Today’s big news, of course, is that one of the presidential candidates in Ecuador’s upcoming election, Fernando Villavicencio, was assassinated yesterday right here in Quito. Most likely by one of the drug cartels. In the aftermath of this horrible event, all the events scheduled to celebrate Independence Day (which is today) were cancelled. I’ll talk more about what else we saw later in this post.
This morning, in spite of being up really late and getting only a few hours of sleep, we were awake by 7:00 and had a lovely breakfast in the hotel. Our guide Wilson (of Gentian Trails Travel) scooped us up at 10 o’clock and we were off for our big day.
We started in the San Francisco Plaza right across the street from our hotel, where we visited the first Catholic chapel built in Ecuador – the Capilla de Cantuña. This is part of a Franciscan monastery that includes a bigger church and a museum of paintings, statuery, and furniture reflecting the Spanish colonization and influence on this area, which was considerable.
From there we drove to the Viewpoint, the hilltop where the statue of the Virgin Mary overlooks the city. This is the tallest statue in South America, at 41 meters high, and is made of aluminum. From this same hilltop there are panoramic views of Quito in every direction, including a really excellent view of Old Town, where our hotel is located.
Upon returning from the Viewpoint, our next visit was to the Basilica Nacional, which was designed in the gothic style of Notre Dame. Fascinatingly, its gargoyles are animals and birds of Ecuador. We climbed a STEEP set of stairs (really, it was a built-in ladder) to a high tower to enjoy more spectacular views of the city. Then to the Basilica’s cafe to enjoy a snack of coca tea and humita, an indigenous bread made from corn and cheese. It was very tasty.
Then we walked the long, steep (fortunately downhill!) Street of the Seven Crosses to the main city plaza. We had lunch there at the Plaza Grande restaurant, where we could look out at the plaza. Lots of people – walking around, selling things, sitting and enjoying the sunshine. The building to our right was the Presidential Palace, which is comparable to the US White House. The national flag atop the building was flying at half-mast in honor of Mr. Villavicencio, and there was a noticeable police presence – city police, federal police, and special police – according to Wilson, many more than usual. As we were finishing up our meal, there were suddenly a lot more police officers and many people started clearing out. Wilson said it was time for us to go as well, and so we did. As we walked across the plaza to our next destination, we saw dozens of police officers with riot shields and helmets lining up in front of the Presidential Palace and the church on the adjoining side of the plaza. Clearly they were prepared for whatever unrest might come their way.
We had just a few more stops on our city tour, and two were particularly memorable. The first was the Gold Church. I don’t even really have any words for this mind-boggling experience. Imagine a large cathedral where pretty much the entire interior walls and ceilings are covered with gold decoration and you’re getting there. We were not allowed to take pictures inside at all. It was an overwhelming display of the earthly authority of the Catholic Church in the name of God.
The final stop on our tour was a delicious one – we enjoyed a chocolate tasting at Yumbos Chocolateria.
Once back at our hotel, we collapsed. Between the enjoyable but long day, with lots of walking, and the effects of altitude (we are at 9250 ft elevation here) we are beat! Tomorrow we head for the Cloud Forest, where we will be staying at Mashpi Lodge.