Ecuador, February 29, 2012: Quito
Morning in Quito, and for the first time on the trip, we didn’t have to think about when we would be leaving town or how much driving lay ahead. Instead, the car was parked in a garage and we were staying in the city for the day. Mode of transportation: feet. We had rented a lovely little apartment that we’d found on airbnb, so we were equipped with a kitchen, where we scrounged up some coffee and toasted up a few roles we’d bought at a little tienda down the street for a modest but tasty breakfast.
Today was a tourist activity day, and we kicked it off by making visits to both La Compañía and La Basílica del Voto Nacional, two of Quito’s many churches, both deemed “top attractions” in our guidebook. La Basílica afforded some great views of the city. We climbed all the way to the top, up winding staircases and rickety ladders, and were met with views of Old Town Quito and beyond, sprawling out before us. It’s a funny thing that as a tourist in a new city, I often find that my first activity is climbing to the top of whatever highest structure is open to get a birds-eye view of the place. This strikes me as one of the most touristy of tourist activities, yet I do it anyway, almost without fail. I don’t even like heights. Yet, these structures and their views keep calling me, willing me to climb up to their highest points and stare out at the day’s stomping ground below.
Climbing up, up, up in La Basílica del Voto Nacional
Following La Basílica, we checked out La Compañía, an incredibly ornate church supposedly lined with seven tons of gold – a stat that becomes more believable once you step inside. Aside from the overall blinding interior, the one piece of decor I remember was a mural depicting hell and the different punishments people received based on their sins. Pretty creepy. According to this assessment of sin, I’m clearly doomed.
After spending the morning walking around Old Town we took a quick break at the house and then headed out to El Teleférigo, a cable car that takes passengers high over the city up to the hills that surrounded Quito. If we thought La Basílica offered good views, it was nothing compared with the cable car. We were so incredibly high over the city that we could see airplanes flying below us. We rode the car right up into the clouds, giving us a good view of the whole of Quito. It’s a long, thin city – 50 kilometers long by just eight kilometers wide, sandwiched in between the mountains. We spent some time wandering around at the summit, but truth be told there wasn’t much to be seen and visibility was zero. The ride back down to Quito was hair-raising, and I did my best not to look down.
After arriving back in the city we took a little walk around New Town, also known as gringolandia, and for good reason. It was a completely different atmosphere from the Old Town neighborhood we’d explored that morning, dotted with all kinds of modern shops, restaurants and reminders of American culture. One of the highlights of the walk was a cool little Ecuadorian chocolate shop, where the boys had espresso and I had a chocolate caliente, which was nice because it really wasn’t sweet at all – it was all about the chocolate, not the sugar. After a good walk around we returned to the house for a late afternoon snack of cheese, crackers and beer. At around 8:30pm we attempted to find a restaurant or café that would serve us a meal. Unfortunately, it had started to rain, and it seemed that the city had closed its doors early, at least in the area we were looking. After wandering around in the dark, rainy streets we finally conceded defeat and picked up some empanadas and sweet rolls to eat back at the house. For the most part, none of us was particularly impressed with the food we’d had in Quito, and all of our stomachs were a bit angry throughout the day. This could have been linked to the altitude, though; fact: Quito is the second highest world capital in the world, after La Paz. Luckily nobody was in too much distress, and tomorrow we would be heading out to lower ground on the coast, which would probably help.