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 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.