Pam & Tom’s travel in Ecuador - 2011

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South America » Ecuador » North » Quito » Historical Center
March 31st 2011
Published: April 1st 2011
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After departing Brisbane at 8.35 on Thursday 24 March 2011, we took 27 hours to Quito, via Auckland, Santiago (Chile) and Guayaquil (Ecuador).

Quito is in the Andes, the capital of Ecuador and 2800metre above sea level (asl). Temperature was about 10 degrees when we arrived and had been raining. We stayed at Hotel Sabastian for the firtst night. San Francisco de Quito, most often called Quito (Spanish pronunciation: kito, is the capital city of Ecuador in northwestern South America. It is located in north-central Ecuador in the Guayllabamba river valley basin, on the eastern slopes of Pichincha, an active volcano in the Andes mountains. With a population of over 2 million, Quito is the second most populous city in Ecuador, after Guayaquil. It is also the capital of the Pichincha provice and the seat of Metropolitan District of Quito. In 2008 the city was designated as the headquarters of the Union of South America.

The elevation of the city’s central square (Plaza de La Independencia or Plaza Grande) is 2,800 m (about 9,186 ft), making Quito the second-highest administrative capital city in the world (after La Paz, Bolivia), and the highest legal capital (ahead of Sucre, also in Bolivia, and Bogata, Columbia).
The central square of Quito is located about 25 km (15 miles) south of the equator; the city itself extends to within about 1 km (0.6 miles) of zero latitude. A monument and museum marking the general location of the equator is known locally as la mitad del mundo (the middle of the world), to avoid confusion, as the word ecuador is Spanish for equator.

Because Quito is about 40 km (24.85 miles) long and 5 km (3.1 miles) at its widest, most of the important avenues of the city extend from north to south.

We quickly discovered that there is not a lot of English spoken in this country but we could make ourselves understood by understanding them. Some words are similar but we could see quite quickly we had better pick up the important words quickly.

After a great breakfast, including the abundant tropical fruit and not so strong Ecuadorian coffee, we got directions to the Independence Square (Plaza de La Independencia). Historic Public Square of Quito, located in the heart of the old city. This is the central square of the city and one of the symbols of the executive power of the nation. Its main feature is the monument to the independence heroes of August 10, 1809, date remembered as the First Cry of Independence of the Royal Audience of Quito from Spanish monarchy. The environment of the square is flanked by the Carondelet Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Archbishop's Palace, the Municipal Palace and the Plaza Grande Hotel.

Cathedral of Quito (La Catedral)
The Cathedral is Gothic designed arches; Moorish in the ceiling and Baroque in the main alter. It was beautiful.
While in the Square, we saw a protest march of school children, school bands, women and men protesting against abortions. With 85% Roman Catholic population, there was no surprise on the nature of the protest.
We then visited the San Francisco Church

The church was built by Francisco Cantuña. According to the indigenous legend, he made a pact with the devil, agreeing to give his soul away if he helped him finish building the church on time. The devil, anxious to receive Cantuña's soul, helped him finish the enormous construction with an army of demons. Once finished, the devil demanded Cantuña to give him his soul. Cantuña replied that a complete inspection of the devil's work was needed. When he found that one stone was missing, and the work was therefore incomplete, Cantuña was allowed to keep his soul.

On top of the main shrine, the famous Bernardo de Legarda placed the winged Virgen of Quito, cover by a spectacular barroque stylied carved dome. Several excavations at the San Francisco church have uncovered many artefacts dating back to the colonial times and previously to the indigenous period. The findings include pre-Inca pottery. Some theorize that the church was built over the palace of Huayna Capac, the Inca emperor.

Next we visited the Compañía de Jesús which is an amazing church. It is considered as the most important colonial and religious building of Quito's historic centre. Built by the Jesuit Order in 1605, the church took about 163 years to be completed, and that happened barely 2 years before the Jesuits were expelled by the Spanish Crown. Abandoned until 1807, the church was then trusted to the frailes de Camilo until it was finally given back to the Jesuits in 1860, by the president of that period.

