Hola from Quito! We have had an insanely busy and fun last few days. Sorry to all who have been anticipating n update sooner, there was just too much to do!
After the long day of waiting described in the previous entry, Zach arrived at Wantara on Monday night. I don’t think we could have been any more delighted to be back in each others company after over two months of separation. We spent the night catching up and exploring g our immediate surroundings. Since Zach arrived well after dark, we decided to stick close by and ended up a few blocks away on a street called Calle de la Ronda. I will remember this street forever when I think of Quito. It is usually a tourist spot, but since it is the end of the season most of the people there are native Ecuadorians. The street is the nightlife of historic Quito, with a long sloping street filled with mostly restaurants, nearly all of which have live music and traditional drinks. Our first dinner together consisted of a modest plate of chicken and rice and an Ecuadorian special called an empanada de viento, which is a HUGE cheese empanada. When I say huge, I mean seriously twice or three times as big as my head, depending on where you get them. I read online that these are close cousins of the special quesadillas we used to get in imperial valley when I was a kid. Having tried a few, I could not disagree more but they are still delicious.
The next day, we began to explore the city around us. We walked to Plaza Grande, one of the main gathering places in historic Quito. Here we ate a delicious Ecuador style breakfast of bread and cheese and local fruit in yogurt, and discovered quanabana juice. After this, we hopped on a double decker tour bus for a look at the city. We bought two tickets, good for the whole day. Our plan was to get off at the teleferico, which is a gondola that takes you to the top of the Pichincha volcano. When we got off the bus, we were in a totally desolate neighborhood. We needed to get to the shuttle that would take us to the teleferico, but we couldn’t find any signs. We go directions from a woman working at a fruit store and made it up the mountain. From the top we had a view of the entire city, as well as some if the other volcanoes nearby. After an afternoon of hiking we made it down to the street, only to realize we had barely missed the bus and now had to wait an hour. We decided to search for food, but since it was around 3:30 most stores had stopped serving lunch and were in the process of getting ready for dinner. Eventually we found a hole in the wall place that agreed to feed us. I was warned not to eat at places that didn’t look clean, but it was all we could find and the food we got ended up being some of the best we’ve had here so far (and no, we didn’t get sick). We made it back just in time to catch our bus, only to realize this was the last tour of the day and we were going to be kicked off in modern Quito, miles away from our hotel in historic Quito without completing even half the tour. Zach suggested taking the trolleybus home, since there is a stop two blocks away from Wantara. I had heard that this wasn’t the best for of communication. Although it is fast, I was warned that ok pocketing and groping are common. We decided it would be better than a can and hopped on, but after just a few stops the trolley came to an abrupt halt. A protest was marching the ought be streets of Quito, and as the marchers drew near we saw signs pleading for the salvation of Yasuni, the park Zach has been working at for two months. At the front I the parade was one of his co-workers, Mayra. We jumped off the trolley and joined her in the march. The protest occured because the president of Ecuador has just opened up Yasuni to oil companies for drilling, which will lead to building roads and towns and drilling centers in this pristine wilderness, which is thousands of times more diverse than forests in the US. Long story short, we ended up marching all the way back to historic Quito. As we marched, cops began to move in from all sides and create human blockades in front of the marchers. We decided it was time to leave since we don’t know much about rights in Ecuador, whether there is a right to peaceful protest, or what consequences would be in store for us as tourists if we were arrested. Zach was overwhelmed by the support from people in the streets for the place he had lived and loved for two months. Talking with Mayra later, we found the protest had turned mildly violent as the police began harassing and pushing the marchers, who did nothing illegal by marching.
