After a nice three hours of sleep post-Thanksgiving (I didn´t have that Turkey induced coma to woo me to sleep like most of you all) my friend Saskia picked me up at my apartment and we were off to the airport. By 8 am I had arrived in Quito without really having any idea what was in store for the next three days. I dropped by backpack off at my hostel, shot over to a café with an amazing courtyard and began to plan! Day one – I was going to tackle the historic downtown! Although Cali and Santiago (my two South American homes to date) have very little in common – one thing they do share is a lack of a well-preserved colonial center. Spread out for countless blocks around Quito´s exquisite Plaza Grande lie what must be a dozen churches and just as many museums. When I stepped in La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus, I had no idea what I was in for. Until that point, I had seen some fairly formidable specimens as far as churches go, but this thing was on a whole other level. Designed in the Baroque style, everything was lined with gold – everywhere you looked. So many street corners, so many wooden doors lead you to incredible sights in Quito´s Old Town.
After my first day in Quito, I was one happy man. That first Friday night at the hostel, I did something I had never done before. I learned how to make hostel-friends solo. This week-long Ecuadorian journey before meeting up with friends in Trujillo, Peru is my first time traveling alone and I have to say that after four days in, I definitely think I like it. You can totally fun your own schedule during the day and then meet back with your hostel buds at night for story swapping, wine sipping, and general merriment. Not saying I would want to do this all the time, but it is certainly a nice change of pace. At my quiteño hostel (with an astonishing view of Old Town Quito from its fifth floor balcony) I met Swedes, Canadians, Aussies, Brits, Frenchmen, and even another North American Gringo – from Illinois! They were incredibly nice people and I am hoping to see at least one of them again as we are planning on being in Bogotá at the same time in January.
The following two days in Quito only furthered my already lofty view of the Ecuadorian capital. I discovered artist Oswaldo Guayasamin through his museum and chapel and become both fascinated and moved. An indigenous Ecuadorian painter from the latter part of the twentieth-century, Guayasamin created rather geometrical figures that express anguish, pain, repression, and misery. Sounds uplifting, right? In his largest project, the chapel of man, Guayasamin created a modernist style building set high over Quito filled with his work and several striking quotes. ¨Yo lloré cuando no tenía zapatos hasta que vi un niño sin pies.¨ That is the quote that stuck with me the most. ¨I cried when I didn´t have shoes until I saw a child without feet.¨ The entire structure and all that is held within it is meant to pay homage, to recognize, the suffering of the indigenous poor not only in Ecuador, but in all of Latin America. Quito is a city which at least by my three-day observation, is majority indigenous. Women often wear traditional clothing and I more than once heard Quechua being spoken on the bus. These are the people I saw nearly everywhere. Only on my one excursion to a wealthy suburb did the look suddenly lighten – it is the same old story, changing I think, but slowly.
Besides becoming a Guayasamin fan, I made a trip to the national museum (where amongst other thoughts, my slight obsession between links in indigenous beliefs and the Catholic Church in Latin America was heavily fueled), a street fair, a couple of fantastic views over the city from perilous church steeples and hilltop parks, and finally of course to plenty of cute and trendy cafés –surpassing those I´m accustomed to in Cali.
¨Did I do anything un-cool in Quito?¨ you might be asking. The answer would have to be yes. On Saturday afternoon, I took an excursion to the equator which was basically seeing a line with a monument on it, being told that it is about 200 meters off the actual equator, and then going to the real deal to balance eggs on nails and watch water swoosh different ways. Wasn´t exactly my idea of an awesome time, but hey, now I can say I´ve been to the equator.
So as not to end on a sour note, I will share my Quito morning ritual – that´s right, if you do something twice you can officially call it a ritual. Both Saturday and Sunday morning, I hoped out of the hotel nice and early, grabbed a newspaper, and went to sit in the main square. Both mornings I had a bench mate and both turned into solid conversation partners. We talked about dollarization, Correa, Colombian-Ecuadorian relations, minimum wage, and just la vida quiteña in general. Starting the day off with the news and a new Ecuadorian amigo always managed to make my day – along with the required café con leche.
Last night I was a little sad to leave Quito, but ready to hit up the next stops. I´m now in Guayaquil, tomorrow heading to Riobamamba, and later down to Cuenca before hitting Peru. I´ll try to keep you updated along the way! Also, pictures should be on the way soon!