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Flying to Quito from Cuenca and then to Lima, I figured today would hold little travel interest. I was wrong. As we sharply lifted up from the runway in Cuenca, I could see the mountains in the distance and realized we needed to reach high altitude quickly. It was a cloudy day and as the plane jiggled and shook in the cloud turbulence, I waited for it to pierce through the clouds and reach the sunny sky. We did. As I looked out the window, I saw mountains also piercing through the clouds close to the plane and realized we were skimming close to the Andes. The plane continued its upward climb and I thought we had passed by the mountains. Several minutes later, I was amazed because right by the plane was a majestic snow capped mountain, Chimborazo, Ecuador’s tallest at almost 21,000 feet. What a sight! Several minutes later, Antisana, Ecuador’s fourth tallest at over 18,000 feet appeared with its snow capped top, and finally, Cotopaxi, the second highest at over 19,000 feet appeared. These three snow capped mountains are on or very near the equator and so the snow capped tops are unique and amazing. What a beautiful flight!
As we approached Quito, I noticed that the plane was not in a steep descent, but more of a glide slowly downward. That was because as the plane descended, the ground below ascended. In fact, as we approached the Quito aeropuerto, the ground seemed far below and then, immediately, the plane was making a smooth as glass landing. The airport is on a high hill.
Thankfully, the Quito airport is brand new and sleek and modern. That is good since we have a six hour layover before heading to Lima, Peru. I told Kathy I wanted a hamburger for lunch and the airport has a Johnnie Rockets. Cheeseburger-$18; fries-$7; shake-$8. Nope! Looked around and found an Ecuadorian steakhouse. Cheeseburger-$7 and that includes fries and a salad; carafe of Sangria-$6. Lets see, $33 or $13. Easy choice and the steakhouse has free wifi and a wonderful fresh air balcony overlooking the Andes to boot. This won’t be as difficult a layover as I imagined. WEG
P. S. I did let Kathy have some of the sangria–along with her vegetarian plate. After all, it is a long layover.
The weather is Quito is remarkably wonderful: 65-70F by day and 45-50F by night. Kathy and I stroll the streets past Ecuadorians in native dress and others in modern dress selling all sorts of items: plastic sleeves filled with apples or pears; lima beans in boxes; multi-colored shawls; bowler hats; ice cream and back scratchers, to name a few. The city is alive with people. Cars and buses vie with people in the narrow streets, the sidewalks being packed. El Centro is filled with colonial buildings, most in good repair and many quite handsome. Surprisingly, we do not find pharmacies or banks–which have been a constant presence in every country we have visited over the past several years.
The Church of the Society of Jesus, locally called, “la Compañía,” is our must-see for the day. To say that it is exquisite would be an understatement. Begun in the early 1600s, it is a baroque masterpiece. Considered one of the most beautiful churches in South America, its baroque splendor easily rivals its counterparts in Europe. Intricately carved and gold-leafed from floor to ceiling, with porcelain statuary adorning the altars, the church is a jaw-dropper. The ten side altars blend harmoniously into the whole, leading to the main altar. The gold ceiling reflects the light making a golden hue that gives a heavenly feel. We sit for a least an hour in silent contemplation of the faith that would produce such beauty.
We also amble through the Central Bank Museum, proof that banks do exist somewhere in Ecuador. It tells the story of coin minting, with artifacts, through the centuries in Ecuador.
Our hotel has pure hot water dispensers and anis tea. The tea helps with acclimating to the altitude and it works! Both Kathy and I are feeling good, maybe even exhilarated! Hmm, is it really anis tea? WEG
Going from the coastal plains of the Houston area to the Andean heights of Quito, in one fell swoop, was quite an amazing start to our Ecuador and Peru adventure. To paraphrase the Bible, “The attitude was willing, but the altitude makes one weak.” Thankfully, neither Kathy nor I have altitude sickness, but walking Quito’s rolling hills at 10,000 feet does work on the lung capacity.
Quito is a wonderful city set between mountain vistas on all sides. Our day took us to some of the colonial gems of the El Centro, or historic center, of the city. We purposely made today a moseying kind of day to acclimate ourselves to the altitude. Two churches that stood out were Santo Domingo (right by our hotel) and San Francisco. Both were begun in the early 1500s and feature Baroque Spanish architecture–beautiful. On our walkabout, we happened upon several marching bands in a parade along one of Quito’s major shopping streets–an unexpected joy of travel.
Our hotel, a restored colonial house in the city’s historic center, has a breakfast room with expansive views of the surrounding hills, including Legarda’s (Ecuador’s famous artist) Virgin, a winged icon of the Virgin Mary overlooking the city. Later in the day, we tried Ecuadorian food, shrimp on fresh coconut with a mango sauce and hearts of palm. Tasty. But the Ecuadorian beer was the highlight for me. It was as good, or better, than any I have tasted anywhere. Really!
Hopefully, tomorrow’s attitude will easily overcome the altitude. If not, I know where the good beer is served. WEG