Here we go. My big adventure in South America has started and it has commenced from the top: Ecuador.
Let me see, what do I know about South America…? A little, to be honest: the fact that they speak Spanish (except in Brazil, Guyana and Suriname), and that this is because of those barbarian conquistadores, who found their way into the beautiful south of the continent and forced them to learn their language, and forget their beliefs to adopt the Catholic ones. But that is about it. What do I know about Ecuador? A little less even. I have two friends from Ecuador and they are some of the loveliest people I have ever met: funny, cheerful and extremely clever. But, again, that is all I know.
I gotta admit it; the first thing that came to my mind as soon as I put a foot in Quito was: Good God, I cannot breathe! It is not just because of the altitude (2850 metres above sea level), but also because of the pollution. It is bad. Although, according to the World Health Organization, the pollution in Quito is moderate. Well… not what my lungs noticed. But, trivialities apart, once I realised that I was able to survive, what really caught my attention was the high mountains surrounding Quito and its vast extension (quite impressive), and, most importantly, its people´s hospitality, who give you all their time without expecting absolutely nothing in return. A proof of this is that many tours in this city are for free. It is unnecessary for me to say that you should not be stingy and give a tip to the tour guide, right? Ok, then; now to the point.
There are a few things that you must do if you visit San Francisco de Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and second largest city in the country in population, after Guayaquil.
Walk across the historical centre (one of the best preserved in South America), admire the churches and its wonderful Basilica del Voto in The Old Town, a neo-gothic catholic church inaugurated only in 1988 but which is still unfinished after more than a hundred years of construction. Anyway, looks quite beautiful and finished to me.
Admire La Virgen de Quito, who observes the city from her hill El Panecillo. You will be able to locate her from every single angle of the city, as she stands at 3,016 metres above sea level.
She is 41 years old, 45-meter tall, and she is made of 7,000 pieces of aluminium. The Spanish artist Agustín de la Herrán is the author of this beautiful Madonna. The locals claim that she is the only virgin in the world with wings like an angel, and it is interesting that this sculpture seems to be dancing, in contrast to the traditional Madonnas, which were static and lifeless.
While in Quito you cannot forget to make a visit to a Shaman, especially if your spirit needs to be healed. But if it is only for curiosity purposes, then go for it as well! It will always be entertaining.
You can also see (and hold) exciting things as a shrunken head!
Not really the place to explain about how and why tribes from the Amazon Rainforest did this, but here is a painting of how they used to do it, and a link to Wikipedia in case you want to know more about it.
Quito also has a cable car (TelefériQo) that rides up to the Pichincha volcano, and offers a great panoramic of the city. It rises up around to 4000 meters, so do not forget to dress appropriately! It does not matter how warm is down in Quito; up there is another world.
Click on this video, if you want to know more about this tourist attraction (not the best quality, but the information is useful):
And, of course, you cannot forget to visit La Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World city) in the province of Pichincha, 13 km north of Quito.
The Equator is the line that divides the hemisphere north from the south of the world. This occurs in 13 countries really; not only in Ecuador, but Ecuador represents the highest point in altitude, so it is pretty necessary to visit this spot.
In the Middle of the World city you can see the monument of the Equator, built in 1981, and that points the location of the Equator. Well… at least that is what they believed in 1736, when scientists made their calculations (wrongly) about the exact coordinates where the line passed through. The actual Equator was 240 meters away from their big monument, as discovered with GPS in modern days.
This story is told by all tour guides in the area, who affirm that “the real middle of the world is actually in the Intiñan Solar Museum”, which is 200 metres away from the monument. Still not quite in the middle though, but you need to take a photo just in case, right? So you can brag in front of friends and say that you have “touched” both sides of the world at the same time. Feels magical.
But the truth is that the museum was also built in the wrong spot. Tour guides entertain the tourists with games and facts that “can only happen in the Equator”, as if that was the right spot… For example, they show water flowing in different directions according to which hemisphere the water is in. Or they try to make you walk in a straight line blocking your vision, and, after seeing that without your sight you seem like a drunky, they assure you that this is because of the latitude in that very same spot. They also make you try to balance an egg (I got it right first try, have to say) and make you believe that this can only happen there. But apparently the latitude does not have any effect on these tricks. And, even if it had, you aren’t in the exact middle of the world. It is highly entertaining, though!
The reality is that the exact position that the Equatorial line crosses around Ecuador is in Monte Catequilla, in the Pomasqui Valley of Ecuador (latitud 0° 0′ 0″ N, 78° 25′ 43″ W). Experts recommend not to get obsessed with this line, though, not sure why… Perhaps because it is just easier for the country to make tourists visit the monument that was constructed 36 years ago, and the roads to the actual middle of the world are not prepared to receive thousands of tourists yet. Who knows?
The 30-meter tall monument, anyway, is beautiful and it is worth a visit. But you need to pay to enter, so you might be OK by seeing it from outside, because it is big, so you can see it clearly from afar…, and because that line is fake anyway!
If I had to describe Quito in a word, this would be: Friendly.