Journey to the Middle of the World
08/05/2008 - 08/07/2008
Quito, Ecuador is an alpine city, high in the Andes. The city is actually quite large, and has two very distinct areas: old town, and the metropolitan new town district. The new town area has many Western style hotels, trendy coffee bars, restaurants, and internet cafes. It's a very lively spot for both tourists and locals.
Old town is a cultural gem, and has been recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO. Cobblestone streets and steep hills serve as a backdrop to sites such as the Presidential Palace, churches, cathedrals, and museums. Many buildings in this area feature colonial style architecture.
Plaza de La Independencia is a very beautiful park, which marks the center of the old town district. Palacio del Gobierno is the Presidential Palace, protected by guards in traditional dress outside of the entrance. During our visit, a large demonstration was underway with people yelling and holding banners. As best we could make out, it was some kind of rally against government corruption.
In September of this year, Ecuador is having a national referendum on a new constitution, which will hopefully strengthen the country. Due to economic instability in the late 90's, the country changed its official currency to the U.S. Dollar. Have you ever wondered what happened to all of those dollar coins that the U.S. minted a few years ago? Well, we found them here in Quito. They prefer to use coins for anything less than $5, since dollar bills wear out so quickly.
Walking around the old town area, we first visited the Plaza and Monastery of San Francisco. This church is one of the oldest and largest in Ecuador. Restoration work is underway to repair the ceiling that collapsed in 1985 due to an earthquake. A guide showed us around and pointed out the influence of Inca designs in the stonework, and explained the many paintings and murals inside the church.
The most impressive church here has to be Iglesia De La Compania De Jesus. Built in Baroque style, it is arguably the most beautiful church in all of Ecuador. Construction began in 1605, but due to its lavish interior, it took 163 years to complete. Artists covered all of the interior walls with 23 carat gold leaf, and all of the paintings are held in gold frames. The artwork, wood carvings, and gold overlays are all fabulous and well maintained; everything sparkled and glowed.
We also visited another church named Basilica Del Voto Nacional. The main entrance is huge, with large bronze doors that are carved with different biblical scenes. The interior features several beautiful stained glass windows. After climbing the stairs of the clock tower, we took some time to enjoy the excellent view of the city.
In the afternoon, we decided to visit Teleferico, which has cable cars leading to the mountains above Quito. It's much colder at the top, but it provides a great panoramic view of the surrounding Andes mountains.
We also took the opportunity to visit La Mitad Del Mundo, near the village of San Antonio, about 22km north of Quito. As "the middle of the world", this is the official site of the equator. It is one of the few places on earth where you can actually stand on a line that divides the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. A large monument was opened here in 1982.
Here's an interesting fact: you actually weigh less at the equator due to the lower force of gravity. Here's another interesting fact: the monument mentioned above was actually built at the wrong location. With the invention of GPS technology, it has been determined that the true line of the equator is about 240 meters north of the current line.
That's all for now.
Steve & Ann