Nine thousand three feet high yet only15 miles south of the equator, Quito is proving itself to be a charming, yet modern city. In several ways, it reminds me of Cartegena, another South American city we have explored. There is a well preserved and UNESCO protected old city adorned with winding narrow streets and flower filled balconies. Every where you turn you might find a Church glittering in gold leaf, or a plaza teaming with people and trees in bloom. Adjacent to this, one also finds a modern city with all it's entrapments including fancy hotels and shopping.
In terms of history, once again we are looking back multiples of thousand of years. One reads of 5000 year old artifacts and throws around terms such as "Pre-Columbian", as Quito is named after the Quitua Amerindians, an indigenous people who lived at the most northern extent of the South American Inca empire. Initially overthrown in a Peruvian invasion, Quito became a Spanish subcolony in the late 1500's. A proliferation of grandiose churches followed and later, Quito became known for painters and a prototypical genre of artists. Of course, time was also marked with fires that razed the city, revolutions, and rebellions. Ecuador became independent in 1830, within the wave of independence that flowed through Latin America in the early 19th century.
I arrived in Quito late November 6th accompanied by our long awaited visitors, Emma, Rob, and Sierra. Emma is proving to be quite the traveler. She plays and occupies herself quite nicely – although it helps that this youngest generation (hereby dubbed by me as gen-i), grows up thinking that it is normal to watch Curious George movies on your dad's iphone while you are flying south of the equator on vacation. Jo, Gram, and Zak were waiting for us, and the three bags of boat parts and treats I carried, (thanks, M&D) at the hotel.
In Quito, we walked and absorbed the ambience of the old city. Our first stop was the Church of La Compania de Jesus, reputed to be the most grandiose church in all of Latin America. Cavernous and dripping with gold leaf, the ornate ceiling is known as the Cistene Chapel of South America. The church suffered a fire in the mid 1990's and there was much damage. Most of the ceiling was covered in soot, plaster fell from the water of hoses, and beautiful details were lost. Ultimately, it was felt that the church was so incredibly Baroque that it had to be fixed, and after a decade long restoration it re-opened several years ago. Curiously, a singular face in a ceiling frieze was left untouched and remained darkened with soot. We felt that this was an attempt to be PC. Afterwards, we strolled towards lunch. The plazas teemed with people, and we found a typical lunch in the oldest café in the city. We visited the arboretum in the afternoon, and then headed back to our hotel.
The neighborhood we stayed in, the Mariscal, bridges the old and the new city. It was a popular area for small hotels, tour agencies, well equipped outdoor stores, and was alive with nightlife. We were tired enough so that any night time antics were barely a bother. Dinner was at an Argentinean grilled meat restaurant, where we enjoyed some of the best meats any of us had ever had – very memorable.
After Quito, we will begin our exploration of the areas to the north. Volcanoes, lakes, local markets, and
table cloths leather jackets await us. More to follow soon.