El Teleferico is a tourist attraction that was built probably 4 or 5 years after I left Quito as a child. The main attraction is a gondola ride up Pichincha, an active volcano whose east base starts at the city center and is part of the Andes' mountain chain. In addition to the gondola ride, there is a humble (by American standards) amusement park at the base, restaurants and coffee shops at the base and the top, hiking opportunities, and horseback riding.
(Nate and Ricky on the Pirate's Ship. For a special Carnaval price of $.50 for this ride you can't beat it. Neither can you beat the opportunity to watch a new friend scream like a baby when the ride got going.)
It is a genius idea, boasting beautiful views of the city that splays over the valley below and incredible heights, yet something just didn't quite take. Local accounts say that it was packed solid for the first few opening months but quickly died off. There are large, new buildings built up all around that used to host bars, a discoteque, and all sorts of shopping that now stand empty. The amusement park limps along and the gondolas continue but much of the other vibrancy of the place is gone. Still, it's a tourist destination I would be sure to take my visitors to just for the views and mountain air.
(Canaan was far more interested in tasting the dirty, cement wall than watching the bumper cars)
Carnaval is Ecuador's equivalent to Spring Break in the US. Except instead of bikinis and beaches it involves squirt guns, water balloons, and any pedestrian or driver with her car window down as a target. Because we had a few days of vacation, Ashley (another chaplain) and her boyfriend, Ricky, invited us along to check out the TeleferiQo with them.
(Just hopped into the gondola, while Nate tries to catch a quick snap before the gondola leaves him behind.)
We picked a terrible day to go as rain and fog rolled over the city all day long, but had fun anyway.
We had a bit of a hard time getting Canaan on the gondola. It turns out there is a rule that no child under 18 months is allowed. We couldn't figure out why as he was strapped to me and the gondola is completely enclosed. Finally, because he is larger than most Ecuadorian babies and because they said if he can walk he can go, he was allowed on. But we were asked repeatedly along the way how old he was (by workers) and how we got our baby on (by other tourists with babies at the bottom).
Somewhere along the way we realized that the rule had nothing to do with his safety in the gondola and everything to do with his safety in the altitude. The gondola drops you off at a hefty 13,400 feet (4,100 meters). If you've ever been to Denver, double your altitude and your in Quito. Now add another 3,000+ feet and you are where we were at. This isn't an attraction that you take tourists to on their first day in town or you might end up with some pretty sick guests.
Hiking UP from 13,400 isn't a cake walk. Add an extra 22 lb. weight on and you might start to sound like your asthmatic grandma! Canaan did well (he wasn't doing the walking after all!) but I started to see signs of the altitude pretty quickly as he became pretty drowsy after about 20 minutes of hiking so we headed back down and left Ashley and Ricky up top with the horses.
The people who offer horseback riding, walk these horses two miles in and up from another part of the mountain every morning to do this. At $5 for a half hour on a horse it hardly seems profitable but Ecuadorians are definitely hard-working by nature and by necessity. They also haul in food and supplies to offer homemade humitas, tamales, fried plaintains, and pinchos.
A mangy, lone dog along the trail
We ended the day wet, with some cotton candy to share, in the backseat of a van that was crammed with 22 random people and driven around the city center to all of us were dropped off in walking distance of our homes.