16 Miles Shy of the Equator
Quito is Ecuador’s capital city and home to over 2 million people, situated in the lush river basin of Guayllabamba surrounded by Andean volcanoes. For the past two and a half days, we have had the privilege of getting to know this adorable city.
The most interesting parts of Quito are divided into what they call “new town” and “old town.” The “new town” being high rises, Hilton hotels, nightclubs, restaurants, and the appropriately named “Gringolandia.” The “old town,” as you’d expect from the name, is the historic district where the 19th century churches, plazas, and marcados remain in colorful, pristine condition.
With only a couple of days to explore, we were forced to spread ourselves thin. Obviously, our highest priority was surveying the food scene. Walking the streets of the Old Town on our first day, we sampled the offerings of local street food. Ice cream, mango slices, very sugary fudge, topped off with some freshly carved pig meat. All for a dollar or less and all equally delicious. (Tip: If you are traveling in South America, plan on wasting every Sunday doing nothing. Everything shuts down and there is absolutely nothing to do).
Second on our priority list was la Basilica del Voto Nacional, the only Gothic style church in Quito, and possibly Ecuador. The church is strikingly massive from the outside and just as impressive on the inside. After viewing the intricate artwork of the interior, we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’) braved the rickety metal staircase and climbed up to the top of the tallest tower for a 360-degree view of the city.
Next stop, el TeleferiQo- the cable car. It was a relatively clear morning, so we decided to catch the cable car to the top of Cruz Loma – just east of the Pichincha volcano. It was a slow, but enjoyable ride up to 4100m (13,500ft) and a spectacular view from the top. Following the trails, we wandered for a while, taking in the contrasting views of city and mountain.
We had obligations with the Jatun Sacha Foundation (our to-be volunteer organization in the Galapagos) that afternoon, so we hurried down for the best Indian food we’ve had in months before our meeting. Our meeting with the Jatun Sacha Foundation turned out to be the worst experience of our volunteering careers – but I don’t want to go into that right now. I can only hope that the research station in the Galapagos where we’ll be spending our next two weeks will be a better experience.
For our final hours of daylight in Quito, we climbed four blocks of stairs to Itchimbía Park and savored a very special glass of red wine. We watched the city lights come to life as the clouds rolled in and it turned to dusk.
Tomorrow, our journey to the Galapagos Islands begins. For the next two weeks we will be stationed in the highlands of San Cristobal, the second main island of the Galapagos, working on habitat restoration projects with the local research station. It is beyond words how excited Jeremy and I are to be going to the Galapagos to work (and play) for two weeks. The only down side is that there will be little Internet connection on the island (wait, is that really a down side?), so I will take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.
Thank you for following us on our journey this far. I hope you will continue to be a part of our experience into the coming year.