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Quito: Historic, bohemian Guápulo district

Mindo and Quito


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Wednesday 23rd July

Originally I'd planned to go back to Quito as early as I could, to give me more time to go to places I wanted to see before I left for good, but I ended up not leaving Mindo until 1.30pm because before that I had an interview for a job at a small language school in Bulgaria! I successfully found the only computer with working Skype in a reliable internet café. The interview went really well and I was offered the job at the end. If I accept, I'll be due to start work in the middle of September.

The later leaving time from Mindo meant that when I arrived at the usual hostel in Quito it was late afternoon and I decided I was too tired to go out again properly. I just rested for a bit and then went out for some dinner at Achiote, a restaurant Dave and I went to last month. It does Ecuadorian food and the quality is really good. I had shrimps in a coconut and vegetable sauce with yuca chips and a cold salad as accompaniments.

Thursday 24th July

In the morning I went for a walk in Guápulo district, which runs picturesquely down a hill within walking distance of the hostel. It was really hot and sunny. Before I walked down the hill I took some photos of the amazing view next to a statue of Francisco de Orellana, a conquistador who was the first Westerner to cross the Amazon region to reach the Atlantic Ocean (he was also the founder of Guayaquil, out of interest.)

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I went down the hill to the beautiful white Sanctuary de El Guápulo, which unfortunately was closed apart from the entrance area.

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Then I climbed all the way back up again, packed my stuff and took a taxi to the airport for my flight to Guayaquil.

Posted by 3Traveller 15:56 Archived in Ecuador Tagged airport hostel quito andes ecuador mindo explorations english_teaching colonial_church Comments (0)

Last full day in Quito

Quito


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Today in total I visited two churches, three museums, a Republica del Cacao shop, two bookshops with English sections, and a tiny little traditional restaurant underneath the cathedral where I had some very tasty seco de chivo for lunch.

The museums I went to were the Museo San Francisco, right next to the monastery of the same name (beautiful courtyards, religious art, portraits of European rulers from the 17th and 18th centuries, and up some stairs to a choir stall looking out over the beautiful interior of the monastery, where a service was taking place); Casa del Alabado, a small museum full of fascinating and dramatically well-lit pre-Columbian artifacts; and the City Museum, set on the grounds of a former hospital. It had an exhibition about the old hospital as well as more general ones about the history of the city.

Museo San Francisco:

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Casa del Alabado - pre-Columbian exhibits from the Valdivia, La Tolita, Jama-Coaque, Napo and Chorrera cultures, plus a view of the street outside:

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City Museum:

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One of the churches was Iglesia San Agustin. Due to a mistake on my map that showed it a block further away from the Plaza Grande trolebus stop than it actually is, it wasn't until I got there that I realised I had been there once before, with my sister Emma on Good Friday. The interior of this church is so beautiful and interesting I stayed for quite a while to look round it again and savour the atmosphere. Unfortunately no photography was allowed, so I couldn't get any pictures of the interior. I did get one of the street outside, though:

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On the way there I also took these pictures of Plaza Grande:

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Iglesia de la Merced, the other church (and the view from its steps):

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The museums and churches were all in the Old Town. I went back to the hostel for a little bit after that and then went for a wander around the New. The Republica del Cacao shop I visited because I really wanted to get myself one of their t-shirts - I had intended to get one at Guayaquil Airport on my departure date from Ecuador, but then I thought it might be cheaper to get one from a place outside the airport instead. As it happened the prices were about the same, but they only had unisex sizes rather than fitted ones for women, so I didn't buy one after all. Although I had a nice browse in the bookshops I didn't buy anything from them either.

For dinner I went back to an old favourite, the Italian restaurant Cosa Nostra. I went for something a bit different this time and had some lovely bolognese gnocchi for a main and a teacup of amazing coffee ice cream for pudding.

Posted by 3Traveller 14:23 Archived in Ecuador Tagged art museum hostel monastery quito ecuador explorations unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine plaza_grande plaza_san_francisco san_francisco_monastery pre_columbian_artifacts colonial_church Comments (0)

Loja: cultural capital of southern Ecuador

Catamayo and Loja


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First stop on my final tour round Ecuador before I leave the country at the end of the month.

I touched down at 6.50 am after an uneventful TAME flight from Guayaquil. The airport that serves Loja is actually in the village/town of Catamayo, some 30km away; there were no buses running from there into the city so I had to share a taxi instead. Four of us paid $5 each.

There was a very fine drizzle falling when I arrived at Plaza de la Independencia in the city centre. Occasionally the sun came out briefly, causing a rainbow to appear. Plaza de la Independencia is surrounded by historic painted colonial buildings hanging over the pavements.

