Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In the Southern Hemisphere

As soon as we began nearing the Colombia-Ecuador border, we could tell that a change was taking place. The landscape was transforming from lush tropical mountains to farm-covered hills and the people had different features and wore different clothes. Although we had been in the Andes since Bogotá, the Ecuadorian Andina region seemed to fit the image we had in our head of men in ponchos leading llamas and women in fedoras. It was also immediately obvious that Ecuador was less developed, starting with the more dilapidated and time-consuming bus we ended up on toward Quito. It was like being back in Honduras again, something familiar but also a bit annoying.

Arriving in Quito to afternoon rain, hungry, dirty, tired and then trying to navigate a confusing bus system did not shed a good first light on the city. Luckily our hostel, although staffed by a lackadaisical Australian, was clean, well-located and ready, so once we showered and rested, we were ready to find the real Quito.

Quito is a big city with 2.2 million people, but it’s restrained by geography in a narrow valley only 8 km across, so it’s really long and dense. It’s also in the southern hemisphere which marks just the third time each of us has been in this half of the world. It has one of the best preserved and remodeled old town’s in all of Latin America, which was obvious as we explored the streets around the Plaza Grande. We peeked inside a few very colorfully painted churches and stopped in an interesting museum of Ecuadorian artist Jorge Chalco. Our hostel was in a pleasant plaza dating back to the 1500’s and was close to a series of parks which housed the national observatory.

Chalco painting
Our hostel was the pink one on the left
Just up the hill from us was the Basilica del Voto Nacional, a huge gothic cathedral built cleverly on a hill to maximize views. We climbed the rickety ladder-like steps to the top of a few of the towers to snap some great panoramic shots of the city. Volcan Pichincha was to the west, largely undeveloped and always cloudy on top. Mariscal Sucre, the hip and happening bar/tourist neighborhood, was to the north. To the east was your typical cityscape. And to the south was old town Quito with the Virgin on the hill rising behind it like an eerie omen. In the distance, volcanoes loomed, although we could see nothing but a few tips, the rest hidden by the ever-present clouds.

Flying buttresses on the basilica
Southern view of the city from the top of the basilica
We expected the food to be familiar. However we quickly found that menus had foreign-looking words and unusual dishes like llapingacho and fanesca. The typical lunch plate, like in Colombia, was a bowl of soup followed by chicken, meat or fish with rice and potato salad, only in Ecuador it was about half the price. Potatoes grow well here so are served in everything from soup to salad to plain boiled or grilled on a skewer with meat. Popcorn is also big here; you are served a little bowl of it with lunch to toss into your soup, but we didn’t figure that out until later. They eat a lot of fish and seafood, despite not being near the ocean.

Fish soup with popcorn
One evening, as we were walking back to our hotel, we passed by a huge park where a lot of people were gathering, separated from town by a blockade of policeman. We didn’t think too much of it. Then people began to march down the street toward the central plaza, waving big Ecuadorian flags playing drums and trumpets. We flipped on the t.v. to see the news. Turns out it was a big pro-presidential rally for Rafael Correa, the current president who has had a lot of support and success with programs that seem to be helping Ecuador. He was able to basically get out of the majority of the national debt owed to foreign countries by claiming that it had been leant to past corrupt governments so wasn’t legal debt. However recently, he proposed a water policy that negatively affects many rural people, so they were protesting against him. To oppose their protests, pro-Correa activists proposed a support rally. We ended up heading to the plaza to try to get a peek at the president, but no such luck. We did hear the people chant “Correa, amigo. El pueblo esta contigo!” (Correa, friend, the people are with you!) which I thought was clever. It was an interesting, if brief, look into Ecuadorian politics.

Us in the Plaza Grade (central park)
Overall, Quito seems to be sort of like Bogotá’s kid sister, always trying to do things as good as the older sister, but not yet old enough to really do them. They have a bus rapid transit system that is a little dirtier and covers less area. They have a ciclovia that is less utilized and offers fewer routes. But little sister’s grow up sometime, so we have hope for Quito.

Playing around with some statues on La Ronda (artisan street)

No comments:

Post a Comment