Breathless in Quito
Ecuador is home to some of the highest volcanoes and mountain peaks in the world. Quito is the second highest capital in the world, and around 2850m above sea level it does take some acclimatizing to. Flying from Houston (at around sea level) to Quito means I have experienced an elevation change of almost 3km in only 5 hours. Therefore I have had to do some adjusting to the altitude here.
Altitude sickness manifests itself in different ways in different people – some hardly feeling the effects at all. I have had nausea, shortness of breath and fatigue which hasn’t been too bad but I am definitely taking it easy. Even simple things leave me breathless at the moment. I walked up a short hill that I needed several rest stops on (huffing and puffing like I had sprinted) and following an excursion of a couple of hours, all I want is a nice lie-down to recover. Food doesn’t really have an appeal at the moment, which is good as the key to food while acclimatizing is little and often, and don’t even think about alcohol. I am actually typing this whilst chewing on Cocoa leaves which are meant to relieve symptoms of altitude sickness (tastes just like tea, although my cheek has gone curiously numb).
Quito is a beautiful city. As we were flying in it was laid out below us in ribbons of light marking the roads and mountains. The city is surrounded by eight volcanoes, two are considered active and several are snow-capped all year. I thought Quito would be cold, but as it’s summer, the days are around 24-26C and the temperature drops to about 12C overnight. At night lying in bed you can hear the wind that picks up after dark. As the elevation is so high the sun is very strong and it’s easy to get burnt just wandering around.
Yesterday I ventured out to el Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World) where in 1736 Charles-Marie de La Condamine made the measurements proving that this was the equatorial line . The world bulges slightly at the equator (and for 15km either side) so it is possible here to perform weird party tricks you wouldn’t be able to anywhere else. For example, it is possible to balance an egg on a nail at the equator as the uncooked yolk is perfectly centred. This monument was built to designate latitude 0° 0′ 0″ N based on measurements in 1736, however GPS has shown that the true equator line is 240m north of this marked one.
It doesn’t seem to matter to those who come for photos though.