Quito, Ecuador

On arrival at Quito we were picked up by a pre-arranged taxi transfer to the Casa El Eden Hotel in old Quito. This is always a good move as it saves you the hassle of fighting you way though the phalanx of airport taxi drivers.

Map of the old town of Quito showing where we walked. From the scale you can see that the distances were not great

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Casa el Eden

We enjoyed a lovely three night stay in this well converted old colonial house in Old Quito. The hotel is in a quiet street about 10 minutes walk from the central square. This colonial house was rescued from a ruinous state by the owners, and they have made it into a very comfortable boutique hotel - in the real sense of "boutique" as there are only 6 rooms. The owners greet you personally, give you lots of information on Quito and what to see, and will, if you ask, show you the photos of the reconstruction work that they carried out on the building.

The building is in the old Spanish style of having an internal courtyard with most of the rooms opening onto the courtyard, and hence getting their light that way, and not from a window to the outside. We were more than happy with our courtyard view room, but you could ask for a room with a window onto the street if you were worried.

Nothing is too much trouble for the owners and they are happy to invest their time in you, the guest.

The Casa el Eden is a Bed and Breakfast, so you have to go out for your evening meal, with the majority of restaurants about 10 minutes walk away close to the main square. We could have taken a taxi, but walked, and never felt in any way threatened.

We enjoyed our stay here

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In this little backwater the "ladies of the night" gather on a nearby street corner, but were not a problem, in fact I felt that they were a charming part of the local colour

A walk round the centre of Old Quito

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The map at the top of the page gives the sort of route we followed. The distances are short, but there are a lot of museums and churches to see.

Quito, formally San Francisco de Quito, is the capital of Ecuador, and at an elevation of 2,850 metres above sea level, it is the highest official capital city in the world. With a population of 2,671,191 according to the last census (2014), Quito is the second most populous city in Ecuador, after Guayaquil.

The historic centre of Quito has one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centres in the Americas. Quito, along with Kraków, were the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO in 1978. The central square of Quito is located about 25 kilometres south of the equator; the city itself extends to within about 1 kilometre of zero latitude.

Although a city from 1556 under the Spanish, the population was small and was only 10,000 on independence in 1822

Ecuador's history following independence has not been smooth. In 1875, the country's president, Gabriel García Moreno, was assassinated on the steps of the National Palace in Quito, struck down with knives and revolvers, his last words being: "¡Dios no muere!" ("God does not die!"). His body was buried in the cathedral, but eight years later, with the country in revolutionary chaos, the friends and family of Garcia Moreno feared his remains could be removed and desecrated by the Liberals. In the middle of the night, they removed his corpse and placed it in a secret place, unknown to the world until Dr. Salazar began his quest to discover it. He eventually found the body in 1975 and on August 6, 1975, the 100th anniversary of the death of Gabriel Garcia Moreno, his remains were transferred with solemnity from St. Catherine Church to the Cathedral. There his corpse was placed in a crypt in a side niche to the left of the main altar, where the people of Ecuador can pay homage to him.

In 1883, the liberal commander Eloy Alfaro fought the Battle of Guayaquil, and later, after more wars, became the president of Ecuador in 1895. Upon completing his second term in 1911, he moved to Europe, but returned to Ecuador in 1912 and attempted a return to power. He was arrested on January 28, 1912; thrown in prison; and assassinated by a mob that had stormed the prison. His body was dragged through the streets of Quito to a city park, where it was burned. A civil war broke out following presidential elections in 1932.

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Whilst waiting for our tour of the Presidential Palace, we came across an exhibition by Alice Trepp of African American women living in Ecuador. Trepp is a European who came to Ecuador about 30 years ago.

African-American culture in Ecuador is distinct, even from “Mestizos” (local Indian/Spanish descendants). There are traces of traditions and customs that are preserved from a distant African past mixed with newer customs that have developed from living in Ecuador while being segregated for complex sociological reasons.

Alice Trepp tries to express their human condition from the colours, cloths and their customs, relying on direct observation. She finds her models in a place in the north of Ecuador called Chote where there is a large Afro-American community. She talks to people, learns their stories, and invite them to her studio where she sculpts them from life. This show of her work travels through Ecuador in cultural centres. The sculptures are cast in polyester resin because it is a great surface for polychromatic work. Colour plays as an important role as form does.

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Palacio de Carondelet is the seat of government of the Republic of Ecuador. During the Republican era, almost all the presidents (constitutional, internees and dictators) have ruled from this building. There has been some changes over the years, the most important in the presidencies of Gabriel García Moreno, Camilo Ponce Enríquez and Sixto Durán Ballén. In addition to the administrative units in the third level of the Palace is the presidential residence, a luxurious colonial-style apartment in which the President and his family live. Currently, the Presidency and Vice Presidency of the Republic and the Ministry of the Interior, occupy the Complex of Carondelet.