On Wednesday, we started our tour of the architecture on Quito. We started at Iglesias de Santo Domingo, a magnificent church right next to our hotel. We had a difficult time in the museum since neither of us have the language skills to read complex text in Spanish, but we enjoyed looking at the paintings and sculptures, especially in the main chapel. We were due to meet Tom, Mayra, and Maria-Jose, all fellow Tiputini explorers, to walk around and get dinner. We walked to Plaza Grande, and encountered our archnemises: the shoe shining kids. The day before while we waited to board the tour bus, we were approached by no less than twenty kids who wanted to shine our shoes. Zach was wearing his field boots, which were filthy, but we didn’t want to spend money or time on shoe cleaning. Zach, in his usual way, tried to tell them to go away by smiling and saying no gracias, but this was very unsuccessful and we soon had a small hoard of children surrounding us. We discovered the secret was to not smile when they tried to clean my sandals (nearly new) and I just said no with a vey stern face. Anyways, the next day while we were waiting to meet our friends Zach decided he would let the kids clean his shoes, which were his sandals that day. One industrious kid sat down and shined the front, and we were approached by about fifteen kids who soon gathered round us in a circle. I sat on my shoes because kids would just sit down and start cleaning them even if I said no. When finished, Zach’s shoes were a hilarious wreck, and the kid wanted six dollars for painting is shoes green. Zach bargained with him for ten or fifteen minutes, eventually giving him two and we moved away to try and escape the rest of the kids. Zach even took off his shoes so the kids would leave him alone. A kid sat down and prepared to pour the oil on his bare feet, and we decided to just stay on foot and walk around until the others arrived. Once they did, we went to the Inglesia de la Compania de Jesus, a church built by the Jesuits. The inside of the building was insanely ornate, it seemed like everything was covered in gold leaf. Afterwards, we went to eat dinner on the top of a building overlooking the while city, then back to La Ronda for drinks. Ma-Jo and Mayra introduced us to Canelazo, my new favorite drink, while we enjoyed a traditional band including pan flute players.
The next day, we visited Basilica del Voto Nacional, my personal favorite building in Quito. This church is one of the most recently built, but due to the gothic style it seems much older than it is. We were able to visit the inside which contained many amazing stained glass windows. Then we climbed up into the clock towers and the belfry. This was a harrowing experience as we ascended what we dubbed “the staircases of death,” which were these vertical stairs. I was amazed to see women climbing in high heels. Before we entered the Basilica, we ran into Ian, someone Zach worked with at Yasuni. After running into Mayra at the protest and then Ian, I feel like Quito is much smaller than it actually is. We decide to go to the fruit market together, where we picked up many tasty fruits. I was so glad Zach had been trying the fruits, so we ended up herrings a great variety. Afterwards, we headed off to the house of Oswaldo Guayasamin, a very famous artist from Quito. We toured his house and La Capilla del Hombre, a chapel he built to house his larger works. His intense and morbid style lead to some wonderful discussions between Zach, Ian, and I, and made me think his style is something Lydia would really like (go check it out, Blonde!).
Today, I woke up feeling a bit under the weather so Zach and I decided to take it easy. He made me a delicious breakfast of fried plantain, rice, bread, and fruit.
After breakfast we took the trolleybus into Quito proper in search of a few guidebooks to take with us to Maquipucuna reserve tomorrow. We walked around most of the city, but found very few guidebooks, and even fewer in English. We ended finding two we liked pretty well, then headed to Catolica University to try and find another book, which they unfortunately didn’t have. We were able to meet Mayra, who studies there, for a quick goodbye, and then we were off for one last round of sightseeing. We visited Catedral Primada de Quito, located in Plaza Grande. We were led by a tiny catholic girl up a set of ancient spiral stairs (Zach and I both hit our heads many times on the way up and down) lit by candles to stand on the dome of the cathedral overlooking the plaza and the city. We then explored the cathedral itself, and made our way home.
We are looking forward to our trip to Maqipucuna tomorrow, but we have both decided that Quito ranks in our top favorite cities, if not the favorite. We will miss Wantara and our hosts, Wolfgang and Andi. But we are both happy and healthy, and we send our love to all of you! Off to the next adventure 🙂 Ciao!