Pichincha / Imbabura  
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Dispatch 1 - Quito

  Ecuador: Quito and Volcano Cotopaxi Quito is located in a high valley along the Pan-American highway (Ave of the Volcanoes), among several active volcanoes.  Volcano Cotopaxi is seen in the photo on the right.

It's worth at least a couple days of exploration.  One of its assets is its natural history and dramatic setting.  From various vantage points, to the west is the Volcano Pinchincha, to the south is Volcano Cotopaxi, to the east is Volcano Cayambe and to the north is Volcano Cotacachi.  Periodically some of these still come to life.  From Parc Metropolitano there are not only great views, but also excellent bike trails and walking routes.

Ecuador: Quito
  Ecuador: Quito old town city street

Ecuador, Quito: Virgen de Quito, el Panecillo

Ecuador, Quito: Virgen de Quito, el Panecillo

Ecuador, Quito: grocery store

Ecuador: Quito, colonia period building

First impressions of Quito, the capitol of Ecuador, are that it is a clean, relaxed, comfortably prosperous city: 
  • People are well dressed; cloths are clean, no rips, mostly leather shoes, plenty of suits and ties for men and skirts and nylons for women.
  • Among the shops you can find every consumer good (home appliances, clothes, furniture, shoes, glasses, beauty aids, etc.) that you would at a Wal-Mart, only they are spread among intimate, distinctive, small boutiques, not lined up in the long isles of a box store.
  • It is a city where people do a lot of walking so shoe stores packed with choices are a common sight.
  • There are a lot of restaurants and small eateries so enough people have disposable income to keep these establishments in business and don't have to eat at home or carry their meals.
  • The are plenty of service sector business as well, like copy centers, banks, internet cafes, travel agents, hair dressers, and photo studios.
  • The streets are filled with traffic, mostly small sedans and pickup trucks.  The expensive car of choice is the out-of-scale oversized Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV).  The sidewalks are also full and buses are crowded with people heading to work, school, markets and recreation. But there are almost no bicycles.
  • There is a lot of construction around the city and money is being spent on good design and architecture.  This is complimented by a good deal of contemporary public art.
  • The parks are well maintained and around the city, both the parks and streets are generally clean.

Contradicting this image, the favorite local topic of conversation seems to be how bad the economy is.  It may have slow growth, but there are few hallmarks of being really bad. A couple indicators of not everything being rosy for everyone:

  • Street vendors with small stock and inexpensive goods or food wait for their next customer, often women with small children at their feet.
  • Guards at the door of most commercial properties.
  • Much of the population lives in small and/or cramped abodes.
Ecuador, Quito: Independence Plaza


Ecuador, Quito: shoe store


Ecuador, Quito: 3 on 3 Ecudaorian volley ball




Ecuador, Quito: apartment house

  Ecuador, Quito: old city, street scene

Walking or cycling into the neighborhood and reading the signs over the shops and looking at the street life is full of contrasts and curiosities. Because of the geography of the city, in Quito, there is very basic housing with million dollar views.

Even without expending much energy the streets of Quito can keep you amused.  One of the prime menu items is Quito is a wide variety of succulent fresh squeezed fruit juice drinks.  Find the right restaurant with outdoor tables, order a fresh fruit juice and watch the parade of interesting faces that pass. 

Ecuador, Quito: housing crawling up the hillside

Ecuador, Quito: view across city

  Ecuador, Quito: La Casa Sol Hotel Here we have a couple of extremes of Quito land use.  On the left is a very human scale, walking friendly street in the Mariscal district, with multiple roof lines, a human-friendly street wall, texture, color building and plantings  (La Casa Sol Hotel).  About ten blocks away, on a right is a wide boulevard with narrow sidewalks, are a KFC and McDonald's facing each other across the intersection.  In the central Quito and most small towns the merchandising is still done by small retailers, but on the urban edge there is an increasing number of larger "box" stores and franchise restaurants. Ecuador, Quito: Ecovia BRT (Bus rapid tranist way)
Ecuadorian vegetarian meal: potato, rice, cheese, salad, vegetables Food is very important to bicyclist.  So important that they often photograph it for memories. 

P.S. On several consecutive days the comment was made that this is the best meal yet.  It is always a question whether the food is getting better or the cyclists are getting hungrier by meal time.  Even if the later is true, we ate a lot of superb meals in Ecuador.

Ecuador, Quito: Snack shop
  Ecuador, Quito: Parque Alameda
A couple rowing in the lagoon in Parque Alameda, Ouito.

Ecuador, Quito: Grand Plaza or Independence Plaza
On Independence monument, the condor, symbol of Ecuador perches above, and the lion, symbol of Spain, slinks away below with a spear in its back.

