Day twenty: Guayaquil to Quito


It’s our last morning at the Eco Lodge… just as we’re getting used to the rain on the tin roof. I won’t lie… we are happy to move on and get away from the damp. We have our last breakfast with Mercedes and George and strike up a conversation about the design of the eco lodges. George uses bamboo in his designs, so we share some photos from our recent trip to Bali; images of the Green School and Green Village. “Guggenheim in bamboo” he suggests.

I feel fondly for Mercedes, she is a good spirit, although of course I’m happy that our time walking in mud and wearing flip flops on wet rocks has come to an end. I’m really hoping the next place will be drier. I just want a hot bath in a clean, white bathtub, that has a plug and is all ours.

Today is the first of three travel days in a row, the most extensive travel for our family so far. Our journey starts at the bus stop in Montanita and again we don’t match to any other demographic present. The bus is pretty full yet we manage to get five seats close together.

Today’s journey has us slowing down for cows to pass (no farmer) – no iguanas or stray dogs this time. The police flag down the coach and check the driver’s papers, and this prompts him to put on a DVD. Mercedes had warned that they are often not appropriate for children, but I see this one features Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore – so it must be ok. The kids watch it, in Spanish, for the whole duration.

The film ends (with applause) exactly at the moment we pull into Guayaquil bus station. From the outside the bus station feels like a mall, so we go in, do a quick assessment and then head straight for the exit again – why are big city bus stations such unpleasant places? We catch a short taxi ride to the airport and check in (incredibly early) for our flight back to Quito.

Great news! We’re put on an earlier flight! Saving us at least two hours of airport woes, a more generous time to settle at the other end plus Andy will have more time for a conference call he has scheduled that evening. Bonus.

We have 35 minutes before the flight leaves. A quick run to the coffee shop and four nutrient-free sandwiches and a quiche later, we board the plane. The compromise for moving flights is that we are not sat together. We were allocated five middle seats all in different rows. And so… the language dance starts again. We score two seat moves meaning we now have two sets of two together with the fifth seat in the row ahead. Our eldest son volunteers to take the sole seat – his seventh flight this trip and he’s now a pro. 

Later, Andy shares with me that during the ‘seat dance’ I had said “buenas noches” as part of my gushing thanks to one of the passengers who had moved. HA! I am a such a natural, it’s untrue.

We’re reminded of the Galapagos taxi driver who was practicing his English with us and had genuinely yawned, outstretched his arms above his head and said in his best English, “Oooh I’m hungry”.

It’s our second time arriving at Quito airport and experience counts for a lot. We’re no longer on such high alert, it’s daylight, we feel safe(r) and have the added benefit of knowing exactly where to get a taxi, helping us avoid looking like lost tourists.

Learning from past mistakes, we arrive with a screen shot of the hotel booking clearing showing its name and address. Our next achievement is to find a taxi driver who can actually see the screen – this one squints, pulls the phone out and in, out and in, but no, he can’t see it. Luckily the name is easy and from us repeating it over we establish he knows it and off we go.


This time around, we opt to stay close to the airport as our flight leaves early in the morning. We found a gorgeous little place called Casa Puembo – all white interiors, tasteful, almost Scandinavian style interiors, warm showers, a football pitch, a playground, freshly cooked suppers AND the fastest internet connection we’ve had since Miami.

Items lost:

  • Mia’s pink watch (left at the Eco Lodge)

Day nineteen: Puerto López, Ecuador


We decide on a day trip to Puerto López – the main harbour servicing the whale watching trips nearby. We realise we’ve just missed the whale watching season, but given we have the choice of a damp unfinished shed, or repeating a trip to Montanita, we decide to get a taxi and head over to hang out at the fishing village for the day, stopping on the way to buy bus tickets for our trip back to Guayaquil tomorrow.

Puerto López is about 45 minutes away in a taxi (we’ve missed that day’s bus), again there’s no rear seat belts and today there’s just the three crosses hanging from the rear view mirror… oh, and dashboard carpet… what is the deal with that?

There are numerous street dogs along the route (alive I should add) which makes our journey all a bit slow and swervy. The street dogs choose to play there, sleep (yes, sleep) there, stand there and they really won’t move for a car. This is the main coastal road in Ecuador and the street dogs, on this section at least, own the road. The journey reminds us of parts of Bali, pretty poor, a bit muddy, a bit knackered and lush, lush green.

