Quito, Ecuador. Thoughts for Visitors

As part of a superb swimming holiday in the Galapagos and mountain biking holiday that took in the high volcanoes and Amazon jungle, we stayed in Quito on three separate occasions.

Video and story of the mountain biking coming next week.

We learnt a few things which I thought it might be helpful to pass along to visitors.

The airport is about an hour's drive north-east of the city and a genuine taxi (they have people in arrivals) will cost $25-$30.

Bounded by the sides of a valley, Quito spreads 80km along a north-south corridor and looks massive, but in places it's only 4km wide and home to fewer than 3m people.  A metro is under construction to link the north with the south.

Quito sits at around 2800m so it's likely you'll feel the altitude.  A headache and shortness of breath is common.

The old town is a very busy place, swarming with tourist police and consequently fairly safe, although pickpockets operate everywhere.  Every visitor will want to go there, but if you're here for a few days, it might not be the ideal place to stay due to noise, expense and diesel fumes.

We stayed just south of the Old Town in Wantara Garden Suites.  These were excellent value.  We could save a little cash by preparing our own meals, and they allowed us to store a bag of mountain-bike kit while we were in the Galapagos.  While we could walk to the Old Town in 15 minutes, the housekeeper advised us the immediate area around the suites is not safe after dark.  There are no places to eat or drink in the immediate vicinity.  The one we liked best in the Old Town is Tianguez which has an excellent crafts shop alongside.

Walking back at dusk one night, the police stopped us, then gave us a ride back for our own safety - a blue-light taxi!  Also, a couple of Canadians who were staying there seven weeks had lost two backpacks, one snatched from a table during a meal, the other in a more harrowing incident.

Our preferred place to stay was in the La Floresta area of the city.  Casa Aliso is a lovely hotel with great staff and excellent breakfasts, the only downside being relatively thin walls between rooms.  If someone flushes a loo or takes a shower, you hear it.

Casa Aliso
 Walking around La Floresta felt safe after dark and there are loads of places to eat, including a couple of vegetarian and vegan restaurants.

Street art in La Floresta
Opening times seem a bit weird mind you.  Tandana behind Hotel Quito was our favourite, with great vegan food and a superb view.
View from Tandada Cafe
The other tourist area is the Mariscal centred on Plaza Foch.  It is all bars, restaurants and night clubs.  If you take a room here don't expect to sleep much.  Some folk stayed north of the big Carolina Park but we didn't venture into this business area.

Plaza Foch
Air B&B has transformed the accommodation market here as in many cities, and not always for the better.  Carefully check the reviews.

Taxis are everywhere and relatively cheap.  A couple of dollars for a ten minute ride.  Uber is in the city (and Uber eats) but on the one occasion we booked an Uber it failed to arrive on time, then switched to a second driver who was going to be 30min late, and cost me 50c to cancel.  Don't use Uber here.  

The open-top bus tour was worth doing, if only for the drive to the Virgin de El Panecillo and the view over the city.  Traveling to the north end of the city was less fun, caught in Quito's traffic belching fumes.

The other tourist ride we took was the cable car to one of the surrounding hills.  You can stroll around the top for an hour, or with the correct kit, tackle a five-hour climb to the summit.

Initially I thought sightseeing from a gondola station would be a bit lame.  I was wrong.  It was exceptionally good and Liz got to swing over Quito at 4100m

Lismore to Port Appin Charity Swim with Highland Openwater Swim

 It only happens occasionally, but sometimes I can feel a good photograph going into the camera.

I felt it Sunday when I took the shot alongside of a young swimmer, slightly apprehensive perhaps, before the charity swim I'd helped to organise.

We did the recce swim back in January so she knew it would be great.  Seventy people registered and - fortunately - only 48 turned up to swim.

I say fortunately because the wind was at the limit of what was safe.  It produced challenging sea conditions, especially for people more accustomed to swimming in pools.

Those who started early and maintained a good pace had few problems.  Those who messed about on shore (you know who you are) and/or swam a little slower were drifted by the wind and tide.

