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From Bogotá I travelled to a country I’ve wanted to visit, Ecuador, specifically Quito. Having travelled for a month through Peru as a backpacker in 2003 I was expecting Quito to be like Lima but was pleasantly surprised to find that it has a lot more charm than Lima and a very modern CBD. My first mission in Quito was to stand on the equator so I set of for Mitad del Mondo which is the site of the French Geodesic Mission. Here an 18th-century expedition measured the roundness of the Earth and the length of a degree of latitude at the Equator. The mission was one of the first of its kind carried out under modern scientific principles, and the first major international scientific expedition.
A whole centre like a small village is dedicated to the site and contains a few museums, a planetarium, many many touristic shops, cafes and bars and of course a large monument marking the equator.
I chose a restaurant on the ‘village’ plaza because it had a lovely verandah that opened on the the plaza but primarily because it served llapingachos which are a dish that I have loved ever since an Ecuadorian friend of my parents made them for us.
As a geologist I was delighted to gaze at the many road cuttings in Quito because it’s the only place that I’ve been to that is built on volcanic ash and pyroclastic deposits. It must be stupendous when one of the 4 large, active local volcanoes spews ash over the city!
My driver was charming and chatted away to me in Spanish, pointing out important features of the landscape, such as the ash quarries that have been closed for 4 years because of damage caused by a strong earthquake, and the public housing project that will provide 1,000 low cost houses for people of low Soci0-Economic standing. He also proudly told me about the upcoming Fiestas de Quito which is a weeklong period from the end of November to the 6th of December celebrating the foundation of Quito. During this period, bullfighting at the Plaza de Toros, flamenco dancing, opera and theater shows are presented including many international acts.
In the evening I explored the charming old town of Quito which has the best-preserved, least altered historic centre in Latin America and one of the first two cities that were UNESCO listed, along with Krakow (another charming city), in 1978.
The Basílica del Voto Nacional is stupendously enormous and lovely, being the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. Interestingly where gargoyles would normally stand this Basilica instead has native Ecuadorian animals such as armadillos, iguana, and Galapagos tortoises.
I had a delicious dinner at a very fine restaurant that is located in the old building on the plaza that used to be the Bishop’s office and at the back of the building in the place of the monastery is now a hotel. I had dishes such as prawn ceviche, fish ceviche, emapanaditas and a lovely sea bass with saffron dish.
The people of Ecuador are very similar to look at to the people of Peru, but unlike Peru I was never pestered by exhausted looking impoverished people. Like in Bogotá I fell into easy conversation with a few people kind enough to persevere with my slow Spanish and limited vocabulary. Generally the people seemed more reserved than those of Bogotá. The brand new international airport is wonderful, the roads to the airport and Mitad del Mondo are in good condition. Quito is a lovely city and I look forward to returning if I am so lucky.