6 weeks in Ecuador's capital
15.12.2012 - 26.01.2013 20 °C
As much as we love life on the road, it’s nice to stay in one place for a while. Since we left Guatemala in August, we’ve moved at a cracker of a pace. So, it was decided we’d put the brakes on in Ecuador. We gave backpacker hostels the flick and found ourselves a lah-di-dah apartment in the capital where we could shower without thongs and put food in the fridge without writing our names on it. It was also decided that Quito (pronounced 'Kee-Toh') would be where we take our Spanish from pathetic to mediocre.
— Our home in Quito's colonial area. Sure beat grubby backpackers hostels! And the price for 6 weeks worked out the same as what we'd pay for a hostel.
All up we spent 6 weeks in Quito, studying Spanish at a language school, sightseeing and playing house. Quito is such a great city. The old part is truly magical. It’s a UNESCO world heritage sight made up of centuries old buildings, wondrous churches, museums and elegant plazas.
— The centrepiece of Plaza Grande.
— Photography exhibition at the Centro Cultural Metropolitano.
Plaza Grande is where a lot of the cool stuff is. The changing of the guard at the Government Palace is not to be missed. Complete with marching bands, guards in brilliant costumes, horses and the President waving from the balcony, I’d say it rivals that of Buckingham Palace.
— Palacio del Gobierno, where the President gets down to business.
— The changing of the guard takes place every Monday at 11am.
— "OMG Bray, I think that's the President!" When this was taken Rafael Correa was a few weeks off an election. He subsequently won his 3rd term with 57% of the vote.
— A patriotic affair.
A couple doors up from the Palace is the most dazzling church I’ve ever seen. La Compania de Jesus is regarded as the most ornate and spectacular church in Ecuador. Photos weren’t allowed so I’ll describe it in three words – gold, gold, gold. I promise you – everything save the wooden pews was gold! Another amazing church lies a couple blocks away. Monasterio de San Franscisco is the city’s oldest church. The interior decorators obviously went with the same “stuff it, let’s you make everything gold” attitude.
— You almost need sunglasses to take in the dazzling interior of the Monasterio de San Francisco!
— A beautiful courtyard inside the monastery.
— The church dates back to 1534!
Just north of the old town is the Mariscal area, which couldn’t be more of a contrast. This is where all the trendy bars, expensive restaurants, plush hotels and modern buildings are kept. We came here most days to go to school but were always relieved to retreat back to our apartment in the atmospheric historical centre.
— The Mariscal, aka 'Gringolandia'
— Vinicio, aka 'very patient man' taught me Spanish for 5 weeks at Yanapuma Spanish school.
— Conversation practice over a smoothie and homemade chocolate.
And so the 25th of December rolled round and we had our very first Christmas away from family. It was real tough but we soothed our homesickness with Skype marathons, food and wine. A week later came New Years Eve. The locals have some crazy and colourful traditions and our night was shaping up to be the best New Year’s ever. Unfortunately five minutes into the New Year we got mugged! Not the best start to 2013! Most devastating was all the great photos I lost. Ah well, que es la vida.
— Feliz Navidad!
To see the capital in all of it’s glory, you’ve got to take the cable car up to TeleferiQo. The city is already 2850 metres above sea level so ascending another 1250 metres up a volcano seems a little unfair on the lungs. The spectacular views make the decreased lung capacity all worth it though.
— Saying cheese from 4100 metres.
— Up in the clouds.
— Quito, home to 1.5 million.
For another vista that will knock your socks off, you can climb the towers of Basilica del Voto National. It’s an especially good view of El Penicillo, the symbol of Quito. The church itself is also pretty special.
If there’s one thing you must do in Quito, it’s got to be a visit to La Ronda at night. It’s narrow laneway lined with 17th century buildings, most housing restaurants, bars and shops. On Friday and Saturday night La Ronda goes off! Live music is everywhere, street performers do their thing and Andean dance troupes delight the crowds. The best thing is that there’s really nothing touristy about it. Our apartment was just around the corner so we made ourselves regulars.
— LIstening to live music over a traditional warm canelazo (rum with spices and juice) and a giant empanada de viento.
— Empanada de viento are possibly the most unhealthy food - heart attack cheese incased in thick batter and smothered in sugar. Brayden wasn't feeling too good afterwards.
— During the day La Ronda is almost deserted.
— An intense game of foosball.
Of course you can’t come to Ecuador and not go to the place where it got its name. About 20 kilometres outside of Quito lies the equator. At ‘Mitad del Mundo’ or ‘middle of the world’ you can get all sorts of cool pictures at latitude 0º00’. There’s even a church where bride and groom can get married in different hemispheres!
--- Church built on both sides of the equator.
The best day trip from Quito is the marvellous indigenous market of Otavalo. The Saturday affair is easily one of the most famous in Latin America. Textiles dominate the offerings but you can also find jewellery, leather goods, art and food. As well as getting a retail fix, Otavalo is perfect for people watching. The local women wear beautiful blouses and long skirts while the men dress all in white with a blue poncho.
--- The Otavalos are widely considered to be the economically most successful indigenous group of Latin America.
— A local man playing a traditional andean instrument...HANG ON! Isn't that a didgeridoo!?
After 6 weeks in our apartment our Spanish had indeed improved to the level of mediocre and we were feeling well rested and ready to hit the road again.
Next stop, the rainforest.