Old town Quito

Feb 11, 2012

I was standing outside the Basilica del Voto Nacional taking pictures. Oddly enough, the bottom section of this church, outside is converted into small stores. A man from one of the stores approached me. When I said ‘No, Gracias. No hablad espanol.’ he started speaking to me in English. Pretty good English actually. He came up and gave me a couple of post cards to take for souvenirs. When I tried to get away, he told me $5 – It’s for the church. Well, honestly, I doubt that $5 was for the church, but maybe, afterall, he was working out of a small store built into the church. I took two post cards and gave him $2. I made a big mistake at this point though and that was to let him see that I had a $20 bill.

When I tried to walk away, he brought me back in by offering me a tour of the old town and the churches. He was free right now and he could show me everything. I could hire him for 30 minutes or 1 hour, or longer. He was a very nice, clean cut man with fairly good English and very friendly. Even though he was obviously trying to make money, I did not at any time feel threatened by him. He told me $20 for a one hour tour and promised to take me to La Compania, which is the church that I most wanted to see. Looking back on it, I decided that he asked for $20 because he previously saw it in my hand … and I didn’t bargain with him at that point .. shame on me!

$20 for one hour is a huge amount of money for someone working in Ecuador! I wasn’t really thinking of that at the time though. And, really, I had originally planed to spend $80 on a different type of tour in Quito today, but unfortunately that fell through.

So, Joseph and I went on our merry way. He joked about the fact that I’d like the tour because it is all downhill. Not sure how I was supposed to get back out of that valley without climbing the hill later though!

We wound through very narrow streets with room for 1.5 cars, but two were somehow fitting. The sidewalks were only wide enough for one person, or a mom and child. Joseph pointed out all kinds of architectural features of the beautiful old buildings such as the lamps that used to burn candles outside of many of the homes, and that all of the balconies on the homes were unique. I took photos along the way, but with sidewalks being so small, it was hard to stop for long to get the ‘perfect’ picture.

Photo of Balconies of Quito
Balconies of Quito

We visited two local ‘squares’ or central areas surrounded by important buildings. The first was the National Theatre area, the second was surrounded by the President’s residence, the government buildings and a church. Being with a guide was nice at this point as he kept me safe from speeding traffic on small streets, helped keep street vendors from harassing me and constantly kept an eye out for suspicious folk. The more crowded the area, the more pick pocketing is likely to happen. These central areas are swarming with locals and tourists, many who are Ecuadorian and a few from other areas. I certainly stand out like a sore thumb with my blond hair and pale skin!

Another benefit of being with a guide is that he knows the right people. He simply asks for permission to enter private residences or other buildings that you might normally pay for, and he gets us in with no trouble.

Then there’s the President’s Residence. It is beautiful, no question. We couldn’t go inside, but we did skip in front of a line of about 30 people waiting to go on the balcony and into the one corridor that you were allowed to view. He also insisted I have my photo taken with the guards. Just like in Halifax at Citadel hill, they stand very still, rarely speak and don’t smile.

Shari at President's Residence, Quito, Ecuador
Shari at President's Residence, Quito, Ecuador

One of my favorite parts of this tour (although there were many), was the museum that we stopped at which had historic photos of the city. Most of the photos were taken between 1880 and 1905. They were beautiful, large format film photographs of the most important buildings and areas of the city at that time. It was amazing to recognize the areas and see how they had changed. Many of the images were made prior to a devastating earthquake that damaged a lot of the old buildings. I wasn’t allowed to take photos here either, but I quickly snapped one on automatic, from the hip and this is what I got.

Photographic history of Quito
Photographic history of Quito

Next stop, the library and school next to La Compania, which was the church I most wanted to see. Joseph said he had a surprise for me. Three flights of stairs later, (heart pounding, shortness of breath …), I see these three beautiful sites:

Church tower wtih Quito in background
Church tower wtih Quito in background
Angel on panicillo in Quito
Angel on panicillo in Quito
Praying statues Quito Ecuador
Praying statues Quito Ecuador

Then we headed back down stairs (no problem!) and over to the very historic, La Compania. I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside which is incredibly disappointing. I cannot even begin to describe the incredible architecture, delicate hand-carved everything, and all, plated in gold. The WHOLE inside of the church shines beautiful gold. Here is the one measly photo that I ‘snuck’.

La Compania, Quito, Ecuador
La Compania, Quito, Ecuador

Outside, after La Compania, Joseph pointed out a few other nearby sites and asked if I’d like to continue the tour, or not. Knowing that my price had likely already doubled, I said no. He did in fact ask for $40 instead of $20. We ended at $27 as I told him I needed money for taxi’s and the teleferico (next post – coming soon).

0 thoughts on “Old town Quito

  1. So jazzed to hear you’re liking South America. Try “no hablo español” instead, or “no entiendo”, just in case people aren’t as English-competent as your guide—and if you run into any troubles feel free to drop a line! Have a kick-ass trip and see lots of amazing new things.

    1. Yes, I am enjoying it. Although solo travel with no Spanish training certainly has it difficulties! I’ll be looking into Spanish language school before my next solo trip I think! Having said that, it certainly is part of the adventure! Thanks for ‘no entiendo’… I’ve got ‘No hablo Espanol’ down pat now! lol

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