Saturday, August 24, 2013

Tues, July 16th Quito

Thursday  July 18th We boarded the Legend today and I finally have  some time  to write.  Still no luck  transferring pictures from  the  camera  to the  tablet.   Anyhow,  the  15th  was  travel  mostly  all  day.  We  left  Columbus,  changed  in Atlanta  and  arrived  in  Quito  fairly  late.  Then  about  an  hour  and a half  bus  ride  to  the  hotel.   We  stayed  in the  Swissotel,  which is very  nice.   But  Tuesday we had a 6:30  wake up  call  for  our  city  tour.   Breakfast  buffet  was  overwhelming,  loads  of good  stuff  to  eat  and  good   coffee.  Then back on  the  bus.   We  drove  into  the  Old  Town,  the  city  is  in  the  Andes  and the steep, narrow, twisting  streets  were like  a roller  coaster .   But our bus driver, Reuben, is a pro.   We went first to a Basilica, very  Gothic, modeled on  Notre  Dame  but the  gargoyles  are all  Galapagos animals.  Very cool.  The Basilica is under the  direct auspices of the Vatican.  Then we went to an old   cathedral that was built by the Jesuits. No  pictures  allowed  in  there,  there is so much gold it is unbelievable. Our   tour  guide, Juan  Carlos, says  the  estimate is 2+ tons  of  gold. The  Jesuits   were   able  to  be   so  lavish because  they  all had   other professions, so had  salaries to  help  finance  the building,  instead  of  relying on  donations  like   many   other  denominations.   Juan Carlos  is a real pro, so  cheerful and full of information.         

The city  is  very  interesting,  it's  obvious  that  there  are  many  people  living marginal exisistances.  Lots  of  partially completed  buildings,  hard to  tell  if  they   are  going  up  or   coming   down.  Mostly  cement block, reinforced with   rebar.   Some   have  an  adobe  type  covering on the surface  of  the front,  but many do  not.  All the business  doors and windows  are gated,  most of the residential  buildings  are  behind  fences  or walls.   We   saw  lots   of  walls  with  big  shards  of glass set into the tops  and some  with electrified  wires  above  that.   Juan  Carlos  told  us  that  until   just   a  few   years   ago  there   was lots  of   fighting  with Peru  over  the border  (mostly  for  oil   rights),  lots   of  civil  unrest   and  hyperinflation.  At  one  point   there  were  10  different   presidents  within 8  months.   6  years  ago  the current  socialist  president was elected,  he is  liked  by a  majority  of the  people.   Fighting  with  Peru  has been  resolved and Ecuador  converted their system  of  money to the  US  dollar.   The  standard of  living  for many has improved, but for us things are still very  inexpensive.  The government held a referendum   and  the  people  decided to separate  church and  state.   95% of the people in the country  are Catholic so the   church  is still  influential  but now   informally.   Elementary  education  has been made  free and mandatory.   Still   everywhere  we went      we  saw   people  begging.   

After  the churches we  went  to  the   square  where  the presidential palace is located.  It was  built in the 1600's, typical  colonial  style   around   a central   courtyard  and  the president  still lives   there.   There  are cool  guards on either side of the  door  in old   style  uniforms.   We  had  lunch then back on  the  bus   to  the  monument for  the  equator. It is almost  like  an amusement park with  a planetarium  and   shops.   We  took   pictures  and  headed  back  to  the  hotel.   We  had a  "welcome"  dinner,  sea  bass in a saffron  sauce and traditional potato soup.  Early  to  bed  because  we had  another  6:30  wake up call  for  Wed to go to the   market  at  Otovalo.

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