Quito is almost 2 miles above sea level and some people are affected by the altitude. I haven't noticed it too much except for 2 things: 1) I get slightly more winded than usual walking up stairs and hills and 2) my skin burns really easily! My nose is currently peeling and I think that my scalp is burned… (Note to self: bring a hat when you’re out all day.)
Quito is high, but it’s surrounded by mountains that are even higher. Quito is sort of like a sandwich - the middle of the sandwich, the peanut butter and jelly, is the city itself, and the two slices of bread are big mountain ranges. Locals say the city is like a banana - long and curved (between the mountains). The altitude didn’t keep me from having a few outdoor adventures, including a steep climb up another volcano and a city bike ride.
There is a cable car (called Teleferiqo) on the west side of Quito that takes you up to a point where you can hike ~3 hours to a peak near the Pichincha volcano. This is supposed to be the easiest hike in this area, but I would not call it easy. The last bit of the hike is more of a climb. I was on my hands and knees navigating around rocks for the last 45 minutes. (Coming back down required a lot of sliding…) It was good that I went on a Saturday when there were plenty of other hikers out, because the route isn’t well marked and it’s relatively easy to get lost if you don’t know the way.
I hiked to the point at the top, into the clouds!
This hawk flew in and sat right next to me for a few minutes at the top of Rucu Pichincha:
Proof I reached the top of the peak (4,696 meters above sea level is about 3 miles!):
Here are some intrepid hikers walk-sliding back down the mountain:
Sunday is the day of ciclopaseo in Quito. Almost 20 miles of streets in the city are closed to vehicles between 8 AM - 2 PM so that cyclists can ride freely. I rented a bicycle and rode around for 3 hours straight, seeing parts of the city I never would have seen on foot.
I've already left Quito (for the 2nd time) and am at my next destination - Otavalo - a town 2 hours north of Quito known for its huge Saturday crafts market and stunning mountain setting. It’s colder here because it’s at an even higher elevation than Quito. The hotel where I'm staying has an open plan with a central courtyard and balconies, which is very pretty, but also means there is no heat. Last night it was so cold I had to wear my wool hat and gloves to bed! I might have to buy a nice warm sweater at the crafts market on Saturday... If I can last that long. I'll write more about Otavalo soon with pics. Until then, ¡buenas noches!