Monday, January 11, 2010

Intro to Quito

Gargoyles at the Basilica

We take the students on a city tour to introduce them to Quito, and each time I join the group I see and learn something new. I like our guide this year, he appears to be genuinely interested in what he is doing and has read up on everything we see and offers much information. I had three hours of sleep last night, not at all enough and it was painful to wake up this morning. The hotel did not wake up the students as had been arranged, but most of them were up and eating breakfast when we arrived at the Sierra Madre around 8 AM.

Our first destination was the Basilica of the 'Voto Nacional', a nineteenth century neoGothic behemoth, but interesting because the gargoyles are Galapagos and Amazon animals! We made our way to the Plaza Grande, where the very ugly statue in the middle of the square depicting the struggle for independence, seemed more interesting once I knew the significance of the lion leaving the symbols of Spain behind, and of the condor breaking its chains. Jose, our guide, mentioned that Ecuador both celebrates its independence from Spain and the founding of Quito by the Spaniards. Ecuadorians are both indigenous and Spanish, being mostly mestizo and carrying both heritages.

Orchid Stainglass Windows

We visited the Sagraria church next to the cathedral, where there is a beautifully carved and gilded screen that used to separate the holy from the secular, but also separated the indigenous who were not allowed in the church proper, and the Spanish as well as the Creole, who sat in the church in front of the screen. The Compania church nearby is covered completely in gold, and is astonishing in its wealth and presence. The church and convent of San Francisco is a good introduction to the' School of Quito', with scores of statues and paintings. The Quito School was particularly known for its realistic looking statues, some of which will be out on the streets during holy week. The bloody statues of Christ were designed to be graphic so that the indigenous and often illiterate natives could understand better the experiences of Jesus.

Lunch was in Tianguez, the restaurant on the San Francisco Square which is attached to a rabbit warren of small hallways full of wonderful artifacts. I have eaten in the restaurant before and have enjoyed the food, but today the food was edible (with lots of guacamole) but not spectacular.

We drove to the Panecillo to see the Virgin of Quito and took photos all around but none of the volcanoes were visible anyway, since it had been raining and the sky was grey and cloudy. The students wanted to shop but we will be in Otavalo tomorrow and be able to shop all day

Games at the Panecillo

View of Plaza Grande from Above

Our afternoon was devoted to visiting Cenit, a charity that focuses on getting girls off the street and working We spent the afternoon going to the nearby markets where the outreach programs are located. I am ready to volunteer, and of course with my expertise and my limited Spanish, I will find a good position there.

Children at CENIT

The sky was grey and the clouds threatened to burst all day, but we stayed dry other than for trickles here and there. If felt wonderful to be back in Quito and this tour group is a good way to reintroduce myself to the city. The students appear to be pleasant and eager to participate and learn, which is all good.

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