I had to conquer my fears today. I was shocked yesterday; I thought I had been so careful and was very aware of being a target and was stunned to discover that I had been pickpocketed. I was separated from Maya and Erika, and when I found them I described how I had been handled and avoided being robbed, only to discover that my pocket was empty and that my small camera was gone. Erika reassured me that this happens to everyone and that little can be done to prevent it and that I was lucky not to be assaulted with a knife or threat of bodily damage. I did not feel so lucky. Today, Isabel reiterated that everyone she knows has been a target and one has to expect it and not get too upset.
I wanted to visit the 'centro historico' for the celebration of Independence Day of August 10, 1809. Despite my anxiety, and Maya's preference to stay home and 'chill' (I am sure my concern about our safety is not well hidden), we left the house with a map, $15, no cellphone and no camera. We walked the ten minutes to the bus station and were informed that there were no more buses today because of the independence day celebrations. We found a taxi to drive us the length of the city to the oldest part of Quito, which was a city long before the Inca and then the Spanish came. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site because it is one of the best preserved colonial cities. The 'centro' was closed to traffic because of the celebration, so we walked to the main Plaza de la Independencia, stopping several times to make way for columns of dark sedans interspersed with police vehicles and motorcycles. Most of the car windows were tinted so we could not see inside, but clearly these were important people. Crowds populated the main square, where from the presidential palace balcony, trumpets blared to announce the arrival of Raul Castro, who waved to the crowd with the Ecuadorian president Correa, followed by Chavez, the Chilean president, and Garcia. Those were the ones I recognized, but more followed. I was astonished that they were all so accessible and eager to wave and connect to the ever growing crowd.
We missed Correa's speech, when we wandered into a nearby church to admire the altarpiece and then to 'La Compañia', which is the Jesuit church covered on every surface inside with gold leaf. We spent so long admiring the altars and sculptures, that the lights were turned off suddenly and we were told it was time to leave. Maya wanted to see the evidence of Inca palaces, so we headed to Plaza de San Francisco, where the church and museum were closed (the church was closed in January for renovation, so perhaps that is still happening), but the Inca stones remain under the church. There is a wonderful store full of artisanal products from all over Ecuador, and Maya started planning how she will decorate her bedroom.
Old Quito was full of Quiteños enjoying the sunshine and the celebration, cheering the heads of state and taking their pictures. I missed having my camera, but it was easier not to worry about being robbed today. People of all ages were eating ice cream, and women in traditional dress were carrying platters of ice cream with cones. I was told to be careful of buying food off the street, so Maya and I played it safe with yummy 'Magnum' bars out of a freezer. I like the candied nuts one also buys on the street, but I figured that they are cooked, and therefore safe. They are very similar to the nuts I buy on Times Square in New York City.
Activities celebrating independence were planned throughout the evening, but I was worried about getting home before dark. We found the bus station and bought our tokens (25 cents for me and 12 cents for Maya) and arrived home safely. I can hear music and shouting in the streets tonight coming from the south of the city.
Cotopaxi was visible in the distance when I walked across the rooftop to get to our rooms, as was the dancing virgin (Panecillo). I am determined to find an apartment with a view!