Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ode to Breakfast, Ecuadorian Style

It is my last morning in Quito before heading off to the Amazon for our Earthwatch program.  Since I won't have access to internet for that time, I wanted to post one quick blog about one of my favorite things about Quito: breakfast!  I have gone to a different eatery every morning, just getting a sampling of the different types of breakfast, and each one has been delicious and extremely filling.  Most days I eat around 9am, and don't need another meal until atleast 5 or 6pm.  Breakfast here is cheap, and readily available.  Most restaurants will sell either ham and cheese sandwiches, desayuno continental (continental breakfast), or desayuno completo.  The difference between the latter two options, is usually eggs, and some other sort of protein. 
I have included here three different versions of adesayuno completo ("complete breakfast") from three different restaurants.  The standard inclusions are always:
  • some type of juice (guava and mandarin are the most common), and I have to say mandarin juice is unbelievable.  It is sweet and light and incredibly refreshing.
  • hot milk served with a folger's crystals type of coffee powder and sugar to make an instant coffee...  sort of a low-budget cappucchino.
  • a hot cheese sandwhich which can have ham, too, if you prefer
  • eggs your way.  Most common served revueltos (scrambled), but you may see in the last place, they actually added onion and tomato, too, which was delicious
As I mentioned, in a complete breakfast there is always another part...

I found breakfast number one at this great little restaurant on the main street of Rio Amazonas.  The extra part of this breakfast was a local favorite:  una humita.  It's similar to a tamale (a roll of corn meal steamed in corn husks), but the corn meal is slightly sweet, and instead of meat and potatoes in the middle, it is a few pieces of local cheese.  With a bottle of water, the total for this meal was $2.75.

Day 2, brought seco de pollo, stewed chicked with rice.  Delicious, and filling!  My bill was $2.60.

Day 3 was spent at a little restaurant on Calle 6 de diciembre, where they also served seco de pollo in a generous portion, adding as well a yummy slice of avocado.  This was also the first time I tried mandarine juice.   Yummmmm.  All for only $3.

So as you can see, you can eat really well here in Ecuador.  The food is clean, fresh, filling and nutritious. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Climbing to New Heights in Quito

This summer, I am doing something I new...  I am revisiting a place I have already been!  Ironic, huh?!  Usually I am so busy seeing something new, that revisiting a place, no matter how amazing it is, slips lower down on the list of priorities.  So here I am in Quito, Ecuador for the second time.  Last summer, I never got a chance to post about Quito, so I am using a mixture of images from last year and this year to share a little bit about what Quito has to offer visitors.
Part of what makes Quito so cool, is that it is nestled into a valley at the base of the Pichincha volcano.  It is the second highest capital in Latin America, at 2850m/9350ft.  This makes for spectacular views, variable weather, and occasional bouts of altitude sickness if you are not careful!  But because of this, you will find that many of the coolest things to do here involve climbing up things and looking down.  Here's the first example.
One of my favorite memories from last summer was riding the Teleférico.  It's a cable car (much like a ski gondola) that slowly carries you to 4050m/13287ft.  From there you have magnificent views of the whole city, a delicious stand for vendors of local foods, and a horse coral if you want to ride instead of walk.  There is still much more of the volcano ahead, and many choose to hike.  I had never been that high before (outside of a plane, of course), and was amazed to find how much of a struggle it was to climb at altitude.  I probably hiked up another 800 vertical feet, but it got progressively more challenging to breathe.  After a while, I was stopping every minute or so, my chest pulling fast, deep breaths, trying to get enough oxygen.  It was amazing to feel just how much harder even climbing 20 feet became.  As I am sure you can imagine, I never made it to the 15728' summit of Pichincha.  But I'm ok with that.  I'll leave that high altitude stuff to the crazy people, achem, Irene.

High altitude flowers are so short!  I have never seen a daisy or dandelion with only a 1" stem!

Another one of the must-sees in Quito is to take a taxi to the middle of the world.  El Mitad del Mundo is said to sit on the exactly on the equator, based upon measurements by a French explorer in 1736.   The focus is a large monument, sitting in the middle of a compass-like circle, with a long painted yellow line, meant to mark exactly where the equator is.  Many a tourist has snapped a picture with each foot in a different hemisphere.   You can either walk the stairs or take an elevator to the top of the monument, getting a nice view of the surrounding peaks and neighborhoods.  There is also a huge park with small exhibits to commemorate indigenous insects, animals, reptiles, handicrafts, and traditional way of living.

You may have noticed that above, I said that this monument is said to sit on the exact equator....  but believe it or not, the measurements taken in 1736 were very close, but not exact.  Exactly 150m behind this monument is a different museum that claims to be really on the equator.  It is called Museo de Sitio Intiñan.  It is jam packed with little bits of information about Ecuador.  They have displays on traditional homes, healing methods from the Amazon, and some farm animals to pet. 

What they are most known for, however, is the series of experiments they do to demonstrate the effects of being on the equator.  They do a number of activities that demand audience participation, meant to show you how the pull of the earth changes, they even pour water down a drain so that you can see it change direction, but my favorite of all was balancing on egg.  I never would have thought it could be done, and I nearly gave up many times....  but after many, many, MANY attempts, I was able to balance a raw egg on the head of a nail.  Twice, in fact.    I even got a certificate, but the egg didn't stay long enough to catch a picture, so you'll just have to take my word for it!

Another of my favorite adventures in Quito was visiting La Basilica in the Old Town.  It is a church, begun in 1926, but never finished.  It is in the traditional gothic style, replete with archways, stained glass windows and gargoyles. 

Both the inside and out were impressive, but I have to admit that climbing the back tower was my favorite part.

Once inside the church, you must cross a rather rickety-looking pathway of planks to cross over the inner church area and make it to the back.  You can see in the photos where you are literally walking on top of the arches in the church ceiling.  Once you make it across this walkway, that I think might even give Indiana Jones pause, you begin to climb the ladders.

Once you reach the top, though you are rewarded with wonderful views of the city.  It's worth the extra hearth palpitations and sweaty palms.

So these are just a few of my favorite things to see in Quito.  There is so much more, that will be in subsequent posts.  I hope you enjoyed it, and please definitely consider coming down for a visit, because this place is full of exciting things to do!