Friday, June 22, 2007


Some History

Quito got its start as a major trading center for indiginous cultures where sierra, coast, and Oriente (jungle) came together. The last great Inca emperors made Quito the political center of their northern empire; and the city was burnt to the ground by an Inca general five days before it was captured by the Spanish in 1534.

The Spanish made Quito the capital of their new territory, and the city was officially founded as San Francisco de Quito on 8/28/1534 by Sebastian de Benalcazar (12/6, when things got working, is celebrated as founding day). The major religious orders moved in quickly, building their own churches; and the main Cathedral was completed within 30 yrs.

The population grew very modestly until the 1800s when Quito became the capital of newly independent Ecuador (1830). Entering the 20th century, the city maintained its original geographic boundaries and its population remained 50,000. Then the banana boom in 1940s and oil boom in 1970s pushed population growth, and the city passed 1 million in 1990. Currently, the population is 1.4 million and growing.

View from Above

Dave and I decided to begin our exploration of Quito by heading up the big gondola, or teleferico, for some views of the city from the mountains. This was highly recommended by our guidebook, but was honestly a bit disappointing. It was pretty cold up at the top and there really wasn´t a great spot from which to see everything comfortably. Plus, there was a guady amusement park at the bottom clearly geared towards tourists or the wealthiest Ecuadorians (we decided not to go go-karting because it was $1/minute). Here´s a bird´s eye view of said amusement park:

But, there were some nice views. Here are some of the best shots we got:

Old Town

We met a couple of brothers from CO named Will and Rob on the teleferico and together we decided to explore Old Town in spite of the gloomy weather. We considered a guided walking tour from the city but it was a bit pricey so we ended up with a free lance walking tour from Jorge. He said we could pay him whatever we thought fair (but then ended up haggling for more cash after Dave was more than generous with him...oh, well).

We started at the Plaza Independencia. Here´s a shot of the Plaza...

...the main Catedral...

...and the presidential palace.

And, here´s something interesting. These are stores on the ground floor of the presidential palace. Can´t quite imagine picking up a slurpy under the White House.

Next, we saw a set of chuches. Here´s a shot of a statue of Jesus done in the ¨Quito school¨of highly realistic art (I think that´s real hair on the statue´s head).

From there we saw a statue of Sebastian de Benalcazar, the founder of Quito. That´s Will, Rob, Dave, and Jorge, our guide.

Next we were off to check out Benalcazar´s casa.

Then, the famous Theatro de Sucre...

...and the equally famous Plaza de San Francisco.

New Town

We decided to stay in Quito´s new town since it´s safer with more to do at night. It´s quite a funky little neighborhood with lots of bars and hostels--although it is pretty ¨gringo-ized.¨ Dave and I stayed at a place called Quito Viejo and then when he left I moved to a dorm room in Crossroads Hostel. On the right is a nice whisky bar owned by a true enthusiast. We talked with him for a while and tried such delicacies as Johnny Walker Green Label and Old Parr´s Superior (which is a blended scotch that receives the second highest possible ranking in his whisky bible). He said business has been slower than he hoped because people are intimidated by the price of whisky (his prices were good for the U.S. but definitely expensive for here given that you can get large beers for $1 most places).

Here are some general shots to give a feel for the neighborhood.

Centro del Mundo

Definitely Not the Ecuator...

On Dave´s last day we decided to head for the center of the world and straddle the equator. This is not as simple of a procedure as one might expect. We started out with a thirty-five minute cab ride to a tourist trap/¨town¨called Mitad del Mundo. There, one can find a whole fake town built around a line and some monuments supposedly dividing the earth between north and south.

But, our guidebook says, and everyone here acknowledges, that the equator is not actually here. New GPS technology has confirmed that--as accurately as we can determine--the actual equator is about 200 meters away. Here are some of the obligatory shots from this false idol.

Probably Not the Equator...
Not satisfied with fool´s gold, we left the cozy confines of Mitad del Mundo to search out the real thing. We were told it was on the property of a nearby museum. We came across museum a few hundred meters from the exit, wandered in, and found this equator-looking thing (you can´t really see it behind me, but it says N-S on that monument):

May Be the Equator...
But, we were then informed that the actual museum we were looking for was a few hundred more meters down the road. This is the museum that actually claims to hold the line. Here´s the entrance to said museum:

Here´s a shot of Dave and me supposedly straddling the real line:

They performed a set of experiments to ¨prove¨that this was actually the equator and to demonstrate the unique qualities of the center of it all. These included balancing an egg on a nail (which neither Dave nor I were able to do, but the other folks with us could), and watching water flush down a drain in opposite directions.

Our guide admitted that these experiments were somewhat enhanced with trickery, but I guess they illustrated the point.

The museum also featured indigenous culture (it almost seemed like the trick was to lure people in with the equator but then spend 75% of the time edifying us on other things). Some of it was pretty cool, though, and here are Dave and I shooting blow darts:

So, that was our Quito experience and the end of Dave´s adventure. He got in a cab to the airport and I turned my attention to figuring out how to get safely to Bogota. More reflections on our couple of weeks together, a ¨comida tipica¨section on Ecuador, and news from Colombia to come...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You definitly know whats the best in our city!!!