12/21- Last day in Quito

We got moving pretty quickly in the morning and took an Uber to the TelefériQo, a gondola ride up the east side of the Pichincha volcano. Quito on the whole sits about 9,000 feet above sea level. This elevation didn't affect us greatly, but I think Alli and I did both notice on our first day or two there. It's hard to tell with the kids; they seemed to take it in stride. If I was worried about elevation, though, it was this part that made me unsure. The TelefériQo goes up to about 13,000 feet, and they say the ride up takes 18 minutes. Some common wisdom indicates that 10,000 feet is a point where a lot of people are more likely to experience altitude sickness (I read that at this elevation your hemoglobin is 90% saturated by oxygen; the air is simply less dense, and on any inhale you take in fewer molecules of oxygen.) And when buying tickets for the gondola, there was a good bit of signage with warnings. A lot of it we knew and were prepared for-- acclimate yourselves, for instance, less alcohol, and of course just taking it easy and listening to your body. There was advice that starchy sugary foods could help... But there was also a sign saying they didn't recommend taking children under 4. Hmm. We'd pushed this to our last day in Quito to maximize acclimation, hadn't noticed any problems yet with kids, and we'd read up elsewhere and not seen anything special about under 4, so we pressed on. I still felt a little nervous, said a couple of prayers. My biggest concern was that someone might start feeling unwell on the way up, trapped in a gondola for the next 18 minutes.

However, I think the only thing felt by anyone was me and my nerves. It felt normal up there.

I think a lot of where people experience problems is heading up here on their first day in Quito and not listening to their bodies.
There is further hiking that will take you to 15,000 feet on a 5-hr round trip (they recommend not starting after noon), but we weren't about to do anything strenuous up there. We popped into a cafe for a donut and some coca tea for me.

So, coca tea. This is tea made from the leaves of the coca plant. Another, perhaps more well known use for these leaves is in preparing cocaine. The leaves contain cocaine along with several other alkaloids, though the cocaine quantity is small. Because of this association, coca tea is illegal in the U.S. So why would I try it? It's said to be very effective in staving off altitude sickness. Also I'm the curious type. According to Wikipedia, a bag of coca tea contains about 4 mg of cocaine, whereas a line of cocaine is 20-30 mg. As such, you might think that drinking coca tea would produce a mild high, but this is not the case. There is no mouth numbing effect like what happens when the leaves are chewed (indicating released alkaloid). It just tastes like green tea. Understanding exactly why the effect isn't the same as cocaine isn't the easiest task, but from what I can tell, the alkaloid is hydrolyzed pretty easily in the stomach unless there is a base present (so when people chew the leaves, they do so with some sodium bicarbonate or lime (calcium hydroxide)). Oral ingestion overall is pretty ineffective. The cocaine is also catabolized in the liver. I suppose that by snorting, smoking, or injecting, some of that first-pass metabolism is bypassed and the drug can have effects on the brain more easily. Anyway, all research suggests that you just really can not get a "high" from the tea. At best, you get effects similar to coffee- increased heart rate and blood pressure and vaso...dilation? that can relieve your headache? It is worth noting that drinking coca tea can still make you fail a drug test in the very immediate future, but I don't feel like this will be an issue for me.

You may also be aware that Coca-cola originally used coca leaves that contained cocaine in the same way as my coca tea. Here's an interesting article on the topic. They apparently continue to use de-cocainized coca leaves to maintain legality.

Despite all of this, according to wikipedia, the use of coca tea is discouraged by the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, but this seems to be a small-minded, backward, ill-informed stance.

Anyway, we got just a little exercise by walking a little way down a path up there.

And pretty soon we headed back for our 18-minute ride down.

At the bottom, we had to visit the amusement park that is so well located. It was weird-- granted this was a Thursday-- but the gondola was pretty quiet, and we weren't sure on approach whether this amusement park was even open. But we had to check it out, as we'd read that they had 10 cent carousel rides and similar.

We walked on in, and a nice man approached us and explained in great detail and 100% Spanish what we needed to do to ride the rides. It involved a digital card that actually cost $1 (but we could use for everyone) and then putting however much $ we wanted on it. I think we started with putting $5 on it and headed for the carousel.

$4.60 left.
It was actually kind of nice that a class field trip showed up about then, so that we were not 4 of the 8 people in the park. That nice man who greeted us was pretty much the only one manning rides, so you needed to wait if the class was riding one ride and you wanted to ride another.
They were also just a little bit tricky with the rides. A few had big advertisements on them indicating 10 cents. Others would randomly cost something like $2.37. But there wouldn't be a sign, you'd find that out after your card was swiped. Even so, in total I think we spent $11.

