Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Nativity Llama in Quito

The capital city of Ecuador, Quito has a reputation for being dangerous – as do all Latin American cities – but I didn’t find it to be all too bad (though I always play it safe).  There were some really nice neighbourhoods (and some not nice neighbourhoods) and plenty of good restaurants.  I had three days to chill in the city after my return from the Galapagos and I did my best to make the most of it.

A few highlights of my time in Quito:

TeleferiQo & Guayasamin:
My first full day in Quito was spent with a few people from my tour taking taxis to the faraway places that weren’t lumped in with the rest of the tourist sites.  We started at the TeleferiQo – a cable car that whisks you up the side of one of the mountains that surrounds Quito’s valley.  At the top, we were a mere 4,050 meters (13,287 feet) above sea level.  So basically really fucking high.  In fact, commercial jetliners pressurize their cabins to levels of around 6,000 – 8,000 feet above sea level so Quito is naturally 66% - 121% higher than that.  I got a headache.  The lookout itself was super cloudy upon arrival but the clouds parted after a few minutes and we had some great views of the city below.

Later on, we popped by the former home of Oswaldo Guayasamin – one of Ecuador’s most famous artists.  He died a few years ago and his hillside home has been turned into a museum.  Next door, the Capilla del Hombre (Chapel of Man) was built by Guayasamin to showcase big murals depicting the suffering of indigenous Latin American peoples.  His works are brilliant.  Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside.

The Equator(s):
Just outside of Quito lies the equator, and it’s every tourists’ duty to take a picture with one foot, arm, testicle, and nipple in the northern hemisphere and one foot, arm, testicle, and nipple in the southern hemisphere!  Due to the mountainous terrain, it was here was the equator was first marked out in 1736 using triangulation.  However, the methods back then weren’t exact and the expedition team was (much much) later determined to have been 240 metres off.  Nevertheless, the government built a monument on the site of the original equator and turned into a tourist attraction called “Mitad del Mundo” (Half of the World).  A tower and yellow line marks the original equator and the complex also contains a craft village, a few museums (including one with some Guayasamin works that were available for pictures!), a bunch of other crap, and llamas!

Almost next door lies Museo Intiñan with various displays on indigenous culture and the modern day GPS calculated equator – though my guidebook said it was also slightly off.  The guided tour lets you walk on the equator and demonstrates how water spins different ways on either side of the line and how the forces pulling you both ways make it very difficult to walk a straight line on the equator.  Museo Intiñan was definitely better than Mitad del Mundo.  While it lacked random llamas, it did have a chocolate display and random guinea pigs!  The best part of this whole day trip:  it only cost me $0.80 to get there and back on the public bus.  I love it.

Walking tour:
I showed up for one of those free walking tours that most cities have these days.  Unfortunately, the guide decided not to show up.  I was stranded there with two other travellers but I had my Lonely Planet on my phone and it came complete with a suggested walking tour.  So I was the new tour guide!  Our first stop was the massive Basilica del Voto Nacional.  This is Ecuador, so rather than having traditional gargoyles decorate the exterior, the basilica has turtle and iguana gargoyles.  The belltower was TERRIFYING to climb up.  What basically amounts to a ladder was sticking out over the side of the building to let visitors climb up.  There was some thin netting to protect you if your foot slipped forward but it had holes in it and would do nothing if you fell backward.  I almost didn’t go up but I’m glad I did as the views were great.

Our leisurely walking tour took us to various plazas and more churches than I think I had ever visited in my lifetime up until that point.  Some of these Ecuadorian churches were decorated in nothing but gold.  Shouldn’t the Catholic Church be a bit more responsible with their money and use it for good instead of gold?  My favourite church was the big cathedral – not because it was pretty or big or whatever – but because it had some interesting local religious artwork including a nativity scene featuring a horse and a llama, and The Last Supper featuring Jesus and his posse eating guinea pig and humitas (the local version of tamales) and drinking chicha (a fermented corn drink).  Amazing.  Pictures weren’t allowed inside and I always follow the rules, but seeing as the Catholic Church has little to no respect for me and all my gays, I’ll have a bit of disrespect for them.  I took my picture of Jesus and his badass nativity llama.

Also on the walking tour we strolled down La Ronda – a famous street for tourists.  While the street comes alive at night, it was pretty dead at daytime with the notable exception of a chocolate shop called Chez Tiff which is run by a Swiss-Ecuadorian family.  We had a quick chocolate lesson and some “intense” hot chocolate.  Jizz.  To end the tour, we popped into the Museo de la Ciudad.  It didn’t have much English, but it was an interesting history of the city and country nonetheless.

The guide not showing up actually worked out really well.  We got to move at our own pace, stop for chocolate, and we didn’t have to tip.  WIN!

I always mention the food:
But it wasn’t all that notable here.  Similar to the other Latin American countries, typical Ecuadorian food often consisted of chicken or fish or pork with rice, lentils, and a salad.  I had llapingachos – fried root vegetable patties – one night, and a delicious quinoa soup another.  And I had Mexican food – obviously – at a Frida Kahlo inspired taco joint.  For dessert:  pie.  American pie.  Not the movie.  But the actual pie.  At an American grill and pie restaurant.  Lemon cream pie with a scoop of Key Lime Pie ice cream on the side.  Oh yes!

From Ecuador, I was flying to Colombia via Panama City.  It was my third layover in Panama City so I figured I should stop for a few days and see a canal or something. But first, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Quito, follow this link:

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