I arrived at the frontera/border crossing around 7am and went straight to the Ecuador line not seeing the Colombian line (which I needed to get an exit stamp for). I waited in the line for about 30 minutes and got up to the window just to have the guy tell me I needed to get my exit stamp so I had to go back across to the Colombian line and get the exit stamp first and then come back (carrying all 3 backpacks mind you). Thankfully it didn’t take too long as there wasn’t a line for exiting Columbia and didn't have to wait in line again for Ecuador (the guard let me come straight up to the window!). It was a little sad to see a whole separate line just for Venezuelans who were fleeing their country (the American guy had warned me that it could take hours to get through - he had a horrible experience due to the fact that the country of Venezuela was in a political turmoil and had been backing up every border at the time), but thankfully it only took me about 45 minutes total. I then got a taxi to this hub town called Tulcan to get to the capital of Ecuador, Quito. Thankfully I got to the bus terminal right on time because the bus was leaving right then. I quickly grabbed a seat next to these guys who were in a group band (not sure where from) but definitely somewhere in South America, wearing leather jackets and realizing later that they were in a rock band because at every checkpoint the police wanted to check their instruments. It was a dirty bus and we stopped so many times, it took 7 hours to get to Quito when it should have taken 5. I was not feeling great because it was another curvy drive and I think the altitude was definitely hitting me in general. The buses in Ecuador were not as nice as in Columbia. I arrived to the Quito bus terminal and had to get another taxi to Old town where my hostel was and the driver tried to charge me $15 but I knew that was wrong and gave him $10. Thankfully Ecuador uses dollars so I didn’t have to deal with the money exchange until Peru. After speaking to the host about what I wanted to do in Ecuador, I went to dinner at this rooftop restaurant in the middle of Plaza Grande (5 minutes from my hostel) and ordered the traditional "fritada criolla" which was a lot of meat (mostly beef and pig with roasted corn) and walked around a bit and did some research and then went to bed.
The next morning I got up for the 10am free city walking tour but apparently there was a different meeting point at 10:30am so I talked with the receptionist to get some pointers on Quilotoa and then made my way to the plaza. I couldn't find the banner or anyone dressed in a tour guide-like outfit so I asked around and had no luck finding the tour guide. I asked the tour info center and they also couldn't help so I ended up booking another city bus tour for $15 and it was totally worth it because I could hop on and off and it took me all around Quito which is a lot bigger than I was expecting, but it is the capital so makes sense. I went to all the landmarks/viewpoints and got lunch at this restaurant I had looked up which was one of the best in town and ended up trying cow's tongue! I had tried it once before and definitely don't love it but thought I should take advantage of the "traditional" meals and definitely wasn't going to try guinea pig. I then took an Uber to the teleferico (cable car) and it was a lot higher than I thought! I met this Swiss guy who was traveling solo as well and then walked around at the top and definitely became out of breath for the first time like that because it was 4000 meters above sea level. The views were breathtaking and I ended up meeting this girl from Philly because my phone had died and I asked if she would take a picture of me on the swing and ended up spending the rest of the day with her and her coworkers. She was there doing a few weeks of med school and she was with 3 others as well (2 of them still in college doing internships and the other guy from Sweden who was in Quito taking Spanish lessons). They were a very sweet group who I had a nice time with. On the cable car ride down there was a guy from Chevy Chase, Maryland (10 minutes from my house back home) who said he was from DC and definitely some type of big hiker because he was only in Ecuador for a week and went to the tallest volcano in Ecuador, Chimborazo. Anyway, we all went and got dinner afterwards at this place that had this large tortilla flaky-looking dish and then walked around La Ronda street which was poppin for a Friday night with entertainers and many people walking along these small alley-way looking streets and we all wanted to try the boiled wine which was delicious (hadn’t had anything like it)! It was a fun night with these strangers I just met, experiencing the local vibes of the town. I was tired so went to bed and woke up early to go get some warmer clothes at the Artisan Market. I ended up getting a sweater, scarf, hat, belt and socks for like $30! I used my great bargaining skills that I learned from my mom in Italy :) and then got an Uber back to head to Quilotoa Lake! So grateful I had bought those warm cozy clothes right before leaving Quito.