Anyone who knows me well will tell you I’m not a morning person. However, thanks to jetlag, I was awake early enough to witness an amazing sunrise in Quito. Unfortunately, I was a little non compos mentis at this hour and didn’t think to take some snaps in time, although the short video above should give you an idea.

I decided to get up and explore the city while it was still relatively cool. Unfortunately, I’m something of a sweater – as my friends who celebrated my recent birthday will attest to, and unlike my friend, Steffen, who can dance for hours without producing nary a bead of sweat – and it took all of forty minutes before the combination of the Old Town’s steep inclines and the altitude persuaded me to take it easy for the rest of the day. Thankfully, Ecuadorian Netflix has season three of How to Get Away with Murder (take note Netherlands) and I was happy to spend the evening in the company of the wonderful Viola Davis.

I awoke the next morning feeling much better, and by that I mean it no longer felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest, so I decided to go for a hike in the surrounding mountains. I took a cab to the TelefériQo, a cable car which takes you a further 4,000 feet higher (the second highest cable car in the world no less), and to the starting point for the walk. Coming from Amsterdam where taxi fares are the 6th most expensive in the world, I struggled to keep the shock from my expression when the driver charged me the grand sum of $3.

I’d read online that the queues for the cable car can be up to an hour long, but due to my early arrival I was the only one in my carriage and was whisked straight to the top. Many reviews online commented on how the increase in altitude can be tough, so I spent some time sitting down while looking at the incredible views of the sprawling city and surrounding volcanos from this vantage point of 13,500ft, but after 10 minutes I felt no worse and decided to explore a bit further afield. During the next two hours spent hiking on the mountain, I only saw four other people. One guy was determined to get to the top but I wasn’t confident I had the required four hours of additional hiking in me so I descended.

I spent the afternoon relaxing (read: gulping in air) before heading out to try some Ecuadorian food for the first time. One of the things I had been most looking forward to on this trip was trying a range of cuisines of which I didn’t have much experience. So I bypassed the restaurant offering burgers for $1 and ended up at La Purisima which wasn’t too far from the apartment. After negotiating the una mesa para uno por favor, I was excited to see a menu filled with local dishes. I plumped for an appetizer of bonitisimas, a traditional savoury Ecuadorian dish of black corn encasing a potato and cream cheese filling, followed by Chancho ahumado como en Quinindé. That’s smoked oven roasted brisket to you and me. The pork was served in a potato, egg and mint ‘sauce’ which at first I was a bit wary of, but it was pretty nice. Egg and mint, who knew?! I decided to walk the meal off back to the apartment, although some streets seemed a little sketchy in the dark so I quickened my pace up the hills. Not my best idea given that I spent the next 20 minutes gasping for breath on the stairwell before heading to bed. 

Today is my last day in Quito and I’ve really enjoyed the past few days, despite the altitude headaches. Everyone I’ve interacted with has been friendly and accommodating of my appalling Spanish. A smile never seems far from their lips either. I’ve also liked feeling tall for a change, something that never happens back home in the Netherlands where the average male stands at 6ft / 184cm.

This evening I met with my fellow tour group travellers and it’s the first night of room sharing. Fingers crossed I don’t snore. Check in was slightly bizarre in that not only was I given a key (attached to a maraca naturally) but also a remote control for the TV. We set off early doors tomorrow to drive into the Amazon for some jungle trekking. I have a great fear of spiders having been subjected to the film Arachnophobia in my formative years, and generally enquire of men on a first date if they can handle the eight-legged nightmares on my behalf should we ever end up living together.  Needless to say, I didn’t get second dates very often. Fingers crossed we don’t come across any tarantulas in the next four days, or if we do, that someone in the group doesn’t mind a strange British man grabbing onto them for dear life!

Tres, dos, uno….ya!

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.