W1702 – Andes Adventure 4

At the end of my last post, W1702 – Andes Adventure 3, I described how we stayed the night at the Swissotel Quito hotel in Quito after our third full day exploring the Andes in Ecuador. We had eaten at the hotel restaurant that evening, and I had ended up rather over indulging – I had ordered a starter and a main course as I can’t eat sweet desserts, not realising the starter would be larger than many main courses elsewhere! The combination of this and the high altitude in Quito would come back to bite me the following day, but more on this later…

The itinerary we had been given for the fourth day was for a late pick up from the hotel at 11am, a tour of the downtown area of the city and a late lunch before proceeding to the airport for our evening flight down to Lima in Peru. One of my fellow travelling companions, June, had read about an interesting attraction on the edge of the city that is located exactly on the equator called Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, or City at the Middle of the World, and had asked our local guide Fabricio whether we could visit it early that morning. He got back to us to say yes, but at an additional charge to us personally. While we could have gone there independently by taxi, Fabricio and Eduardo were so good we decided it was worth paying the extra to have Eduardo take us there and Fabricio guide us around.

We were therefore checked out of the hotel by 9am, ready to be taken to the Middle of the World! Driving north through the city it soon became clear just what a large and spread out city it is, and Fabricio told us about the terrible traffic jams that occur at peak times, a familiar story whichever city you seem to visit these days. I also saw quite a lot of urban art on the way, including this example:

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Fabricio explained that there were two separate sites at the Middle of the World – the Intiñan Solar Museum and the Monument to the Equator. We went first to the Intiñan Solar Museum, which was in part exhibitions of Ecuadoran culture, and in part ‘scientific’ demonstrations of the effects of being on the equator. Having paid a small entrance fee, we joined a group of other tourists of various nationalities and shown around by a museum guide. The culture exhibitions were fine and provided interesting subjects for my camera, including a shrunken human head:

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The ‘scientific’ demonstrations were a different matter – the museum guide was a good showman and I will admit I was somewhat taken in at the time. There were three demonstrations in particular:
• That on the line of the equator it is possible to balance a raw egg on the head of a nail. The guide carefully balanced the egg, and said if anyone could repeat it he would give them a certificate. The only place to try this was ‘on the line’.
• That water draining out of a metal sink plughole on the equator line did not swirl around, if the sink was moved a few feet north it swirled one way and when moved south it swirled the other way.
• That if you closed your eyes, held your arms outstretched and tried to walk heel to toe along the line of the equator it was almost impossible to remain balanced.
After we had completed the tour and re-joined Fabricio, he pointed out that there were errors made when locating and painting the equator line used in the demonstrations, the correct location was actually out in the entrance to the car park of the museum – draw your own conclusions!

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On returning to the car we then drove a short distance around to the Monument to the Equator. This pyramidal monument, 30m high, with each side facing a cardinal direction is topped by a globe which is 4.5 meters in diameter and weighs 5 tons. Inside the monument is a small museum that displays a variety of indigenous items pertaining to Ecuadorian culture: clothing, descriptions of the various ethnic groups, and examples of their activities. However once again the true equatorial line is not where the line is painted on the ground, and where tourists like us are photographed ‘straddling the line’, it is some 240m to the north:

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We took a lift inside the Monument up to a viewing platform, from which there were good views across the grounds and the city in all directions:

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Descending the Monument using a staircase, we were led through the museum:

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In the grounds around the Monument were several sculptures of hummingbirds, and a ‘village’ of shops selling the usual local crafts and souvenirs. Fabricio suggested which shop was best to visit – it did have a huge range of products inside which were of very good quality.Leaving the Middle of the World, we drove back towards the centre of the city to do the tour that was part of our original itinerary. The first stop was at the top of El Panecillo (from the Spanish panecillo meaning a small piece of bread), a 200-metre-high hill of volcanic-origin, located between southern and central Quito. Its peak is at an elevation of 3,016 metres above sea level. On the top of the hill is a 45m high stone statue of a Madonna on a high plinth. She stands on top of a globe and is stepping on a snake, and unusually she has wings – locals suggest she is the only one in the world with wings like an angel. She was created by the Spanish artist Agustín de la Herrán Matorras, and was inaugurated on March 28, 1976, by the 11th archbishop of Quito, Pablo Muñoz Vega:

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From El Panecillo there were also great views looking down across the city:

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It was around this time that my stomach began to feel very uncomfortable following my large meal the evening before. I was concerned that I might have picked up an infection, especially with the flight to Peru that evening, but Fabricio thought it more likely that it was just my body finding it more difficult to digest the large quantities of rich food at the high altitude. We were due to have lunch next at a hotel in the centre of the city, and Fabricio kindly said he would arrange for them to provide me with a chicken soup and with coca tea, both of which should help calm my stomach – which to my great relief they did.

The hotel and it’s dining room were very impressive, located right on the main square. As we waited for our food to arrive we were watching the industrious shoe shine guys ply their trade outside – there was no lack of effort or enthusiasm in their work. After we had been sat in the restaurant a while, suddenly the lights were dimmed and a bell began to toll. A cloaked figure appeared carrying bowls giving off ‘smoke’ from dry ice. This turned out to be a very theatrical way of serving an ice cream special dessert, which went down very well with the children receiving it:

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Leaving the hotel we then went on a short walking tour around the city centre. Surrounding the attractive park in the central square were many impressive buildings, including the Presidential Palace. Fabricio pointed out that some of the stones used to construct the lower parts of the palace were from the original Inca city, indicated by their non-rectangular shape:

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He told us that the President was not in residence at that time, so we were able to go and have our photographs taken alongside one of the Presidential Guards:

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We could peep through some railings to see two of the courtyards inside, and here Fabricio posed for a souvenir photograph:

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He then led us to see two spectacular churches. The first, the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, was I think the most breath-taking church or cathedral I have ever seen, but unfortunately we were not allowed to take any photographs inside, so I can only show you an external door and you will have to use Google to see more – I guess it’s good for sales of the guide book which we all bought:

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The second church was the Church of St. Francis, commonly called San Francisco Church – if I had not already seen the other church then this one would have impressed me even more:

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It was sadly now time for Eduardo and Fabricio to drive us to the airport, for being an international flight, the check in time was hours ahead of the flight time. All three of us were sorry to say our goodbyes to two excellent people who had done so much to make the four days so special and memorable. I would have no hesitation in recommending them and their employers, Akorn Destination Management to anyone planning to visit Ecuador.

Whenever I rarely have to do an international flight I am always instantly reminded why I avoid them, the endless queues and hanging around. Still the two hour flight was on time, and we were met in Lima airport by another guide and driver from Akorn. We were immediately struck by how busy the roads were so late in the evening, and our new guide Jorge explained that it was because all the international flights arrived around the same time in the evening. They took us to our hotel for the night, another modern clinical Swissotel branch, but it was 11:30 at night before we checked in and thankfully took to our beds. The following morning they were due to give us a tour of Lima before driving us to catch up with our ship, this will be the subject of my next and final post about this epic tour in South America.

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