Last night I crashed at 17:30. In my jeans and T-shirt from dinner. One minute I was awake reading ‘Paper Towns’ and the next it was pitch black and someone was knocking violently at the door. This freaked me out because who on earth would be banging on our door at such an outrageous hour? I raised my head groggily. “There’s someone at the door,” I whispered to my roommate in the next bed. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness and I saw that her bed was empty. Oh, that must be her at the door, I thought. That made me freak out even more because how long had she been out there waiting for me to wake up and open the door?! It’s like— at which point I picked up my phone and saw that it was only 18:47. It had felt like I’d been asleep for hours and I’d been in such a deep sleep that I hadn’t even been remotely aware of the fact that she’d been knocking for a good half an hour. I’m a deep sleeper. I then slept for 12 more hours straight which is an achievement on my part because I usually can’t sleep for more than seven.
Breakfast at hotels is awesome because it’s always buffet and it’s always delicious and today was no exception. I ate a variety of cold and cooked meats, bread (including banana bread which is my new favourite thing), melons, bite size flapjacks, strawberries and a banana the length of my forearm. That sounds like a lot because it is. Everyone was ravenous and since the girls from our school are rather well known to be dedicated eaters, the buffet was restocked at least three times while we were there.
Today we visited three (or four?) churches. We went inside two- La Campañia Church and San Francisco- in which all that glittered was gold; everything but the floor was gilded in 18 carat or 24 carat gold. All my attempts to take panoramic shots failed because I just can’t bend 360 degrees. Leo, our tour guide, informed us that Ecuador has accumulated some debt over the years and that selling one of the churches could cover that debt and more. This didn’t surprise anyone. They really were magnificent.
Every Monday in Quito, in the main square called Independence Square, there is a a huge ceremony for the changing of the guard. Huge. Buckingham Palace ain’t got nothing on this thing. We were lucky enough to be around when it was happening. There were horses with feathery things in their manes and hundreds of men in blue, red and yellow uniform and a marching band playing the notational anthem and a school dressed all fancy to represent the youth or something and the Vice President was there. ‘Twas the true meaning of ‘the whole shebang’, I tell you. We took turns taking up-close-and-personal selfies with the horses. The locals took turns taking pictures with us because apparently pale, blonde ‘Gringos’ are not very common. We felt like celebrities. It was weird.
We had lunch in the sky. Sort of. It felt like that. We ate at the top of a dormant volcano which was completely cloud-capped (like snow-capped but with clouds) and you couldn’t see anything out the restaurant’s (El Crater) window of other than whiteness. We had a delicious set-menu three-course meal and at some point during the starter I realised that fresh avocado cubes, giant popcorn kernels and potato soup with cheese go really well together. I discussed Italian cooking with the teachers and then casually pointed out that the cloud-cap was lifting so you could see the inside of the volcano’s crater and then suddenly everyone was pressed up against the window going, “Ooh, aaaaahhh.”
Eventually logic kicked in and we went outside to enjoy the spectacular view. It was quite a steep drop inside the crater and far down below there were quaint little farmhouses and pastures the kind of green that makes you want to take a deep breath and inhale the freshness. There was still a thick cloud layer that rolled by speedily and tickled our cheeks and arms which were outstretched. It was while we were admiring the scenery that we met Eliana. Eliana was a charming and curious brown llama with a white face who posed with us as we hugged her and took copious photographs and, yes, selfies (#llamaselfie.) Llamas are known to spit, though so every time Eliana made a sudden movement, all the girls scattered, squealing. This happened many times and it was hilarious.
And then, the highlight of the day… The Equator. The Equator (which totally deserves to be capitalised) is represented by this massive square monument with a painted yellow line on the floor at its base and a globe on top. I ran along the line with one foot on either side, yelling “Southern Hemisphere. Northern Hemisphere. Southern Hemisphere. Northern Hemisphere,” with every step.
There were so many differently posed photographs being taken. I stood at one end and just saw a whole lot of teenage girls standing or sitting in a strange variety of unorthodox Tai Chi positions; trying to look like they were holding the globe and leaning against the monument and standing (or sitting) creatively in both hemispheres.
“You’re so fat that you expand over both hemispheres!” was the to-be caption of one photo of a girl lying on the line.
“My love for you stretches from north to south,” was another.
One girl balanced on one foot on the line and asked, “Okay, so which hemisphere am I in now?” to which I replied, “Neither. You’re hemispherically undefined.” and people laughed.
Leo took a photo of our 28-people group but we wanted one with him so we recruited the help of a tall, checked-beret-wearing French man who repeatedly (read: more than photographically necessary) announced, “Cheese!” So we said, “Cheese!” and sat, hemispherically undefined, on the equator.
Throughout the day we also saw a 45m-tall silver statue of the world’s only winged Madonna and some more breathtaking scenery from the top of the mountain on which the aforementioned Madonna is placed. Quito is a densely populated city in the middle of a valley constantly filled with clouds. You’d think that because it’s on the Equator and only has one season all year round that the weather would be quite predictable. It’s not. Quite frankly, it’s the most bipolar, least predictable weather I’ve ever come across. We met the author of a book on Galapagos who signed and sold us his book full of beautiful photographs of the Galapagorian flora and fauna.
After the day’s planned activities,there was time for us to visit a local market where I tried bargaining for the first time. It was exhilarating. The trick is to ask a price, halve the given price, be denied that price, walk away, and then buy whatever you wanted at your price. We single-handedly saved Ecuador from having to sell one of the gilded churches, I’m sure. Looking at my purchases, I sincerely hope that no-one in my family is allergic to alpacas because otherwise things could get very awkward. I haven’t bought myself anything yet and I really hope I get another chance to buy myself a jersey or something so I can say, “It’s quite cold outside; I think alpaca jersey.”