Monday, October 14, 2013

High on Quito

My heart pounded as I clutched a rickety metal railing precariously attached to the outside of the south tower high atop the Basilica del Voto Nacional in Quito. After scaling numerous spiraling staircases, I was nearing the end. Just this vertigo-inducing ladder left to climb. Puffing in the thin air (elevation 9,300 feet) and under a piercing sun, I felt like Hilary scaling Everest.

Reaching the pinnacle, I gasped in delight, for Quito, the capital of equator-straddling Ecuador, was spread out before me like a feast. Reddish, tile-covered roofs stretched in a north-south direction, framed by the Andes and the mighty volcano, Pichincha. To the south, the statue of the Virgin stood atop Panicello Hill with her wings outstretched as though blessing the city.

I located the cathedral domes that mark the city’s historic center, which dates to the 16th-century Spanish colonial times and was the first place to be selected as a UN World Heritage Site. I could just make out the palm-fringed Plaza Grande where yesterday I had strolled. I had visited the nearby grand buildings including the Presidential Palace with a pair of colourful, pike-bearing soldiers guarding the entrance. I had sat in the baroque La Compañia de Jesús church, considered to be the most beautiful in Latin America, marveling at the nine tons of gold-leaf covering the ornate carvings. At cobble-stoned Plaza San Francisco, I bumped into a friendly mime before visiting the imposing monastery.

Although the cathedrals, plazas and streets arrayed below couldn’t speak, I imagined the history they have seen. Yesterday at lunch in the elegant Patio Andaluz hotel, a colonial, 470-year-old building, our guide had described some of Ecuador’s past. “Our country was shaped by the Spanish conquistadores. More recently, we’ve had a continuous parade of presidents, several of whom were killed, one by machetes,” he said. “Can you imagine, only three years ago President Correa was held hostage and had to be rescued by force.” I was impressed by his accounts. History in Canada is dusty and archaic. Here it is alive and happening.

My eyes roved over the many parks and plazas I had explored earlier. I could see roads, like thin spider-webs, where buskers entertained at busy intersections, one red light at a time, by juggling, swallowing knives and riding unicycles. Yesterday, we had traveled one of those road northward to La Mitad del Mundo, the center of the world, which lies right on the equator and I stood astride that important imaginary line. Everywhere we had encountered Latin friendliness.

Looking around, I was not surprised that Quito was selected as South America’s Leading Destination at this year’s World Travel Awards (breaking Rio de Janeiro’s ten-year reign).

Although not visible, villages lay over the horizon. Otavalo offers markets overflowing with handicrafts. Hundreds of species of hummingbirds live in the cloud forest at Mindo. Thermal baths and grand views of snow-capped volcanoes await at Papallacta.

A gentle breeze moaned in the high tower, beckoning me to descend, and explore the city and region.

If You go
Quito Info:
Stay & Dine:

No comments:

Post a Comment