Today we decided to take the day and explore the city. In 1978, Quito was the first city to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With a population over 2 million people, it is a mixture of both old and new. You can find Colonial squares and plazas, as well as modern malls. There is a recognition of the indigenous population and culture, as well as uber modern skyscrapers. The new areas, including near where we are staying, have a surprisingly large amount of glass in the buildings. And often the shapes and colours of the buildings are beyond the basics.
On our way to start our errands, the boys wanted to check out a trophy store we had walked by the previous week. It was blinding in there. There were trophies and plaques of every shape and size. Some were bigger than the kids! They also had a huge selection of tiaras in one showcase. None of us would want the job of polishing them all.
We had to find an apple friendly charger as ours is not working well. We figured our best bet was the shopping mall next to Carolina Park where we were going to catch the Quito Tourist bus. On the way, Erez spotted an apple dealer. We had to get buzzed in to shop in the store. In fact, many of the stores in that building had similar security set ups. Many small items were quite expensive, so we assume they are trying to stop shoplifting by controlling who and how many people are allowed in the store at once.
We also had to find an ATM so we ended up going into the mall anyway. It was quite an upscale mall, with many mall stores we would find at home.
After a bit of confusion based on our guide book having some details wrong (we’ll spare you the details, but it involves a walk across the huge and amazing Park Carolina and then back, returning to the intersection where we started walking from the mall) we got on Quito’s Double Decker Tour bus. For $15 you can buy a ticket that will take you to 11 spots of interest around the city in a three hour loop. You can hop on and off the bus as often as you like during the day. There is both a Spanish and English tour that is heard throughout the bus so you can learn about the city. In between sites of interest, they played well known Latin music as some of the people around us on the bus were singing and clapping along.
It was a very interesting ride, although somewhat downgraded by having to sit in traffic. We did hop off the bus at one location in “Old Town”. We did a thorough self-tour of one of the most impressive churches in South America, La Compania. Seven tonnes of gold are supposedly on the ceiling and on the artwork in the church. There are also countless paintings on the walls and ceilings. It has been called “Quito’s Sistine Chapel”. It was built by the wealthy Jesuit order between 1605 and 1765. It was severely damaged in the 1987 earthquake and an intense fire in 1996 but has been fully restored. We also looked through the church’s extensive collection of cultural artifacts, clothing and hats. The opulence was quite astonishing.
By the time we finished exploring the church, we had time to eat gelato, quickly explore the main Plaza and then hop back on the next bus. The next stop was El Panecillo (Little Bread Loaf) Hill. Overlooking the city there is a giant aluminum winged statue of the Virgin Mary. From the top of the hill you get a spectacular view of the city, continuous from new to old and back to new across the panorama, all nestled in the valley between two rows of volcanoes. Quito is about 50km long and only about 8km wide, limited by small hills to the east and the three large volcanoes to the west which help to define Quito. After this city exposure, we have some ideas of where to spend time when we are back in Quito for a couple of days at the end of our trip.
The bus was huge and many of the streets were narrow. It was a wonder the driver could navigate through them at all. A few times it seemed we were scratching the buildings that lined the streets. The guide kept announcing that the people on the top floor of the bus must stay in their seats, because in some parts of the city, there were very low hanging electrical wires or bridges and the bus just barely cleared them.
We ended the day back at the Carolina Park and started the 20 minute walk home. The boys were starving so we ended up stopping at a wing joint, because it was the first decent place that was open. On a Friday night why wouldn’t places be open at six? Initially we were looking at several items on the menu, until the server advised us of their four specialities, which were actually the only four things they had to serve. So we all shared wings. Otherwise, it felt just like a wing joint at home except the wings came with a convenient pair of thin disposable plastic gloves so your hands won’t get dirty. That didn’t help with the boys’ faces though! They also offered some interesting sauces like passion fruit, honey maple and a spicy red fruit sauce.
Tomorrow we will attempt to take public transit to our next hotel where we will meet up with our Me to We contact. Then, Sunday morning, we will head down to the Amazon.