weeks before going southwards along a string of towns in the Ecuadorian Andes. Our stay would last for about a month.)
Tuesday 10.11.1987, Chiclayo – Tumbes – Quito
To the border and across
This morning we first took a collectivo (car, 25 intis, half a doller US) to Zarumilla where Peruvian authorities have their border control. It was a swift control. Then we stepped inside another collectivo to Aguas Verdes, the actual border town (5-10 intis), and walked along the main road to a bridge across a river marking the border.
There was a control post on the Peruvian side, then we continued up the main street of the Ecuadorian town of Huaquillas to the immigration authorities. After a long wait we were provided with some cards to fill out, and then had to join yet a queue. (Why don’t they just leave the cards to be picked up?) We were given a 90 days permit like we asked for.
There are a number of money exchangers on the bridge to Peru. They are sitting on foldable chairs with calculators in their hand and a black briefcase on their lap. According to our South American Handbook they are utterly dishonest. As we had no other choice – there are no banks before Machalafurther north – we bargained a rate of 280 sucres to a dollar. This is apparently a standard rate according to a British girl who spoke perfect RP (Received Pronunciation).
Going to Quito
We then bought a bus ticket at Panamericana International for about 800 sucres (less than three dollars!) for a 13 hour trip and 580 km to Quito. The departure was at ten this morning.
The bus took us across the lowlands until the evening with a lot of banana trees along the road. We then commenced the ascent towards Quito situated at an altitude of 2850 metres.
In Quito we ended up on a bus terminal without a clue as to where the city centre was. We found an alright hotel close by and had something to eat. We were dead tired.
[A currency note. 280 sucres to a $US. Later the rate changed to 245.]
Wednesday 11.11.1987, Quito
When we went out the next morning we discovered that our hotel was situated right in the middle of things; the old town.
- Hotel Interamericano. Maldonado Street, right below Plaza Santo Domingo. We paid 1200 sucres (4.3 USD) for a room with three beds. They didn’t have a double but charged us the same price. Bath, shower (7-12 am), large, clean and nice. Map.
A fantastic city! The atmosphere is totally unique. Quito lies in valley between high mountains and is divided into an old and a new part. As we walked along the narrow streets with white chalked and blue painted door and window frames of the buildings from the old colonial era, we got the feeling of wanting to stay here long.
There were small shops around, Indians in strange hats and traditional costumes, business men in suits, easy going traffic with rickety buses, and good cafés and restaurants. There was a fine mix of old and new “civilisation” and tradition. Cheap and clean. Really nice.
Right behind the pretty Plaza de Independencia we found the post office. There were two letters waiting for me and one for Bo. We sat down on the plaza and read them. We then went to a restaurant and replied the letters to our mothers.
Letter to my family
Quito, Ecuador 11th of November 1987
I was right, there were two letters waiting for me when I dropped by the post office this morning. Thank you very much.
We came here last night, totally exhausted after an initial 9 hour night bus to a border town, fixing entry permits and then jumping directly on a 13 hour bus straight to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. We did not see much of the scenery on the way, but we noticed that banana production is the big thing in this country. There were rows upon rows with banana trees.
The Ecuadorian border town was funny. There was a slow and cumbersome bureaucracy at the immigration authorities. We had to wait in line to get a card to fill in with names and personal information, and then another line just to hand in the finished card – instead of just handing out the tourist entry cards in the first place. But this is South America. We got 90 days as we asked for. It is good to have an abundance of time.
This busy border town had no banks where we could exchange money. Instead there were many unofficial money exchangers. On the bridge over the river to Peru they sat in a long row, all with a calculator in their hand and an attaché case on their lap. Weird. We checked the rates and exchanged in the end with a guy giving a particularly good rate. Judging from the situation we found it wise to be careful.
In Quito we found a hotel near the bus stop. It was a large, nice room and a bath with hot water (a luxury) for 2 dollars a person. And that is a rather expensive place. Ecuador is incredibly cheap. The 13 hour bus trip we took yesterday cost us less than 3 dollars each, covering 600 km.
When we woke up and went out we found to our surprise that the hotel was right in the city centre. It is a very beautiful city, with old colonial architecture and impressive buildings. There is a great atmosphere around us, nice parks, small shops and high mountains hovering around us on all sides.
Quito itself is situated 2800 metres above sea level. We are going to stay here a while. We figure on staying in Ecuador two-three weeks so send letters to Lima the moment you get this. Your letters took 10 days to get here.
Thanks for news from home. This state of emergency you are mentioning mother, is unknown to us here and to the girl in the tourist information office. On the other hand there was a single day general strike. No danger. The crocodile in my girlfriend’s canoe in the Amazon was real enough.
Rest of the day
We then went off to Banco Central where there was supposed to be a couple of good museums – and there were.
I forgot to mention that we on the bus trip yesterday, particularly in the south, on a number of occasions had to show our passports to military controllers. Here we did not get by with our ISIC card. We two foreigners had to leave the bus to write down various information while the locals where being controlled inside the bus.
My mother mentioned in her letter something about a state of emergency in Ecuador and Bo’s mother wrote about the same. It struck us that the controls had something to do with this. On the other hand military controls are quite common in the south according to the South American Handbook and Quito seems quite peaceful with far less military and police than in Peru. At the tourist information office they knew nothing of a state of emergency, only of a one day general strike. Our guess is that someone in Norway has misinterpreted the whole thing.
At the tourist office on Plaza de Independencia we received some brochures and a city map. We also bought a map of Ecuador (150 sucres, 0.5 $).
Later we had dinner at Pizza Hut. Good, but Peppe’s at home is better.
I have caught a slight cold and am rather ridden by fever. Bo’s cold is far better.
Thursday 12.11.1987, Quito
We had a very good breakfast on a very good little restaurant at a very good price (0.8 USD).
We exchanged money at the Banco Central. There is apparently no black market to speak of in Ecuador. (Yet a positive signal of a civilised and good country.)
We took a taxi (a dollar) up on the Cerro Panecillo. It is a top 180 metres above the city with a huge Virgin America statue on top. Good view.
Some Indians, colourful, were selling carpets and other textiles, colourful, at probably colourful tourist prices. We fell for a carpet and bargained it down from 5500 to 4300 sucres (15 USD). The price may be higher up here than elsewhere but the carpet was nice and really cheap so we struck the deal. We walked back down the hill.
We went into a couple of churches. In the morning we saw the Cathedral and in the afternoon Santo Domingo. The latter was the most beautiful and had a green lung right next to it, encircled by high walls and arched hallways.
This afternoon we also went into a supermarket to check out the conditions. We came out with a Martini Rosso for two dollars and had us a really nice wine and talking evening in our hotel room.
The next chapter: This is my story from the world’s most famous Amerindian market town, Otavalo, and a very interesting guided trip to the villages around.
Read the introduction to this journey
View a full screen map of the journey
Click to view my entry about Quito, the World Heritage Site