With wetsuits (mostly) and tow-floats no-one was at risk. However, our safety team had to collect a few who'd drifted down the coast.

Kayakers had advised off-course swimmers, "don't try to swim to Port Appin now, you can't fight the tide, just swim to the shore", but quite a few didn't listen.

Everyone returned safely and, to the best of my knowledge, everyone enjoyed the day.  We had fantastic support from the local communities of Lismore and Port Appin - the baking was outrageously good.  Our volunteer kayakers and boat drivers were even more essential than usual.

No-one gets paid from this (quite the opposite) and we raised a load of money, this year for the Brain Tumour Charity.  One of our safety team has his own fight with that condition right now.

Here's the video I shot, as well as doing the still images.

We have more swims to suit all abilities, right across the year.  Check the dates at our website HighlandOpenwaterSwim.com  Registration costs just £10 and entry by voluntary donation, you give what you can.

Swimming the Galapagos with SwimTrek - useful information

Swim with the marine wildlife of the Galapagos and you will never, ever forget it. 

Our holiday with SwimTrek was not cheap.  Yet the experiences of this week will flash across my fading memory years from now.

If you're considering it there were a few practical aspects of this SwimTrek holiday in 2019 which you might benefit from knowing in advance.

I'll add them as we go.  Oh, and if you wish to see more of my photos, check out this album.

The wildlife which inspired Darwin's thoughts on evolution by natural selection now inspire plane-loads of tourists - sometimes up to 9 aircraft each day.

Why Mornings Feel Better After Valentine's Day

A triathlon coach once told me, "early training gets easier after Valentine's Day because that's when we start noticing the mornings getting lighter again".

He's right.  Early morning trips to the pool are much easier after 14th February.  But why?

The Winter Solstice falls between 21 and 22 December in the Northern Hemisphere.  It's also known and "midwinter" or the "shortest day".

For a moment let's ignore the meteorological and other definitions of winter.  In terms of daylight, we feel the lack of it when the clocks "Fall Back" at the end of October (28th Oct in 2018).  Now let's do some simple maths.

Video: Swim Lismore to Port Appin

A new swim for 2019 on the HighlandOpenwaterSwim.com calendar.

We swam it a week ago to get a feel for what it's like and to spot any problems.

We found a few, which I'll mention, but on the whole it's going to be a superb event.

First, take a look at the video and you'll get a feel for what it's like.

First Highland Openwater Swim of 2019

It will be at Glenuig on 16th February.

This weekend the tides were almost the same as they'll be on the day of the swim, so three of us did a recce.

The video of the swim is below.  Oh and if you're a kayaker please come - we need support kayakers!

The tide will be coming in so we'll swim with it and hopefully any prevailing wind around into Glenuig Bay.

It's a short swim to start the programme, but probably quite chilly, especially in the bay where a river reaches the sea.  I thought the swim was over too quickly as I appeared to turn into Glenuig Bay, yet I was less than half-way, so don't be fooled.

Music: Bensound.com

There's a small cliff on the shore-side as you enter the bay and a large flat rock underneath where the water is very shallow, so swing wide and you'll be in more swim-able waters.

We had thought we'd exit by scrambling up a path, but it's rubbish.  However, work your way deeper into the bay and, after a short rocky plodge, you'll find a dark sand beach that leads back to the starting point at the Village Hall.

Where we'll have a talk by the astonishing swimmer Colleen Blair, recently voted number 4 in "2019 World's 50 Most Adventurous Open Water Women".  I filmed her successful swim across The Minch last year for The Adventure Show, a world first.

Registration at HighlandOpenwaterSwim.com costs £10, then swim entry by donation - please give what you can.

Rite (and Right) Of Passage. My Bus Pass

Why have they used my Dad's photo on my bus pass?  Oh.  Yeah.  Right.

After 2018's year of monthly challenges to mark my 60th year on the planet comes official recognition of this event in the form of my National Entitlement Card, otherwise known as my Bus Pass.

I've used it twice, once to Inverness and once to the nearest town.  There's quite a community on that local bus and I see the service in a whole new light.

Everyone on it this morning had a bus pass.  It got me thinking.