Santiago and Alejandra picked Maya up this morning to bring her to their house in Cumbaya for the day to play with Santiago's son and niece. That gave Eric and I the rare opportunity to explore Quito on our own. First on Eric's agenda was to buy a printer for the house, which brought us to Quicentro, and coffee at El Espanol (which came first in fact) and 'Super Paco's', 'Lo mejor en papeleria y computacion', and a quick decision for the least expensive device.
That accomplished, my plan for the day was again to return to the Centro Historico for more exploring. There are many more streets and corners and plazas and churches that I have not yet seen. La Merced is considered by many Quitenos to be the most beautiful church in the city. Despite being large, it is intimate and inviting. Worshippers buy candles at the entrance and rub the candle over their neck and face and upper body and then light it and pray. Banners from each section of the military are displayed across the front altar--this is the church which blesses the soldiers when they leave for their missions. The virgin is venerated, and paintings and sculptures of her grace several altars and chapels throughout the church. Many of the paintings of the Quiteno school have Pichincha in the background, a view not much different from that out of my apartment window.
Santo Domingo is grand and impressive on the outside and moody and warm on the inside. All sorts of styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, Neoclassical and Baroque blend together surprisingly well. The altars are covered in gold, as they are in most church interiors. The ceilings are Moorish, as they are in several of the churches in the historical part of Quito. Each church has its own character, and it is interesting that each Quiteno I talk to has a favourite church and story behind their choice. We wandered past the cathedral, the Sagraria and La Compania, which I had visited during my prior trips to the centro. There was a concert happening on the Plaza San Francisco, with traditional Ecuadorian music and enthusiastic fans filling the square.
There were several more churches along Rocafuerte, but all of them were closed, so we wandered in and out of the stores on the street, and found a whisk and potato masher in a restaurant supply shop and agreed to return next week to purchase them. We found ourselves on 'La Ronda', a street closer to the foot of the Panecillo. This area was traditionally an artistic/Bohemian area, where painters and writers and poets would congregate and create in the late 1800's/early 1900's. The neighbourhood had deteriorated and had become known as the district for drugs, prostitutes and 'ne'er do wells'. Three years ago it was cleaned up and renovated and policed, and now it has become a popular place for locals and tourists, especially in the evening. There are artisan shops and restaurants and bars, and each evening each establishment provides live music and sells canelazo ( a warm alcoholic tea with naranjilla or mora). Eric and I walked up and down the street late in the afternoon, and many of the stores and restaurants were closed and boarded up, but when we returned later in the evening, the street was full of people, most of them locals and few tourists. Small bands were playing in every cafe and restaurant and bar. Most of it was traditional Ecuadorian music (which I must learn more about) and we were able to listen from the street and drink our canalazo to warm us up. La Ronda is a place to return to for a meal and music, and then again for more music!