In 1868, an earth quake destroyed the church's tower and another one in 1987 partially damaged the whole structure which is now undergoing two intense restoration projects. A terrible fire in 1996 affected several sections of the restoration work. Finally, the church was officially opened to the public again in 2006. Its barroque facade is a work of art with columns, hearts and cherubs carved on volcanic stones from the Andes. The splendour we found when walking into the church is something hard to forget: a spectacular 7 ton work of gold- covered carved panels on every inch if its interior. The Moor influence is evident on the ceiling's ornamentation, the domes and the carvings on the red and golden pillars. The Holy Trinity on the main shrine and the sculptures of San Francisco and San Ignacio, on the lateral shrines, were made by the famous Bernardo de Legarda.

THE CITY MUSEUM - the Museo de la Ciudad, which is now a library.

The City Museum (now library) is placed within the oldest colonial building in town, at the heart of the historic center. It was founded in 1565 by decree of the King of Spain as the Misericordia de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo Hospital. During the XIX century it was named San Juan de Dios Hospital, and has retained that name until today.
The building of hospitals in the newly founded Spanish cities in America was a result of the medieval Christian mentality which place great importance on its values of the welfare of the people and solidarity with people in need. The hospitales, a word derived from "hospitalidad" completes the functions in the Spanish society. Besides the hospitals there were authentic charity houses which gave a pleasant home for the orphans.

There are 2 main court yards which are called ‘patios’, one with gardens and the other fully paved with a small cafe and Perspex roof, allowing the sun to shine through. It was beautiful and so inviting. Apparently, when it was a City Museum was able to approach the history of Quito from the perspective of its unknown citizens, making it different from other museums which focus more on art and archaeology from the point of view of great historic figures and events. This approach allows to understand the mentally and imagination of a diverse and complex city, inhabited by different communities in which the past gives a testimony of the present of future from a socio-economic perspective.

From the square we could also see the La Vírgen del Panecillo. It’s djacent to the Old City, El Panecillo is a large hill on top of which is La Virgin del Panecillo, a large statue of the 'winged' Virgin Mary. She can be seen from most points in the city. Local legend has it that she is the only virgin in Quito. We were advised to never walk up the hill, always take a taxi or a bus as the walk up can be dangerous. We decided not to go up.

We then walked down Calle de la Ronda. This street in the Old Town was restored by Municipality and FONSAL in 2007. It was transformed with the help and cooperation of the local residents. It's a romantic cobbled street just off the Plaza Santo Domingo (or it can be reached via Garcia Moreno by the City Museum). There are shops, patios, art galleries and modest cafe restaurants now, all run by residents. Cultural events are common at the weekends.

After having a good look around the buildings, we returned to the Hotel and found our way around to where we were going to meet our Tour Guide and the 14 other travellers of the Intrepid Group. The 1st hotel with the group was Hotel Casa Kanela. Our room was at the top with great views of the Andes and a pitched ceiling. In one part it was a bit low but Tom only banged his head once. The group consisted of 3 Swiss, 1 Canadian and the rest Australians. Tom and I were of course the oldest, with 3 girls in their 40s and the rest mainly in their 20s. Tom and Michael were the only blokes.

We had a briefing by Diego Jaramillo a 31 year old who was born in Quito. He had very good English. We all then went to a lovely restaurant Mama Chlorinda and had beautiful potato, cheese and avocado soup, followed by pork, white and yellow corn, bacon, potato, cheese, cooked banana and peanuts. We were quickly learning that potato and bananas where are very popular content of Ecuadorian meals. A harp player arrived to entertain us, which some of us tipped $1 or less – a bit different to the USA!
We were also fast learning how cheap it was to travel in Ecuador. Their currency is the US Dollar. On public transport, no matter how far you travel in the city, it costs 25 cents. A full breakfast is $3.00 approx, beers are $1.75 as an example. Their medium salary is about $6-8,000 p.a. It’s all relative. Most people live in the Southern part of this long, banana-shaped city because it is cheaper. The northern end, or the old town, is more expensive and is where the tourists stay.

