First Day in Ecuador

panaramic view of Quito showing mountains and smog

Quito is a fascinating city, but it’s plagued with air pollution and could really benefit from some electric cars. The gondola lift run is visible to the right.

We made it! We flew in last night and arrived at our Quito hotel, the elegant JW Marriott (yay points!), to find we’d been upgraded to a seriously sweet room. Like, I’ve seen dorm rooms smaller than just this bathroom. So we bathed in luxury prior to setting off into the rural highlands tomorrow.

Jon and me, with the Ruku Pichincha peak behind us

Jon and me, with the Ruku Pichincha peak behind us

Today, however, we decided to do an acclimation hike. Up Pichincha.

Quito itself sits at of elevation of about 9,400 feet (2,850 m), and since we’re coming from a home elevation of about 500 feet (<200 m), we should have taken a couple of days to acclimate. Even if coming from a higher elevation, everything you read says you shouldn’t go up Pichincha on your first day.

We went up Pichincha on our first day.

A gondola car.

A gondola car.

We took the TelefériQo (gondola lift) up to the first stage, about 20 minutes to reach 13,450 feet (4,100 m). Then we started walking up.

We did not summit. If I’d been alone, I might have tried it, but Jon was being sensible about not pushing too hard our first day and burning out muscles we’ll need for the next five. And darn it, he was probably right. So we ascended only as far as the Pirámide Caide (Fallen Pyramid, though what pyramid exactly this was I’ll need more time and better internet to discover), which is about 14,400 feet (4,400 m), and then we turned around and headed down.

The bad news is, we burned in the sun. Even though I fear the equatorial sun, and I fear the sun at altitude, and I am positively terrified of the equatorial sun at altitude, we burned. Through my SPF 40 (and not that pathetic chemical block stuff, either, but proper zinc oxide), reapplied, and my hemp hat. Tomorrow, we’ll have an alarm every 90 minutes to reapply, because clearly every 2-3 hours is not enough.

The good news is, we did not experience any altitude sickness! None! Even at fourteen and a half thousand feet on the first day! We were winded, of course, but y’know, we were climbing a steep mountain, we were going to be winded no matter what. But no dizziness, headache, nausea, or any of the worse symptoms. The altitude-prep regimen seems to have worked! Huzzah!

If you’re curious, here’s what I used:

  • maca, a root adaptagen (
  • cordyceps, a fungus adaptagen (, or if you like research, read the study that convinced me to try it)
  • a hypobaric mask for wearing around the house or even working out (this comes in a variety of sizes and styles, I used this one:
  • Acetazolamide prescribed by my doctor and started 24 hours before arrival at altitude. This medication works by fooling the body into thinking it has excess carbon dioxide and thus forces deeper, faster breathing. I feel like I probably would have been breathing harder anyway! but it’s a cheap, safe tool.
  • Potassium supplement, because acetazolamide strips potassium from the body and low potassium causes muscle fatigue and cramping, all the things you don’t want while hiking up and down steep elevations. (
  • electrolyte tabs in our water, because acetazolamide is also a diuretic and because I sometimes use electrolytes during hard exercise (Nuun or other, pick your favorite flavor, not the caffeinated versions,

We sat for a bit at the top of the gondola lift, where folks were hanging out on a Sunday afternoon and where a few street vendors were trying to sell to tourists and locals, and I suddenly heard something familiar.

The seller looked too young to have been in the group I saw in the Parque de María Luisa, and I wasn’t sure if I should ask him if his father was a Peruvian who had ever played in Sevilla, but it was fun to hear, anyway.

EDIT: Wow, I blame the extremely limited sleep (one hour the night before departure, and very little the night before this post) and the altitude. Yes, “El Condor Pasa” is an Andean song to start, and I even knew that. /sigh/ My album from Spain had a different ’60s pop song along with the traditional song S & G covered with, “I’d rather be a hammer than a nail.” 

We descended, cleaned up a bit at the hotel, and then walked to a restaurant called Achiote Ecuador, which was simply fantastic. If you’re ever in the area, check it out. It is a family place, specializing in local cuisine that’s both healthy and reminiscent of eating at a local home. We devoured tiny empanadas, fried yucca and cheese, steak with passion fruit sauce, purple sweet potato, fried orange potatoes mashed with cheese (llapingachos), and the best warm bean salad, and I hate bean salad. Oh, and chocolate rice. Don’t you judge me, I was carb-loading. With our check we each got a tiny confection called a colación, a Quito specialty made of peanuts and sugar.

Note: Ecuador is supposed to have some excellent chocolate. I need to find some and test this.

purple backpack and trekking polesThen it was back to the hotel to load our packs for tomorrow. I am pretty sure I don’t want to know what mine weighs. If I drink all my water, I can knock off nearly 7 pounds, though, so there’s that.

Tomorrow we leave our posh hotel and things like regular internet, so updates may be few for a while. Just assume we’re wheezing, burning away our epidermis, and having fun!


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One Comment

  1. Just watched your two videos on your blog post. LOVED the mountain views!
    And: Larry says S&G’s song “El Condor Pasa” was based on a South American song; Paul Simon wrote the English lyrics. Now I wish I’d heard whether the version you heard there had English lyrics! :D

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