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After a look-around there I wandered down the road to Plaza Central, popping into the Church of Santo Domingo on the way. An early morning service was going on though so I didn't stop to take any photos. Once I got to Plaza Central I went into the Cathedral briefly, but again I didn't take any pictures. There was a service going on there as well. I made a mental note to come back to both churches again later, once I had found a hotel and dumped my rucksack.

Next stop was a sorely-needed breakfast at a café. I tried a tamale Lojana, made of steamed corn like a humita but with shredded chicken, onion and a special reddish sauce in the middle. I think I will come back and have the same again tomorrow morning, because it was delicious. I had a humita and a cup of coffee as well.

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After that I decided to try my luck with a budget hotel recommended by my guidebook - Hotel Metropolitano. I had no problems getting a single room; the hotel seemed almost empty in fact - I seem to have it almost to myself. The first thing I did was have an hour-long doze; I really needed this as I'd had hardly any sleep the night before.

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The first place I went after that was the Museo de la Música, which I found on my second attempt. The first place I tried had the words Museo and Música in the title but turned out to be part of the University of Loja and did not seem to have any public musical exhibits... I wandered up some stairs which overlooked a courtyard, and looked at a selection of paintings. I looked into a room that looked open but there was a dance class going on inside it. I think it was the Arts department. Although I wasn't stopped from walking around, I got the unmistakeable feeling that I shouldn't be there, so I left and went two doors down to where the actual museum turned out to be.

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It was very small and was about famous Ecuadorian musicians from the 19th century to the 1960s. Within the courtyard one of the rooms had a lot of strings players inside practising a piece, so maybe that museum was connected to the University as well.

The next stop was the wonderful Museo de Historia y Culturas Lojanas, which contained a selection of fascinating black and white photos of the pilgrimage of La Virgen del Cisne (the Virgin of the Swan) which has taken place every year for over four centuries, the figure of the Virgin being carried from the village of El Cisne to Loja on foot. It happens in August so I will miss the boat on that one. I took a photo of two of the pictures and then paid the price for it when a security guard came over, told me I coudn't take photos and then followed me around the rest of the museum to make sure I didn't take any more. Oh well.

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I came across an empty but open auditorium with a woman having a piano lesson on a grand piano, and then a room full of information about and work of Lojana literary and musical figures. There were also two rooms showing off the traditional dress of Saraguro, a proudly indigenous town quite near to Loja; rooms of colonial religious art, which included a painting each of the Virgen del Cisne, the Virgen de Guápulo and the Virgen de la Merced; a room containing information about quinine bark and the Peruvian Jesuit who introduced it from South America to Europe in the 17th century as a treatment for malaria; an archaeological section containing pottery, photos of petroglyphs and some other things; and an exhibition of colourful contemporary paintings titled ´Los Colores de lo Absurdo´.

After that I had a late lunch at a grilled chicken restaurant, bought a chocolate bun to have later, walked along the oldest street in Loja looking at the colourful colonial buildings and then stopped in an internet café for a couple of hours.

The oldest street in Loja, Calle Lourdes:

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In the evening I went back to the church of Santo Domingo. The interior was beautiful; I looked around for a bit after buying and lighting a candle for Dad.

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I took some of the exterior too, along with the plaza:

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Then I carried on to a restaurant by the river where I had another humita and tamale before going back to the hotel for an early night.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:46 Archived in Ecuador Tagged art hotel airport museum cathedral dad andes ecuador ecuadorian_cuisine loja traditional_customs colonial_church Comments (0)

Palm Sunday in Cuenca

Guayaquil and Cuenca


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This morning Emma, Kate, Mark and Andrew got a taxi to Citymall, a shopping mall very close to me, where I met them and took them to see my flat. It felt quite strange, in a good way of course, to have them there with me in person when I have spoken to them so often online from the same room!

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After that I went back to their hostel with them by bus and waited while they finished packing up their stuff and checked out. Then we all went to the bus terminal to start our journey to Cuenca. I'd decided to go to Cuenca with them and stay the night there because I don't teach until the evening on Mondays. I'd been on this particular journey before on more than one occasion but obviously this was the first time the others had been. It takes about 4 hours and goes through flattish country at first, then up in the Andes.

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While still in the flat area we saw houses on stilts, rice fields, banana plantations and more, and when we were getting closer to the Andes Emma and Kate spotted what they think might have been a condor flying overhead! The journey was typically hair-raising, though, because although the inter-city and inter-provincial roads are very good in Ecuador, the driver had to deal with some very tight bends in the road and with driving through clouds as well.

