In order to prevent this turning into a dull-to-read, although fun to do, list of we went here, dashed there, saw this kind of affair, I’ve decided to try to describe Quito.
It’s a large sprawling city (2 – 3 million inhabitants) bustling with activity, but in a benign and pleasant manner. There is lot of traffic: fast, but not obnoxious, with very little impatient or angry horn blowing. Amongst the cars are quite a few classic old bangers held together solely by willpower, but the average age and condition of the vehicles is neither old nor new and apparently fairly sound. I suspect this is a necessity as the roads are STEEP and cobbled: many grades are in excess of 15% (in my assessment as a cyclist: forget it, I’m not going up that!), making it a challenging city for those intrepid souls who drive a stick shift gear box. The original historic area of Quito is in a bowl surrounded by steep hills on all sides with the occasional fleeting glimpses of snow covered volcanoes in the distance. Apparently we are between the east and west Andes ranges.
On Sunday the city seemed rather dull and quiet, apart from the big military event in the plaza,with many shuttered doorways firmly closed: it is a very Catholic society and the Sabbath is observed. The skyline is studded with many magnificent churches which are illuminated at night (which falls early at around 1830 hrs every day, all year around), we are only ¾ of an hours drive south of the equator. Yesterday we saw a large church which, in place of gargoyles, had jungle animals and those found on the Galapagos islands carved in remarkable detail.
On Monday the city magically came alive with all the shuttered doorways opening up to reveal stores of remarkable and fascinating diversity. The stores are quite deep and are totally open to the street. It was very interesting to take a glimpse inside as we either walked or drove by. In general, the streets and sidewalks seemed tatty and rather dusty, but not really dirty. Everything seems to be in a genteel state of decay, or not quite finished. The locals didn’t seem bothered by the presence of visitors one way or another: apart from the odd beggar and some very small rather grubby shoe-shine boys (no girls) who were eagerly checking our footwear for polishing potential.
The older inhabitants are mostly dressed in traditional dress and are almost always only five feet tall (or significantly less) and quite a number have visible physical deformities. Many of these carry bags and sell items (from herbs to scouring pads) on the street.
Apparently the historic district of town was very dangerous just a few years ago, but a major revitalization has taken place, with bars being removed and multitudes of very visible police being installed. We were warned to be cautious (which we are) but it really felt very pleasant (unlike other places that I have visited).
I naturally had to check out the yarn situation: the streets had many stores, both large and hole-in-the-wall sized, selling an extraordinary range of ribbons, beads (plastic), fringes, tassels, cords, braids, embroidery cotton and craft supplies, but not a scrap of natural fiber to be found. Huge walls of yarns in colours that only feature in a chemist’s wildest dreams (possibly fueled by the hallucinogenic properties of some of the local cacti), but not a drop of wool or camelid fiber in sight!
Till next time,