Slept well last night, but I haven’t been able to shake this feeling of being light headed from the altitude (a good sherpa I would not make). Breakfast at the hotel overlooking Plaza Santa Domingo, and then out to explore Quito. Like any city, it has many different neighbourhoods, small clusters of streets, shops and houses. Our hotel is in the Old City, which is both poor and beautiful. There are narrow cobblestone streets, impressive churches, ancient architecture and a view of the mountains that surround the city.
We walked around Plaza Santa Domingo first, and soon after, Plaza San Francisco. Pigeons numbered in the hundreds there and the boys bought some chips to feed them. Fawn felt nutritional guilt, but both the boys and pigeons were happy. They flew in large flocks around our heads, the boys ducking from them dramatically.
There was also a small cultural museum there that housed a curious collection of clay figurines in various sex positions. I took pictures. And notes.
Dogs are common in the city, all strays, wandering aimlessly, looking for handouts. I can’t imagine how Oscar would fit in here. He’s so goofy and friendly, while these dogs are all so painfully street-wise. They would have no idea what to make of each other. I guess the same can often be said of us humans too.
On now to visit a few churches, one at Plaza San Francisco, as well as one known locally as La Compañia, a behemoth that took 160 years to build. There was more gold inside that church than I’ve ever seen in one place, it was completely overwhelming. There was even a pivoting mirror placed in the nave in a way that let you easily appreciate the (very ornate) ceiling. I was so disappointed to find there was no photography allowed inside.
Walking around the city, I could feel cultural differences settling in – the relative poverty, the dirt, the old cars, the crazy driving, the narrow streets. So many things, storefronts, buildings, vehicles, are battered and weathered. It’s an odd process, naturally absorbing these differences until you are blind to them. Culture shock wears off when these things become the new normal. It takes time, but this process may be one of the most important parts of traveling and I always look forward to it. Expanding, accepting, and sliding your viewpoint to one a little more aware. Unexpectedly, there’s almost a sense of peace that comes with it. But now, when I return home, I think life there will seem decadent and unnecessarily shiny.
Time now for lunch, highlighted by Gary and Griffin ordering the guinea pig, a popular local dish (they both thought it would have been better if it was crispier…!). Afterward, we stopped at the hotel to call my mom and wish her a happy birthday via Skype. While the wifi connection was iffy at best, she loved it.
We were shortly on our way again, to the Teleferico, a local attraction where Griffin and I took a cable car up 3000 feet (900m) to the top of Mount Loma. The air was even thinner and it was cold. Like, 3C degrees COLD (36F). There was, of course, a great view, the clouds settled below us, and we could even look down on planes coming in to land. A great experience. With the low oxygen, walking up the stairs to the various look-outs was pretty taxing, and we quickly were short of breath. Our t-shirts and shorts weren’t cutting it in the cold so we took some quick snaps and then headed back down.
We stopped next at the nearby Vulqano Amusement Park, a sad, mostly abandoned place (though to be fair it was a weekday, in the off season) where the boys spent some time exhausting themselves on the trampolines (again, thin air) and checking out the video games.
The language barrier has already been challenging. I’m learning individual Spanish words quickly, but it’s always awkward and slightly embarrassing trying to communicate. I’m grateful for the Spanish Fawn knows. It’s also limited, but her trips to Spain and Mexico are coming in handy for us, and she often speaks for the group. It’s definitely inspiring me to learn more. I’ve got a Spanish app on my iPhone – Spanish for Dummies, in fact – and it’s actually very funny. You can play the words in Spanish but they’re spoken by a man who sounds like he’s trying to pick up women. He has a deep, sexy voice, and you can practically hear his eyebrows cocking with everything he says. “Baaaan-yohssss” (toilet!). Amazing.
Dinner back at the hotel restaurant and early to bed now for our trip to the Galapagos Islands – tomorrow!
(March 7, 2012)