We arrive in Puerto López…


If anyone ever suggests that you go to Puerto López on the coast of Ecuador. PLEASE DON’T. Unless of course you arrive within 20 minutes of your whale watching boat departure time and you have a car waiting to collect you from the boat afterwards. It is an absolute sh!thole.


We walk amongst the fishermen, admire their catch (kind of), watch them restring their nets, shoo away about 15 street dogs, take in the number of boats emblazoned with either home-made Nike or Umbro logos (Nike won) and pondered why Adidas or Puma don’t have the same global aspirational qualities to make Ecuadorian fishermen reproduce bad copies of their logo on the side of their boats.


In total we last about an hour and a half, and that includes some pretty extensive time wasting antics AND lunch before we can’t take anymore – we are back on the dog highway on a mission to find a bar in Montanita.

This time our taxi is a beaten up old Nissan covered in Ferrari stickers and this driver means business. He is not stopping for any street dogs…. but does slow down to beep his horn for any attractive women on the street. Nice.

Our journey time is almost halved and we’re back in the salvation of a lovely Montanita bar playing Uno, buying knock-off sunglasses, eating nachos with wine and wifi.

I take back all I said yesterday Montanita, in comparison to Puerto López, you are an absolute jewel in the Ecuadorian coastline.


We retrace our steps from last night to see if we can find Mia’s jumper. Success! Mia’s jumper was at the little swimming costume shop we’d been to the day before. As luck would have it, Andy bumped into Mercedes just outside so she was able to help us ask.

On the way back to the taxi rank, we get the arm fist for not buying ceviche from a guy on the corner of the street. I don’t think he wasn’t expecting me to turn back around and see. I offered a very British nod of the head, a “thanks a lot”, a harsh stare and turned back. Bloody cold-fish-soup-selling-a.hole-in-a-pikey-hat. Sorry Montanita, my ‘jewel’ comment is revoked.

Tonight is our last night in the Eco Lodge… tomorrow we hit the road again.

Items found:

  • Mia’s jumper

Day eighteen: Montanita, Ecuador


It’s our first morning waking up in the Eco Lodge. Well, I say Eco Lodge, but this morning it feels more like an unfinished (albeit quite stylish) wooden shed.

We have all had a terrible night – it rained constantly with the noise on the tin roof keeping most of us awake. That, plus the design of the building has several gaps (let’s call them windows) which let both the rain and the damp in. Today may be a slow day.


We head back down to the main house to see Mercedes, the owner, now following the instructions she shared yesterday to keep to the path (my pretties) as the grass contains difficult-to-get-off-bugs. We have a lovely cooked breakfast in what can only be described as a bamboo workshop with art paper as our table cloth.

There are two students from France staying for a while to study with George (the Eco Lodge architect) to help create a furniture line using similar methods and materials to that of his Eco Lodges. They are very sweet and help serve the breakfast, most of which is home or at least locally made. The rain continues and we use the time for home schooling in the bamboo workshop (maths, reading and creative writing today).

Late morning and we find ourselves sat with a decent coffee in a Montanita cafe… people watching. It’s clear that Montanita is home to an eclectic mix of people… backpackers, locals, foreigners who look like they arrived a long time ago and chose to stay, some hippie-types, surfers, long term travellers, some wearing shoes and some choosing not to.

Montanita is a surfing, party town and – not for the first time – we don’t see anybody who looks like us…. a British family of five! It’s 11am and the town is just waking up from the aftermath of whatever happened last night, with some people already back on the beer. 


We take a walk along the beach and it’s giving us an unfair first impression. Many beach resorts look pretty miserable in the rain and Montanita is no exception. I’m sure it looks better with people on it, with surfers hanging out, with cafes open and sunshine reflecting on the waves.


Today though…. it’s all a bit dull and grey. We walk the coastline for a while, stumble across a dead turtle (just to add to the general ambiance), lots of jellyfish and some pretty cool green stones washed up by the sea. 


We do long jump competitions, find some swing ropes to play on and another slack-line for the children to have a go on. Today is all a very gentle amble and we decide to add ‘film night’, ‘pop corn buying’ and ‘finding Mia a new swimsuit’ to the list of things we must do today. We succeed with two and fail on one (popcorn).


