We are collected from our hotel and taken to the airport in time for our onward journey to Ecuador. Thankfully the journey was trouble free and we were well received at the airport in Ecuador by the Audley representative who ensured our efficient transfer to the hotel. After checking in we decide to have a quick orientation around the area (we’ll be exploring the sights in full detail tomorrow).
Ecuador is described as a diminutive country that boasts a wonderful diversity of sights including active volcanoes. We passed one of these on route to the hotel and I’d swear that I smelt the tell tale sulphuric smell at its foot. Quito is the modern capital of Quito and was once the main political and ceremonial centre for the north of the Inca Empire. It’s in a fertile valley surrounded by picturesque mountains, and our guide suggested that the temperature was fairly steady all year round. Certainly it’s warmer than we anticipated although by the time we’re on our wander the majority of the blue skies have gone.
As we’re only a short stroll to the central square we take a leisurely stroll to the Plaza Grande and although I snap a few of the fine buildings our main intention tonight is to "take in the vibes". We’ve been told that by 7.00 everything in the centre is closed down and our guide did recommend that we didn’t wander too far away from the hotel after 7.30. We’re not sure how much of that was scare mongering, but in all honesty there seemed little point in wandering the streets too long after dark.
There are groups of musicians playing in the square and this sets the scene for the bustle of local living. After checking out the tourist information centre (from the outside this looks like a decent shop) we head away from the square, walking on our instincts, and becoming increasingly bewildered by the plethora of "specialist shops". One shop sold only buttons and other footballs, whilst others had what seemed like hundreds of shoes, others specialised in fabric. There were numerous shops selling clothes for confirmation ceremonies – a reminder that this was a strong Roman Catholic country. But none seemed as if their goods were high quality and they reminded us of small seaside shops of the 50’s in the UK, Indeed a shop specialising in men’s suits appeared that they were selling clothing that was issued to the armed forces on their discharge from the service. We called them de-mob suits and they too date back to the late 40’s and early 50’s. Perhaps that’s where Ecuador is at in terms of its progress.
There were street vendors selling oranges, confectionary, balloons, tapestry, paintings to name but a few things. Many of these vendors came from out of town and I guess they were easy to spot as they were selling ethnic goods or locally grown food products.
We notice, not that it’s difficult, that the town is built into the mountain and there are real steep slopes that we have to manoeuvre. We approach a beautiful square called San Francisco Square and although I know its named after the monastery that overlooks this place of worship, I much prefer the idea that it’s named after the US City. Indeed as I look up both in both directions from the square the streets are as steep as those in San Francisco. It’s a busy plaza, even as the day is coming to a close and it’s great to take in the atmosphere of the town.
Quito is a reassuring place to walk around as firstly it is exceedingly safe and secondly its built on a grid (as decreed by the Spanish rulers at the point of the occupation and redevelopment) so once you’ve got your bearings it’s only a matter of negotiating the blocks. We did this remarkably and after around an hour we found ourselves back outside the hotel.
For information there’s no problem with ATM’s in the town – there’s plenty of them – and although the old site is not awash with restaurants most of the hotels have good quality dining facilities and it’s only a short taxi ride (we were told) into the restaurant capital of Quito in the new town.
As Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage Site there are plenty of tourist police around so if you need help they’re around to assist as well as ensure that visitors don’t abuse this beautiful city. Indeed I thought that they must think that their raison d’etre is the latter as there was much blowing of whistles and pointing and waving. It turned out that this was mainly directed at locals who were bothering or in the opinion of the police likely to bother the visitors.
A great place to visit and real easy to get around.