On January 11 we left Otavalo for Quito. We liked La Luna lodge so we packed without enthusiasm and took our time with breakfast. I even got a few last minutes in the hammock locking out over the mountains while Eliot chatted with Suzie (the Czech, Swedish Shaman).
We taxied to the bus station and followed the shouts of “Quito Quito Quito” into a waiting bus. The Ecuadorian buses are inexpensive ($2.50 each to Quito) but very basic (no wifi, AC or WC). There were a few indigenous women, some men in modern clothing, Eliot and I. The bus had a bit of a funky smell. The bus was half full at the station which meant we would be picking others up- no waste in South America. The tout/fare collector would yell out Quito Quito Quito at almost ever busy intersection jump out and hustle customers until the bus filled up. Along the way we picked up vendors (Ice Cream, peanuts, plantain chips) who would get off at the next stop. The bus from Tulcan was a larger coach no AC and only a couple of windows. On that coach we had more variety of food and vendors including a young rapper with his portable speaker and Marley beard, and – joy of joys in 32 degrees heat, ice cream and mango vendors. Back to the Quito bound bus. We passed through a few towns, down a deep valley and then up to the Quito area plateau. At the station we took a cab to the hotel. The driver was a 20 year old kid that was very interested in Canada and how Eliot was able to immigrate.
According to Wikipedia Quito is the highest capital of the world at 3850 meters. The city fills a long valley hemmed in by mountains including a couple of volcanoes. Poor and rich neighbourhoods have encroached on the lower slopes of the mountains and some upper slopes appear to have been cleared for grazing. La Mariscal has most of the modern hotels, hostels, and restaurants. All of the historical building, plazas and government buildings are in the historical centre with its narrow windy streets, plazas, dead ends and stairwells. The historical centre is full of government officials, uniformed school kids, Andean women in traditional dress carrying kids on their backs, tourists, nuns and office workers. It is only a few blocks long and wide and the mountains and church spires make it easy to find your way. The area is busy during the day but clears out at night and the guide books indicate that it is not safe. However, Eliot is taller than the average Ecuadorian and the two of us do not look like easy targets (me being so fast moving and hyper) so we did not have any issues walking around at night.
We stayed at the Boutique Hotel Plaza Sucre in the historical centre. I reserved it on booking.com and it cost about US60/night. It must have been a huge colonial house. It has 2 stories and 2 large internal courtyards. The room faced one of the courtyard which turned out to be good for getting a quiet nights sleep until the banging started at 8am. Breakfast was included and served in a covered rooftop deck.
The receptionist made a face and said there must be a mistake because we reserved a “cama matrimonial”. I said that is ok, -men can be clueless about us gays unless we are really obvious.
Quito has some of the most opulent churches I have ever seen. In addition to local gold, the was a lot of local artistic talent and craftsmanship to redirect to Christian holy places. La Compania has incredible stone carvings, gold leaf and paintings in the Quiteno style. The inner circle also has an image of the sun, a nod to the previous gods. We went in on a grey day and it was like an explosion of colour (mostly gold). A bit much but still worth seeing.
For a different kind of art we made the trek to the Guyasamin foundation museum located at the site of the artists home on a mountain side overlooking the town. Guyasamin was Ecuador’s most celebrated artist. He came from a poor indigenous family and his best works were of the poor, and dispossessed . His work is powerful and not always the kinds of things you would want on you wall. This link explains.
In his later years he was very successful and in addition to painting Castro and other revolutionaries he painted the princess of Monaco and rubbed shoulders with European leaders and royalty. The museum consists of a “cathedral” housing his large words and his huge home/studio housing his collection of pre-Columbian art. The cathedral guide was this lugubrious Argentine while the guide in the home focused on the erotic art and large bed which he explained by saying “he had three wives…he was an artist” with a smirk.
Some of the art reminded me of art about the holocaust and Guyasamin did a series on the concentration camps. It was kind of odd being a “gringo” causally looking at paintings of the generalissimos, and oppression of the indigenous people. I wondered if the chiquita bananas I ate as a kid were somehow connected to the painting of a starving mother. Whatever Guyasamin may have thought about Gringos (wife 3 was french and blonde), his foundation was happy to educate the gringos as well as the locals and to make as much money in order to spread the word as possible. The gift shop had everything from expensive lithographs to scarves, mouse pads, coffee mugs and jewellery. Kind of ironic to have us gringos buying items decorated with intense revolutionary art.
Here are some photos taken on the sly
The people of Quito are indigenous, mestizo with dark skin and eyes, and many women wear traditional dress (skirt, embroidered shirt, swathing cloth/back pack and hat). Many speak indigenous languages like Quichua and Shuar. I liked the town, it was a bit run down but had lots of soul in its old churches and winding alleys, kind of like Montreal. We took the Trole, which is basically an above ground metro created by running articulated buses on a dedicated north south route with special boarding stations. The Trole costs $0.25 and was busy each time we took it There were breast feeding moms, african immigrants, school kids and people out on a date. Eliot spoke with a Venezuelan woman who told us that she had moved for safety but was mugged in broad daylight in a park when she was walking with her son. Eliot told her about Canada and it was as if she was talking to someone who had won the lottery.
Some interesting experiences included witnessing a couple having a very public shouting match in the Plaza Grande with everyone laughing and egging them on “bruja” -witch- the man kept shouting in response to her insults. These people may live in a cool alpine city but they are Latinos.
There was also a lone protestor in front of the presidential palace with posters claiming that there had been a massacre. We did not see a lot of ostentatious displays of wealth in Quito.
Some other surreal moments include hearing the tune from Dylan’s “blowing in the wind” played in a 300 year old church during a mass. I am not sure that the words were the same. At another church I could have sworn that they were playing the tune from “heivanu shalom aleichem” at the part of the ceremony where they shake hands. Another funny experience was hearing a ginseng seller telling people that chinese boys can build a computer in 5 minutes, and the reason they are so smart- is ginseng. Our favourite meal was at Las Cuevas de Luis Candelas on Chile street in the old town across from a government building.