Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cuenca and Quito

Student in Cuenca at the hat museum. When I entered Ecuador, the first thing that struck me—besides that fact that I was near the equator, yet it was rainy and cool—was the wide road with nicely blacktopped surface. It was one of the nicer roads I'd seen on my trip. More? The taxis I took in Ecuador all seemed like brand new cars (one of the taxis I had taken in Lima had literally been about to fall apart—I'm not exaggerating, really!). They were the nicest taxis I had taken on my trip. More? The Ecuadorians seemed to be an industrious people. Throughout the country, I saw clearly-delineated fields where people were growing their crops. Others were building or repairing houses or other buildings. I don't remember any beggars. The beautiful rolling hillsides were dotted Forming hats in the hat museum, Cuenca, Ecuador. with houses. I wasn't struck by the densely populated shanty towns (didn't see any), but by what would normally be a life reserved for the well-to-do—a decent house in the hills with lots of space around it. I really couldn't believe it. That's the kind of pad I'd like for myself!

As outlined in another post, the bus drivers were a bit on the wild side. The bus ride to Cuenca was slightly nerve racking, but beautiful. We climbed up and up, into the fog as the lush green vegetation absorbed the moist air. Occasionally, if the fog broke, I could see a thousand feet down, into the depths of the valley. The bus stopped at random intervals to drop off a local at his house or to pick up some school kids on their way home from school, then drop them off five or ten minutes later. We eventually exited the fog, which revealed rugged mountains, dry and dotted with trees and brush.

A brave passenger on the bus from Cuenca to Quito. We passed many small groups of houses along the road, barely worthy of the name village, and occasionally, a larger town. Several times, I wondered if we had arrived in Cuenca—I didn't know how big it was. When we finally arrived, I realized that Cuenca was much bigger than I was expecting. After getting a taxi to my hostel, I took a brief nap, then headed out to explore the town a bit and take a few photos. I walked the few blocks to the main plaza and was immediately approached by some local high school students.

These students were doing a school project. They had to find English speaking people, take them to a local attraction and interview them in English. They took me to the hat museum—Museo del Sombreros. I found the name strange, as it didn't really A street vendor in Quito. seem like a museum, but a place where hats were made and sold. There were hundreds of hats, all hand made, initially weaved by women hired just to weave the raw hat, then trimmed, shaped, and decorated right in the museum. The hats which used a coarse fiber were inexpensive—around $15—and somewhat stiff. The hats with a fine weave take much, much longer to weave, are very supple, and can cost hundreds of dollars.

The students' camcorder battery was low from the day's previous interviews and so they had to charge it. While we waited, we went to the cafeteria located above the museum, and they bought me a hot chocolate. There was also a nice view overlooking the city, so I snapped a few shots. When the battery was ready to go, the students wrote their questions down on a piece of paper—I helped them with their English—they asked me the questions, and I answered. Their English Part of Quito from El Panecillo. left something to be desired, but at least they were working at it. It was really nice to meet them and hang out for a couple hours. They were a great bunch of kids.

I left Cuenca the next morning and took the bus from hell to Quito. As I am writing this, you can rest easy in knowing that I made it alive, if only just.

Quite is not unlike many cities in Latin America in that is it situated in a valley. The city is oriented in a north-south direction and is long and skinny, not unlike the shape of Chile.

As my time was brief and it was raining most of the time I was there, I didn't really do too much exploring. I did make it to the top of Panecillo Hill to visit the winged The winged madonna, Quito, Ecuador. Madonna, a 45-meter-tall monument built in 1976, and to several of the plazas in old town. The plazas all used a similar architecture, that of the Spanish baroque style in use in the 16th century when the Spaniards conquered this area. I found it a bit plain and unattractive, but for that very reason interesting. It was different than any architecture I had yet seen on my trip.

I liked the vibe of Quito. It was modern, yet with lots of old flavor. I know it had several places for dancing Salsa, although I didn't make it to any of them. The people seemed nice—a trend that I saw in Ecuador. Unfortunately, my schedule dictated that I move on. When I'm in South America again, I'll swing through Quito for a more extended visit.

Steps in a plaza in Quito. Basilica church, Quito, Ecuador. Plaza San Francisco, Quito, Ecuador. A glimpse into the foyer of La Basilica church, Quito, Ecuador.

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