We spent 4 days in San Francisco de Quito, which was too much. Quito is a big sprawling city set in a valley at 2850m (9350ft) at the foot of the still active Pichincha volcano.
We visited the downtown “Centro Historico” which is colonial enough but what struck us the most was the depressing poverty of the people. The boys were very impressed by a group of about 5 shoeshine boys, the oldest seemed to be about Fernando’s age while the youngest was certainly younger than Alejandro. They wore rags and were covered in soot. They dashed about the Plaza Grande looking at people’s feet trying to catch some business. We were sorry to be wearing sneakers. Fernando specially had tons of questions which led to a discussion of economic and political systems, production lines and multinational corporations. Not light fare and we got so engrossed we didn’t even want to take pictures. At the end we went back to our hostel devastated by the feeling of wanting to “rescue” these kids from what seems to us a bad life and the knowledge that giving them a few dollars won’t change anything long-term. All of us agreed that we live very sheltered and privileged lives.
We stayed at a hostel named appropriately “Backpackers Inn”. We got a dorm room with 5 beds and decided to pay for the extra bed in order to have the room to ourselves. It wasn’t anything fancy but it made up in ambience. There were many young backpackers from Peru, Norway, Brasil, France. The boys spent every evening in the common room watching movies and listening to these young people play guitar and sing. I think and hope that they are learning that the world is a very big place and there are many different ways to live a life.
Oswaldo Guayasamin is I believe the best known of Ecuador’s painters.
We visited two museums dedicated to him: “Fundacion Guayasamin” and “Capilla del Hombre”. I would recommend only the latter. It is an impressive building designed by him as an alegory of “mestizaje”, the blending of the native and Spanish cultures. It houses an extensive collection of his murals. He died in 1999 and didn’t get to see it completed but everything has been done following his exact instructions. It all gave me the feeling that he was a bit enamored of himself but that doesn’t detract from his work which is astounding.
We saw murals dedicated to Nicaragua, Chile, Austria, Czech Republic, Vietnam, etc. Any of the places where war has torn families apart and brought despair to mothers. Some of his paintings made me experience such distress that I couldn’t look at them for long. A great artist.
We took the “teleferico” to the peak of the Pichincha volcano at 4100mt (13450 ft).
All our time in Quito we rode the city buses and experienced the lack of personal boundaries that don’t seem to bother anyone here. A question that has no answer: If the bus is already full to the brim why won’t they let us out before trying to cram themselves on top of us when we’re trying to get out?
Ecuador uses US dollars as its currency which has made it easy on us. I asked an ecuatorian if this didn’t create problems for them when inflation or interest rates fluctuated in the US. She said it didn’t because Ecuador pays the US in order to use its currency. I’m still not clear on this though. Although accommodations aren’t that inexpensive, meals are a steal. For about 1.50USD you get a huge bowl of soup, a plate of rice, chicken or beef, and vegetables, a glass of “maracuya” juice and half a scoop of ice cream for dessert. It’s usually so much food we don’t finish it all. Good, nutritious and balanced food although a bit bland for us. They call peppers “aji” and usually have a plate of aji on the tables just like you’d find salt and pepper. This aji is something like watered down salsa. People stared and nudged each other when Ale poured it all into his rice trying to spice it up a bit one time, it was still somewhat bland.
Our guidebook said we should visit Otavalo and shop at their market for souvenirs. Otavalo is a 2hr bus ride from Quito. Don’t believe guidebooks, the town is quite ugly and you can get the same things in Quito for maybe 25cents more, not worth 2 hours of your time. Live and learn.
What was definitely worth the 1 1/2hr bus ride was “Mitad del Mundo”, literally Middle of the World.
There’s a big monument here but the true equator line is next door at the privately owned Museo del Sol. Although our guide seemed to be in a hurry to walk us thru the museum we still enjoyed the experiments like the nerds we are. The force of gravity is at its lowest here so there’s a cool activity trying to balance an egg on a nailhead. Only Fernando was able to do so.
What we oohed and aahed the most was the demonstration of the Coriolis effect. Coriolis was a french scientist and the effect is, simply put, that due to the rotation of the Earth, fluids on the northern hemisphere flow in a counterclockwise direction while fluids in the southern hemisphere flow clockwise. For the demonstration, our guide had a sink full of water right on top of the equator line and pulled the plug, the water flowed straight down! He then moved the sink to the northern side and repeated the experiment, the water flowed counterclockwise. Lastly he moved the sink to the southern side and the water flowed clockwise.
We finally left Quito and traveled to Cuenca. We had been advised to avoid traveling by night lest our luggage grow legs and leave while we were sleeping so we took an 8hr daytime bus. Never again! We were assured it was a direct bus, meaning no stops on the way. Ha! The bus stopped every 300 meters to let people on and off. At one point we had about 30 people standing in the hall, the air-conditioning had “just” broken down that morning, and 8hrs turned into 11!
We arrived in Cuenca ready to be gone from Ecuador and found a cute little hostel two blocks from a very picturesque colonial downtown. We dropped our stuff off and went out to find dinner. We found the city celebrating Corpus Christi day with a big fair, fireworks and street vendors.
Tonight we will brave the thiefs and take an overnight “direct” bus to Peru. We will have to change buses at the border and have been told it’s a very dangerous place but can’t bear the thought of another bus ride like yesterday’s.
Good Night Ecuador, Good Morning Peru.