Friday, 10 April 2015

Quito

When we left Otavalo I was expecting to reach Quito and be welcomed by a grimy capital city that has a reputation for being dangerous. However following a free walking tour on our first day my opinion of the worlds highest capital city dramatically improved. For three hours we visited local markets and tried the fresh produce - Moroche for me, a warm milky drink perfect for combatting the affects of the altitude sickness that I was suffering from - walked around large public squares and learnt the history of Quito, whose name derives from the word Quitu literally meaning central earth. 

Before we arrived in Ecuador I had it down as the sleepy neighbour to conflict-ridden Colombia and drug capital Peru. But it turns out the country and capital has its fair share of colourful historic stories from presidents being murdered in machete attacks to hyperinflation leading to a complete change of currency (from the Sucre to the U.S. dollar - just before the changeover the conversion rate was an astronomical 25,000 Sucre to just one dollar) Although after the tour I was suitably impressed, we had still been given regular warnings about pickpockets, crime rates and where is simply too dangerous to go in the city. Similarly to Rio de Janeiro, building and infrastructure works are popping up everywhere in and around Quito as the government and active tourism ministry 'prettify' the city. However it seems logical to me that if all efforts and energy were targeted at lowering crime and bettering the local every day quality of life, then tourists would eventually come naturally as part of the inevitable circle of exploration and adventure as more and more people are taking to travelling the world. 



As the name suggests, Ecuador sits right on the equatorial line so we ventured the 30 minutes out of the city to the Mitad del Mundo, or middle of the world. Over 500 years ago explorers were able to locate the equator using only the mountains and sun alignment and impressively managed to get it to within 300 metres. Today with the help of fancy GPS a huge red line has been painted on the exact 00°00'00" latitude where we found ourselves conducting classroom-like experiments to understand the change in hemispheres and gravity from one side of the line to the other. From balancing an egg on a pin head to watching the clockwise and anticlockwise spin of water down a plug hole, it was fascinating to feel and see the affects of natural forces which are the reason the Earth exists as it does. After we had received our diploma certificate for balancing said egg on the pin (yes really) we made our way to La Basilica, Quito's outwardly impressive cathedral. 

I found the interior to be a much of a muchness as the other churches we have visited elsewhere but La Basilica has a secret weapon in its arsenal - for an extra $2 it's possible to climb the vertical exposed steps up the actual spires to reach the highest views of the city, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site located on the Andean active volcano of Pichincha  Needless to say, in the blowing wind, I didn't bother doing that choosing rather to enjoy the views from a safer slightly lower platform where I was shocked to see just how big Quito is, as it sprawls along the valley floor and banks up the sides of the looming Andes. It is easy to get swept into city life and become accustomed the the high rise buildings but, as I look out from the hostel terrace in the direction where the Amazon basin begins, I am reminded of just how naturally beautiful Ecuador is. 


(Photos to follow)