Saturday 26 March 2011

Wow, today was a fantastic day! Up at 7.30am, scrambled eggs, water melon, gauva juice and black coffee for breakfast ($2,50 each). Diego our guide and 6 of us left to see Mitad del Mundo or middle of the world. We took a bus ($0.25) which took hour. Just outside of Quito is where the measurements were first made that proved that the shape of the Earth is in fact an oblate spheroid. Commemorating this is a large monument that straddles the equator called Mitad del Mundo. Note, however, that the true equator is not at the Mitad del Mundo monument. Through the magic of GPS technology, we now know that it is only 240 meters away -- right where the Indians said it was before the French came along and built the monument in the wrong place. This is where we went. The entrance for the park is $2. The Intiñan Solar Museum is right next to the Mitad del Mundo monument on the other side of the North fence. For $3 we had a guided tour of this little museum. They demonstrated the Coriolis effect and several other interesting things. One thing was watching the water drain from a sink which was place right on the Equator. There was NO whirl-pooling. Only 2 metres from the LINE on the south (ie Australian side) and the water swirled clock-wise. The sink, 2 metres to the north of the Equator, swirled anti clock-wise. This is known as the Koriolis centrigugal forces. It was amazing.

The museum included a little Ecuadorian village, which told the story of the life of the villagers, including the head shrinking of their important people to preserve them after their ‘passing’. They cut the skin from below the neck and all their head off, then remove the skull bones then treat the remaining skin, hair, eyes face with a special herbal/natural chemical mixture and the whole head shrinks. Amazing.

Quito's closest volcano is Pichincha, looming over the western side of the city. Quito is also the only capital in the world to be directly menaced by an active volcano. Pichincha volcano has several summits, among them Rucu Pichincha at 4,700 metres. The latest eruption was recorded on 23 August 2006, when a few puffs of smoke and a large amount of ash were deposited on the city. So we then decided to go up the mountain using the Teleferico. This is the world's second-highest cable car. It's located on the eastern flanks of the Pinchincha Volcano which overlooks the whole city. It hoists visitors up to an amazing 4,000 meters (12,000 feet). As it was not a totally clear day, we could only spot a couple of the half-a-dozen volcanoes around Quito but saw the entire city below. We decided not to hike up from there to the Guagua Pichincha Volcano, which is active. The cable car costed $4 for locals, but $8 for foreigners. There is also an express lane option which Diego organised for us. We had lunch up there, learning more and more Spanish words.

There was a 12-seater van parked outside of the gates to the cable car and Claire, one of our travelling mates who has picked up more Spanish, negotiated $10 for all of us to be driven 45 minutes to the Old Town as well as dropping off 2 of the girls back to the hotel.

While in the Old Town this time we went into the Cathedral’s museum which we didn’t visit the last time in Independent Square. There was 38 full size portraits of all the past Archbishops as well as samples of their garb they have worn over the Centuries. There was an historic library too. This Cathedral was an example of neuro edifice built in 1535 and became a cathedral in 1562. Inside the cathedral, there were confirmations being conducted as there were these young girls who where all dressed up in their white lacy dresses.

We then caught a public bus and looked through the Basilica del Veto Nacinal which was completed in the early 20th Centenary. The Basilica has 3 towers, 2 of which are clock towers. We climbed the tower without the clocks first, by catching the lift to the 2nd floor then walked along a planked bridge which was over the main section of the church. We then climbed up ladders to get to the top of the tower. What a magnificent view of the city. We heard someone shout ‘cooee’ and saw 2 of our Aussi group members Claire and Erin waving at us from one of the clock towers.

Next we walked up the narrow, spiral stair case of one of the clock towers and saw behind the clock face as well as the bells. It was a 360 degree view.

Once walking down to the main area we saw a girl in a very short pink dress, posing for a cameraman standing in front of a flash black car which was in front of the steps of the Basilica. We also saw, what we think was a wedding.

We caught the trolle (a tram not on tracks) back to la Colon, a street near our hotel.
Near our Hotel we were also shown an amazing Information Centre which had Ecuadorian chocolate, coffee and chinaware for sale. We have a great cappuccino with Eric ($2.20 each). Around where our hotel was, were stacks of restaurants, cafes and small shops, very much for the tourists?
That night we went to another great restaurant and everyone had a variety of steak, curry, pasta and fish dishes. Soups are also a big thing in the diets of Ecuadorians. I finished off my meal with a chocolate mousse – beautiful!!!


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