When I first thought of taking a trip to Ecuador I imagined snow-covered peaks, alpacas and quaint villages. Christmas Day broke in Quito with better visibility than we experienced the previous nine days traveling throughout the country. Sure there have been lots of snow-covered peaks and we had cuy for lunch but I never imagined I’d be inhaling exhaust from small motors to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
The day began simply enough with peanut butter toast and coffee for breakfast then a quick drive to the Teleferiqo in Quito. For $8.50 we were able to ride up to 13,000 feet within easy walking distance of the summit of Pinchicha. Easier than starting from the bottom anyhow, still 3000 feet to go from the top of the gondola. We hiked a little ways, looked around, took the obligatory handstand on top of mountain photos then rode back down.
At the base of the gondola a carnival atmosphere prevailed with roller coasters, a ferris wheel and a complete midway under a protective roof. The most exciting looking ride was the ejection seat, about 120 feet of industrial strength bungee attached to cables and winches capable of lifting a Land Rover. Two people sit in a pod which is bolted to the ground. The winches pull the bungees tight and the countdown begins. 3-2-1 the bolts release and the hapless passengers launch 200 feet into the air and bounce up-and-down dozens of times before their pod comes to rest.
Further down the hill is a go kart track. In spite of the neck brace worn by the young woman selling tickets we decide racing go carts is the proper way to celebrate. We pay our $10 then walk down to the pit where we don nylon windbreakers whose main function is to make the drivers look cool as they definitely wouldn’t prevent road rash. After finding a jackets we can squeeze into we turn to the selection of helmets with visors so scratched I keep mine open once I put it on. The mechanics point us towards our trusty steeds and start the tiny motors. Soon our carts are released and the free-for-all begins.
There is no starting line. All six of us exit the pit at the same time and jockey for position. For 15 laps it’s a mad dash of trying to pass each other on a course barely wide enough for one go cart. The attendant keeps motioning for us to use the brakes and I mime back that I don’t understand or maybe the brake doesn’t work. As I’m rounding the last corner I see there’s been three cart pile up and I’m forced to show that my cart does indeed have a brake as I maneuver around the mess my friends have created on the track and move into second place.
Not wanting to cause a pile-up of my own I silently curse the guy in front of me as I try to pass. I continue to drive my go-cart like it’s a rented mule sliding around turns and trying to spin my opponents into the wall, the attendant is not impressed. Finally we are directed to pull into the pit. I manage to get my cart stuck on the tire barricades as I try to maneuver in and realize that the brakes on the carts don’t work that well after all as I have a difficult time stopping in the correct position and then get rammed twice as two racers pull in behind me. We emerge from seats obviously designed for people of much smaller stature smiling and drenched in sweat, exuberant and ready to explore old town Quito.