The cultural and human history can rival the natural beauty.  The history of the area as a trading center goes back a thousand of years.  In the intervening centuries it has been completely destroyed by volcanoes or invasions a couple times, but always rebuilt in the same area.  On a walking tour of the old town it seems like it takes a half hour to tell the story of every block, building and plaza -- twice as long for every church, of which there are countless.  There are a lot of  stories about historic churches and dead people, but the district is still alive today.  Though the churches can be easier to photograph and document -- as is presented below -- than the vitality of the city, it is not all about churches.  There is excellent people watching to be found.  The old city is packed with Ecuadorians and in many of the plazas there is entertainment by local performers.  The palate is made more interesting and has more texture and color because a lot of people still wear traditional cloths; women in skirts and blouses and men in loose pants and ponchos. Ecuador, Quito: Grand Plaza or Independence Plaza

Ecuador, Quito: Grand Plaza or Independence Plaza

Ecuador, Quito: old town, mounted police

  Ecuador, Quito: Monument Virgin of Quito, Panecillo Hill At the south end of the Quito is the unique, winged, dancing "Virgin of Quito" monument, on Panecillo ("the little bread loaf") hill. The sculpture is made with 7000 pieces of aluminum. Ecuador, Quito: La Ronda St.
  Ecuador, Quito: La Ronda St. La Ronda street is known for its preserved colonial architecture and cultural heritage: signs along the street report its artistic and bohemian tradition but otherwise it seems like a quiet backwater now. Ecuador, Quito: La Ronda St.
  Ecuador, Quito: Convent San Diego Left: Convent San Diego, the Franciscans (?) constructed this church to provide the priests and laymen with a place of retreat.
Right: San Marco Church, Junin St., another traditionally preserved section of Quito with a number of museums and galleries.
Ecuador, Quito: San Marco Church, Junin St
  Ecuador, Quito: Bolivar Theatre Left: the grand Bolivar Theater.  It was built in 1933, but later heavily damaged by fire.  There are plans to restore it.  Just down the block is a museum dedicated to Manuela Saenz (born in Quito, 1797).  Mostly forgotten by history there are a couple references to her in Ecuador. She was the illegitimate daughter of a Spanish nobleman, at age 20 she married an English aristocrat, then became a South American liberationist, spy, Simon Bolivar partner for eight years (whom life she saved from an assassination attempt), and an acquaintance of Herman Melville. She died destitute in 1856 in Peru.
Right: Italianate Vinci building in old city.
Ecuador, Quito: Italinate Vinci Bldg, old city
  Ecuador, Quito: El Sagrario Church exterior Ecuador, Quito: El Sagrario interiorEl Sagrario Church, located just off the Grand Plaza, was originally the main chapel of the Cathedral, built for the cult of the Holy Sacrament. The alter (right), with its ornamented Salomon (twisted) columns is an excellent frame for a high Baroque that leaves practically no space without ornamentation. This style is typical of Bernardo de Legarda’s sculpture. Ecuador, Quito: El Sagrario Church alter
  Ecuador, Quito: La Compania de Jesus Church facade

Ecuador, Quito: Loco de Queso caldron

La Compania de Jesus Church, built by the Jesuits, is one of the richest churches in America. The extraordinary facade can be described as a lacework on stone. Six Salomon columns in the lower part support a second level of different heights.  No pictures are allowed in the heavily gold gilded church. 
On the top right is a photo of La Compania from San Francisco Church. One one visit to the plaza they were celebrating the potato with the world's biggest cauldron of Loco de Queso (pototo and cheese soup).  The plaza was filled with people enjoying live traditional entertainment and sipping bowls of soup.
Ecuador, Quito: La Compania de Jesus Church

Ecuador, Quito: San Francisco plaza

  Ecuador, Quito: Church of La Merced Ecuador, Quito: Church of La MercedThe Church of La Merced has extraordinary collection of religious art of Quito.  Woodcarvings by Bernardo Legarda.

Far Left: Senor of Devine Love, Church of La Merced.

Ecuador, Quito: Church of La Merced
  Ecuador, Quito: National Basilica

Ecuador, Quito: Casa del ArtistaLeft: Front of the National Basilica.

Right: Fanciful art on the balconies of the Casa del Artista.

Far right: A colorful stairway leads up into the neighborhood.

Ecuador, Quito: colorful stairway
    Ecuador, Quito: Museum GuayasaminThere are a number of other good museums and galleries in town.  One with a particular Ecuadorian flavor is the Guayasamin.  Besides having an excellent collection of his paintings and sculptures, it has pre-Colombian pieces and art from the Spanish Catholic colonial period.  
  Ecuador, Quito: Parque El Ejido, art market Ecuador, Quito: Parque El Ejido, art market Ecuador, Quito: traditional Ecuadorian danceOn weekends there is original art for sale and live music in Parque El Ejido. 

Socializing, relaxing, eating ice cream, Ecuadorian 3 on 3 volleyball, and traditional music and dance is the order of the dayEcuador, Quito: Ecuavolley (Ecuadorian volley ball) in the park on Sunday afternoon.

Ecuador, Quito: Ice crean vendor
Ecuador, Quito: Parque El Ejido, art market  Ecuador, Quito: Parque El Ejido, art market Ecuador, Quito: Parque El Ejido, art market Ecuador, Quito: Parque El Ejido, art market
  Ecuador, Quito: view from Parque Metropalitano

Ecuador, Quito: Parque Metropalitano, playground

One of the nicest assets of Quito is hilltop Parque Metropalitano.  Its forest is intended to be the lungs (or air filter) of the city, but evidently this aspect is under threat from development in the park and overwhelmed by development in the valley.  Even so it offers great views, a variety of recreatiojn trails for bicycling and jogging, kids play areas and a general opportunity to escape the city and relax.Ecuador, Quito: view from Parque MetropalitanoEcuador, Quito: Parque Metropalitano, bicyclingEcuador, Quito: Parque Metropalitano, bicycling with llamas Ecuador, Quito: Parque Metropalitano

Ecuador, Quito: Parque Metropalitano, bicycling


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