There was a sad bit. There were height requirements for the rides, but in most cases, if we rode with the kids, it didn't matter. But the roller coaster actually required meeting height. Hamish did, Manimal did not. I asked Hamish if she still wanted to ride, knowing Manimal could not, and she still did. I rode with her, and Manimal sulked.

I think Hamish still enjoyed it, but I'd look at Manimal as we went by, and he would just display the most dejected countenance, so I could not enjoy.

Luckily, his depression was short lived. He quickly found another ride that he was tall enough for and wanted sissy to ride with him on it. No hard feelings.

One final carousel ride, and then we moved on. I couldn't get an Uber from there. We waited at the bus stop a few minutes, but a taxi dropped off a fare, so we hopped in and asked him to take us back to the market. We'd thought of just a few more things we wanted to buy as gifts and such. This taxi used his meter appropriately and escorted us safely.
We got to the market and decided to just find the quickest, easiest food we could nearby. We chose a local burger place that also had a fixed sorta Ecuadorian lunch. Their burgers were all superhero-themed. Manimal and Hamish split a burger, and Alli and I got the set lunch- a sort of fried rice with chicken and pork:

I ate mine quickly, settled the bill while everyone else finished up, and headed over to the market with a mission. We agreed to meet in the middle of the market once my shopping was complete.
Here's Manimal waiting by a Christmas tree and a nativity of a sort:

And then there was more Pooh reading.
Once shopping was complete, we got an Uber back to our Airbnb, put Manimal down, and went to work packing up. Our evening flight wasn't until 7:30 p.m., but we knew it could easily take an hour to get to the airport. We used pretty much all of the time we had packing up and cleaning and woke Manimal a little bit early when we decided to move our departure time up a bit to try and beat rush hour. Once again we ended up taking a regular Uber. This was a little concerning because we wouldn't know until they got there whether their vehicle would likely fit all of our bags (they don't have the Uber-XL or whatever options there, and I'm not too knowledgeable whether a Chevy Sail is likely to be tiny or huge). But we ended up with a just-right size. We beat rush hour and made it to the airport in about 45 minutes.
Check-in and security were a breeze, and we were at our gate close to 2 hours early. We ate dinner at a Mexican-ish restaurant in the terminal--chips and guac, quesadillas. I wasn't feeling too hot. My stomach was hurting, though nothing was coming of it, and I only took a few bites. Manimal indicated that his belly was hurting, and during the course of the meal, I took him to the bathroom 3 times, over which things were progressing to indicate an upset stomach. But he seemed to get relief.

Then, our flight got delayed about 2 hours. Luckily, this was when we realized there was a little playground tucked away in the terminal. We spent at least an hour there.

The kids ran and jumped and played hard.
Finally, we boarded our plane. As we waited to board, Manimal was saying his tummy hurt, and Alli carried him onto the plane. We had just gotten seated good when he threw up on himself... and Alli caught a good bit of it while I searched for ziplock bags. That worked out well- we'd carried those bags primarily for the rain forest, but they were optimal for cleanup, disposal, and clothes quarantine. And the disinfectant wipes I'd purchased when I couldn't find regular baby wipes worked out quite well too. Mercifully, Bek was spared, and our naked sad baby could wrap up with his Bek for the ride. Further mercy: it was a very short flight.

sad, sick little bug.

In flight, his symptoms progressed, but he was able to make it to the bathroom. When we landed in Cuenca and got our bags back, we got him into some jammies.

We got the first taxi that rolled in (there was no line, we waited a few minutes for one to show), and after some explaining (and showing my GPS-enabled map), we were off and to our home exchange within 15 minutes. Neighbors met us at the door and showed us to our apartment. Manimal's symptoms kept going-- there was a little worry about showing up at night in this new place with a sick little one, but it was nice knowing neighbors were there that could help if we needed it. I emailed them before going to bed to say if things got bad I'd probably be knocking on someone's door in the middle of the night. We slept the kids in different rooms. Manimal's room had two twin beds, so Alli stayed in one of them in case anything got worse. He slept well through the night though. His stomach was upset for a few days, but he was not bothered by anything and acted himself from then on, never developed a fever, lethargy, or anything else. My stomach continued to hurt that night, but thankfully, I did not develop any of the same symptoms and was fine after a good night's sleep. We don't know after all is said and done if it was related to something he/we ate or the inadvertent swallowing of water or simply picking up a virus from a surface he touched in the city.

Thankfully we were moving on to the most restful portion of our trip.