Friday, July 3, 2015

Quintessential Quito---6/29--7/1

It was so easy getting to Quito from Otavalo by bus which was a 2 1/2 hour ride for just $2.50 to the north bus terminal. So new and modern so I started to do a video when the police came over I told me it was not permitted. In Quito they have two major bus terminals--north and south. I arrived at the north terminal and took about a 45 minute bus ride on their Trole line which has dedicated roads that only these buses go on. As a result it is much faster to get into El Centro where I was staying that by taking a taxi. This long bus ride was just $0.25 for people 18 to 65, but for me and younger people it was just $0.12----sure beats what the Seattle Metro costs at $3 per long ride or $1 for seniors like me. Plus these buses are much more frequent at about one every 5 minutes or so. They have enclosed stations where you pay as you enter either $.025 or $0.12 as a senior or junior.



I headed to the Secret Garden Hostel, which received both Lonely Planet and Hostelworld raves for its cleanliness and friendliness. I got a 6 mixed person dorm room with a bottom bunk for just $11/night. The rooftop terrace had amazing views of the entire El Centro area as well and the surrounding mountains including the snowcapped Cotapaxi mountain. Half the staff were "volunteers" who got free room and board and drinks for servicing the travelers and cleaning. The breakfasts cost the same as anywhere along the street plus they had a bottomless cup of coffee. The view capped everything and the sunsets were incredible along with the bright blue sky that contrasted well with the puffy clouds and surrounding mountains.



It was fun to share travel stories with others from a whole host of countries in Europe, South America, Australia, Isreal, Canada, and the US. In this trip, I have come across more US travelers than all of my previous travels since 9/11/2001. Maybe it is less fear or more likely a better economy that sees many, many more individual US travelers. Almost all of these travelers are the 20 somethings with no old travelers like me.

The El Centro part of Quito is about the only part of the citiy I saw except for my excursions to the north and south bus terminals.

I enjoyed walking along the cobbled streets with the narrow sidewalk and two to three story old buildings with many balconies along the way.

Lots of police patrolled the El Centro area making tourists feel quite safe. Again maybe there were there preparing for Pope Francis visit next week.


Plaza Santo Domingo and church are a popular meeting place.

It was much the same as I was here last in 2005 when they were going through a revolution when the President resigned and took a plane to Brazil as I was arriving. Then the entire Presidential building at the Grand Plaza was surrounded by the military.

A nearby Capella de San Juan church just before noon mass.
This time the police are preparing for Pope Francis visit from July 5th to 8th. It looks like the San Francisco Church and Plaza are preparing a speakers platform for his arrival.

One of the first things I did after checking into the Hostel was to have a speciality luch of goat stew---seco de Chiva at St. Augustin Restaurant on a balcony that overlooked the traffic below.


I tried to get my night bus ticket to Huaquillas from a travel agent at Secret Garden, but she said I had to go to the south bus terminal. After about an hour ride to the south terminal---for just $0.12--I learned through my fractured Spanish that they only sell bus tickets on the day before and not two or more days before. At least I learned how to get there.

Upon returning to the Secret Garden, I learned they were serving dinner of tacos for a very cheap price, but I decided to continue to eat the local Ecuadorian food. Down the street at a neighborhood restaurant I had churrasco---thin steak, rice and spagetti topped with two fried eggs, salad, banana fritters along with a local beer for just $5.00. All of the patrons and staff were glued to the Argentina vs Paraguay futbol game as a part of the Copa America contest. This is a continuing saga of folks glued to this futbol series.

The following morning I returned to the south terminal and got my bus ticket for a 6pm departure. I then continued on north to the Mitad del Mundo---the monument that designated the area where you can put one foot on the north hemisphere and the other on the south hemispere. Lots of tricks are done here where on one side because of the coralis effect, the water drains clockwise and on the other it drains counterclockwise. You can also set an egg on its end without having it fall over---no egg sellers around so I did not try that. In the Lonely Planet, they pointed out that it is only at the Equator where roses grow straight up----making long stem roses. As a result over 1/3 of all roses sold by florists in the US come from Ecuador. Check it out.

I notice lots of police prescence at all of the popular tourist attractions even including the heavily armored SWAT group. I think that because Pope Francis is due here between July 5-8th, the normal protest groups that almost reside in front of the President Palace may be planninng to recruit folks from the outlying areas to do a bit of protesting before and during the Pope's visit. In S. America, public protests are a normal way of life.