We finish our Montanita visit with a marathon session of Uno, accompanied by happy-hour-gin-and-tonic while sitting on wooden pallet furniture in a Mexican restaurant. Happy days.

Items lost: 

  • Mia’s (only) jumper

Items bought:

  • New swimming costume

Day seventeen: Guayaquil and Montanita


Today is a travelling day. A harder day. A dull day. A meal management day. A home learning day. Everyone’s mood changes for the worse when we’re hungry and generally our patience levels are low. We need to get from Santa Cruz (taxi) to Baltra (ferry and bus) to Guayaquil (aeroplane) to just outside Montanita (car).

The plane journey is relatively short, made all the more exciting by one child refusing to do any school work – cleverly choosing a confined public space to exercise his refusal. Rewards are revoked, patience is tested and I sit wishing the plane journey to end. That. Or a large glass of wine to arrive (it’s 10am).

We land – the small child is intact. We’ve been told to be extra alert in Guayaquil as it has ‘an-edge’. The children all get their hands held pretty tightly through the airport and we’re met by a man mountain known as Jofre.


We exit the airport through glass doors with NO GUNS and NO DOGS stickers reversed out. Assuming that’s a message for anyone entering the airport, I now figure we’re entering a world of guns and big dogs – excellent.

Disappointingly for his size, Jofre has a surprisingly small car. We spend two and a half hours squeezed in the back with no air conditioning. Guayaquil appears to have the same high-speed-lane-hopping behaviour as Qatar, with the added bonus of no seat belts in the back. I get the children to lie down and take a nap… hold onto them tight… make a wish… and focus on the dangly cross hanging from Jofre’s rear view mirror. Whatever it takes – right?

The place is manic. At the first traffic lights we’re offered strawberries, loom bands, windmills, avocados and a street-dance (!) – all for money and mostly through the window. Jofre is very clear it’s a ‘no’.

We go past a police check point and pathetically I smile and hope my face is saying ‘honestly we are happy to be in this car, we are not, in fact, being kidnapped’.

The high volume contrariness from today’s playful child continues and only on the realisation that pocket money was indeed being taken away, one pound at a time, immediately and visibly on the pocket money phone app, did the car become quiet. Finally.

Today’s destination is an eco lodge just outside of Montanita, on the coast of Ecuador. We drive past a mini Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and Big Ben (!). A bit further we drive past pretty baron land with several precarious shacks that could come right out of the Three Little Pigs story book.

Eventually we reach the coast and Jofre takes a right along the coast road. Each ‘town’ we go through I’m sat quietly *hoping* this is not Montanita and breathing a sigh of relief as we exit the town on the otherside.


Finally we arrive at the Eco Lodge, we walk up to the top of a green field to find our home for the next three nights. We dump bags, agree on who is sleeping where and then go on the hunt for food for the evening. A $1.50 taxi ride takes us into Montanita – pizza and wine lift our spirits.

Dinner then bed. Quite simply… we survived the day.

Day sixteen: Sierra Negra Volcano

IMG_7845 2

There’s a team from REI staying at the hotel – they’re here to make a promotional video. They’ve brought a load of staff with them and are fully kitted up with cameras, GoPros, drones – the lot.


We befriend the creative team and they took the children out to the beach and help them to navigate and land their very first drone.

Here’s a film of them flying the drone.

They are a really lovely group and at the end of their trip we corner their guide and negotiate a private tour to the top of the Sierra Negra volcano the next day. It last erupted in 2005 and you can walk to the top and peer inside. It’s a 16km, pretty muddy hike – we’re warned that good walking shoes are important. Hmmm… the Clarks girl velcro trainers in green leopard skin, Adidas Absolados and F5 TRX Turf Juniors are going to be put to the test!

We get up early and are incredibly unlucky with the weather. It’s been a glorious clear week, yet today it’s overcast and drizzly. The visibility is terrible so we travel there knowing we won’t get the best experience, but our fingers are crossed that the fog may burn off as the morning develops. It doesn’t. Not really.


It does stop raining at least, so most of the hike is dry – and for about ten minutes the fog passes and we find ourselves at the top of a volcano peering in over the top. We can see the stark contrast of the green grass that we’re standing on and the black lava rocks inside – they’ve formed visible flow formations from the last eruption. Our eldest son takes great pleasure in the fact that it last erupted in the exact month he was born.


