Quito

Our trip to Ecuador began with a couple of days in Quito before flying out to the Galapagos Islands for a seven-day cruise. Here are some photos from the first part of our Ecuador adventure.

Quito sits at an elevation of over 9,000 feet above sea level, making it the second highest capital in the world (behind La Paz, Bolivia at 11,913 feet). The city is surrounded by several volcanos: Pichincha to the west (15,000 feet), Antisana to the east (18,700 feet), and snow-capped Cayambe to the northeast (18,725 feet). The latter is the highest point in the world crossed by the Equator and the only point on the Equator with snow cover.

Our home base in Quito was the Casa Gangotena Hotel, a meticulously renovated former residence in the heart of Old Town. Casa Gangotena has been rated as one of the best hotels in South America so we started this trip on a very upscale note.

Exterior view

Exterior view of the Casa Gangotena.

Interior courtyard

Interior courtyard.

Ecuador's climate supports growing flowers year-round

Ecuador’s climate supports growing flowers year-round.

View of the Virgin of El Panecillo from the hotel's rooftop terrace

View of the Virgin of El Panecillo from the hotel’s rooftop terrace.

Turn around and the view is of the Church and Monastery of San Francisco,the largest architectural ensemble among the historical structures of colonial Latin America.

Turn around and the view is of the Church and Monastery of San Francisco.

Pigeons in the Plaza San Francisco

Pigeons in the Plaza San Francisco.

Construction of the church and monastery began only a few weeks after the Spanish conquered Quito from the Incas in 1534. San Francisco eventually became the largest religious architectural complex in the Americas at over 8,670 acres.

After a wreath austere entrance...

After a rather austere entrance…

... we entered into a large courtyard with definite Moorish influences.

… we found ourselves in a large courtyard with a Moorish feel.

The monastery is still active

The monastery is still active.

 

Photography wasn’t allowed in the main church so I pulled the next photos off the Internet.

Lots of gold leaf. Must have been pretty impressive to the indigenous people the church was trying to convert to Christianity

Lots of gold leaf. Must have been pretty impressive to the indigenous people the church was trying to convert to Christianity.

A view of the wood tiled ceiling. Again, some definite Moorish influence imported from Spain.

A view of the wood tiled ceiling. Again, some definite Moorish influence imported from Spain.

Quito has a lot of churches. Perhaps the most famous is La Compañía, built by the wealthy Jesuit order between 1605 and 1765.

Ornate exterior of La Compañía.

Ornate exterior of La Compañía.

Just a small part of La Compañía's intricate exterior.

Just a small part of La Compañía’s intricate exterior.

An even more ornate interior with seven tons of gold just on the ceiling.

An even more ornate interior with gold leaf on every surface. (Again, no photography so another grab from the Internet)

Even though Quito is close to the equator, its elevation gives it a temperate climate year round. Here’s Independence Plaza on a sunny day at the end of October.

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Nice day for a concert by the Municipal Police Band.

Nice day for a concert by the Municipal Police Band.

One of the government buildings along the Plaza is the Metropolitan Cultural Center. The building was originally constructed by the Jesuits in the 1600s but when Charles III of Spain banished the Jesuit Order from the colonies in 1767, the building became a public university. Now it houses a museum, library, and rotating art exhibits.

Lifesize reproductions of women from an Ecuadorian village with strong African ties.

Lifesize reproductions of women from an Ecuadorian village with strong African ties.

In real life this lady can dance without tipping the bottle on her head. In real life the guy in the piffle can't dance at all.

In real life this lady can dance without tipping the bottle on her head. In real life the guy in the photo can’t dance at all.

After our tour of Old Town, we drove up to the Pululahua Volcano, the first National Park in Ecuador. The volcano was last active over 2000 years ago and now about forty families live in the crater, mainly growing corn and quinoa and raising cattle.

Shortly after we took this photo, the clouds rolled in.

Shortly after we took this photo, the clouds rolled in.

Lunch was at a restaurant right on the crater rim, named, you guessed it, El Crater Restaurant.

A typical Ecuadorian lunch with fried pork and 'special' sauce, plantains, and hominy which the locals call maize.

A typical Ecuadorian lunch with fried pork toped with ‘special’ sauce, plantains, and hominy which the locals call maize.

Next stop: La Mitad del Mundo or The Center of the World, a somewhat touristy complex that provides photo ops at the Equator. The French sent an expedition here in 1736 to determine whether the circumference of the Earth was greater around the Equator or around the poles. (It’s greater around the Equator by 26.54 miles.)

So close yet hemispheres apart.

So close yet hemispheres apart.

After a day of exploring, it was time to check out the hotel bar. I should have looked at the price of a Martini before ordering since this one was $35. Evidently Ecuador has a hefty import tax on liquor to protect the local beer industry.

My first and last Martini in Ecuador.

My first and last Martini in Ecuador.

And one last shot of the San Francisco Church from the hotel rooftop.

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Our final day in Quito started out with the Casa Gangotena’s complimentary buffet breakfast. If you couldn’t find anything that appealed here, you could order pretty much anything from the kitchen and they would do their best to comply.

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Reading the labels was a good way to learn Spanish

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Pick a table, any table.

The hotel gave us two passes to the Casa del Alabado, a pre-Columbian Art Museum located in a nearby colonial house built in the 17th century. It contains a collection of over 5,000 archaeological pieces, 500 of which are on permanent display. We wound up spending the entire morning there.

The courtyard entrance.

The courtyard entrance.

A decorative wall as part of the stairway.

A decorative wall as part of the stairway.

Closeup.

Closeup.

The collection includes indigenous artifacts from all areas of Ecuador which date as far back as 4000 BC. Here are just a few examples:

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One of the signature dishes of Ecuador is ceviche, typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with ají or chili peppers. I was soon addicted and ordered it whenever I found it on the menu. So, I’ll end this part of the trip with a couple of food photos.

Who says beer drinking can't be elegant?

Who says beer drinking can’t be elegant?

Seafood ceviche.

Seafood ceviche.

Interestingly, popcorn and toasted corn kernels are typical accompaniments.

Interestingly, popcorn and toasted corn kernels are typical accompaniments.

Next: The Galapagos Islands.

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