Quito was supposed to be a quick stopover before we headed to the Galapagos. I chose Quito because my oldest brother said it was worth a stop. He was more than right. First, it’s so much cleaner than Panama City. I was really looking forward to Casco Viejo and not so much to Quito. My expectations were completely opposite of what we actually found. Quito has an amazing Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I could spend several days in that part of the city alone. I had read about pick-pockets, but heard they are no worse than any large city. I felt much safer in Quito Old Town than I did in Casco.
We visit Old Town on September 15, the Day of Independence from Central America. It’s a big deal. We stepped out of our taxi and headed toward la Plaza de la Independencia. My heart sank as I saw more police than in Casco. Was this the norm? Crap. We walked to the middle of the square and saw a display of flowers. A policeman told me they were preparing for the Changing of the Guards. Wow, there sure are a lot of cops around for that. We decided to stick around and see what would happen.
I heard someone speaking English, so I asked him what was going on. “The President is supposed to make an appearance at 11:00.” “SHUT UP!” He gave me that look they all give me when I accidentally say, “shut up”. Ugh. I’m working on it. Progress, not perfection. Anyway, we found a spot right in front of the police line and waited. During our wait, the “street vendors” offered us a myriad of items – gloves, umbrellas, coca leaves, coca tea, coca candy, scarves, baked goods…etc. We opted out and kept our eyes on the goings on around the plaza. Chairs were being set up; I especially liked this guy’s idea – why put them on a dolly when you can do it this way?
Yellow tape was put up around the gardens, more police filed in and my favorite guy started testing his lapel mike. “UNO, DOS, TRES…UNO, DOS, TRES.” His voice was so deep I could see why he was the announcer. Schoolchildren filed in and walked past in their sharp uniforms. I’m hoping Lilly will complain less about her uniform after seeing these kids. Various people (I’m assuming they must have been very important) started showing up on the balcony of The Carondelet Palace (the seat of the Republic of Ecuador and the residence of the President). A soldier with a few machine guns was posted on either side of the balcony.
The announcer finally introduced several people as they appeared on the balcony. I wish I had recorded it to listen again – I’m sure they were super important. Finally, President Rafael Correa appeared and the crowd cheered and clapped. The ladies next to us were especially enthusiastic. The President did not speak, but we got quite a show. There was a marching band, soldiers parading on horses, a flag raising ceremony and singing of several national songs.
What a treat to be in Quito on Independence Day! After the ceremony, we walked around exploring the area. I could have spent hours peaking in the stores. Each street had a specific type of store. I loved the colors of the sewing stores. The “party store” street was full of piñatas, toys and party decorations. On each street, there were stands selling sweets, eggs, vegetables…etc. We had to end our visit to Old Town after about half a day because we all were getting headaches and nausea – thanks to altitude sickness.
On day two, we took a 45 minute taxi drive through winding roads to get to El Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument in San Antonio parish. It was pretty cool to walk with one foot in the Southern Hemisphere and one in the Northern Hemisphere. There’s a problem with the placement of the monument…it’s about 240 meters south of the actual equator. Maybe GPS is wrong. Either way, it was fun to explore this touristy place. There are tons of shops, restaurants (I did not order the baked guinea pig) and a few playgrounds. Lil had fun in the playgrounds; I may or may not have gotten too dizzy on the rotating swings. We did witness the mating of llamas. No one I know can say they’ve seen llamas mating at the equator. At first we thought they were making sounds to warn us…after taking a video and doing a little research, it has been confirmed that they were mating. Awesome. Here are some during and after shots…
We mostly ate in here in Quito to cut down on spending. The grocery store here was just like home…although finding “taco mix” was next to impossible. Tortillas were difficult to find too. We finally found several packets of spices that smelled and looked like taco mix. At 33 cents each, we got them all and found one that worked. We had breakfast one morning at the Radisson next door – it was a treat.
This is our last day and we’re laying low to get caught up on laundry and homeschooling. I’ll be glad to ditch the headache and nausea, but I’d like more time to explore. We head to the Galapagos tomorrow…yeah, I’m a little excited.