It was the Fitzgerald’s last day in Quito. Sui Fun and Robert had left early for Peru, so the rest of us got into tourist mode. El Teleferiquo, a gondola up a mountainside overlooking Quito, soars up to 4050 meters ( about 13,365 feet in the old money). We flagged taxis to the base and on our way caught a cloud-free glimpse of one of the snow-topped volcanos that ring the city. The taxi, grinding along in first gear, only just made it up the steep access road. P and I looked at each other as the revs dropped and dropped, but we got there in the end.
El Teleferiquo has a slight air of dreams unrealised about it. The “craft village” at its base is a sad cluster of empty shopfronts; doors gaudy with Visa and Mastercard stickers for tourists who were intent on just getting up the mountain. People don’t come here to buy CDs of panpipe music or Panama hats, they come to ride the gondola and get a thrill from the thin air at the top. That’s what we did anyway.
We emerged at the summit into a cool wind with much less oxygen in it. Anything uphill was an effort, but the views were well worth it. As if sensing our presence, Cotapaxi had pulled the cloud hat over its head, but the sprawl of Quito far down in the valley below was fascinating – particularly watching cigar tube jets come into land at the airport. In the other direction , the jagged outline of the mountains were crisp in the clear thin air.We puffed and gasped a little way up the hill to take photos and enjoy the sharp breeze and the piercing sunshine. Lunch was at a gaudy cafe, once part of a now defunct hotel. We sat in mauve vinyl boths looking through grimy windows at the pristine mountains around us.
At the bottom of the gondola was a nearly deserted funfair – The VolQano, which acted as a small-boy magnet. For an hour or so, weary staff trailed after us to start up silent rides for the boys’ benefit.
Back down to a mere 2600m in Quito, jammed into a minibus at rush hour, with diesel fumes wafting through the windows, cars flitting past and cutting in, a smiling woman in a trilby hat selling oranges by the roadside, sunshine boring into our necks. The Fitzgeralds and I went map shopping while P took a hot t home.
Later, as the Fitzgeralds finished up their packing and souvenir buying I hustled out to the pizza place at the end of the street. Its been particular fun for Tom to travel with the two boys and he will really miss Jon and Aiden. We all hugged and wished each other well and they left for the airport. Another part of our Cambridge experience drifiting away. So now we are three again, with three weeks left to go….