Our plan for our first day of our around the world trip was to take it easy, get use to the altitude and settle into our new life, so we opted for a 3-hour walking tour, up and down the hills and stairs and more stairs. What a beginning. Our guide was good, a local person who told us that Quito is centered around 4 cathedrals as a square. Upon further investigation, it is really more linear. Our guild planned on 2 visits inside of the cathedral of San Francisco and the Basilica. The cathedral was closed and the Basilica had a special ceremony for the policy of Quito, we could not enter either church. We did have an opportunity to experience the old town.
Everywhere we went people were offering to sell us something, either on the street or in narrow store fronts about the size of our storage unit back home. Not harassingly, but calling out to the locals as well. This is how commerce works at the neighborhood level. It was a little shocking to our senses as to how different this city is from back home.
After our tour we returned to our hotel for a 3-hour nap!
After our long nap we had a great chat with other travelers in our hostel and then went out for dinner, can you believe it, pizza from an American owned pizza joint. We were back in bed by 9 and out in solid sleep until 8 the next morning.
Day Two in Quito
Even with our Duo-lingo and Google translate apps we wanted to get a more basic grammatical understanding of the Spanish language. So we ask our hostel proprietor if he could arrange a private language lesson for us. So we started day two with Senora Rachell. We worked threw her lesson forbidden to speak English and reviewed: articulos + substontiros + adjetivos, both in plural and gender specific formats. We enjoyed the class and felt that our ear for the language and translations would be better.
Out the door by noon and off to our busiest day. We wanted to oversee the entire area. So we traveled to the Telefriqo, a gondola lift that took us to the top of one of the mountains surrounding Quito. Here was our first trail hiking day, aiming toward the tip reaching 4,000 km. We photographed some beautiful sights, where sunlight and clouds, mountains and populated valleys meet. Janet had a particular spectacular panaramic shot we will share. We marched to the second plateau and felt complete. Maybe to the top in a future life.
Down the mountain, found a taxi, and back to the center of Old Town. The city is all hustle and bustle. Children in school uniforms being hurried along by their mothers for morning classes. It seemed like there was a split shift for schooling; may have been pre and post siesta scheduling. Traffic is rather crazy, but actually respectful to pedestrians. Small stick shifts autos-which they love-zoom about these narrow, inclined, medieval streets. We would freak out riding the clutch all the time—we know, as we owned a 5 speed Fiat. The buses whip around corners almost like sports cars too. Only the motorcyclists can squeeze through tight spaces and straddle the lanes. Walking is sometimes a challenge due to the hills of the city, and more significantly, our lack of acclimation to the altitude here. Typically, we walk until we get winded, stop, let our heart rate adjust, then move on. I thought we did really well, although I admit to that long afternoon nap.
Our next goal was to travel back to several religious sites: De La Basilica and Iglesia La Compania De Jesus . The Basilica is immense, easily seen from almost anywhere in Quito with its massive towers. The exterior is much like Notre Dame in Paris or West Minster Abbey in London. That is where the comparison ends. The interior is cavernous, but there is no elegance and limited decoration. Most side alters are empty. This was surprising, if not disappointing.
The Iglesia La Compania De Jesus, on the other hand, is the most amazing cathedral; many say the most important church in all of South America. The entire interior is covered with gold leaf and shimmers and shines from front to back. The sculptures and paintings at the main alter and side alters are exquisite. Personally, we thought Iglesia La Compania De Jesus rivaled any cathedral in Rome that we have seen, save St. Peters Cathedral at the Vatican. No photos were allowed, but we have reproduced the ticket to give you a taste. We concluded by walking to the Monasterio of San Francisco, which is the oldest church in Quito and gained additional importance as the site where current Pope Francis had visited. It was a lovely cathedral, but the memorable part was the little old man that was free lancing as a secret tour guide, taking us around and whispering during evening pray. I enjoyed him more than Janet, but he did declined my $1.00 offer and requested at least $2—“for the church”. I gave it to him because—you know he had lived in Michigan once he said? - see our post on the Folktale about the building of this cathedral.
At that point it was getting late, close to dusk, and we wanted to get to our hostel which was reasonably close. But Janet wanted to use the kitchen and cook dinner with or without my help. So we stopped at a local shop near our hostel to purchase pasta, tomato sauce, rolls, and vegetables. I already admitted the pricing gives me trouble, so I’m fumbling around in my pocket for the right bills and then pay the man. As we turn to leave the man comes out from behind the counter, gets my attention, and points to the $20 bill I dropped on his floor. I say “grasias”,but then a women , his wife I think, says back “mucho grasias”. I agree “mucho grasias”, chuckle, smile and wave goodbye. I felt really good about that exchange and the honesty, even though Janet poked me in the ribs.
In the small kitchen, Janet put together our very first home cooked meal on this trip. It was a very nice meal. I helped too. After cleanup, it was straight to bed so we would be prepared for our next day of adventure
Day 3 in Quito
After a nice breakfast and some great conversations with the other travelers at our hostel we set out to see Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (Spanish: Middle of the World City). This is a monument at the equator. We used the local public transportation, this involved going to the local bus stop and paying 25 cents to get to a bus terminal and transferring to a bus to for a 30-minute ride to the site. Thankfully, we met a nice Australian women traveling the world solo and we teamed up together to navigate this process.
The site is very nice, the monument was large with a museum and hands on science lab inside. We had a good time jumping back and forth from the northern and western hemisphere. After lunch, made by Janet with food we had packed, we were back to a very crowded public bus back to the terminal. At the terminal we made a decision to take a taxi to see the La Virgen de Quito – also known as the winged virgin of Quito. This site is at the opposite end of Quito, a city of 45 KM, or 27.96 miles. After finding a taxi we tried to explain what we wanted, he clearly thought we were crazy and after several attempts told us it would be $15. By American standards this was a deal. Our ride was close to an hour, up and down the hills, through rush hour traffic and we made it to the top of another mountain before the sunset. She was really worth the it. What a great site, see our photos below. We are movie buffs and this was in the final scene of the movie Proof of Life.
Getting back to our hostel proved to be our next challenge, no taxi stand at the virgin. So we opted for another bus with assurance from the attendant that this bus would take us back to our old town -the Historical area. Soon we realized we were not going done to the lower historic area, but whizzing by on an outer circle freeway. In a panic the bus stopped for us and let us off on the side of the freeway IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. So we did not panic (Janet now says she did sort of) and we started walking toward a busy street. Very soon we found a taxi and with the help of google translate got back to the hostel safe and sound.
As we approached our hostel the bells rang for Saturday night mass at the local church we have talked about. We made a quick decision to go to mass, an experience in Spanish which we shared with a total of 10 other people, not so very different and still a comfort to us after a long day. We ended with a quick easy dinner and bed, the next morning it was time to say goodbye to Quito, on to Mindo.
This is our bus station to Mindo and Frank on the Bus