The day has finally arrived! My South American adventure starts here, although it very nearly didn’t thanks to Amsterdam’s public transport, but that’s a story for another day. I waved goodbye to my teary partner at Schiphol – who got even more teary once he’d returned home to discover that I’d left him a box containing a note for every day I’m away – and boarded my KLM flight to Quito, where I’d spend the next 11 hours feeling queasy from the boozy fumes emanating from the Russian man I was seated next to who was quaffing multiple cans of Heineken like it was Sprite. I guess this isn’t surprising given that beer was classified as a soft drink in Russia until 2013. No really, look it up.
I usually sleep on planes but I found myself enthralled by a Dutch movie called Brasserie Valentijn. The whole movie takes place in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day and is a very clever observation on relationships. It’s styling and quirkiness reminded me of the French film Huit Femmes (Eight Women). I highly recommend both. I struck out early on the Dutch movie front however as the next two I viewed weren’t quite so good: Mannen Harten (Manly Hearts) is a watchable comedy with a Love Actually-esque feel about it; Broers (Brothers) was not so watchable and I switched off at halfway. I also watched Snatched, a comedy starring Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn in which they get kidnapped. In Ecuador. Good choice Gary.
Towards the end of the flight, we were rewarded with stunning views of the Andes. I was somewhat surprised when we touched down as I hadn’t anticipated landing on top of a mountain! From disembarking the plane to getting in a taxi took all of 15 minutes. The immigration staff were welcoming and friendly with big smiles – take note United States – and I exited the airport sporting a similarly wide grin. The drive to Quito was spectacular, although I was somewhat perturbed when we turned off the smooth highway to continue on a broken, narrow road up the mountainside. After a suspension-testing five minutes, I was thinking that it’s a good job buses don’t use this route given the limited width of the road, when I looked up to see that hurtling towards us was in fact a big green bus. My taxi driver coped admirably and was also very friendly, pointing things out to me in Spanish to which I dutifully nodded while confidently saying ‘vale, vale‘.
Given that over the next few months I will be mainly camping in the wild, camping in campsites or staying in hostels, I decided to treat myself to a nice apartment for the first few days while I acclimatise. I arrived at my AirBnB digs and upon entering I vowed never to leave. To be greeted with a jacuzzi bath and an incredible view of Quito after the long journey from Amsterdam nearly made me cry. The owner actually lives in Brussels but the security guard, Segundo – which I subsequently learned means ‘second’ in Spanish – showed me around and was obviously used to dealing with overly emotional gringos, handling my wonderment with barely concealed bemusement. Segundo doesn’t speak English, but with a combination of hand gestures, my French language ability and the smattering of Spanish I know from warbling along to Josh Groban and J-Lo songs, we managed to communicate adequately.
Having settled in I walked to the local supermercado to stock the kitchen for the next few days, but I hadn’t quite bargained for how steep the streets are in the Old Town. It made sense given the view I’d been afforded, but my brain wasn’t working too well at this point. Quito is 9,350 feet above sea level, while Amsterdam is 6 feet below sea level, and the difference it makes is astonishing. After just two hours, I developed a headache and was struggling to take in enough oxygen, so I decided to drink in the view rather than another cerveza and get an early night.
My plan was, however, scuppered by the neighbourhood perros who are not only numerous, but very vocal. I love dogs and have managed to persuade my partner to allow us to have one upon my return from this trip (no takesies-backsies Ken!) but this cacophonous canine choir was not conducive to sleep. Thus, I sought out the amazing earplugs I recently bought in Amsterdam having discovered them when I needed something to combat the noise from my new upstairs neighbours who, shortly after moving in, were enthusiastically christening every room at very frequent intervals. Anyway, after ten minutes of searching, the sad realisation dawned on me that I had left the silicon silencers in my bathroom at home. Thankfully, jetlag welcomed me into her embrace and I fell into a much needed nine-hour slumber, feeling excited and nervous about what the next 102 days have in store for me.