Ecuador – Quito, hot springs, critters resembling dead comedians and straddling the Equator

“…and there was this creature at the end of the tunnel which looked exactly like RONNIE CORBETT,” shrieked my travel companion having burst through our hotel room door all sweat, adrenaline and pumped from his cycle ride and terrifying encounter with this beasty.

For the uninitiated, Ronnie Corbett was a popular British comedian known for his rubbery facial features and diminutive stature. He was not known for resembling any type of animal. I had absolutely no idea who or what my companion had just spotted.

I had given up on the bike ride just before the tunnel-with-no-pavements-or-streetlights. We flagged down a bus, the driver threw my bike on the roof – clearly having picked up exhausted and perspiring tourists many, many tedious times – before trundling back to the hot-spring town of Banos. My travelling companion was far fitter and hardier than myself and had gone on to complete the ride although possibly suffering from hallucinations by the end of it.

Ecuador, Ecuador, Ecuador. You shall always have a place in my heart as you were the first country we travelled to on the great South America trip of 2004; the same trip which ignited the obsessive and fast-burning passion for travel.

Quito was surprisingly lovely (surprising because we had done zero research on the destination and were still convinced the continent was infested with drug cartels). That said, anywhere was going to rank highly when the cafes insisted on serving thick pools of hot chocolate for breakfast. Plus the menu always contained some exotic-sounding foodstuff, our favourite being a ‘giant lima bean’ which turned out, rather disappointingly, to be corn on the cob.

The first day we sat at a cafe straddling the equator and congratulating ourselves on avoiding altitude sickness (something which has, alas, crept on with age).

One coach ride – which saw us careering around corners plunging into great crevasses whilst Madonna blared out of the radio and the driver repeatedly honked the horn which made a wolf-whistle sound at every human lucky enough to be in possession of a vagina – deposited us in Banos. We sank into the sulpherous pools and got chatting to an enormously handsome American chap who said he attended Greek school every Sunday. “I can speak Greek”, my travel buddy piped up. “Taramasalata!” There was a long silence. The handsome stranger rolled his eyes and left the pool. I laughed like a drain for approximately 45 mins and it was then I knew I’d found my lifetime travel companion. Oh, and we think it was a coati that was moonlighting as a UK entertainer in that dark tunnel…

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