Sunday, March 20, 2005 - Palm Sunday in Old Town Quito

Our last day left in Ecuador, and we still hadn't explored Quito, our base of operations. So this morning we took a trole (trolley) to El Centro Historico, where strict zoning laws have kept the 300-year-old plazas and churches looking pretty much the same as when Ecuador was a Spanish colony. At each trole stop people boarded, but nobody got off. Apparently everyone in Quito had the same idea as we did, to spend the day in the Old Town. By the time we get off at Plaza Grande we were squished.

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Coin-operated street performer

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Plaza Grande, Quito Old Town

The place was bustling. It was Palm Sunday and palm mercados abounded. Anything you could weave out of a palm frond, they had it - baskets, crosses, bracelets, and more. We came across several outdoor religious services in the plazas and observed part of a Catholic Mass at La Basilica. But there weren't just religious things going on. There were street performers and vendors and people just milling about.

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Palm Mercados

We walked and walked, visiting Plaza de la Independencia (aka Plaza Grande), Plaza Santo Domingo, Plaza del Teatro, and Plaza San Francisco. Plaza San Francisco is dominated by the colossal Monasterio de San Francisco, built in the 1500s. We enjoyed the colorful street scenes as much as the plazas.

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Colorful Quito with Basilica background

The highlight of the day was La Basilica del Voto Nacional, a typical over-the-top gothic-style Catholic church, located on a hill at the edge of the Old Town. We spent about two hours there. Less typical were the gargoyles, which weren't gargoyles at all, but rather fashioned to resemble real Ecuadorian wildlife.

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Ecuadorian gargoyles

It's $2 to enter the towers at the Basilica, where you can climb ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP. And there's no pesky guards or safety railings up there to keep you from dying a foolish death. Awesome! First we climbed up several flights of steps to the level even with the roof of the sanctuary, where we crossed a wooden walkway running across the roof which took us to the outside of one of the towers. From there we continued up the outside using a series of ladders.

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Walking on the roof during Palm Sunday service

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View from the tower

Then we came down and crossed over to the other tower, where we could go even higher. We climbed more stairs, a spiral staircase, and then ladder after rusty ladder to the top. We were past the clock, even higher than the bell. Nothing was left above us but the little cross at the top. The topmost level had nothing to stand on but wire mesh and beams. Some morons were actually hanging precariously out the open windows, but Tom talked me out of it. We had brilliant views of the city, and we were as high as La Virgen de Quito at the summit of El Panecillo.

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Jana at the tippy-top

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El Panecillo

We tried to eat in the Old Town but had trouble finding a place. One restaurant we went into was out of everything but sausages and eggs. This must have been a busier-than-usual Sunday. So we returned to our touristy neighborhood and had a Mexican dinner at Bulloos. It was good, but we would rather have eaten at Tu Madre again. Unfortunately, they are closed on Sundays.

By 6:00 we were back at our hotel, and just in time. The moment we returned it started POURING down rain and continued all night. Rain might be just what this city needs to wash the pollution out of the air.

 

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