December 18

We intended to sleep in, but the kids were up at 6. We bought some time with read-aloud books, but we were all up by 6:45 and out the door by 8.
The children were happy to be able to run and touch a little more than they could in the jungle.
We walked downhill about 15 minutes to a bus station and rode the bus down to Old Town. Taxis were cheap and easy, but the bus costs 1 quarter (kids free) and was supposed to be very easy. This was our first real adventure. We entered the bus platform through the exit (still working on our Spanish, salida), and Hamish and I got on the bus as it pulled up, thinking Alli and Manimal were right behind us and would also make it. But the doors opened and closed very quickly, and Alli and Manimal were left behind. Then, as we pulled away, a transit policeman firmly, but kindly showed them the entrance. He indicated that Alli would be welcome to come back in when she paid the 25 cent entry fee. Problem is, I was carrying all of our money. For a minute, Alli was paralyzed, until she realized she had just a little money in her camera bag. She found a dollar, got change, and made it back to the platform. Hamish and I hopped off the bus at the next stop, figuring Alli and Manimal would be on the very next one and we could easily reconnect (I still hadn't figured out that I'd done things wrong, I just thought I was going to pay for the bus ride when I got off perhaps). However, Alli and Manimal missed another bus as they did it the right way. I only panicked a little bit as I started to wonder how we would find each other again, and while waiting I realized what I'd done wrong in entering through the exit. I'm not sure I'd quite put together what the delay was when I heard my name being called. Alli had seen us on the platform; they hopped off so we could be reunited, I paid for myself, and we continued on our way. Side note: Hamish was unconcerned and trusting that mommy and Manimal would be on the very next train. Manimal was apparently very concerned about losing daddy.

We got to the Old City, started at Marin central, and walked uphill to Plaza Grande.
We passed an interesting assortment of shops selling all manner of things and individuals standing in the street with the oddest and most specific things for sale: women's razors, toilet paper, chapstick, hats, etc. But like one guy standing in the street pushing only women's razors for $1 each. There's something about economics and how this happens that I do not understand. If you look closely at the guy standing to the side in the following picture, you'll see another example. He was selling sandals that he apparently made on the spot- so you could choose your bottom and whatever color of string material you wanted:
At least that involves some art compared with the razor seller.
Later we saw bundles of cherries, other fruit, ice cream carts, tacky Christmas decorations, and bundles of Christmas candy being hawked for $1. Alli's favorite were the 20-lb bags of animal crackers—bags the same size and design as giant dog food bags, but full of animal crackers.
We stopped for breakfast at a little coffee shop, where we had some fig croissant and ham and cheese croissant and juice.
We thought the Plaza might be a good spot for the kids to run around and chase pigeons and such. However, there were some demonstrations going on in front of the Carondelet Palace, the seat of the Ecuadorean Presidency.
The Vice President was just sentenced to six years in prison on corruption charges the week prior, so it didn’t seem like the best day to hang out in the crowd.
We headed on to Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, Quito’s most ornate church. Construction on this gilded Jesuit church began in 1605 but wasn't completed for another 160 years. The kids were appropriately awed by the gold interior, and we talked a lot about Catholic iconography. However, no photography inside.
That's a corner of the church on the right side. Of course, someone else has taken photos inside, so I'll show you what it looks like:
Next, we headed up to Plaza San Francisco, but most of it was under construction.
On the way, I popped into a small grocery store and picked up just a few things, including some local fruits to try later, some tea, some cereal so we'd have a quick breakfast option without going out.
We grabbed lunch at Plaza San Francisco, right where those green umbrellas are. The weather was beautiful, probably 65 degrees, though you could definitely get real hot in the sun.
I got my first coca tea here. I'll say more about that later.
The kids finally got to chase some pigeons while I settled the bill.
We used the data connection I signed up for through Verizon so we could get an Uber back to our place. Manimal crashed happily, and Hamish powered through another handful of read-aloud books. They only work in the apartment with a WiFi connection, but they are brilliant.

