Maria and Strom recently returned from an adventure in Ecuador, first stopping to explore Quito and then onto the Galapagos aboard the luxury M/Y Origin. Here are some lovely excerpts from Maria's trip journal - she really paints an exciting picture of what a trip to Ecuador looks like. (Part 2 coming soon: The Galapagos)
Off we go
We started our trip to Quito with a wonderful breakfast at Hotel Mama Cuchara. It was in the center of the old part of the city which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The beautiful hotel used to be a house for a very wealthy family, so it was quite large with a lovely courtyard and art everywhere. The old floors and plaster work had been beautifully maintained and enhanced.
The first part of the day was sunny and warm, as is typical, we learned, but it grows cooler and wetter in the afternoon. We stopped at a local market before heading to Mitad del Mundo, the equatorial marker. The market reminded me of markets in Italy; everyone was out buying for the day but also having a good meal. The fruits here are remarkable. Everything is fresh nearly all year round so they have every fruit you can think of. And the flowers! Ecuador is a leading exporter of roses. The markets, the churches, every arm walking home along the streets seemed to be rife with roses. Of our many stops, we spent the most time at two booths run by two sisters who sold medicinal herbs. It was beautiful to see the fresh chamomile and learn about a fermented corn drink (choque) that they make for your digestion (although we did not try it).
Our first official tour visit of the day was two versions of the same thing—the equator. Funny story: the French scientists who went to Ecuador in the 1600s were working to identify exactly where the equator was but got it wrong by about a mile. The city invested in a huge monument with recognition of the French scientists and all the advances in science made in Ecuador since then...but the monument is on the wrong line. First, we saw the real line, which is marked on a private tourist site. It is a little kitschy but fun because you can try to balance an egg on the head of a nail, walk along the equator line with your eyes closed, watch the water drain in opposite directions on either side, etc. (I am an egg balancing champ.) Then we went to the mistake line, a large complex of shops and historical displays with the line running through. All of this is next to the Union of South American Nations, an impressive building.
The Old City
We spent most of the day in the old part of the city, which was really lovely. Unlike other UNESCO sites, we saw families eating and shopping, older men sitting on benches together for hours, and even a political demonstration in front of the President's house.
The buildings are of all different colors, shops are all small businesses, and the tapestries and fabrics are beautiful. The City is arranged around a long road called the Walk of 7 Crosses. As the Spanish came in to the City, they wanted to establish churches at all the sites of the Inca temples and palaces. At the three most important sites, they have a statue of the Virgin Mary, the Cathedral, and another church with the largest of the many monasteries and nunneries. That church is decorated with all the animals of the Galapagos instead of gargoyles. The Cathedral is beautiful, with intricate wooden ceilings and the main altar is very gothic. We made our way up a ridiculously narrow stone staircase to get up to the roof, which had a great view of the whole valley. The volcanos all around the City were unfortunately obscured by clouds. We also visited the San Francisco church, which is smaller but even more beautiful. It has so much gold leaf (to replicate the Inca temples to the sun God) and more art than most churches because they used it as a school to teach the indigenous people about Catholicism.
Government & People
There are 3 million people in Quito, 1 million in the north and 2 million in the south. The last few presidents have made improvements to education and health care, and the people we met in Quito talked about what they feel is getting better, although Ecuadorians we talked to later in the trip said there is much more work to be done, especially outside of Quito. The people are quite well educated and have been lovely. Everyone we talked to was kind and funny and wanted to talk about what they do and love. Three distinct cultures remain, Spanish, descendants of slaves, and Indigenous, but they all have access to services and education. One promising fact we learned is that the government is trying to reduce "machismo" through education of women in history. There are murals around the City depicting women who had a role in independence from Spain and in improving conditions for indigenous peoples, etc.
They have a huge Virgin Mary statue at the site of a key Inca temple at the end of the walk of 7 crosses (the original sculpture is inside of the Cathedral). But this Virgin is the one from Revelations. For the apocalypse, she is depicted pregnant with the returning Jesus, winged, and killing the devil (snake) to allow for the salvation of humanity. We made it back to the hotel at about 6:30 for dinner (in time for a beautiful rain storm) and to get ready for an early flight to the Galapagos the next day.