On our free day in Quito, we decided to walk from the hotel to the Mercado Artisanal and the Basilica. With help of a map and saved images from Google maps, we made it just fine.
We had fun at the market, chatting with vendors, and buying more than we had anticipated. We were especially captivated by a flute player, and ended up meeting another fan — an Ecuadoran woman who lives in Florida.
The Basilica is a gothic-styled structure, much more recent than the more prevalent 16th-century churches in Spanish Mission style. The draw here was to climb the bell tower via a series of metal ladders high above the roof. At the half-way point I hesitated, especially as the wind picked up, but as two guys with full-sized backpacks headed up, I decided I could be brave, so I followed them up, reaching the platform at the top, panting and shaking. Best not to look down!
The views were spectacular. Getting back down the same way, including descending a ladder beneath the pitched roof and crossing a wooden catwalk that stretched over the inner vault, was almost as challenging.
Next we climbed another series of steps and tiny circular metal stairs to the top of one of the two main towers.
Once back on terrafirma, we walked steeply up, then down—a long steep street to the Old Town, where we had a light lunch in a charming old dining room upstairs in what had once been a colonial house (La Colonial). There was a party going on in an adjacent room, with very loud music. I kept hoping they would soon be done. We could see that the guests had finished eating, and were now dancing around the table. I peeked in as we were leaving, and they waved for me to join in the merriment, so I danced a couple of rounds about the table with them. Kent snapped a picture.
We are now boarding the flight to the Galapagos, via Guayaquil, and can expect to have no internet for the next 7 days, so you will be reading this perhaps a week from today. yes!
Our first adventure of the day was a trip to a large, well-organized, very clean produce market. On the way there we drove past many modern daringly designed high-rise buildings. The Equadoran economy must be booming for some, if not for the people we met yesterday. Volcanic peaks and towering clouds towered above the shiny buildings.
At the market Alfredo pointed out some of the more unusual products to us, such as scented soaps, teas, and potions designed to attract the opposite sex, and work other miracles.
He gave each of us $1 in coins, and sent us to find a fruit or vegetable we’d never seen before. A treasure hunt — what fun! I never did find out what the large green fruit that looked much like a jackfruit was. It cost $8, so was beyond our budget. However we did find an unusual large yellow fruit for $1.50, and had enough left over to pick up a couple of handfuls of small round yellow gooseberries, the likes of which I’d never seen.
Later we shared our finds, and tasted them at an impromptu lunch in a lovely shaded patio.
The equator site, touted as “El Mitad Del Mundo,” was a bit gimmicky. I was reminded of recent visits to the Four Corners monument—but we had a good local guide who demonstrated balancing an egg on the equator, and pouring water into a golden sink that he moved from center and then to north and south to show how water ran down the drain straight at the equator and swirled clockwise and counter clockwise on north and south sides.
Then Alfredo had arranged a surprise visit for us to la Casa y Museo de Agave, the enterprise of Diego, whose goal was to resurrect the indigenous traditions of working with agave, from producing rope and textiles, to juice, syrup, and spirits cry. After a light lunch of popcorn, our market fruits, and a delicious gazpacho-like cold soup with addition of small white beans, we were treated to a very elegant and informative tasting of various agave drinks and syrup, as we were instructed to look at the liquid in the glass, holding it up to the light, then swirling, then breathing in the aroma, and finally, after toasting the sky above, the earth beneath our feet and blessings for all, we savored the taste and warmth of the liquor. Miske, the Spirit of Equador.
Several of us visited the Botanical Garden afterwards, and Kent and I got instructions on how to walk home. Unfortunately, we had 2 mishaps. First, although Alfredo had instructed us to follow one street “straight” until we came to another that would connect us to a familiar one, at the end of the park we came to a Y and didn’t know which branch to take. I had not purchased cell service, so had no access to Google maps, which might have saved us, and lacked a printed map, too. Then, as we asked a man handing out flyers along the street for directions, he pointed to our backs. We had been slimed with a thick black substance, Kent worse than me.
We knew this was a common trick used by pickpockets, but we saw no one around us and were totally unaware that anything had hit us. Fortunately we’d suffered no losses.
We continued on the street I thought would be the right one — and it was— but then we came to a traffic circle with several choices of streets, and had no idea which way to go. We walked a bit farther, then hailed a taxi that delivered us to the corner closest to the hotel.
We made a successful visit up to a bank ATM, then hurried back, now in the rain, to our room, where we spent the next half hour or more scrubbing, rinsing, and wringing out two pairs of pants, two shirts, and one backpack.
Fortunately we’d suffered nothing worse than embarrassment, annoyance, and inconvenience.
We finished the evening with a lovely meal and a bottle of wine at a nice Italian restaurant (La Briciola) near the hotel (NH Collection Royal Quito), with Linda and Ed from North Carolina, a couple who, like us, had met and remarried late in life.
After our flights from San Francisco and Dallas, a long wait through immigration, and a fairly long, convoluted taxi ride in the dark, we finally gratefully dropped into our bed at our Quito hotel sometime between 1 and 2 am.
We were not very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at our 8:30 am breakfast or at the get acquainted trip overview that followed. The guidelines for behavior included, “No discussion of USA politics.” Probably a good idea.
Our trip leader Alfredo is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He led us through a two- hour walk of the historic center of Quito, which included an interview with a former gang member who turned his life around, although at the cost of almost losing his life.
We also met and were able to ask questions of a 43-year-old street-corner prostitute, whose working name is Daniela. She is married and the mother of a son in his final year of a university engineering program and of a 13-year-old daughter. Her children do not know about her work, although her husband does. They need the money. She earns $13 per client, whom she takes to a nearby “official” hotel. The hotel takes $3 and she keeps $10. Alfredo paid her for the time she spent taking with us. There Is much more she told us. She seemed like a nice person. Another very made-up woman nearby in high heels and short tight skirt smiled and waved at me. I felt sad.
Later, near our hotel, we met a young couple who were Venezuelan refugees. They had walked for two months through Colombia to reach Ecuador and were hoping to get to Guayaquil. They were gaunt and weather-beaten.
During our walk through the old city we visited the gold-encrusted interior of the Jesuit La Compania de Jesus church that combines Baroque and Mudejar design elements. The church is now a museum except for Sunday mass. Huge vases of white flowers were being arranged on the altar this Saturday afternoon.
We enjoyed a lovely lunch in an old house on La Ronda street, where we were welcomed with hugs and speeches and toasts, and given descriptions of the delicious foods and drinks were were given. I especially loved the delicate small empanadas, one chicken and one cheese, served with two lovely sauces. There was also a dessert of Tomate de arbol (Tamarillo) with cinnamon.
Tomorrow early we head for the equator, the center of the world.