When Manimal woke up, we headed to Parque Carolina.
(we have no idea who the man represented by this statue is/was)

The attractions there were closed, but there was a large playground. As indicated before, we'd resolved to find more playgrounds, and the kids were happy about this.
Manimal fell out of that swing four times, but only hit his head once. (That time, an Ecuadorean dad sitting 10 yards away got to him almost as quickly as Alli—and Alli was right next to him. It was kind concern.)

We had dinner in the New Town. Shrimp and rice for me (very similar for Alli), spaghetti and chicken for kids.
We got strawberry ice cream afterward
and headed home, putting the kids straight to bed. Hamish—somewhat surprisingly—rated it a 5-Star day (playgrounds and ice cream), where the jungle days averaged fair ratings.
December 19

The kids were up early but played happily together. We had breakfast at home including the local fruits.
Let's see, passionfruit (maybe maracuya, local variety), naranjilla (a citrusy fruit), something I don't recall... , guava, local peach.
Kids enjoyed trying things.

Also, on a later occasion, I picked up tomate de arbol (tree tomato, or tamarillo), which is an interesting local specialty.
It definitely tastes somewhat like a tomato, but a little different, more sour I think. I liked them. I read about using it as to create a paste and eat on toast, that sounded pretty good though we didn't try it. The tamarillo is also a staple used in a flavoring created by mixing with chili peppers that is present on almost every Ecuadorian table-- it's called aji. We noticed this on many occasions but didn't know what it was really, except that it had a little spice. I tried it a couple of times and liked it, just didn't know what to and what not to put it on really.

Once we were up good, we went back to Parque Carolina to the Botanical Gardens. In order to be as peaceful as possible for our Uber/taxi drivers, I always sat in the front seat, and Alli sat between the kids in the back. When the cars had seatbelts (25% of the time?), they were more likely to be on the side seats, so at least the kids would get a lap belt. Alli made her way through Now We Are Six by AA Milne, and later on the trip, through a couple more Pooh books. Milne’s poems are great to read for short distances. Easy to start and easy to stop.
There was not much info in English at the Botanical gardens, which was disappointing, but we enjoyed them anyway, particularly the orchid house, cactus gardens, and bonsai tree exhibit.
There was a really cool playground inside the botanic Gardens built around a giant tree.
We played there for a while and then walked to lunch. We had a few places in mind that didn't work out, and after passing lots of other places we would have been happy to stop at if we hadn't been looking for something else, we ended up finding a fast-food taco place and were very happy with a filling lunch.
And this seems like a good opportunity to talk more about speaking Spanish. I already described our interaction with Edison, but truthfully, Edison was one of the better English speakers we encountered. In many many cases with a taxi or ordering food, especially in Quito, despite that I obviously didn't know that much Spanish, we got zero English. To me that was surprising. We have traveled a bit, and in almost every case, you really had zero need to know the local language. In my general estimation, everyone everywhere speaks enough English for you to get by. Ecuadorians maybe spoke less English than I remember being spoken anywhere else. Ordering these tacos was a particular time I recall that none of the workers replied with a single word of English... and it was a kind of nice place, in a business district, not just a roadside stand. There was a nice menu on the wall, all in Spanish, so I had something to go on, but when they started asking questions, presumably things like "is this for here?", "what toppings would you like?", etc., I was fairly clueless. No frijoles, por favor. Sí queso. Anyway, as you can see, I did all right. Of course they may have been telling me "One quesadilla is going to be more than plenty to feed two children", and I missed that.

We went home again for a nap. Manimal wasn't napping for as long as at home, but he was certainly happier with a little siesta. Hamish either worked on her journal or some more books. Alli and I had a bit of down time.
We headed back out to a local market for some shopping. There was aisle after aisle of blankets, toys, hats, scarves, chocolate, and so much more. After a few passes all together, we felt bold enough to split up and let the kids do their stocking shopping for each other. Me and the Manimal shopped for Hamish; Alli and she shopped for Manimal. I drove most of our decisions, but Hamish took her task—and her money—very seriously. She chose a toy car, a llama pen, a Batman (yep) drum, and another tiny car. She had $1 left and decided to get Manimal a KinderEgg the next time we saw one. It was so sweet to see her focus on what he’d like. While she didn’t exactly negotiate, she quickly learned that if she put an item down the price would drop.