We don’t really get to see across to the other side of the crater, and before you know it the fog rolls back in and covers it all over again. Ready for another group… on another day.


Back to the hotel and we find ourselves cleaning thick sticky mud off all our trainers (they are caked) with free hotel soap and a complimentary airline toothbrush – believe me, there were several WTF moments.

IMG_7635Our time on Isabela has come to an end and we head back to Santa Cruz via a two-hour-three-boat-ride (joy) – our flight to Guayaquil leaves tomorrow morning.


– our second children’s refillable water bottle (it probably fell out the side pocket of a backpack when all the luggage was being thrown between the various taxi boats). Gutted.

Day fourteen/fifteen: Cycling around Isabela



We’ve extended! We’re going to stay five nights not four. The luxury of time really hits home this week. We see people coming and going all the time, the turnover is fast, people stay for one night, two nights, then they’re off on a cruise, off on tour. It seems most people stay in the Galápagos for less than a week.

Because we have the luxury of time, we decide not to fill the days manically and instead play on the beach, sit by a pool, hire bikes, write, read, do school work and enjoy time together as a family.

Before we started this South American trip we were lucky enough to spend a month in Bali and a month in the UK together – today Andy worked out that to reach the same number of hours spent as a full family of five, it would have taken TWO YEARS given his work commitments. THAT, is reason enough to do this trip.


Ok, so enough of the Life Is Too Short wisdom….. back to our antics….

We hire bikes for two days in a row and explore the island: here’s a video of us touring Isabela by bike. On one of the days, the cycle trip goes for 12km to see the wall of tears.

IMG_7856It’s an important historical site so named because of the number of deaths it caused to the prisoners who built it. However its significance is not appreciated by all – today I shall borrow an extract from our eldest son’s journal: “It was rubbish”.

Here’s a little video of us taken at the Iguana Beach Bar.


Day twelve/thirteen: Isabela, Galápagos


Arriving by boat to Isabela island is a bit like playing a game of wildlife bingo. After a two hour boat ride with some serious mind-over-matter-horizon-concentration, we arrive in a gorgeous turquoise bay.

Over the side of the boat a turtle swims by, blue footed boobies are on the rocks, penguins are ducking in and out of the water by the dock (hooray: check), sea lions are sunbathing on benches, pelicans dive for fish, we step over large black sea iguanas on the pathway… and to top it all off (I kid you not) three pink flamingos fly over head. We’re just laughing – you seriously couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s incredible.

First impressions: we like Isabela.

It’s much more chilled out than Santa Cruz and we struck a great deal at a pretty empty hotel that looks like it’s being refurbished. We’re all squeezed into one room, but it’s a nice room and feels luxurious compared to recent places we’ve stayed.


The Tunnels, Isabela.

During the four days we’re booked to stay here, we plan on just one organised tour – and we chose a trip out to the Tunnels to see some amazing lava formations, more snorkelling and blue footed boobies nesting.


Our tour guide.

There’s no question – this was BY FAR the best tour we had done. We see sharks, sea wolves (we now know we’ve been calling sea lions by the wrong name), turtles, golden rays, other rays, penguins. The only thing we fail to spot from their promised list were seahorses. We look quite hard, but no luck. (Have you seen our snorkelling highlights video?)

So instead of seahorses, the guide swaps them out and replaces them with… humpback whales. Hahahahahaha. They are not usually in the waters here, but he had spotted some the day before, so he returns to the same place – and there they were. MASSIVE and blowing big jets of water from their spouts. Incredible.


Blue footed boobies.

We stopped to watch a colony of blue footed boobies with their day old hatchlings – about 30cm away in some instances. The boat had taken us into the ‘tunnels’, strange lava formations both above and below the water that have created a series of networked pools. The water is still and clear so you can see a long way down. We saw several fish and a beautiful turtle. It’s not possible to snorkel here and the boat had to cut its motor in places to approach slowly and quietly.

Here’s a quick and dirty video of them:

Back on land and at the Iguana Beach Bar we bump into two Dutch brothers we’d met on the boat – they are also on a South American tour, but they’re trying to couch surf most of the way. They join us for dinner and later as we head home to bed, they go back to the Iguana bar for more – they are 22 and 24 after all!

Here’s a little video of us taken at the Iguana Beach Bar.



– There are NO ATMs on Isabela – bring cash.

– Restaurants will charge you an additional 22% if you pay by card – so bring cash!

