We spent the day exploring many of the best attractions of Quito, starting by driving up to the El Panecillo, the park at the top of a mountain that overlooks the historic downtown and its many houses on the hillsides. There is a metal statue of a winged Virgin Mary that looks down on the sprawling city of 2.5 million, at her feet is a serpent. Getting to the mountaintop took quite a while, since Quito truly has a traffic problem. Part of it is geography…surrounded on two sides by the steep hills, everyone has to travel in the area that’s flat which after so many years of growth, has filled just about all up. Quito’s mayor spoke tonight at our meeting about a planned subway which would be a great help–the buses and cars choke up the downtown and getting anywhere is a time consuming task.
We were taken to a neighborhood called La Ronda, it was nice to walk down a pedestrian-only street in the historic district. This is the part of Quito that earned its World Heritage Site status, and strict rules keep the signs for businesses as small black writing–no neon, no garish loud signs here. In small shops, craftspeople make things., In one shop a man in a three-piece suit and hat made various items out of tin. In another shop we visited a man repaired pianos, cramped with lots of old broken keyboards all around him.
We stopped by a cafe called Chez Tiff, and inside we were shown how cacao pods are turned into chocolate.
A woman sat in the cafe looking ashen, apparently the 2800 meter altitude of the city had made her feel sick. Quito is full of pretty churches–one is San Francisco church, where we entered a room with carvings of monks on three sides. Then to the El Alabado Museum, which was once a family house, and now holds 5000 pre-Columbian artifacts.
After a fancy lunch of a tasting menu of many fine Ecuadorian specialties at Belle Epoch restaurant inside the Plaza Grand hotel, overlooking the presidential palace, we saw a glittering giant church bedecked with more gold than I’ve ever seen on a ceiling, wall or altar. La Compania is a shiny example of Quito Baroque and there I learned that many of the stones the Spanish used to build houses and roads came from what they considered ruins of Inca treasures.