Thursday, July 1, 2010

Convent of San Diego

Emilie and Sam did not arrive in the morning. Their plane was delayed again in Caracas. Of course there is always much to do in preparation to leave anyway, with more packing and organizing and cleaning and fixing up the apartment (all to the glorious sounds of Bach and Mozart and Massanet on the violin!). Finally around noon, Maya and I decided we needed to leave the house and explore some of Quito. It was a wonderful sunny Quito day, not too hot, not too cold, just enough sun and blue skies and very very inviting.

I had read about a new store in the Mariscal which specialized in all Ecuadorian food specialties; an Ecuadorian gourmet store. It had opened two weeks ago and I must start thinking of all the things I must bring back to Baltimore. Of course there are many good coffee brands and several types of chocolate, and aji (spicy sauce to put on everything) and even wine (which I have never tasted, I had no idea Ecuador produced wine). Maya and I decided on the chocolate we plan to buy, and will return to make purchases before we leave.

On any given day in Quito, I can't help but head toward the Centro Historico, and decided that I would again try to get to the Convent and Museum of San Diego. I have tried to walk there several times and am always dissuaded -- either several people warn me that the walk is too dangerous, or it feels wrong each time I try. This trip was to be by taxi, and even when I told the taxi driver where we were going, he suggested we go another museum, because where we were going was too dangerous. I insisted we get to our destination anyway and he dropped us off in front of the church.

View of the Panecillo From the Courtyard

The museum was to open at 2:30, and we arrived at 2:32, but the museum was closed and when we asked at the church office we were told that the museum lady would not be there until 3. I chose to wait, and Maya entertained me with excerpts out of the Lonely Planet Ecuador guide. We waited patiently, as we always seem to do in Ecuador. At 3:15, a very skinny older lady with painted eyebrows told us there were other tourists in the cemetery and we would have to wait for them. I pointed out that the museum was to have opened at 2:30 and we had waited a long time and did not want to wait longer, so she agreed to give us a tour, but she was very grumpy about it. There were many huge ancient keys in her hand, which were required to open each room.

Our first stop was a side chapel which was open to the outside. Traditionally, the priest would preach to the indigenous who were not allowed to mix with the Spanish inside the church. The church and monastery are chock full of famous sculptures and paintings of the Quiteño school. We were rushed past all the artwork, our guide speaking nonstop and in a monotone about the various pieces of art. This was a Franciscan church and the Father Almeida of 'Hasta La Vuelta Señor' had studied and lived in this convent. He had climbed out of the convent to carouse every night, scrambling over a crucifix who asked him nightly about when he would return. Ultimately he mended his ways and became a devoted priest, but only after many wild adventures and a conversation with Christ. The crucifix he climbed over remains, but when he became a leader in the monastery, he had the window he used to climb through to sneak out cemented in, so as not to be a temptation for other novices.

Paintings and sculptures by famous Quiteño artists fill the rooms of the convent (accessible through thick doors opened by massive keys). We saw a typical priest's bedroom, the rectory, the kitchen, and the workrooms of the convent. The place was a treasure trove of colonial art and lifestyle, and I was delighted to have finally seen it.

I received a phonecall that Emilie and Sam had arrived at the apartment and were waiting for us, so we completed the tour (after seeing what was supposed to be an original Bosch painting) and dashed out of the church courtyard. No taxis were visible, and we risked a walk through the neighbourhood - without incident- until we found one and rushed home. It was wonderful to see our guests and catch up. They had traveled through Panama and Costa Rica and were to be in Ecuador for two weeks. We reviewed itinerary possibilities and decided that after they visit friends in Otavalo and Ibarra, they will visit Mindo, return to Quito, take the bus to Baños, bikeride to Puyo, bus it to Tena and then to Baeza and Papallacta and then back to Quito. I realized how much more of Ecuador I have yet to see and wished I could join them on their journey.

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