After my wonderful time in Paraguay visiting dear friends, encountering strange critters, and experiencing a road trip South American-style, it was time to head up to Ecuador to meet my friend Valerie. Val is a business school classmate of mine who was also lured away from paid employment by the call of the open road. But unlike me, Val started her global travels in December of 2016, so by the time she hit South America, she was already a veteran vagabond. Val and I planned to travel the west coast of the continent together, starting with Ecuador.
The name of the country – as they say in the UK – ‘does what it says on the tin’, proudly reminding you of its geographic position right on the equator. Because of this, I half-expected to find a Latin American version of Singapore when I landed in the capital city Quito. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Despite its latitude, Quito is nestled high in the Andes Mountains at around 9,350 ft (2,850 m). The town climbs up the sides of a valley, and with its crisp mountain air and many tourist shops selling local chocolate and coffee, this Andean Mountain retreat reminded a bit of a Colorado ski town.
Quito is the usual gateway for visitors traveling to the Galapagos – our main goal – but we felt the town itself was worth two days. Given the altitude, this turned out to be a good thing – we felt our lack of acclimation with even the smallest exertion. Luckily, the Old Town is on the valley floor and was a short walk from our hostel, giving us a bit of a break. Quito was the first real truly colonial old town that I’d had a chance to see, and though I shouldn’t have been surprised, I was still impressed with the number of churches it contained. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not one much for religion, but I was honestly moved by these colonial relics – they were all decorated uniquely in amazingly vibrant colors (pastels, golds), and because we were there on a Sunday they were buzzing with activity.
Despite the incredible volume of churches and cathedrals I’ve visited in Europe, I honestly don’t think I’ve seen one filled with people who seemed to be celebrating; European churches are solemn, silent grey edifices in contrast to the feast for the eyes and ears of Quito’s churches. We witnessed many different services, but regardless of the church, you could see that the worshipers were enthusiastic, their singing heartfelt, their songs upbeat. My Spanish was in its infancy, but I was still able to catch many references to the Pope in the sermons. I can imagine how proud they are that he’s one of their own…