From the movie Casablanca: “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” I’ve just finished up my second week here in Quito, Ecuador, and that’s exactly how I feel. Click on the photo to the left to get a better understanding of what I mean.
I arrived in Ecuador via Colombia two weeks ago. The southernmost country in Central America is Panama, but you cannot continue your travels into South America by land at this time. Why you ask? There is a place called the Darien Gap separating Panama from Colombia. It is a dense, boggy jungle inhabited by FARC guerrillas and bandits—basically it’s a No Man’s Land.
Therefore, to get from Panama to Colombia (or vice versa) you must fly, or you can travel by boat for about the same price as flying (but it can be problematic to schedule, and takes about 3 days longer). I elected to fly.
So, flying from Panama City I entered Colombia via Bogota, and then continued on to Cali. I stayed in Cali for about 1-1/2 months trying to get my Apple MacBook Pro repaired, an effort that eventually failed. I will try to write more about Colombia in coming posts (if time permits), but suffice it to say that: Colombia is a magnificent country, and is nothing like American propaganda would lead you to believe (just like the erroneous information we, as Americans, are deluged with about Cuba). A few quick observations about Colombia: It is relatively inexpensive, the people are incredibly warm and welcoming, the food is awesome and the women are beautiful.
Leaving Cali I ventured farther south through Popayan, Pasto and finally Ipiales. Ipiales is a short distance from La Frontera (the border) and Ecuador. Crossing the border on foot, with my pack, I cleared immigration and customs, and then proceeded to Quito, Ecuador by bus (a 6 hour ride). Traveling the highlands (in this case the Andes mountains) by bus can be hair-raising to say the least. Reaching altitudes in excess of 10,000 feet, with precipitous drop-offs and Kamikaze-like bus drivers, is an experience not soon to be forgotten.
Quito is impressive. With a population of approximately 2.7 million people it is big. High-up in the Andes, at an altitude of 9,300 feet, it is surrounded by numerous snow-capped volcanos (some of which are active). The volcano Cotopaxi (not too far distant from Quito) is in the midst of an eruption as we speak. My hotel CarpeDM (a beautifully renovated casa) is conveniently located in the heart of Centro Historico, and is very inexpensive. I pay $5.00 USD per night ($150 USD per month) for a beautiful private room with a private bath (with unlimited hot water and fresh towels) and unlimited free Wi-fi. The room is cleaned daily and kept sparkling. The hotel’s name CarpeDM is a takeoff of the latin Carpe diem, literally: to seize the day.
Food is also inexpensive, $1.00 USD will buy you a large chicken or cheese empanada and coffee for breakfast. Not enough? $2.50 USD will buy you eggs (fried or scrambled), white rice with vegetables, chicken, bread and cheese, juice and coffee (all large portions). Dinner isn’t much more, averaging $2.50 to $6.00 USD. Bottom line, living in Quito is a bargain—I anticipate a monthly budget of $400 to $600 USD per month. The plan is to spend 3 to 6 months here before moving on.
I will use Quito as a home base while visiting and exploring the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon river basin, and it will also give me time to complete my new photography coffee table book, tentatively titled: Sojourner, Trekking Central America. I’m sure that many posts relative to my stay in Ecuador will follow. There is still more to say about Panama and Colombia too, but it is difficult to look back when you’re moving rapidly forward—but I will try.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler
Reporting from Quito, Ecuador