KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
I chose to call this entry ‘Manic Monday’, because after such a long period of being relatively inactive due to feeling slightly under the weather, we ended up packing a great deal into one day.
We set off rather early (for us) in order to get to the tourist office at Plaza Grande in the historical centre. We had made a pervious attempt to purchase train tickets on the newly restored rail line from Quito to El Boliche, but arrived only to find that the ticket office closed at 2:00pm on Saturdays. We had been hiking above the teleférico and didn’t know about the early closing.
Our taxi managed to get fairly close to the Plaza Grande but then became mired in slow moving traffic. Eventually, we paid the driver and got out and walked the last two blocks. The streets had been closed because of the Changing of the Guard ceremony, just about to get under way. What a delightful surprise!
It was one of the most beautiful mornings we’d experienced in Quito so far. We’d arrived during the wettest month of the year, and we often found that the city was shrouded in fog in the early mornings. The weather is so changeable here, that if you wait an hour or so, the sun can come out suddenly, and disappear again without warning.
We watched the marching band parade in front of the Presidential Palace, and then the mounted guards wove in and around the plaza in a well-choreographed performance. The biggest surprise of all was the fact that President Correa and his family were standing on the balcony above the square waving to all the citizens and tourists below. Apparently, they attend the Changing of the Guard ceremony each and every Monday morning at 11:00am.
As things were winding down, we headed to the tourist office, only to find that all the tickets for the Thursday to Sunday trains were already booked. I shouldn’t have been surprised because of the Easter holidays, but I was disappointed just the same. There was only one more opportunity for us to take the 5-hour train journey before we were due to leave Ecuador, but it was the day before we fly out, and we didn’t want to risk being stranded outside of Quito when we should be back at the apartment packing.
There is so much to see in Ecuador, that after our wonderful trip to the ecolodge in the Amazon, we decided to focus on Quito and see some of the other historical sights when we return to the country for a second time. I guess the train trip will have to wait till then.
Most museums and tourist sights are closed on Mondays, but when we found that the small Museo Franciscano was open, we walked to the nearby Plaza San Francisco to see it. It’s located in the former cloisters of the monastery and we joined a Spanish-language tour just ready to set off.
We were taken through a side entrance into the church, and had a terrific view of the nave from the choir loft in the rear. I’d read that the museum contains some of the church’s finest paintings, sculptures and 16th-century furniture, but I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. The paintings were like many we’ve seen in churches before, but the frames were stunning, incredibly unusual and unforgettable really.
By this time, we were getting hungry and we lucky to find a table at Tianguez, on the square, right below the museum’s entrance. It’s a popular place with tourists, too pricey for most locals, but we needed somewhere to rest our feet and try some traditional dishes. The food was excellent, but the waiters were a little overwhelmed by the rush of guests from a nearby tourist bus, so we had to be patient. We ended up returning another day, to find the place almost empty, and I was able to try the seco de chivo (goat stew) for the first time. Delicious!
Recharged, we set off to see the Centro Cultural Metropoltano, the colonial building has been beautifully restored and we’re told that it was built on the site of a pre-Hispanic Inca palace. It was in turn, a Jesuit school for over 170 years, then an army barracks after the Jesuits were expelled in the late 1700s and then a prison of sorts for a group of revolutionaries in 1809. Temporary art exhibitions are often housed here, but there was little to see when we were there. I did admire the unusual grand staircases in each wing though.
I was pretty sure that Anil would have seen all he wanted to see that day, but just the same, I steered him towards the Basilica high on a hill north of the old town. The basilica took several decades to construct, beginning in 1926. We’d both read about the unusual decorative features on the outside of the building; instead of the usual gargoyles found on Gothic churches, this one has indigenous animals carved as water spouts.
You cannot imagine my surprise when Anil told me he was keen on climbing the church’s towers for a view of the city from high above. The description of the route is almost enough to put off everyone but the most intrepid, but if Anil was game, so was I. He bought the tickets for us and we set off. Fortunately, the first three floors can be reached by an elevator; you exit at the choir loft.
From there you enter a small door and find yourself in the towering space above the central nave. There is a wooden boardwalk to cross, described as ‘rickety’ in our guidebook, but not in bad shape at all. At the end of the walkway, visitors have to climb a near-vertical ladder to a small doorway that leads to the outside of the basilica.
The views from the platform are pretty incredible, but so is the open metal staircase that goes up two dramatic levels to reach the small, open pergola on the rooftop. I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to attempt to climb higher. I told Anil I would give it a go, but I lost my nerve half-way up the first flight, and had to come back down again.
It wasn’t until someone came down from the top and told me it was a rock-solid landing, with amazing views, that I ever began to consider making another attempt. This time, I hung on to the ladder rungs in front of me and stared at my clenched knuckles instead of looking through the rungs to the buildings far below. In this way I was able to overcome my fear of heights and the accompanying vertigo and make it to the top.
Anil had far less difficulty with the windy perch than I did, and I stayed only long enough to take several photos and started back down again. I climbed down backwards, gripping the rungs once again and felt an overwhelming sense of relief when I reached the balcony once again. I have to say I was pretty proud of myself; I’ve had a lifelong fear of falling and when I was young, had recurring dreams about being on the top of tall, swaying buildings.
I guess I could have called this journal entry ‘Maniac Monday’ for all the things we packed into one day, ending with a daredevil climb to the top of a Gothic cathedral. Instead of taking a day off to rest, Tuesday saw us visiting more historic sites, but this time, our feet stayed firmly on the ground.