We awoke May 9th in anticipation of our tour of Quito. We were joined at breakfast with several (but not all) of our Galapagos group members who had either arrived earlier that week or that previous evening as incoming flights into Quito arrive quite late. It was nice to reconnect with Richard Berry and his family as well as meet the others. Richard had organized a large bus to take us on our city tour of Quito with an experienced guide.
As mentioned previously, we visited the Inti-nan Museum (home to the REAL equator), Virgin of Quito statue on Panecillo Hill overlooking Quito, had lunch and then a walk about Old Town visiting Plaza Grande (Independence Square), Carondelet Palace, Iglesia De La Compania De Jesus and Convento San Francisco; later that evening, we would return to Old Town by taxi for a meal and walk around the famous Calle La Ronda.
The visit to the Inti-nan Museum was fun and our initial stop. This museum is on the REAL equator. There is an Equator Monument (La Mitad Del Mundo) 240m before the museum which was thought to be the real equator until 18 years ago when the military with GPS discovered that it wasn’t. The museum is well worth the visit. Not only is it worthwhile to stand on the actual equator but there are experiments there which can only be conducted at the equator and are fun to watch and participate in. Can you balance an egg on a nail? Can you walk on the actual equator line with your eyes closed without falling to one side or the other? Can you possess super-human strength on the equator line? Can water go straight down a sink drain instead of clockwise or anti-clockwise? All of these questions were answered at this museum.
We next drove to El Panecillo to view the Virgin of Quito statue and get great views of the city of Quito. El Panecillo (from Spanish panecillo small piece of bread, diminutive of pan bread) is a 200-metre-high hill of volcanic-origin, with loess soil, located between southern and central Quito. Its peak is at an elevation of 3,016 metres above sea level. The original name used by the aboriginal inhabitants of Quito for this site was Yavirac. According to Juan de Velasco, a Jesuit historian, on top of Yavirac there was a temple which the Indians used to worship the sun. This temple is said to have been destroyed by the Spanish conquistadores. In 1976, the Spanish artist Agustín de la Herrán Matorras was commissioned by the religious order of the Oblates to build a 45-metre-tall aluminum monument of a madonna which was assembled on a high pedestal on the top of Panecillo. It is made of seven thousand pieces of aluminium. The monument was inaugurated on March 28, 1976, by the 11th archbishop of Quito, Pablo Muñoz Vega. The statue was engineered and erected by Anibal Lopez of Quito. The virgin stands on top of a globe and is stepping on a snake, which is a classic madonna iconography. Less traditional are the wings. Locals claim that she is the only one in the world with wings like an angel. The monument was inspired by the famous “Virgen de Quito” (Quito’s Madonna) also known as “the dancer” sculpted by Bernardo de Legarda in 1734, which now decorates the main altar at the Church of St. Francis (which we later saw- see below).
At the midpoint of our day we had a great lunch at a nice restaurant adjacent to Old Town. Michael (one of our tour members had the biggest puff pastry I had ever seen for his lunch- impressive).
After lunch, we had a wonderful walk around Old Town visiting Plaza Grande (Independence Square) and Carondelet Palace. Carondelet Palace (Spanish: Palacio de Carondelet) is the seat of government of the Republic of Ecuador, located in Quito. Access is by the public space known as Independence Square or Plaza Grande (colloquial name), around which are also the Archbishop’s Palace, Municipal Palace, Hotel Plaza Grande, and Metropolitan Cathedral. We had a chance to witness the changing of the guards. We also visited the Church of the Society of Jesus (Spanish: La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús), known colloquially as la Compañía, which is a Jesuit church in Old Town. It is among the best-known churches in Quito because of its large central nave, which is profusely decorated with gold leaf, gilded plaster and wood carvings. Inspired by two Roman Jesuit churches — the Chiesa del Gesù (1580) and the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola (1650) — la Compañía is one of the most significant works of Spanish Baroque architecture in South America. It is Quito’s most ornate church and (according to some observers) the country’s most beautiful. Photography was not allowed inside the church but I can confirm it is absolutely gorgeous! The same conditions applied at The Church and Monastery of St. Francis (Spanish: Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco), commonly known as el San Francisco, a 16th-century Roman Catholic complex in Quito, Ecuador. It fronts onto its namesake Plaza de San Francisco. The imposing structure has the distinction of being the largest architectural ensemble among the historical structures of colonial Latin America and for this reason is sometimes known as “El Escorial of the New World”. This style evolved over almost 150 years of construction (1534-1680) through earthquakes and changes in artistic fashion. The Church houses the city’s beloved Virgin of Quito (1734)- see above.
We then returned to our hotel satisfied that we had a good overview of some of what Quito had to offer. During the day we had briefly passed by Calle La Ronda and Richard came up with the idea to return in the evening for dinner. During the daytime and in tourist districts it is generally quite safe to travel by foot in Quito. However, in the evening this is not the case outside of policed tourist districts. Calle La Ronda it is a tourist district and is heavily policed so it is safe to visit in the evening but not necessarily to walk to it. We therefore decided to take a taxi. The street itself was 5-6 blocks long, and was packed full of various stores, shops and bars. There were numerous street performers of many styles, from painters to dancers. It is a wonderful street to people watch on and saunter down at night and is always packed full of locals and tourists alike. The bars/pubs love their karaoke as well (I do not share their enthusiasm). We had a fantastic meal at an authentic Ecuadorian restaurant with the most wonderful sangria and fantastic prices. Kudos to Janet for ordering the authentic guinea pig and finishing it!
We retired to our hotel afterwards as the next day we would be traveling to visit Otavalo and Cotacachi. It had been a fantastic day!