We arrived in Cuenca in the new town, but walked over to our hostel which is in the old town just down the street from the main square. Once we'd dumped our stuff and Kate had emailed to say we'd arrived safely, we went for a stroll to the main square. This was very interesting because we saw lots of people walking around carrying palm leaves, flowers and various decorative palm crosses with foliage attached. It's Palm Sunday today. There were some people selling them on one or two of the benches, so Kate bought a palm cross with rosemary and another, unidentified herb attached to it.

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We then wandered past a market spread along on side of a street, through the flower market in an attached little square, and then into a bigger square where the main clothing market was almost completely packed up. On going back through the flower market Kate and I bought ourselves palm baskets, into which the seller threw free small branches of rosemary.

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On turning back into the main square, next to the cathedral, we could see people streaming in, most of them holding palm leaves etc, and in the cloisters and around the cathedral entrance there was a big cluster of street sellers selling the same things to people going in.

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After reassuring the others that the cathedral was big enough for us all to go inside to see what was going on without disturbing people, we went inside. On going in we could see lots of people sitting in the nave, and that the paraphernalia around the altar had palm leaves as decoration. We walked a little along one side of the nave and saw that the statues on one side of the main altar bit were decorated with palm leaves, too. We presumed that the service was a special Palm Sunday one.

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Once the priest began the service we made our exit and had dinner at a restaurant next door - I'd been there twice before, so could recommend it. The meal I had was amazing - a fish, vegetable & white sauce dish with a side of rice - but unfortunately Emma's and Kate's were the opposite. They ordered a fish dish where the fish turned out to be salty and quite tough, and the salad tasted strongly of capers or pickle despite not having capers or pickles in it. The restaurant had some artistic lampshades and vases made from painted cutlery.

After dinner I took Emma, Kate and Andrew on a quick tour of some of Cuenca's churches, because at weekends the fronts are lit up at night.

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We took some pictures of the side streets as well.

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Posted by 3Traveller 07:49 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains market cathedral hostel buses sisters andes ecuador cuenca guayaquil unesco_world_heritage_site traditional_customs colonial_church palm_sunday Comments (0)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: City of Quito

Quito


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We were up bright and early and sat down for our free breakfast as soon as it was available, at 07.30. It was nice and sunny, but we could see clouds moving over Pichincha Volcano in the distance. It looked like we would only get a couple of hours of sunshine before it became overcast. Breakfast was big and lovely; it was a sit-down meal, not a buffet. In succession we were each brought a small plate of fruit (a slice each of papaya, pineapple and apple, with half a banana sliced lengthways), a small glass of drinking yoghurt, a glass of strawberry juice, coffee, a basket to share between us containing two croissants and two slices of bread, two slices of ham and some eggs (Mum had hers scrambled, I had mine fried). We both felt very full, but nicely fortified for the morning ahead.

As soon as we finished breakfast we set off. The trolebus was very crowded, due to rush hour, but we made sure to keep an eye on our pockets and bags. I felt so excited when the sight of the architecture we passed told us that we were now within the Old Town! This excitement intensified even further once we stepped out of the bus, walked along a street to our right and entered Plaza Grande, the main square. Finally I was standing in the middle of Quito's Old Town - fulfilling a dream I had held for many, many years.

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The first thing we saw was a white, cloister-like walkway, with arches along the side, that leads across one side of the plaza. At the pillar by each arch there was a shoe-shiner at work. We saw an open gateway that lead into a very quiet courtyard - it turned out to be a former Archbishop's palace.

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The buildings didn't seem to be open to visitors so we just sat in the courtyard for a bit before going out again into Plaza Grande. As we walked into the courtyard we had noticed a strange bonelike pattern set within the cobblestones; they looked a lot like human vertebrae. On our way out we looked more closely and saw that they were in fact real bones!

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After that we wandered around Plaza Grande for a while. There was a protest going on in front of the Government Palace, with chanting and flag-waving but nothing more vigorous.

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Mum had to sit down for a while because she was feeling the altitude a bit, but I took a few photos. Then we walked along a raised path that runs alongside the cathedral. This gave us a good view of the plaza but meant we were raised up out of the hubbub.

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Just beyond one corner of Plaza Grande was our next destination - the church of La Compañía de Jesús.

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This very old Jesuit church has a stunningly beautiful and eye-catching interior of gold. We spotted indigenous plants painted amongst the carvings on the pillars, as well as one or two indigenous face carvings. The inside of the domes were beautifully painted, too.

