It was a smooth late-night landing in Quito, after leaving Calama and bouncing through Santiago. After using some B-grade online booking engines we finally found a hotel room in the city which was otherwise full with attendees for a political symposium.
A planned sleep-in was disrupted early in the morning by the noise of a crowd. Peering through the window sheers across the street, we could see the athletic track and school yard full with rows of blue and grey camouflaged military soldiers exercising and responding when called to attention. Now that we were up it was ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Feliz Cumpleanos’ for Dave and our second birthday celebration on the road.
Waffles at a small Swiss-operated cafe culturally mixed us up, but by the evening we were celebrating with the flavours of traditional Ecuadorian soups, Peruvian inspired ceviches and sipping Pisco sours.
We took taxis around the city, passing alongside urban greenspaces with skateboard / BMX parks, craft fairs and playgrounds - the city’s people shared the public space, laying picnic blankets out one next to the other. Kids formed transient bike and scooter gangs before an ad-hoc football (soccer) game would spring up from the turf-like blades of grass. It made us happy to walk through the parks and see them being loved, explored and appreciated.
The Galapagosian iguana gargoyles perched high above the checkerboard marble and stone monochrome of the colonial churches watched as visitors celebrated Palm Sunday. Andean costumed worshippers wore semi-translucent masks, decorative feather headdresses and long robes. A ‘Superman’ dressed character had a group gathered around a tree and was whirling and twirling a thick caramel like substance around like a pottery wheel. As the rain started to fall we hustled to a nearby restaurant past street vendors selling watermelon and a frothy coloured meringue dessert.
We drove by the plain-looking facade of Jeff’s ‘factory’. Inside a small office / reception area he introduced himself and taught us the basics of chocolate more properly referred to as cacao when talking about the local Ecuadorian, high quality bars and bonbons that he produces for top restaurants, hotels, some client families and the export market. Jeff’s small operation focuses on the downstream production of end consumer product but he is very conscious and aware of his upstream suppliers. We learned how the large cacao beans are harvested, dried, and processed and how higher cacao content does not necessarily mean higher quality. Ecuador exports some of the highest quality cacao in the world. A close friend of Jeff’s owns a farm and produces a specialty crop of cacao which is pre-sold years in advance to discerning customers around the world. We purchased a small box of chocolate treats and did our best not to let them melt as we ran a few preparatory errands in advance of our departure to Isabela Island (Galapagos) the following day.
Swim goggles, peanut butter, trailrunning shoes, coffee and cheese - and we were set with some basics for our trip to the archipelago. An early morning drive from Quito to the airport, special Galapagos National Park screening, a three-hour commercial flight to Baltra (via Guayaquil) and then a 30-minute eight-seater Emetebe flight (complete with our Rasta co-pilot) to Isabela and we deplaned into the humidity and sea air. A pick-up truck transfer to our palm tree ensconced rental apartment and then we were back out on foot walking the beach, meeting the local iguanas and shopping the central market for nuts, rice, eggs, canned beans, corn, and a few fresh coconuts. Hil made fresh almond milk while Dave wrestled, sweat and hacked at the coconuts to open them for the water and pulp.
The humid night was abuzz with critters, birds and the ocean waves rolling in just a few meters away. After caramelized bananas and french toast for breakfast we walked along the wooden path to Concha Perla. Snorkelling around the protected bay we got familiar with the tides and the various volcanic features and creatures in the bay. Seals lounged on the raft platform while others looped and spun around us in the water. The colourful schools of fish darted around, shimmering in the sun to avoid the hungry seals while the rhythmic and calm sweeps of the sea turtle fins offered a peaceful guide to follow around the rocky basin as they ate sea weed and occasionally surfaced to breathe.
With fins and gills, whiskers and shells we were excited to get to know our new neighbours over the coming week.
Something in every direction.