A long flight of steps leads here (a 40min walk) from the end of García Moreno, but violent muggings are common along the way so make sure you take a taxi instead (around $5 round trip with waiting time, around $7 from the new town). It’s safe at the top, with teams of uniformed security guards patrolling the place (9am–7pm).The Rough Guide to Ecuador (and similarly worded in Lonely Plant)
…..Maybe taking the steps wasn’t such a good Idea.
But actually this is a story about nothing. Nothing at all. Not a single thing. But it was one of the scariest days I’ve ever had. But yet, nothing happened.
Looking over Quito and marking the boundary between the North and South is the hill El Panecillo (the little bread loaf, named after its shape). And at the top (aside from fantastic 360 degree views over Quito) is the famed Virgin de Quito; a 30m high representation of the Virgin Mary, but uniquely the only representation in the world with Wings.
On a clear day, anywhere in Quito you can see it.
But it’s spectacularly good at night; and so I had to visit.
Step oneIs figuring out how to get their, and a good place to start is a travel guide. Which, as quoted earlier did not report well on public transport and the stairs.
BUT, I’ve read similar advice before and have found travel guides can be (1) out of date in areas once dangerous but since made (relatively) safe as a product of local tourism. Or (2), bad things have and do happen, but the general advice is largely directed at the ordinary traveller (you know the one with a gold-watch, bumbag, $100, and THEIR PASSPORT in it – no offence to bumbag wearers).
So on reading such guidance I try and filter out the unordinary perspective (the one with only enough money for the days activities and stored in a plastic bag, at best a photo copy of some-form of ID, shoes firmly laced up, and definetely NO bumbag – again no unilateral offence intended to those partial).
Step twoIs thusly to separate the unordinary from the ordinary, and for this a good place to start is simply google your question, as you would ask anyone else.
“Google, is “El Panecillo Quito safe to walk up?”.
So I turned to Trip Advisor; but again any review from anyone that mentioned a walk also included some form of an unpleasant experience, and certain advice not to do it.
With a general theme of Bandits coming out of the neighbouring woodland or Favelas, muggings and even beatings featuring overwhelmingly in the reviews for those who walked, for the first time I decided that perhaps the reality of ordinary was also that for the unordinary. And walking might NOT be the best option.
So step three is then to find another form of public transport, which there was! It would seem a bus actually goes to the top; presumably to turn around as the road winding up through the neighbourhood wouldn’t accommodate such a task with anything less than Austin Powers like driving.
And so it was decided. I’d take the bus.
The DepartureYes I’d take the bus, I thought, but on the day in question I just couldn’t seem to find where the bloody bus left from (albeit I didn’t actually try that hard). And then, before I new it I was arriving on another bus….. to the bottom of the hill.
It’s only 500m, how bad could it be?
I thought.Well on arriving to the bus platform things weren’t good right from the get-go.
Now this is what a regular bus platform in Quito looks like; notice functioning doors at either end, a security guard and someone to take your money. Once inside you wait near the platforms, the buses pull-up along side, drops a little footbridge and you hop on.
But the bus platform I just arrived to had none of those features regularly found. The doors at either end were firmly shut (with even a homeless person having made one end his abode), no one to take your money and definitely NO security guard.
And so before I planned my exist (and this was certainly not the first time I’ve thought to do this in my travels), I checked my shoelaces were tight, spread my money around my pockets (which is never a lot anyhow) and secured my phone in a button-up pocket.
I then walked out of the window, shimmied along the ledge and Frogged across the three lanes of traffic.
Signs of Things to Come
The Bus platform was the first was the first sign that I might not be in the best neighbourhood.But soon came the second.
The first part of my journey up the hill involved a set of switchback stairs with the gradient such that going up you couldn’t even see past the next turn, and remembering what I just on Trip Advisor my heart rate started to beat just a little more quickly.
But I continued.
But then strangely when I saw an old lady hanging washing outside her house by the stairs not that far away I was somewhat comforted.
