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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mitad del Mundo via GPS

Another early start, this time to tour the Old Town, Panecillo, the tram and Mitad del Mundo. Jose-Luis picked us up and said he'd be taking us to the Rondo restaurant for the "Welcome" dinner that evening as well.

First stop was Old Town, and guess what! It was a major national holiday and all decorated and full of people. Lookit!








And this is a detail of the National Cathedral. Yes, those are tortoises as gargoyles. All of the gargoyles on the cathedral are animals endemic to the Galapagos. Click on the photo to see the details.





May 24 is the observation of the Battle of Pichincha, which was where the last Ecuadoran soldiers fell in the last battle for independence from the Spanish in 1822.

In this photo taken from El Panecillo, the hill in the middle of town, you can actually see the site, where the flag is, which has become their equivalent of Arlington.




They hold ceremonies out there in the morning and have parades in town later on. Here's a link to last years' activities:

YouTube - Chávez y Morales acompañan a Correa en la conmemoración de la Batalla de Pichincha

As you can see, El Presidente Correa of Ecuador is buddies with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. Interesting.

And Joyce said no more than one church visit, and we weren't allowed to take pictures, but I bought these postcards. This is the Iglesia de la Compania. They have cleverly placed a cheval glass in the transept so you can see the dome (the top picture) without having to lie on your back on the floor with binoculars.





And this is the magnificent San Francisco, but we didn't go inside. Too many steps!



Our next stop after downtown was El Panecillo, or Little Bread, the hill in the center of town, where they have the Flying Mary. The statue is fairly new and incorporates a whole lot of symbolism. So they say.



Then we went to see the Mitad del Mundo. This is what they call the equator in Ecuador because "Ecuador" means "equator" and it would be confusing. There are several "Mitad del Mundo" sites all along the actual line of the equator.

Now, take a look at this. Those silly French! They even created a monument (the mounted ball in the background) to their own inaccuracy. But we all make mistakes and this one isn't that bad, just 200 yards. Even though the indigenous Quito people knew all along where the equator was, and they told anyone who cared to learn, they weren't always taken as seriously as they should have been. And that's how you get pictures like this: the French "equator" marker taken from the REAL one, right where they always said it was.




They have a variety of tests and demonstrations they do right on the line, and then off to the side of it, so you can feel the difference between standing on the equator or not. Here is Joyce on the toilet at the center of the earth.



She didn't realize what it was when she sat on it. Cute, isn't she?

We also put our phony wedding rings right on the equator and took this picture. We left all our good jewelry at home in response to various things we read on the internet about robberies and muggings and that sort of thing. But honestly, we never saw even the least sign, or heard any story of it actually happening. However, it made an excellent excuse for buying a silver and malachite cross that day in the market downtown.




After Mitad del Mundo, we were supposed to take a tram or cable-car up another local mountain, but the fog never burned off, so we asked Jose-Luis to take us to a market instead, to make up for the one we didn't get to the first day. There were tons of stuff there: jewelery, leather, wools from alpacas and vicunas and linens and hats, wood carvings, stone carvings, you name it. Lots of native crafts, all very colorful. The problem is, they won't let you LOOK at it.

The minute you get out of the car, all the vendors are on you like flies on shit. There's no such thing as browsing. It's all "Senora! Senorita! Missus! Madam! You come here, you see, you buy. You number one GI! Hey, Meester! You wanna do my seester?" and so on. There are a gazillion stalls all jammed together with barely an aisle between so you can't exactly get a up a good head of steam and run away. Besides, you're there because you want something, so you stay at least a little.

The previous day we bought a whole bunch of their beautiful scarves (light, cheap, easy to carry) near the cathedral. So we bought another pile of those, plus the aforementioned cross and some other small goodies. Joyce is very good at haggling. I just say, "Get me that," and slither away. Since we live in Florida, there's not a lot of need for woolens and leather. Eventually we extricated ourselves and went back to the hotel to rest before dinner.

The Rondo restaurant is some sort of strange institution in Quito. It's apparently a place to which American tourists are taken or sent and no Ecuadoran ever eats there. And they claim to speak no English, and the menu is in Spanish, so if you really have no concept of any Romance language, good luck with that. Between Joyce's French and my Italian, we made it out, and we both had some delicious pork. The food is half-Spanish, half-indigenous and while we were eating it, a tiny mariachi band (four guys) came in and serenaded us. I wish I knew the etiquette for that! We were so relieved when they went away.

Then there was the great "How the hell do we get out of here?" caper. The meal was on the travel agency, but we ordered wine, and Joyce figured they were embarassed to tell us we had to pay for that. So we all just stared at each other until I worked out, "May I have the wine bill?" in my fractured Spanish, and everyone was all smiles as we packed up the remains of the bottle, tipped everyone, and left.

Tomorrow: Tree tomato pie and other delicacies.

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