Quito is the turn-around point for us, in this particular South American adventure. From here it’s back to Santiago (Chile), then back to Easter Island, then Tahiti and then home (via Auckland) to Australia.
Quito, the Ecuadorean capital city, is beautiful. It was built on the foundations of an older indigenous city but the current Spanish version is UNESCO world heritage and about 500 years old. It retains a gothic middle ages feeling – narrow winding streets, elaborate stone buildings and central squares. Catholic churches, convents, crosses and other christian iconography are piled thickly in layers – from below street level to sky.
Ecuador is the most overtly catholic of all the countries we’ve visited in South America and it seems particularly concentrated in Quito. There are many shops selling ‘Mary’s’ and such like. On a hill overlooking the city is a statue of the ‘Virgen del Panecillo’. How you can tell she’s a virgin and why it’s anyone’s business I have no idea, but there you go.
Built in a valley and up the sides of the surrounding Andean mountains, Quito has a lot in common with the extraordinary city of La Paz. At an elevation of 2850m it’s way up high in the sky – the highest capital city in the world. Flying in from sea level in the Galápagos wasn’t a very clever idea and the effects of the altitude really knocked us around – dizziness, headaches, nausea, burning lungs, shortness of breath. Even after nine days it hadn’t really improved. I think Quito is definitely one of those places you should sneak up on not fly into. The streets are really steep and even just walking half a block to one of the many tiny shops is a major expedition. We realised its better to always go uphill first as going down means you have to come back up.
The active Pichincha volcano floats above the city. It last erupted in 2002.
Although Quito is within a few kms of the equator, the whole time we were there the weather was positively English – grey, overcast, drizzly rain and cold. So, added to the altitude sickness both JH and I came down with a flu virus – a hacking cough, a cold and fever with alternating cold shivers and burning heat and aches all over. Sadly this meant that we couldn’t do Quito the justice it deserved and spent a lot of our stay in bed. Luckily we’d rented a really comfortable apartment in a lovely old building where we could just hang out and feel sorry for ourselves. I never got to go to a Salsatec though. Apparently a Salsatec is a salsa version of a discotheque which sounds pretty awesome I reckon.
Catherine, our apartment host, works at a nearby archaeology museum, the Casa del Alabado Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. Their collection is incredible. There were a number of indigenous peoples living in Ecuador with distinct and fascinating cultures from at least 9000BC and up to the Inca invasion. Some of the museum’s pieces (found locally) are 6000 years old. The fine detail and aesthetic beauty is quite astounding. When I visit museums like this I’m always amazed at how little people and our lifestyles have really changed.
Check out their sewing implements…even buttons!
I have to say we were actually quite relieved to leave Quito (lovely as it is) and head back down to an altitude we can function at. We had to leave for the airport at 4am, a totally uncivilised time of day, so we were not really in a mood to be impressed by the hassle we got at immigration. It seems that although we had an Ecuador arrival stamp from Nuevo Rocqueforte (where we entered by river from Peru) the immigration officials in Quito had never heard of the place. They should get out more.
Then, to further enhance my day, on arrival in Santiago I had to pay a US$117 reciprocity fee for being Australian. I wish our government would stop annoying people. It’s so much easier for JH travelling on an EU passport. I want one.
So, here we are in Santiago. This time we’re in a much groovier area (Lastarria) consisting of art galleries, craft stalls, cafes, cocktail bars, buskers and street poets. It’s very pleasant and the streets are flat. I like that.
It is expensive here though and after almost six months on the road all credit cards are full and pockets are empty. It’s obviously time to go home. This is our last night in South America and tomorrow we fly out to Easter Island. It has been an amazing time on a fascinating continent. We’ll be back!