It is only 500m, how bad could it be.The Unordinary Traveller
And whilst thankfully the switchbacks were short, only five or six in total, I didn’t mess around. Arriving to the top I was then presented with small section of park and then another stair case leading up the hill; with the Favelas on one side. And woodland on the other.My heart rate again, just a little faster.
And so I set off.
Now to be honest I got up those stairs probably quicker than anyone ever has, and there was NO BLOODY WAY I was about to get my phone out as it was quickly evident that the side streets and trails would give any assailant ample opportunity to make a move.
I also realised that despite my potential capability (to run away, fast), a group on either side would’ve made life very, very difficult. And so it was one eye up and one eye down, and definitely NO BLOODY STOPPING!.
El PanecilloReaching the top and somewhat buggered (worth mentioning also that I’d just finished a multi day largely uphill hike), I rested under a tree and completed that perhaps taking a taxi back down might just be the BEST course of action.But the views from the top were simply incredible.
The DescentIt was some 45 minutes later and I was ready to leave. But by this time things had normalised for me.
It is ONLY 500m, and THIS time it’s down hill. How bad could it be?”The Unordinary Traveller – Again.
Now this was (in hindsight) not the best decision. But my comforted levels had returned to normal and for what-ever reason I felt really quite safe again. Even safe enough for a photo from the top of the stairs.
And then another after the first flight.
Why not another looking back up.
Oh, this looks like one of the alleys the bandits could come from.
Second flight done, what was I so worried about.
The last flight before the switchbacks; notice the washing hung-out front that I been so comforted by earlier.Nearing once again the lady who was now done hanging up her washing I again stopped and looked down a side alley.
Immediately she came over to me explaining that it was very, VERY dangerous down their and I shouldn’t go.I agreed, but continued to pause, taking in the view (and contemplating a photo of said alley). To my pause she then suggested I shouldn’t stand around but instead proceed back down the hill to the bus stop, NOW.
I paused a little longer.And whilst I’ve been stopped by a local before and been suggested that I should go no further (some of which I actually listened to…), I’ve never had someone motion a throat-cut whilst telling me that the people here wouldn’t hesitate to steal my belongings.
Ok, Time to go!
And with an immediate return to a triple digit heart rate I hastily made my way back down the stairs and with now people coming back up I did my best to look a little less like a tourist. Back down the switchbacks, the Frogger across traffic, shimmy along the platform ledge, in through the window and I was back where I started.
PhewThe Unordinary Traveller – Once more
Now however did arise another problem; I’d forgotten to make note of what bus to get on for the return journey. And as EVERY bus from the south to the north routes via either the east or west side of El Panecillo, the passing routes were plentiful.
Plan B, is as always in circumstances like this to just get on the next bus heading in the right direction, and get off when it starts not to be. Now fare to say I’m surprisingly successfully at this and after a very long 20 minuets I was back on the edge of familiar territory, so as the bus took a left, I jumped out, took a right and breathed a small sigh of relieve.
With Risk Comes Reward
Walking back to my hostal I stumbled across a hole-in-the-wall crab shack so decided to settled in for
some stares from the other patrons some bloody good Cangrejo (crab) soup (for 3.5USD).
the endKeeping myself fit (and making sure my shoes are tied) I’ve always thought, gives me a chance. And because of this I’ve been to some amazing experiences and been to some truely amazing places that tourists just don’t go.
Even this day my wandering before even making it to the hill had me well off the trail that I’m sure doesn’t see many, if any tourists. And I was definetely not taking my phone out their either. But in hindsight maybe on this day, I should NOT haven taken the stairs.
Or should I? What if, like many occasion I just Lund myself their. I’d have wandered up without even giving it a second thought. Actually on second thought I probably couldn’t even count on how many times I’ve taken the stairs and not even realised. Well, realised enough to make sure my shoes were tied, but that’s it.
So ironically this was probably the sketchiest day I’ve ever had – that I know about, but yet nothing happened.