We had just spent five days in the wilds of Ecuador. Now it was time to experience the country’s capital city of Quito, a throbbing metropolis of over 2.5 million people. It is called the city of eternal spring due to the combination of its location–just a few clicks (16 miles south) under the equator–plus its 9000-foot-plus altitude. The result is a subtropical highland climate with an annual average of 57° F. I came prepared with layers of t-shirt, sweater and fleece. My island blood runs super thin these days, especially at this nearly 2-mile high city.
We wisely chose to stay at the wonderful Hotel San Francisco de Quito, a funky, 300-year old colonial courtyard hotel located deep in Quito Viejo, the first of two UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites on the planet. The architecture of the city is stunning, a treasure. Quito has been justly awarded.
We were told not to miss El Mitad del Mundo, the Center of the World, on the outskirts of the city. A line down the center of the facility’s plaza is meant to mark the equator, and countless tourists over the years have had their pictures taken straddling this line. Somehow I didn’t feel motivated to validate where I was on the globe. Likewise, we were asked when, not if, we were traveling to Otavalo, a nearby indigenous town known for its grand market of textiles, tagua nut jewelry, musical instruments, dream catchers, leather goods, fake shrunken heads, hand-painted platters, purses, clothing, spices, raw foods, and spools of wool. But my home is already cluttered with alebrejes from Oaxaca, México, molas from Panama, and assorted exotic treasures from my travels in the Middle East. If I need anything more, and that is questionable, I want to invest in some beautiful island paintings.
Thus, days are spent aimlessly roaming the streets of Quito with no direction home. We witness the over-abundance of Catholic gold coating the many 400 year-old cathedrals that dot the old city. We scan an outdoor photo exhibit, 6’ x 10’ black & white photos that address the lack of integration of black people in the 20th Century Ecuadorian society. These haunting photos of despair are placed in a grand plaza just blocks from the Palace of the Governors, the government’s capital building. And we stumble upon a procession honoring Our Lady of Guadeloupe (OLOG), the notorious Catholic vision-myth that supposedly occurred near México City in 1531. Apparently, OLOG has her followers here in Ecuador too. The band of drums, tarnished horns and beat up guitars leads the way with an out-of-tune, mantra-like, rhythm designed to keep the revelers marching relentlessly. The musicians are followed by folks carrying a statue of OLOG in a covered cage, complete with colorful streamers tied to the peak of the structure. Taking up the rear are the devout Catholics from the crowd who spontaneously join the march. A man behind the statue throws fresh rose petals into the air with the fervor of a spaced-out Hari Krishna zealot. This all makes sense as Quito and its surroundings are known for being one of the world’s leading exporters of cut roses. As the noise and people pass, I ponder the patterns of petals left behind on the dirty asphalt street. It is time to go home.
Hotel San Francisco de Quito provides the perfect escape from the madness of the city. After days in the serenity of Ecuador wilds, the city has overwhelmed my senses. Back in the room, I mix a couple of glasses of Panamanian rum with fresh lime. We scale seven flights of stairs to the hotel’s rooftop and are awarded with a grand, 360° panorama of this pulsing South American city. It is near sunset. A rock band pumps out grunge music below at the Palace of the Governors. Doves fly home in haste to settle in for the night. The sunset explodes with orange and blood red making the nearby active volcano, Pichincha, blush at its impressive height of 17, 280-feet. It hasn’t erupted since August 23, 2006. I have faith that Pichincha and I will both sleep well tonight in the city of Eternal Spring.