Quito

I liked Quito. Not quite a mega-city but it sprawls where it can along a high altitude valley. There are many green patches where deep gorges and  steep escarpments place limits of the buildings. And it’s set among higher peaks – various extinct volcanoes – drawing your eyes upwards. The city is at 2,900m while the surrounding mountains go above 5,000m.

The old city is vast. A grid structure where you gaze down long vistas where the roads dip and rise or turn into steps or fields. With the exception of La Ronda, where we stayed, the city hasn’t been touristed-up. It’s still a working city; frenetic through the day and shuttered at night.

La Ronda is a recently rescued cobbled street that followed an old stream. The building are plain outside but have open air courtyards and now house a group of cafes, shops and bars. It gets a bit tacky in the evening with touts hassling people into restaurants, but there are some genuine craftsmen who have been encouraged to settle here.

The view from our bedroom; the hill with the winged Madonna

Iglesia de San Francisco

The old city streets seemed themed. Some focused on homemade pinatas, rather like Mexico; mainly Disney figures but some imagined creatures and also favourite brands of beer. Other shops were stuffed with vast sacks of sweets to fill these pinatas. Another couple of streets were lined with shops largely selling clothes for religious figures, from dolls to large wooden carvings.

Lots of churches; colonial to Victorian; some museums, many with entrance fees, some remained closed. The cathedral has a large painting of the Last Supper with guinea pig on the menu. Some are solidly quake-proofed, others are unashamedly glitzy rococo.

The Basílica del Voto Nacional is a huge and rather ugly Victorian/Edwardian gothic church. Its attractions are high up; a set of gargoyles that feature Equadorian animals and birds. Recognisable penguins, pelicans, boobies, cormorants, armadillos and iguanas. And you can climb into the roof, firstly above the vaults of the nave, then up a steep ladder to a lantern, and then up a truly scary external ladder to a higher point on the lantern. I don’t normally get vertigo…

Armadillo and bird gargoyles

The steep climb to the outer lantern

One sunny morning we went up the cable car that takes you up to a ridge at 4,100m to view the city and its neighbouring volcanoes. We had views of snow-covered Cotopaxi, Antisana and Cayambe (the only point on the equator with snow cover); all around 5,800m

The volcano above Quito

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