Day eleven: Daphne and Pinzon, Galápagos


  • Sickness tablets: check
  • Snorkel gear: check
  • Wet suits: check
  • More wrong guesses on which two of the children are twins: check

An early start today – we’re off on a boat trip to the islands of Pinzon and Daphne plus a small bay north on Santa Cruz. We drive up to Baltra Crossing (a small channel of water between the islands of Santa Cruz and Baltra) and are loaded onto the small taxi boat to take us to the main boat. Adults are given life jackets… none for the children… none of them match… and Andy’s doesn’t even do up. Alarm bells start ringing.

We meet two lovely women from Germany and are unexpectedly reunited with Yoran, the 71 year old fast walker from Sweden. We were all promised an English speaking guide and lifejackets (our ill-fitting ones were given back to the taxi boat).

We find out there are no life jackets and our guide (loosest sense of the word) only speaks Spanish. Between the five adults we gather enough words and our itinerary is confirmed. We’ll go snorkelling… we’ll go around an island… and we’ll get off at a beach… we’ll fish for our lunch.

A laminated card is held up to help identity the fish we’re likely to see. Penguins have gone from you will see… to… maybe/possibly. Saying all that, the boat is clean, the lunch smells lovely and in its heyday (c. 1976) the boat would have been quite a luxurious vessel. Of course, more importantly, the kids don’t see any of the negatives, we find three loosely fitting, knackered looking life jackets in the back of a cupboard and HEY! We’re on a boat! It’s sunny! And we’re fishing! All is well.

We catch a shark – by accident – but *we* catch a shark. As it was reeled in, we saw what it was, just as it bites through the line, eats the metal fish bait and swims away. Gone.

Fishing is over and the boat speeds up. I’m still not convinced by the life jackets, so I remind the kids to roll onto their backs if they fall in.

I notice that we’re heading in the wrong direction – it looks like we’re going back to the start. We learn that we’re heading back to the harbour to collect four more people, from the same place we left over an hour ago, who have just been booked on the same tour. Remember those alarm bells?

Finally we’re back on track. The snorkelling is great and the wetsuits work well. Today we all swim with sharks, turtles, manta-rays, more fish and sea lions (no penguins, of course). Some of the footage is included in this video.

IMG_7660In the end it turns out to be a great day, with just a small pinch of annoyance. We give feedback to the tour company and are reminded of the simple life lesson: You get what you pay for.

Day six: The Galapagos Islands


We had our photo taken on the plane today. All five of us sat in a row and all happened to be using technology. One of us was creating a movie, one editing photos, two were reading books and one was building a hotel in Minecraft.

Seat-24A-lady reclined her chair as far as it could go, lent through the gap to try and quietly take a photo but the shutter-noise gave her away. Protective of our family, I gave her a look and in broken English said she was interested that we were all using technology and would I mind a photo. So, now a total stranger has a photo of our family. I find that odd.

Incidentally, the children gave our choice of Quito guest house a two or three out of ten. A bit harsh, but matching sheets and our own bathroom might have increased the score.

Today we travel to The Galapagos. We decided against a pre-booked cruise or land tour (to lower costs and increase our length of stay) and instead opted to go solo. We booked flights via Skyscanner and accommodation via Airbnb. We bought one way tickets and 7 nights accommodation has been secured in Santa Cruz. Our next commitment is a flight from Quito to Lima in 15 days time, so we just need to meander our way back in time for that.

A relatively short flight from Quito via Guayaquil and we land in Baltra, one of the islands north of Santa Cruz to be met by ‘Freddy’ a contact picked up at the ‘two or three out of ten guest house’. On exit we clearly don’t fit the usual demographic. The airport is full of backpackers in their twenties as they all watch our family walk by – seeing children outside of term time is clearly a curiosity.

They are strict on what we bring onto the islands to help preserve the national park. The plane cabin is sprayed, our hand luggage is x-rayed for contaminates on arrival and we walk through a more tasteful version of the council swimming pool foot bath – black wet rubber mats, so discrete, you may not even notice.