The kids also made a friend for pole twirling:
After our shopping trip, we went to a brewery I'd found online, Hops Craft Brewery. I enjoyed a sampler of some pretty good things-- note the maracuya, or passionfruit, flavor. It was intriguing, but wouldn't be my daily.The kids enjoyed nachos, chicken bites, and their Dover books, and it was a very chill and pleasant evening.
December 20

We skipped the nap the next day, and it worked out! We had been debating going to Ciudad Mitad del Mundo—the center of the world. The reviews weren’t super: touristy complex not technically on the equator. And the quotes we got for drivers/guides were insane: $120-$150! (so that they'd get us there, wait for us so we didn't have to find a new ride back, and maybe take us to an extra spot or two along the way). But we knew we needed to get out of town, and Hamish had asked if there was such a place where you could stand with one foot in one hemisphere and the other foot in the other. She wanted one side to be cold and one side to be hot. So we got an Uber there for $12.77.
And there she is!

The complex was dead on a Wednesday morning. We fought no crowds and only shared our equator photos with a producer from New York filming a show for Japanese public television. We agreed to be filmed, so there will probably be footage of the kids jumping around on the equator showing in Japan eventually.
We started with the equator line itself for photos and egg-balancing challenging. I tried for like 4 minutes on TV. Lots of pressure. Alli stepped up and balanced it in 15 seconds. Maybe she will be on Japanese TV too.
(Alli's perfectly balanced egg)
We then toured the monument and museum. The top half of the monument was indigenous costumes and lifestyles. The bottom half was science of the equator.
Both could have used a bit more explanation, but the kids enjoyed them. It started sprinkling when we left the monument, so Alli and I found a shelter while the kids played on a playground.
When it quit raining, we wandered into a few shops and to the cacao museum.
Back in the Quechua village, Nidia had gone over how the cacao seeds are harvested in the Amazon (and gave Hamish her first taste of fresh cacao). Here, a guide gave us a more modern overview (and Hamish got another couple of seeds).
We learned how cacao was worshiped by the Mayans and Incas (or there was a cacao god, anyway) and how when the secret finally made it to Europe, the King of Spain kept it a secret until giving the recipe to his daughter as her dowry when she married France’s Louis III.

They encouraged us to eat only 70% cacao chocolate to get the full health benefits and after our tour, we ordered traditional hot chocolate. Hamish was unimpressed with the high percentage chocolate, but Manimal drank it happily after we added a little bit of sugar.
We left the cacao museum and went to find the train in the complex. Unfortunately, it was only a single train car that was basically running an advertisement video for Tren Ecuador (sad note, I really really wanted to ride the train- there's an all-day one that leaves from Quito and travels south through some countryside and around some volcanoes that sounds fantastic-- but after booking all our flights, I learned that this train only runs on the weekend, when we would not be in Quito. oh well.) Manimal was distraught that the train wasn’t going anywhere, and we had to get him away from the situation pretty quickly.

Luckily, there was another playground right there.
There was also a nice exhibit of 4 indigenous house types, representing the housing and customs of various regions of Ecuador.
Alli was most interested in the Amazon homes like the ones described by the Elliots, but they were all cool. The highland house had a stash of live guinea pigs!
We were also interested in going to the edge of the crater at Pululahua. All morning we had watched the mountain be clear, then cloudy, then clear again. I arranged a driver at the Mitad del Mundo office when things were looking good,
(Hamish waiting for our driver)
and we drove up. Right into a cloud. We could see nothing at all. But we got a nice temperature shift and we walked around in a cloud so that was fun.
We went back to Mitad del Mundo, finished touring the indigenous houses, and had an ice cream and fried plantain snack.
Then our same volcano driver took us back into Quito. ($20 total for his taking us to volcano, back to mitad del Mundo and waiting, and then to Quito, if you are counting). We stopped at a gift shop and loaded up on chocolate gifts from a fancy Ecuadorean chocolate company and then came home. I walked down the street to a pizza place and brought home a Hawaiian, and we put two exhausted kiddos to bed. And started a load of laundry.