According to the researcher, Dr. María del Carmen Molestina, a former director of the Museum of the Central Bank of Ecuador and currently charged with cataloguing the contents of the complex, says that over the years, the Carondelet Palace has been looted. Most of the furniture and items that can be seen today are new; even some of the bronze fittings from the furniture dating for the time of Garcia Moreno have been replaced by copies of gold-sprayed lead. The investigation, which Dr. Molestina is currently conducting, is directed at when the so-called looting began. The Carondelet Palace was restored during the presidency of Camilo Ponce Enriquez (1956-1960) and until the presidency of León Febres Cordero (1984-1988), all was as it should have been. From that period there is no information about the fate of much of the belongings of the Presidential Palace. Additionally, Molestina believes that everything was kept until the presidency of Rodrigo Borja (1988-1992) after which Sixto Durán Ballen (1992-1996) ordered a new presidential suite on the third floor of the palace.

We were told that we could access the palace by getting a timed entry from a kiosk just off the square. This we did - it was free. Our allotted time was a couple of hours off, but we eventually got in, but not before passing the full heavy security vetting of X-ray machines and searches. Mind you looking at the history of the country you can see why they don't want anyone br1ging guns into the building. The most un-nerving bit was that we had to give up our passports until we left the building - no receipt was given! Anyway once in, we were given a very informative tour and visited all the necessary places in the building. certainly worth the kerfuffle of getting in

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The most memorable of the churches in Quito was La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús. Its large central nave is profusely decorated with gold leaf, gilded plaster and wood carvings. Inspired by two Roman Jesuit churches — the Chiesa del Gesù (1580) and the Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio di Loyola (1650) — la Compañía is one of the most significant works of Spanish Baroque architecture in South America. It is Quito's most ornate church.

The first group of Jesuit priests arrived in Quito on 19 July of 1586, in order to establish a church, a school and a monastery. Most sites for the construction of churches had been granted by the city council to the Franciscans, the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, the Augustinians and the Dominicans. However, in 1587 the council granted land to the Jesuit order at the northwest corner of Plaza Grande (now Independence Square). When the Augustinians showed their displeasure with the decision, the Jesuits chose to settle in another lot located southwest of the Cathedral and Plaza. Nicolás Duran Mastrilli, a Jesuit priest from Naples, Italy, was appointed rector of the Jesuit College of Quito in 1602. Upon his arrival from Rome, he brought with him plans for the new Church to be constructed in Quito. Construction began in 1605, with Mastrilli laying the first stone. The building was not completed until 1765.

Over the 160 years of its construction, the architects of La Compañía incorporated elements of four architectural styles, although the Baroque is the most prominent. Mudejar (Moorish) influence is seen in the geometrical figures on the pillars; the Churrigueresque characterizes much of the ornate decoration, especially in the interior walls; finally the Neoclassical style adorns the Chapel of Saint Mariana de Jesús (in early years a winery).

The floorplan of La Compañía makes a Latin Cross. The central nave is topped by a 26-meter high barrel vault constructed of pumice and brick. This vault is decorated with plaster, polychrome and Mudéjar figures in gold leaf. The skyline is capped by two green and gold domes.

The carvings of La Compañía’s main façade were executed entirely of Ecuadorian andesite stone. That façade, as it has come down to us, has more of the Italian Baroque than of the Spanish Plateresque and, with its high pilasters, a certain accent of the French Baroque. Design elements include a near symmetrical facade, Moorish influence in the nave, and artwork by artists of the Quito School. A sarcophagus with the remains of Ecuador's patron saint, Mariana de Jesús de Paredes, is located in the base of the central altar. The interior of La Compañía strongly resembles that of the Church of San Ignacio in Bogotá.

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Wandering round the town, we came across a large body of firemen on parade, and busy hauling a decorated Virgin Stature on top of one of their wagons. By chance, we saw the same group some hours later going through the city centre - never did find out what it was all about

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Had an odd lunch in ¡Dios no muere! Cafe where the body of the assassinated President Moreno had been hidden. I cannot say I would recommend the cafe, but it is a nice bit of history to ponder over
Dinner at Casa Gangotena was a much better meal, as indeed it should have been - our most enjoyable meal in Ecuador. Would have stayed in the hotel, but it was four times the price of Casa el Eden!
Through expediency, we ate that the Cafe En-Dulce a couple of times. It was close to our hotel and after a lunch did not need a full dinner. It is a very small cafe on one of the main streets in the Old Town. They serve good coffees and a range of juices and batidas. You can choose from their pastries and cakes. Service was a bit iffy, but all in all a pleasant experience.

So after three nights, we got the hotel to order a taxi to the airport to pick up our rented car. Experience has taught me that driving in cities like Quito is not a good idea. And and hour later we were in our rented (underpowered) car heading south towards the base of Cotapaxi. We were in ignorance as to the state of the eruption, as nobody in Quito seemed to know if Cotapaxi was currently dangerous or not

On to Cotapaxi

Ecuador Holiday