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If I could I would have taken loads of photos, but unfortunately I was told that photos weren't allowed. I still managed to take a couple on the sly, having hidden out of view behind a pillar, but I didn't have time to take any close-ups of anything. After looking round the church itself we went into a little room with a display of big heavy bells dated from 1926 and then into a little museum with a temporary display about the history of the Jesuits in Ecuador.

We had entered the church as soon as it opened at 09.30, and we were glad we had, because as we left we saw tour buses outside with groups milling around taking pictures of the church exterior. They were clearly just about to go in, so it looked like we had timed our visit perfectly.

After this Mum felt in need of a drink and a sit down, so we went into a covered courtyard that had a notice outside it saying there was a traditional café inside. The café had its shutters down but there was a large wool and sewing shop close by that Mum wanted a look round. I left her in there while I looked around for a suitable café. When I came back she was pondering buying some balls of alpaca wool, but she decided not to get any in the end. We sat down at a nearby café and had a glass bottle of orangeade (only 50 centavos each).

Next we walked on to Plaza San Francisco. This is also very picturesque because the monastery is the main building and behind it looms Pichincha Volcano. The clouds had come over by now unfortunately, but it didn't rain. Mum sat down on some steps while I walked round the plaza and got some cash out from a Banco Pichincha ATM.

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Once I got back we walked over to a café called 'Tianguez' that has a wonderful Fair Trade shop attached to it that sells genuine handicrafts from all over Ecuador. We had a great time exploring - at the back the rooms turned into an orange-painted narrow corridor that had clearly been part of the monastery's crypt or catacomb. On one wall of the corridor there was painted written information about the different indigenous tribes of Ecuador and their beliefs and mythology; on the opposite wall were examples of their different crafts (masks, pottery figures, bowls, etc.). It was really interesting and I definitely recommend you visit it too. I didn't buy anything but Mum got an alpaca jumper and a packet of 'Yumbo' coffee.

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After using the café's facilities we sat down and looked at the menu, but they didn't have much of a selection, so we moved on. We wandered the streets for a while. Mum really wanted some fruit, so we stopped at a street booth and I got us an apple each and a pound of grapes. Then once we remembered they needed washing in bottled water, I got a bottle of water as well. We carried on back to Plaza Grande and while Mum sat down on a stone bench and started on the fruit, I got up to see what food was on offer in the vicinity. The first place I found, a tiny café under the side of the cathedral, sold pork sandwiches and empanadas and a variety of other snacks, both savoury and sweet, so we both went in and sat down. I ordered us a pork sandwich each and a black coffee (I asked for 'café con leche' for Mum, but they didn't have any milk) and a meringue to share. The sandwiches turned out to be rolls with quite a lot of cold pork in them as well as some raw tomato and purple-stained onion. The whole tasty lot came to only $5.10.

Next we walked to Plaza Santo Domingo, where the Trolebus stop was that we needed to use. There was a parade of teenage schoolchildren in the square marching around, some banging massive drums and others holding metal portable glockenspiels (like the ones I saw at the Independence of Guayaquil processions in October) or nothing at all. Not sure what the occasion was! Before they got properly into their stride, however, our Trolebus arrived to take us back up into the New Town.

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Once we got back to the Travellers Inn we had a bit of a lie down before going out again, this time to a particular handicrafts shop down the road called 'Galería Ecuador Gourmet'. The first thing we did on arrival was have a hot drink - Mum was desperate for a coffee and I had a hot chocolate for the first time in Ecuador.

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Then we had a really good look round the shop, which had two floors. It was brilliant! Some things were quite expensive, but others were much more reasonable. I bought myself a t-shirt and Mum got a few things for people at home. She also bought me a lovely white rather indigenous-looking shirt as part of my birthday present. We also tried some of the chocolate samples that were left out in little bowls. In one of the rooms upstairs I saw giant balls of alpaca wool (large rubber balls really, wrapped in wool) so I had to get a picture of Mum next to them!

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It was around 7 pm by the time we got back and we were quite peckish, so we had a small pepperoni and a medium 'mixed' pizza at the guesthouse instead of going out again for food. Unfortunately they had clearly come straight from the freezer and then cooked so that the top was a little dried out and the bottom not cooked enough, but they were very cheap and we were hungry so we ate them. Then we played cards for a while. First we played 10-card rummy and then whist where you start with 9 cards each and work down. Last of all, before we went to bed, Mum taught/ reminded me of how to play several different versions of Patience.

Posted by 3Traveller 07:31 Archived in Ecuador Tagged museum hostel mum quito andes ecuador procession explorations unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine plaza_grande plaza_san_francisco fair_trade_shop plaza_santo_domingo traditional_customs colonial_church Comments (0)

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