IMG_7478I cannot describe this place. Our eyes are in sensory overload. The terrain is like nothing I’ve ever come across before. Red earth, grey grass, bright green cactus plants, turquoise sea, crisp blue sky, black rocks, red rocks, white trees, orange and black iguanas. Then you reach the towns – much less exciting. The bus stops abruptly to let a huge iguana cross the road (I swear, I’m not making this up). Then a further quick swerve to avoid three cows. Within our first thirty minutes we have seen stunning vibrant landscapes, crabs, iguanas, cows, several brightly coloured small birds, herons, pelicans. I’m already wondering how the rest of the trip can top this. As first impressions go, this is pretty impressive.


  • You will need to pay $100 + $10 entry fee (each adult, $60 for children) on arrival. They only take cash.
  • It can go from burning hot sun to rain within an hour. Wear sunblock and pack a rain coat every day.
  • Definitely bring rain covers for your backpacks – they are usually thrown in the back of open trucks and on top of boats – they will get wet.
  • Try to get hold of the arrival forms (two types) before arrival as they take forever to complete.

Items lost:

  • Kids refillable water bottle – probably left in the taxi in Quito.

Day five: Equator, Ecuador


Today we head to Mitad del Mundo – Middle of the World – The Equator. There are two equators here, the original one and a second more accurate one (since the invention of GPS). Rather than real and not-so-real one, they prefer to be called old and new. We head to see both.

Mitad del Mundo

Mitad del Mundo

At the new equator (red line), the tour includes Ecuadorian culture and traditions – we learn how men in amazon tribes tie their bits up high with string to help avoid penis fish swimming up their urethra, how they shrink the heads of their enemies, how their spears have one end for animals and one end for humans (still used today in some parts of the Amazon where they are fighting with miners and poachers), how there are two doors in all Amazonian huts, one to come in and one to go out, to help keep bad spirits away, how the tribe wives were buried alive (dosed with sedative) alongside their husband on the male’s death.



The most alarming thing I learnt today was that the tradition of shrinking heads is still carried out today – but today it is practiced in order to fulfil international collector’s desires rather than because of any cultural tradition. Rather than wait for someone to die of natural causes and then cut the head off, remove the skull and shrink the skin, they will still choose to kill someone that has wronged them in order to fulfil the order. The middle man profits the most – heads are sold within Ecuador for $25,000 and then for more than triple around the world. The tribes, apparently, get very little. (We were told not to worry, we wouldn’t be targeted as the collectors want strong Amazonian facial features for authenticity.)

Shrunken head (right), shrunken guinea pig (left)

Shrunken head (right)

The tour includes several experiments that take place both on and around the equator. The tour guide was full of facts and the experiments were brilliant. It’s safe to say today’s trip pretty much nailed science for the kids this week. They learnt all of the following with no dramas, no negotiating, no bribery and no planning or research on our part:

  • What are northern v southern hemispheres.
  • The effect of the Earth’s rotation on the direction of wind and storms in both hemispheres.
  • The position of the sun and its effect on the depth of shadows at the equator. (In two weeks time, if we returned at midday and stood on the equator we would actually have no shadow at all.)
  • How tornados and cyclones spin in different directions as one is in the northern and one is in the southern hemisphere.
  • Forces – how it is only possible to balance a raw egg on a nail if you are exactly on the equator as it’s the only place where the force is entirely downwards with no sideways pull.
  • How easy it is to pull down a person’s raised arms when they are on the equator compared to if they stand either north or south of the equator, where they are able to resist.
  • How the equator in Ecuador is the highest point on the equator around the world.
  • How Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador is 2.1 kilometres further from the earth’s core than Mount Everest.

And then… there was the sink experiment! Does the water spiral down the plug hole in different directions if you are a) on the equator, b) in the northern hemisphere, and c) in the southern hemisphere. Watch this videoyou could probably win bets with this.

Oh and here is the video of our ‘balancing an egg on a nail’ experiment.

On the way back we hiked down into Pululahua Volcano, which is now green fields, inhabited and farmed! Well… when I say hiked, what I really mean is skidded down on a lot of loose stones, desperately hoping that no one took a tumble as I had forgotten to bring any form of first aid supplies. It appears that Clarks girl’s velcro trainers and two sets of Nike’s football/astroturf boots may be an inadequate choice to hike down a volcano. To top it off, as we hiked back up, trying to cope with the effects of being altitude novices, a lady who lives down in the valley literally sprinted past us on the same rumble we’d been skidding all over twenty minutes earlier.

Later at Notavalo Market (Cuicocha Lake) we met this gorgeous couple selling pots:


Gorgeous couple we met at the market.


