Travelogue Day 8: Quito

Amanda Pomicter

After spending a week in the Galápagos, our arrival at Quito marked the beginning of our journey home and the end of our time on the Galápagos Islands. We arrived to the scenic city of Quito, sandwiched between the Andes Mountains, Wednesday afternoon. After disembarking from the plane, it was difficult to adjust to the high altitudes and I immediately felt lightheaded. I was not alone in feeling this way as I watched Jake valiantly carry April's luggage for her to our bus. Apparently, the high altitudes, the plane trip, and a week of fun-filled, yet exhausting, activities had caught up with us.

Quito from our hotel windows.

However drained of energy I had been leaving the airport at Quito, I was quickly rejuvenated by the sights of Quito. Cars sped by honking their horns, people lined the sidewalks, and vendors stood in their stores waiting for business. The short ride from the airport to the hotel served as a great opportunity to see the city. While the jewelry store was still the joyeria, I couldn't help but feel somewhat familiar while visiting this foreign city. The language was different, but the city scenes and stores reminded me of any American city that I had ever been too.

After arriving at our hotel excited at the prospect of dining and shopping in Quito, a group of us set out to discover the market nearby market. Kate, Jake, Meghan, Raina, and I walked several blocks from our hotel and were absolutely amazed at what we discovered. The market was contained within a large cylinder wall, with vendors lined from one end to the other. Each table contained various items, including rich llama wool sweaters, scarves, woodcarvings, silver jewelry, and painted pottery. I immediately spotted a Picassoesque-style painting, which I fell in love with. Unfortunately, I had not fine tuned my haggling skills at that point and spent a relatively pricey $20 on the painting. I later learned from Meghan to never settle on the first price the sellers give you. We soon realized that Meghan's special skill and favorite pastime was haggling.

While the vendors carefully wrapped up their merchandise after a long day in the market, the five of us decided to find something to eat. We stumbled upon an Italian restaurant with an affordable menu and the promise of much-missed pizza. We took our seats and browsed the menu deciding who wanted to share what and how much wine we should get. With all our problems figured out, Kate and I decided to share a mushroom and pork pizza. However strange the combination of mushroom and pork sounds, it is not as strange as the pizza that we ended up with. My limited understanding of the Spanish language had remained unrehearsed and rusty for the past three years. Consequently, the point and nod method of ordering from a menu proved insufficient in this restaurant. Kate and I were surprised to receive an anchovies pizza, the one listed directly below our desired choice. Similarly, Christina had a misunderstanding while ordering food, much like ours. She mistakenly agreed to her dessert as an appetizer for her meal. The night only added to our traveling experience and understanding of what it must be like for non-English speakers in America.

Later that night we met up with Kelly and Adam at the hotel bar for some drinks. Kelly ecstatically described the karaoke bar that April, Melodie, Jessica, Adam, and herself discovered just blocks from our hotel. While the Karaoke bar sounded interesting to say the least, Kate and I couldn't resist telling Kelly about our evening. In addition to the anchovies fiasco, the five of us also visited an Internet cafe. Finally, after a week of no news or contact with family or friends we were able to place international calls for $0.18/min and surf the net for $0.40/hour. Never before was I so relieved to be in the presence of modems and well-worn keyboards. After a full day traveling from the Galápagos to Quito, we said our goodbyes at the bar and decided to retire to our five-star hotel rooms for a night's rest.

Since our group tour of the city was not scheduled until the afternoon, Kate, Jake, Raina, Meghan, and I ventured into the city limits, again! This morning we found a restaurant serving breakfast and enjoyed an interesting meal. Never before had we had grilled cheese, made with queso blanco, for breakfast. The mango juice and French fries also added character and flavor to our morning adventure. Afterwards, we made our way back to the market and released any money we had left from the boat into the hands of eager vendors. Meghan's addiction to haggling soon turned overly-obsessive and Raina, Jake, Kate, and I were forced to intervene. Meghan later admitted, "it was just a game, I was seeing how low I could get the price down."

On tour.

Our official tour of the city began at 4:00pm with our tour guide, Vanessa. Vanessa took us to the Plaza de la Independencia and explained the history of Incan, Spanish, and La Gran Colombia leadership in Ecuador. Vanessa's narration was filled with the mythical tales of El Dorado and Amazon women. While nobody ever discovered the city of gold, the tale served as a diversion to invading Spaniards interested in colonizing Quito. After La Plaza de la Independencia, we visited the Colonial city of Quito. While we toured the plazas and Presidential palaces I couldn't help but notice that we had become a spectacle. Children stopped and stared and adults looked on with curious eyes. Kate turned to me and remarked, "I feel like we're on display." As Vanessa mentioned earlier, our height, our relatively light skin, our blue eyes, our blonde hair, and our foreign language were a curiosity to many of the people living in Colonial Quito. Our roles as tourists had been solidified and there was no doubt in my mind that the camera I was carrying is not how the locals were able to identify us as foreign.

La Iglesia de el Sagrario.

While in the Colonial section of the city we visited three churches. La Iglesia de el Sagrario contained an impressive screen made of cedar and gold leaf designs. Vanessa described the screen as representative of the Quitenean-Baroque style and required a foundation 14 m. deep to secure the colossal screen. We toured several other churches including La compania de Jesus and Iglesia de San Francisco, both constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries. As a North American, the age of these buildings intrigued me. Comparatively speaking, no church I have visited in America compares in age to these ancient feats of architecture.

La Iglesia de la Compagnia de Jesus.

We witnessed the influence of the Spaniards through language, but most notably, religion. The three churches we visited were not the only remnants of Spanish tradition. Vanessa guided us through El Museo de San Francisco. The museum was arranged chronologically and displayed the religious works of Indigenous people. Interestingly enough, the earlier works of religious figures featured art depicting Spanish-looking Saints and spiritual leaders. However, towards the end of the tour, the works of art were more representative of people with indigenous appearances. The museum exemplified the mixing of Spanish and Indigenous cultures. As Vanessa had mentioned previously in the tour, 60% of the population defined themselves as Mestisos or Mestisas. A Mestiso can be described as a person of both Spanish and Indigenous decent. Like the idea of the Mestisa, the museum represented the blending of Spanish religion and art with Indigenous culture, ingenuity, and identity.

Church of the Order of St. Francis.

At the end of the tour, Vanessa took us to the mountaintop overlooking the city of Quito. From this vantage point it was possible to see the expanse of the city against the backdrop of the Andes, covered in lush fog.

Our last hours in Quito were spent as a group. Dr. Merck and Dr. Holtz graciously offered to treat everybody to dinner, which we all accepted. After several days in Quito we were finally able to order the meal we intended and rest our feet before several flights adding up to a long trip home. While the Ecuadorian experience time clock ran out, I realized that Quito, a city on the brink of modernity, offered a sharp contrast to the relative isolation of the Galápagos Islands. I just hope I took enough pictures.

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