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August 30, 2010 / Jim Fenton

Day 11: Quito

This is part of a series about our vacation to the Galápagos Islands and mainland Ecuador. To see the first article in the series, click here.

August 15, 2010

For the last day of our trip we had a half-day tour of Quito. As we began the tour, our guide, Susy, described some of the changes in the city over the past few decades. The city, particularly the old town at its center, became much too crowded by an influx of indigenous people from the country. In an effort to make the city more liveable, the government moved the large number of street vendors to an indoor location and began cleaning up the town. Much of this change has occurred in the past 10 years.

Quito is a very long, narrow town, extending about 60 km from north to south but only a few km wide due to the constraints of the Andes Mountains. South Quito is largely working class; north Quito is the “new city” where much of the businesses are located, and central Quito, the old town, is the center of government and culture.

Statue of the Virgin of Quito

Statue of the Virgin of Quito

We began our tour by driving up a hill topped by a large statue of the Virgin Mary, quite reminiscent of the statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro. There was a commanding view of the city from the top, as well as the surrounding mountains, a few of which are topped with snow. While we were there, a police helicopter circled and landed; we understand that some sort of drug enforcement operation was underway. Throughout the day, national and metropolitan police as well as private security guards were very much in evidence. Parts of Quito can be somewhat dangerous, especially after dark, and it seems that they’re determined to improve that situation.

Near the statue, we noticed a group of three bins for plastics, paper, and other trash. Throughout the day, we would see that these bins are ubiquitous throughout the city, something that puts Quito ahead of many cities in the United States.

Street in Old Town

Street in Old Town

Once down from the hill, the van we were riding in dropped us off and most of the rest of the tour was on foot, which gave us a much better feel for the city. It also enabled us to visit many of the narrow streets in the Old City that are closed to vehicular traffic. Susy said that it is an adjustment for many who are used to taking their cars everywhere to park and either walk or take a taxi to their destinations. Quito is not unique in that respect.

We visited a few of Quito’s beautiful churches on our tour. The most notable, the Moorish-styled Compañía Church, was having an organ concert while we visited. While I don’t have any details on the organ, Susy told us that such concerts were extremely rare due to the fragility of the organ. It was a beautiful instrument; we had to choose between listening to the music and Susy’s description of the church which was worth listening to as well. Unfortunately, no photographs are allowed inside this or the other churches we visited.

Changing of the Presidential Guard

Changing of the Presidential Guard

Following a short stop for coffee, we arrived at Independence Square for the weekly changing of the Presidential Guard. Antonio suggested yesterday that we see if we could get the tour adjusted to accommodate this, and it was quite a pageant. We arrived just as the Ecuadorean national anthem was played, and noted that a large number of spectators sang along. Susy joined as the audience shouted “Viva!” at the end. Clearly these people are quite proud of their country.

After a short visit to a beautiful hotel in the Old City (and possible venue for dinner), we returned by van to the Hilton where we are staying.

After freshening up, we decided to take a walk suggested by Susy up Amazonas street, one of the main streets in the new (north) town that passes by our hotel. I noticed that Amazonas has a two-way bike path on one side of the road that is separated from the roadway by a small curb. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a single bicycle using the path during our visit.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that (we decided) caters to tourists more than we might have wanted, although the food was good. This section of town seems to be set up to accommodate young people who are visiting, perhaps to learn Spanish, from English-speaking countries. We walked through an unusual but drab shopping mall that was built entirely in a helical shape: the floor sloped upward its entire length, about six floors. We walked past quite a number of other shops but none were particularly interesting.

Playground in Parque El Ejido

Playground in Parque El Ejido

Across the street from our hotel is a park which has a small market, with many of the same things we saw in Otavalo yesterday. There was also a great array of playground equipment that Celeste had quite a good time trying out.

At dinnertime, we had planned to have a nice dinner out to mark the last day in Ecuador, but we weren’t particularly hungry so ordered some appetizers in the hotel bar for dinner. They were excellent.

Packing for our departure tomorrow consumed the evening. We retired early, as we’ll be up early as well.

Quito is a surprising town in many respects. It’s not immediately obvious that there is a lot of urban renewal in progress because of the attention being paid to preserving the architectural style, particularly in the Old Town. As was my initial impression upon arriving in Ecuador, Quito has a distinctly European feel. As with yesterday’s tour of Otavalo, our day discovering Quito was well spent.

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