  • The visitor experience at the new equator is significantly more impressive than at the old one. From our experience, people get their photo taken at the old one, but you actually learn stuff at the new one. They are very close so you can easily do both – both have entry fees.
  • Trips into the Amazon must be taken with a guide/company to avoid areas where miners, poachers and tribes are in conflict.
  • You can arrange to stay with one of the tribes – just be aware, you must wear the same dress as them.

Day four: Quito, Ecuador


9th September 2014.

We arrived in Quito last night. It was dark, late and we’d arranged to be met at the airport. We were advised that we’d need two cars to fit us all in. Quito has its safety problems and we’d also arrived pre-briefed about pickpockets, bag snatchers and kidnappers (wanting cash for the safe return of your kids). So for the first time in my life, I found myself sat on the plane contemplating a ‘kidnap-avoidance-taxi-planning-strategy’. Who should go with who? If I were a kidnapper what would be the most difficult combination that might make me not bother?

We collect our bags and have a quick pep talk on holding hands, keeping back packs on, no-one going to the toilet alone and no parent leaving the kids by the sinks while they’re in a cubicle. If we weren’t on high-alert already – we are now. We’re ready. We go through the doors. We’re almost the last out. There’s no smiling face with a name board. Bollocks.

We try to style it out and look in total control and that’s when we learn our second important lesson of the trip: If you do in fact save important ‘next step’ information outside of an email to avoid the no-wifi-issue, remember where the hell you put it. I’m all over my iPhone, the contact details are not in the notes section, not in my photos, there’s no wifi to check emails. (The next day, I find it written down on a piece of paper. A piece of PAPER!)

Andy does three laps of the arrivals hall to try to locate our transportation while I do a Jason-Bourn-style assessment of where (i.e. who) the risks are. At that moment, everyone in the arrivals hall is a potential kidnapper in my eyes (not all that helpful, I admit).

What seems like an eternity later, our airbnb host Irene scurries up to us and holds a piece of paper with my name on it. Safe! We head to the cars outside and I ditch my pre-conceived taxi configuration in the belief that I’m tempting fate, and we simply go with boys in one car and girls in the other.

Forty-five minutes later, we all arrive at our airbnb accommodation in La Mariscal. No-one was kidnapped.

First impressions are: it’s perfectly fine, not gorgeous, but perfectly fine. We’re all in the same room (positive: given my current kidnapping obsession), bathrooms are shared and down the hall (negative: two kids may get up in the night) and I would try my hardest to ignore the loud, vibrant, mismatching animal print sheets. We put our best cheerleader heads on and the kids were excited about the adventure.

A pretty broken sleep later, with many accompanied trips to the loo, we receive a great briefing from Irene the owner of the guest house on places to go and things to see. Without her realising, her advice turned into a day of curfews. We can walk through the park in the morning but in the afternoon we should walk around it. We can go to the Historic Old Town but make sure we’re out of there by 5pm…. and because it’s a weekday, when we go for dinner in La Mariscal make sure we have left by 10pm! She shares advice about bus travel; they will be very crowded, don’t have anything in any pockets and any backpacks are to be carried in front of you. Taxis are between $1-$4. It’s settled, we’re getting taxis.

We pick up a local sim card and explore the city, on foot to start. We head through Carolina park, the kids play on zip wires and climbing frames and then move onto the ‘Old Town’. We avoid shoe shining children in Plaza Independencia, watch a dance troop perform to many many Michael Jackson songs outside Palacia de Gobierno, chase pigeons in San Francisco Plaza and climb Quito’s Basilica.

Quito’s Basilica

This was today’s highlight – we climbed to the very top of the spire and inside the clock face. No health and safety regulation in the whole of Great Britain would have allowed us to have the same experience back home. It is steep, it was scary, there are no nets and not a whole load of protective fencing. The children received a lot of kudos from other travellers who stopped short of reaching the very stop – if they weren’t with us, I’m pretty sure I would have bailed after the second set of stairs too.

Quito’s Basilica: This is a video of our trip to the top.


  • Local currency is US dollars (there’s no alternatives).
  • It’s a requirement to carry your passport with you. A photocopy is fine – it’s also often needed to enter tourist attractions and we needed it to buy a sim card.
  • There are two entrances to the Basilica – one to climb to the top and one to go inside the church – both have separate entrance fees.