We took a ½ hour drive north of Quito to the Mitad del Mundo (“Middle of the World”). At the Equator, there is a monument, with a museum of indigenous Ecuadorian people inside. There is also a bright yellow line demarking 0 degrees latitude. Of course we, along with hundreds of other tourists (mostly Ecuadorian), snapped several pictures of ourselves straddling and standing on the line!! There was an Ecuadorian band playing and most of the tourists were singing along and dancing. The whole place was very festive. We bought t-shirts to commemorate our visit.
Upon our return to Quito, Milton took us to the local mall to buy binoculars (for bird/animal sightings in the Rain Forest and the Andes), a rain jacket for Kristen, who forgot to pack her new Gore-Tex jacket, and English books. Milton negotiated a 12% discount for us on the binoculars and jacket.
We tried to go to dinner at La Choza (Milton’s recommendation) but it was closed, so we went to La Rondo based on taxi driver recommendation. Very good dinner! Great dumplings to start with spicy salsa, corn meal dish, great potato cheese soup, then veal with carrots and mushrooms/potatoes. Our taxi driver waited for us the entire time we were eating dinner because we were in a questionable area ($2 + $5) – the security guard outside the restaurant had shotgun!!
After the wine at dinner, we decided to continue things at the hotel casino. Supposedly, there are only 8 casinos in Quito, and our hotel had one of them. It was very different than Las Vegas -- down in the basement and most blackjack tables had minimum/maximum bets of 10¢/$1 and 20¢/$2! There was one high stakes table with a $5/$25, although they allowed bets up to $50. No one was playing at this table, so we sat down. When we were down to our last $20, we decided to bet everything and, assuming we would lose it, then go to bed. Unbelievably, we won that bet and started winning like crazy with all our money each time – we ended up walking out with several hundred dollars in less than 2 hours. All the dealers and security attendants were watching -- of course, none of them spoke English.
While playing, we met a very nice local Ecuadorian couple, Luis and Rosemary. Luis had studied English in New Jersey for 6 months, and now is in Architecture school in Quito. After talking and playing for awhile, Luis invited us to his house when we were back in Quito. He asked if he was our first friend in Quito!! We did take them out to dinner after the Amazon Trek and they drove us around Quito showing us some of the hot spots.
The people at the Hilton were very good to us. The same attendants were there on all three visits and they warmly welcomed us each time. They stored our extra baggage between each visit and were extremely helpful with our every need. They even ordered Domino's pizza for us when we discovered that the Domino's employee did not speak English!
One major issue with Quito is the ever-present pollution. The air smells of car exhaust, and lots of time outside makes you search for clean air. Dan had a very hard time catching a full breath for the entire time in Quito, probably because of the pollution and likely partially from the altitude (See Sao Paulo-Doctor's Visit)
The other major issue with Quito, though it did not directly affect us, is the political corruption. Everyone consistently described the government as corrupt. Supposedly politics is the most financially rewarding career in Ecuador. Many of the politicians come out of office as millionaires or even billionaires! This means that very little of the money gets applied to the middle and lower classes. The majority of people in Quito make $200-$500 a month, but clothes and other staples are similar in cost to the US (e.g., $50 for dress shirt).
On our first entry into Quito we were supposed to fly from Santiago after a relaxing day in Santiago. However, the flight from Rapa Nui to Santiago was delayed 18 hours so we flew Rapa Nui-Santiago-Quito taking about 14 hours of flying/waiting (see also Rapa Nui - Leaving There).
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