It is always interesting to connect with people at these popular travelers hostels like the Secret Garden. I met an electrician from British Columbia who has been traveling for about a year and is exploring the life forces within us, yoga, magnetism, shamans, energy work, a family of five from Quebec who seek out adventure travel experience, a women from Colorado who who had traveled for years while picking up a MS degree in Archeology and is a certified yoga instructor--especially with duo yoga, college professor from Oklahoma who's first love is travel, a German woman who teaches German in Bolivia and likes to travel in her time off, a Delloite employe who's company sponsored him to climb Cotapxi Peak, but had to turn back from altitude sickness---and so many more.

I took two buses---cost $.024---to get to Mitad del Mundo where I would be able to straddle both north and south hemispheres. It was about 1 1/2 hours to get there. The pass I got for $3.75 got me into the planetarium, and the museum that was under the landmark. There were several interesting museums and exhibits there along with a tasty local food lunch they sprinkled with nuts and popcorn.


The following morning I took a walking tour with Patrick, an Irishman, who had been leading walking tours of Quito for about a year and a half. He was breaking in his replacement since he was leaving to return to see his friends and family in Ireland. He led nine of us to some of the more prominent sites in El Centro and described in detail some of the history and folklore of what we were seeing.

We met up at 10am at the San Blas church plaza, just around the corner from my hostel.

The tour group included people from Sweden, Brazil, UK, Canada, Ireland, and the US.

This high gothic church called Basiilica del Voto Nationacial started construction in 1926, but legend has it that when it is completed the end of the world will come. As a result it is still under construction. The normal other worldly gargoyles normally found protruding from the upper sides of the building are local animals like turtles, iguanas, caymen, pelicans, frigates and so on.
A shot of the gargoyls.
During our tour, we stopped at this native healer's office where he treats people of a whole host of ailments using the knowledge passed down from his family. He incorporates all type of natural ingrediants depending on what he sees to be your ailment. Standard treatment is just $20 to fix things like strained muscles. For more serious ailments it is $40 per treatment that involves a cuy--guinnea pig---that is passed over your body. The cuy is then cut open and whatever organ appears black is the one in you that is causing a problem. He then treats you for that specific problem. It can involve drinking or eating various potions he has prepared, hands on energy work. and all of the treatments involve him drinking some sort of alcoholic beverage and then spitting it out all over your body. I passed on a treatment, but Micheal was planning to return since he was most interested in this mode of treating the person

Here is the Spanish Conquistador Sebastian de Benalcezar who conquered Quito. This plaza has brass plaques that provide a pictograph of the city that feature the major churches and landmarks. Across the street is the oldest colonial building in Quito.

Here is the Plaza San Francisco and Monastery were they were preparing a speakers platform for Pope Francis' upcoming visit.
This too was an unfinished church which began in 1534. The adjacent Capilla de Cantuna had an indigenous builder named Cantuna who sold his soul so the devil would help him complete the building on time, but when the building was finished and the deadline was near, Cantuna removed one stone so he cheated the devil therby saving his soul and ended up meeting the deadline----except for that one stone. True or not this story is embrased by all the tour guides.
Here is a peek-a-boo view of the Virgin Mary statue---with wings--atop Bread Loaf Mountain----El Paececillo.
Apparently this is the only Virgin Mary statue with angel wings.
Apparently the Spanish owner of this mansion that was built, failed to make final payment to the local native worker, so the worker took his revenge by putting a big penis on the last cherub over the nearby door as a form of revenge. The city later declared this a historical building penis and all so that is what you see to this day. It is right across from the 24 caret gold clad baroque La Compania de Jesus which was started in 1605. We had our group picture taken in front of this church.
Plaza del Teatro was our last tour stop.

At the end of the tour, and receiving some tips from us, he invited us to join him for lunch at a local food stall area. I joined in along with Emb, a college professor from Oklahoma and the replacement tour guide, Pablo. We all had fried bass with cerviche, rice and noodle combi, salad and a green drink called Naranjilla----tasted like orange juice. Apparently our cook won a contest for the fish she cooks. Since Peter was leaving for Ireland, all of the various food stall people came up to wish him well and goodbye until next time.

After settling my bill at Secret Garden, I headed to the south bus terminal where I would catch my night bus. Unfortunately, I ended up standing during the entire ride and it wasn't yet even rush hour.

Once at the bus station, I gorged on fruit drinks: first was mora---a blackberry juice---and then I had a watermelon drink---sandia. No wifi worked at this bus station.


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