Sunday Afternoon Stroll in Quito
Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
187Trip End Ongoing
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Quito is named for the peaceful Quitu people who established a major centre here in pre-Columbian times. It was taken over by the Incas in the 15th century and became the most important city of the Inca Empire until it fell to the conquering Spanish led by Pizarro in 1534. The city was almost totally razed during the resistance to the conquistadors, and was rebuilt over the next three centuries as a significant colonial centre with many large churches, monasteries and stately buildings. Ecuador obtained independence from Spain in 1822 after two decades of resistance by the Indians and mestizos
against the abysmal treatment by the Spanish ruling classes. Since then Ecuador's political development has been very tempestuous - often characterized as a typical Latin American "banana republic"scenario - with fierce and frequently violent rivalry between the conservative factions of Quito and the more liberal socialists of Guayaquil on the coast. Over the past century there have been political assassinations and periods of military rule, but in recent years the protests have been largely democratic and peaceful. Opposition to the political and economic corruption has led to the deposing of two presidents since 1997 by demonstrations, marches and strikes without any bloodshed. Despite the discovery of oil in the 1970s the economic situation over the past three decades has gone from bad to worse, with periods of runaway inflation and huge foreign debts. In 1999, with inflation at 60%, bank accounts were frozen and the local currency was replaced with the US dollar
Enough of the politics! It is Sunday afternoon and we are ready to explore. The city is rather unique in that the modern areas of the 'New Town' have been developed quite separately from the well-preserved colonial historic centre. Although the 'Old Town' is a commercial area in its own right, it has not been blighted by the construction of obtrusive modern office blocks, and retains a charmingly 'old world atmosphere' of red-tiled roofs and whitewashed walls. During the week the narrow one-way streets are bustling and congested, but on Sunday most of the traffic is blocked off and the streets and squares are filled with promenading families enjoying the peace and quiet of their day off. Interspersed are the travellers and tourists (like us, clutching their Lonely Planet guidebooks!), enjoying the relaxed atmosphere but determined not to miss anything. Every block has another fascinating church, museum or monument, but it is just as interesting to 'people-watch' quietly sitting on a bench in one of the plazas. Old men reminiscing, young lovers oblivious to the world, families posing for group photos, vendors hawking snacks and treats, shoe-shine boys hustling for business - all are part of the tapestry of a Latin Sunday afternoon.
We spent some time on the Santo Domingo Plaza with its statue of Mariscal Sucre pointing off to the flanks of Volcán Pichincha, where he won the decisive battle for independence on May 24th, 1822. We made a mental note to come back another time in the evening to see the Santo Domingo Church, dating from 1581, whose tower and dome are floodlit at night
The last stop of the day was to prove the most striking and needful of a good head for heights. The northern end of the Old Town is dominated by the Church of the Basílica, high on a hill with its twin towers and spires rising to a height of close to 250 feet. The church itself is relatively new - the construction was started in 1892 and is still ongoing. We preferred the handsome simplicity of the interior compared to the very ornate decoration of some of the older churches, and admired the stunning stained glass windows
Now to the task of picking out some photos. We are really enjoying the wonders of modern technology in the form of our Canon S50 digital camera, and not having to worry about supplies of film or where to get film processed - just download the flashcard on to the laptop and recharge the battery. However, this leads to another problem - an overabundance of shots which need editing down to a manageable level. In our few hours strolling around Old Town Quito this afternoon we took over 150 pictures! Never mind, we can now re-live the experience for about the same amount of time as we agonize over choosing the pictures for TravelPod and dreaming up suitable captions.