City living

Trip Start Feb 06, 2011
Trip End Jul 24, 2011

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Where I stayed

Flag of Ecuador  ,
Monday, April 25, 2011

From the tropical heat of Machala we arrived into spring-like weather in Quito, back up high in the Andes. If there is anything to remind you of home it is warm sunny weather punctuated by absolute downpours every so often! Quito is a very long thin city spread along a valley between two mountain ridges, which once again makes me question how the South Americans decide where to locate their capitals. However Quito is conveniently located between a number of interesting towns we wanted to visit, so we decided to use it as a base to explore from for a while, check out what it had to offer and also catch up on some odd jobs (like getting hold of some decent books and posting a box of souvenirs home).

We were staying in the Mariscal area in the New Town, which is a travellers' paradise full of bars, restaurants and hostels. It felt much more like a European city centre compared to the quaint colonial style of Cuenca, with huge LCD screens displaying drinks adverts, and bars offering happy hour deals with a soundtrack of generic chart music.

Waking up to bright blue skies on our first morning we decided to check out the historic Old Town. It certainly deserves its UNESCO world heritage site accolade being a maze of small cobbled streets, beautiful colonial buildings and occasional glimpses of the surrounding sierra. This was to be a day of churches, and the first we came across was the Basilica del Voto Nacional. Built relatively recently (i.e. in the last 100 years) it is in a neo-Gothic style (i.e. looks like a church in England), but the best thing is that you can climb all the way to the top of the spire for a great view over the city. From here we headed to the main square and the cathedral, where the highlight was a painting of the Last Supper where Jesus is eating cuy (guinea pig) and drinking chicha (fermented corn drink). Finally we headed to the church of La Compania de Jesus, where the interior is completely covered with ornate carvings gilded with gold leaf. What a day!

The next morning was spent going round numerous tour agencies trying to book a last minute Galapagos tour. Despite chronic indecision on our part over the itinerary and quality of trip, and after possibly creating a false sense of demand by asking about the same boats in different places, we eventually bagged a great deal for a really nice boat with more than 60% off the brochure price. More of that to come in a later blog post!

After a recommendation from a friend Anna was keen to visit a museum all about the Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamín, located in a quiet suburb in his old house. Of native origin he lived in the twentieth century, and his art clearly was clearly influenced by surrealist painters like Dalí and Picasso. We were both really impressed by his work especially as much of it was about the struggles affecting South America over the last 60 years. Needless to say Anna couldn’t leave the shop without a print for the flat! Guayasamín was also a prolific collector of pre-Colombian artefacts which were also displayed at the museum, and in some ways superior to collections we had seen in other national museums.

We also ended up doing what is becoming a bit of a regular activity – going up to a high point to get a panoramic view of the city. Luckily for us we didn’t have to climb the 1000+ m to the mountain as Quito has a cable car to do the hard work for you. It always amazes me how densely packed South American cities are and Quito is no different. Unfortunately we had seriously underestimated how cold and windy it would be at the top, and I was frozen in my shorts and T shirt. With clouds rolling in and obscuring the city below we decided it was time to head on back down and onto warmer climes.
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