After 16 gloriously freeing months cycling nearly 20,000 KM across half the planet we landed in Quito, Ecuador, the first city to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its best preserved, least altered historic centre in Latin America, despite a 1917 earthquake.
According to UNESCO, the monasteries of San Francisco and Santo Domingo, and the Church and Jesuit College of La Compañía, with their rich interiors, are pure examples of the ‘Baroque school of Quito’, which is a fusion of Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous art.
Beyond the preserved architecture of the old centre, modern Quito, containing nearly 2.5 million people, sprawls north and south through a valley at 2,850 metres above sea level, making it the second highest capital in the world. La Paz, Bolivia is nearly 800 metres higher. From north to south, the city runs about 35 kilometres. It’s big.
We rented beautiful Casa Liceo through Air B and B for six days. It’s located in La Loma Grande, on the edge of the historic centre and a great location for exploring the city, which is what we did.
It’s easy enough to walk everywhere, especially on Sunday when the historic centre is closed to traffic and the bicycles take over. We wandered the streets, looking at some of the many churches and convents. We checked out some of the museums as well and tried a different restaurant for lunch and dinner every day.
La Ronda is a narrow street that used to be known as Jerusalem Gully. It is filled with eateries, cafés, gift shops and artists’ studios. On Saturday night, it was hopping with live music in just about every venue but on Monday night it was completely dead with hardly a soul around and many of the shops and restaurants closed. Slowly, things came back to life throughout the week.
Plaza Grande and Plaza San Francisco are two of the show pieces of the historic centre. On Monday morning we joined hundreds of other onlookers for the weekly changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace in Plaza Grande. Quite the pomp and circumstance, complete with brass bands, mounted soldiers and the President himself regally waving from the balcony to his somewhat disgruntled subjects. There were protests in every plaza the following day.
One day, we braved Quito’s public transit to go to Mitad Del Mundo, the middle of the world, or the Equator. A large monolith was erected in a kind of theme park and a bright yellow line runs through it all, denoting where the Equator is supposed to be. In fact, it’s about 250 metres north of where the line is.
Quito’s buses are amazingly efficient and well used. Extended trolley buses run on three lines through the city and have dedicated lanes separated from all other traffic, except cyclists who allowed to use those lanes. The stations are closed off, much like a subway station, and passengers have to enter through gates to pay the fare of 25 cents. Yes, 25 cents is all it costs to go anywhere on the bus. By the way, Ecuador uses the US dollar.
It took about half an hour to get to the end of the line where we transferred to a local bus, taking us to Mitad Del Mundo. The buses were packed to the rafters, probably beyond capacity, but were very efficient. The same trip in a car would take twice as long. Traffic is always jammed in Quito but because of the dedicated bus lanes, transit works well. A subway line, Metro de Quito, is under construction and is scheduled for completion in 2017. It will run right across the city, all the way to the Mariscal Sucre Airport.
The TeleferiQo, gondola, goes up the flanks of Pichincha Volcano to about 4,000 metres and offers a sweeping view of the city. It was a nice ride but not that easy to get to other than by a $3 taxi ride.
We also scaled the clock towers of Basilica Del Voto Nacional, the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. The neatest part of the church are the grotesques in the form of animals native to Ecuador. Jutting out from the building like gargoyles are giant tortoises, iguanas, pelicans and armadillos.
The view from the coffee shop, located about half-way way up in one of the 115-metre-tall spires, is one of the best in Quito.
And on the subject of coffee, Ecuador has some of the finest. We found a small coffee roaster in Centro Historico. Lured into Aguila De Oro by the aroma of roasting beans, we walked away with several pounds of the stuff.
We loved Quito and will probably come back here. It’s a safe and easy city to get around. We met some lovely people, including Santiago and Karina. Santiago is a jewellery maker and sells his art in the La Ronda market on weekends. He made us each a pendant as a gift.
Food is cheap and good and there is lots to see and do. It was a nice few days of relaxing and processing the fact that our journey has come to an end and it’s time to go home. It’s been a great ride and one to be continued.
We’ve uploaded some of our favourite photographs. There is a link at the top menu. There are also about 4,500 photographs on my Flickr Page. Each country has its own album. You can brows the albums or play them as slide shows. The videos are posted on our Vimeo page.
Even though we are now back home in Vancouver, the blog will continue. Stay tuned…