*Written 25.07.2010; posted 06.08.2010 once pictures were available.*
Hmm. I’m pretty sure it’s past Ted’s turn to post, but… looks like you get to listen to me again.
We spent the last 5 days of our honeymoon exploring Quito, in 3 different settings.
The first day, we were completely on our own. We walked 45 min. to the old-town part of the city, where we’d been told as foreigners we could get a tour of the presidential palace. After finding it and standing in line for awhile, we were made to understand that they weren’t letting any more people in until 1pm (it was 11:30), so we wandered into an art museum instead, looking at photographs. We also went to check out the archbishop’s palace, and discovered that it was… a shopping mall. Now we know how the church funds its cathedrals. We were then able to get into the palace, and the tour guide took pity on us when we clearly failed to follow directions properly and started translating the tour into English for us. 😛 For lunch, we went to a restaurant that was below (literally) a church, so we went inside the church. We were somewhat confused, because the decor inside each of the side alcoves appeared to be… a coffin. Paul later told us that people thought they’d get to heaven faster if they were buried in the church, literally, so… apparently they really were coffins (pictured at right). After lunch, we went to what said it was the Central Bank, but what was a museum for the Central Bank, where we got a tour by a student whose English was unintelligible at the beginning and perfectly understandable by the end. We learned that Ecuador used to be on the Spanish monetary system, then it started making its own money, then it suffered from hyperinflation and went on the dollar but continued making its own coins. We also saw many different kinds of money that had been used, and went in the room they used to keep foreign exchange in. We also tried to see the Basilica, but got kicked out because it was closing and walked home in the rain.
The second day, Paul picked us up for a guided tour of the city. We started with the Basilica. Ted’s first comment was “It looks… unfinished.” It was. They ran out of money. They started building it in the mid-1800s, and stopped working on it around 1940. They then started a legend that if they ever finished the basilica, it would destroy the city, so now that they have more funds, they can’t finish it. It has some particle board as a wall where there was supposed to be a window, empty circles still awaiting their stained glass, scaffolding between the ceiling and the roof, side alcoves with pedestals still awaiting their statues, etc. It was built in a nineteenth-century neo-gothic style, and was somewhat dismal inside. Also, since it was built over such an extensive period of time, its two sides were different: the original side was guarded by gargoyles, while the newer side was guarded by stone Galapagos animals and birds where the gargoyles go. The really exciting part, however, was that you can climb up into the bell towers and in the parapets. It’s quite a climb, involving climbing across the scaffolding between the ceiling and roof, climbing up extremely sharply-angled ladders to get to higher platforms, and standing on platforms that don’t actually have much of a railing to hold you in. I found this climb particularly thrilling. =D We got pretty much to the top of both sides of the basilica, including the side with the bell towers, and got pretty good views of the city.
In addition to the Basilica, we also walked down El Ronda, a street in the oldest built and still-standing part of town, where it turned out a wedding was being celebrated, and visited a church that was completely covered in gold (leaf?) plating. Completely. Also, it had a staircase next to the back doors, and… a painting of an identical staircase on the other side of the back doors, for good measure. The church was both extravagant and ornate. For lunch, we drove to the far northern outskirts of Quito and ate an an Hacienda extremely close to the Equator, because we then visited the Equator for the second time during our trip, this time at an outdoor museum called el Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world). It was a sort of cutesy, gimmicky place; we watched water swirling in two directions on either side of the “line”, balanced an egg on a nail, tried (and failed) to walk in a straight line, and viewed a shrunken head (pictured at right next to my hand for perspective on size), a typical burial practice of a local tribe in the area.
Our final 3 days in Ecuador were spent being hosted by a local family that knows an Ecuadorian friend of ours in California. They were extremely kind and welcoming during our stay and hung out with us and drove us around. They are a family of five: mother Boli, father Patricio, daughter Gabi (21), sons Juan Esteban (19) and Santi (12), and a hilarious dog that chases shadows, Amelie. 🙂 Our first afternoon, they brought us to a local market in Quito that had many many vendors in permanent stalls, where we found some Ecuadorian chocolate and some Amazon t-shirts, and then brought us to a favorite lunch place of theirs that was verrrrrrrrrrrrry popular (read: crowded), serving a popular Ecuadorian dish: pork, potatoes, plantains, salad, and locro soup. However, this locro soup (a potato/cheese/avocado soup) was different than that which we have had in the past, in that it gets served with dried blood on the side to put in as seasoning (at left, Santi piles in the blood, the brown stuff). I preferred it sans seasoning.
Our second afternoon with them, Gabi and Juan Esteban and Gabi’s boyfriend, Irving, drove us back to Papallacta, since we’d enjoyed the hot springs there and wanted to visit them again. It’s about a 1.5 hour drive from Quito. On the way, we stopped at a paper tree forest on a reserve and went for a short hike through the trees. We also searched around for a restaurant that still had some trout for lunch, since trout is farmed locally near Papallacta and is a treat. We then spent the remainder of the afternoon basking in the hot spring pools before driving back to Quito.
Our final day, we picked up Santi from his squash club and drove across town to ride the Teleferico, a cross between a ski lift and a ferris wheel cabin which goes all the way up Pichincha volcano and gives a spectacular view of Quito. Quito is huge. Really huge. Even from the top, we couldn’t see from one end to the other. We also couldn’t see their house, because it was so close to the side of the mountain and so far north. We could get a better feel for the geography of the land, the positions of the mountains vs. valleys vs. highlands, etc., and had a pretty clear view of Cotopaxi, on the other side of Quito from us. It got pretty cold, though. We were only 13,200 feet above sea level.
I also had my first experience of pretty rude treatment in Ecuador: I ordered an empanada as a snack from the snack bar. A while later, after waiting around, I tried to get the guy’s attention, and he was like “yeah, what do you want?” to which I replied “um, my food and my receipt.” He’d forgotten my food in the microwave… and there was a sign that said if you don’t get a receipt, your food is free. Santi pointed this out to him, for which I was grateful because I’m not good at arguing in Spanish (cant talk fast enough), and the guy went “oh, here” and picked up a receipt and gave it to me, and then said that now, since I had received my receipt, I didn’t need free food… I sat down and looked at the receipt, and noticed that… it wasn’t even for my order. So I went back and said “this is not mine…” and he asked something like “so what? It’s a receipt”… and I complained that I needed my actual total to record… this receipt had food I didn’t order and an amount I didn’t pay… so he created a whole new one as a second transaction to give me, huffing and puffing the whole time. I may be white and blonde, but I’m not blind or stupid…
The remainder of the day was spent… playing Warcraft III. First Ted played Santi, then Ted taught Juan Esteban and helped Juan Esteban play Santi, then Ted managed to put me in front of the computer and he helped my play Juan Esteban while Santi helped Juan Esteban play me, and since we sucked so badly we finally teamed up against the computer. We then took a red-eye flight home! (Ted slept. I didn’t. Poo.) We were greeted the next afternoon by my grandparents and lunch, followed by a messy house.
One more post still forthcoming, full of a random assortment of thoughts we’ve been accumulating during the trip.