A Vagabond New Year in South America
Arriving in Quito, Ecuador on December 29, we truly had no idea what to expect. We did not expect that the city would be virtually shut down through Tuesday due to the long New Year’s weekend.. Of course, we found our way around, discovered an open grocery store and several restaurants in Plaza Foch, a touristy type square that locals also frequent in the Mariscal neighborhood
Paul and I love to walk almost everywhere we can when we travel. In Quito, we were not prepared to go from 423 ft. in Dallas to almost 10,000 feet above sea level. Nonetheless, we celebrated one of our favorite New Year’s Eve’s since we have been married in this city in the mountains.
New Year’s Eve in Quito
On December 31, we had a plan which fell through. One thing I had really hoped to see were the viejos. I had read about “los viejos,” large scarecrow-like effigies of people they dislike or important people of the moment. For example, one of the top two “viejos” in 2016 was Donald Trump! Then at midnight, they burn the viejos in the streets, symbolically sending off the good and bad of the year before and welcoming in the new year. From what I had read, it was unlikely that we would get to witness this cultural phenomenan.
Back to the plan, as has happened many times before, a spur of the moment decision turned out to be a great one. From our apartment on the sixth floor, in the late afternoon, we saw lots of people parking and walking in one direction. We decided to follow…The festival we ran into was about los viejos. It involved great bands playing on specially erected stages, lots of viejos, street food and many locals dressed in all kinds of costumes. At 9:00, a huge fireworks display drew cheers from adults and children alike. Looking for dinner, we found a noisy place with fun music, great for people watching. Home by ten, we hoped we would still be awake at midnight, and we did. Starting at 11:50, it was like "Gunsmoke.” Fireworks exploded all over the city, huge displays from all directions. The viejos were burning, people were dancing everywhere, and we had a great view of it all from our sixth floor window.
The Botanical Gardens
In a mood to discover the feeling of Quito, we decided to walk/hike to the Botanical Gardens in Carolina Park. It was a strenuous endeavor as we were/and still are acclimatizing to the 10K above sea level atmosphere. Arriving at the park, we encountered construction for a Metro Station, as Quito plans to open their subway this year, as well as a skating pavilion, a canal for boating and the gardens. We enjoyed seeing the vegetation for the 7 micro-climates in Ecuador. The gardens were very pleasant, a cool oasis from the equatorial sun. In particular, we liked the orchid hothouse, the carnivorous plants and the Japanese garden with its extensive bonsai collection.
A ride on the Hop On Hop Off bus offered views of the city from several vantage points. We were delighted to have a ride up hill to one of the most famous lookouts—El Panecillo, named thus as the Spaniards thought the mountain resembles a loaf of bread. We hopped off there to admire the view and the statue of the Virgen of Quito, the largest aluminum sculpture in the world and the only image in the world of the Virgen Mary with wings. Personally, I recommend getting a ride up to the top unless you are an avid hiker, it’s 1,000 feet to the top of the hill. From there we saw great views of cathedrals and monuments until we hopped back on. We disembarked again to see a sight on our own, La Capilla del Hombre. I was stunned that I did not recognize the artist Oswaldo Guayusamin, as he was a contemporary of Diego Rivera and is lauded with him as one of 4 greatest painters of Central/South America in the 20th century. Nelson Rockefeller attended his first exhibition. bought five of his paintings, and invited him to exhibit in the US, a great impetus to his career. He painted the suffering of the indigenous peoples as well as landscapes and portraits. La Capilla del Hombre offers a tribute to man, particularly south american native cultures and their suffering. I loved the art and the view from Guayusamin’s home. What we did not particularly enjoy was the mountain goat-like hike up over 400 feet to reach the monument. Our maps program said it would take 35 minutes—it took us an hour. After a much easier trek downhill and a stop for a refreshment, we were ready to hop back on the ride to the end.
Getting to the center of the earth, La Mitad del Mundo, challenged our navigational skills in learning the bus system. I must say, that it is totally worth it to take the time to figure it out. There was no point in having a guide, and for $1.40, we made the round trip. The monument to La Mitad is a bit on the cheesy side, but we liked it. There is the monument itself where you can take your picture on the ecuatorial line (we failed at those photos), take an elevator to the top for the view, a couple of museums, a little village with shops and restaurants, and large sculptures of hummingbirds everywhere.
The Market at Otavalo
The market at Otavalo is a daily event. On Saturdays, it is the most grand. Again preferring to go on our own, we mastered the Trolebus and a new station on the outskirts of town. The process to get on the bus proved very interesting. First we bought tickets—one to enter the transit area and one to board the bus. Prior to boarding the bus, we had to sign in on a list of passengers, notice that on the return trip it was me and Mr. Jones. Then a conductor came through and took our tickets. That process must keep a lot of people employed!
Shawls, ponchos, panama hats (which originated in Ecuador), toys, electrical appliances, leather goods, all kinds of clothing, fruits, vegetables, meat—you name it, it was for sale. We wandered for a couple of hours, bought a couple of things, rested and refreshed, then caught the bus for the trip home. It was great fun to see all of the women in native costumes and the haggling was fun, too.
Next week we are still in Quito with a couple of day trips planned. Please join us as we visit the museums and monuments in Quito, climb a volcano, visit the cloud forest and ride a train.
A few more sights from this week, the Gothic Cathedral, nouveau building with plants on the outside wall, and the neighborhood.