Sunday, January 29th 2006

Quito was a strange place. We found a hostel in what seemed like a slightly rough part of town, but then more or less all of Quito felt like a rough part of town. Most people in the hostel said they had either been robbed here, or knew someone who had been. I really didn't want to end my trip by getting mugged and so I felt slightly edgy and paranoid whenever we were out and about.

Three months previously I'd been at the very southern tip of the continent, four thousand miles to the south. Now we were just a few miles south of the equator, and we decided to go north for a day, to the markets at Otovalo. The bus from Quito took us through spectacular Andean scenery, and somewhere along the way we crossed the legendary line. I felt like there should have been some kind of ceremony, or at least an announcement, but I suppose there is little novelty in crossing the equator for an Ecuadorian. We spent a few hours in the northern hemisphere, shopping for souvenirs. It was pleasant enough, but I didn't think Otovalo really compared to Chichicastenango in Guatemala, where I'd spent an amazing day five years previously buying rugs, pottery, blankets and bags. Chichicastenango was all hustle and bustle with an intense atmosphere of bargaining that meant coming away empty-handed was very unlikely; Otovalo seemed very tranquil in comparison.

The next day was my last in South America. After four months on the road I was tiring, and although I was hugely sad that this mighty journey was coming to an end, I was looking forward to seeing family and friends again. We spent the day at the Museo del Banco Central, which had some impressive pre-Spanish artefacts and some good contemporary art, and then after a trip to a supermarket to buy as much dulce de leche as I could carry, we went back to the hostel. We cooked up a celebratory feast, and then spent a great couple of hours sitting on the roof, looking out over the lights of Quito and the dark shape of the volcano Pichincha silhoutted against them in the distance. Before the trip, I'd been working at the Home Office, and when I left my colleagues gave me 75 US dollars and a huge cigar - perfect for a trip to South America. I'd spent the dollars long ago in Paraguay and Brazil, but I'd been saving the cigar until now. I smoked myself into a blissful mellow haze and thought back to landing in Buenos Aires back in October the previous year. It seemed like a very, very long time ago.

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