Tuesday, July 31, 2012

2012, 2nd – 8th July: Quito, Ecuador

For the full complement of photos corresponding to this blog entry, use the following link to the set of photos in my Flickr pages:

Upon crossing the border from Colombia to Ecuador near Ipiales (Colombia) and Tulcán (Ecuador), the sudden change in scenery was dramatic. On heading south towards Quito, the steep, thin and deep valleys of the mountains on the Colombia side immediately changed to far broader and flatter valleys in Ecuador, with some plateaus flanked by more gently sloping mountains. This more forgiving landscape may be one explanation for the sudden improvement in road quality compared to Colombia. On the Ecuadorian Pan American Highway (the main road running north-south through the country), I enjoyed a journey where I felt like I was getting somewhere (unlike many of the routes in Colombia which can be painfully slow).

Quito – The City

Like so many Andean cities along the west of the continent, Quito is linear with its shape a function of the mountains that line each side. At an elevation of 2850 metres (9,350 feet) it has a pleasant temperature, though one often switches between jumper on, jumper off as it is only warm in the radiated heat of direct sunlight. The mountains which are always visible create a very picturesque backdrop to the city scenes.

The highlight of the city is the historic centre with its nicest plazas being Plaza Grande and Plaza San Francisco. The inside of the cathedral on Plaza Grande is very ornate, with an impressive amount of golden adornments. The nearby small street (pedestrian only) of La Ronda with its many restaurants and bars comes alive at night (particularly weekends). Climbing the high towers of the Basílica del Voto Nacional gave me great views of the historic district.

Quito´s Historic District as Viewed from the Top of Basílica del Voto Nacional

Plaza Grande in the Historic Centre

Monasterio de San Franciso in the Historic Centre

North of the old town is the modern La Mariscal district. It has been dubbed ´Gringoland´ because of the number of hostels, US style bars and restaurants as well as countless tour agencies. I did not particularly like it.

On the hill north west of La Mariscal are buildings housing the works of the late Ecuadorian artist Guayasamín. In the modern Capilla del Hombre are his works expressing the suffering of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador as well as those elsewhere in the world. The works are very impressive and, to me, have influences from Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon. The setting for Capilla del Hombre is very pleasant with commanding views of the city below and the mountains beyond.

I took a ride on the teleférico (cable car) that rises to the Cruz Loma viewing point above the city just after dusk for great night time views of the city. A very sedate way to get to 4100 metres (13,450 feet)!

Quito at Night from Cruz Loma (at Top of Teleférico)

On an excursion with my language school we visited a town north of Quito to lunch on cuy (guinea pig). The type of cuy on offer was large and half an animal is enough for one lunch. The taste was rich (a little like game meat); however, there was a lot of skin and grease. I would not rush to eat it again. Further south in Peru and Bolivia I may find the smaller variety which are meant to be less greasy. If I eat one of those I could truly say that I have eaten a pet (I recall my sisters and I having guinea pigs as pets when we were children)!

A Cuy (Guinea Pig) That Has Nodded Off on a Potato Pillow

The Equatorial Line

One day I travelled two hours north of the city centre to visit the equatorial line. If any readers visit the same place, avoid the ´theme park´ style complex which is not good and which is located on an incorrectly calculated equator line. The ´true´ (more accurate) equator line lies just to the side and was plotted much later using military GPS. This is the true line as ´the plug hole does not lie´. At this location, part of the tour includes the famous experiment with the basin full of water – it is this experiment that proves that they have got the equatorial line correctly plotted.

The basin of water is one of those experiments you have to see with your own eyes. I can appreciate that the resultant vector of rotational and gravitational forces causes the water in a plug hole to rotate one way in the northern hemisphere (anti-clockwise) and the other in the southern hemisphere (clockwise). However, I would have expected that one would have to travel hundreds of miles away from the equator (either side) to see the different effects. However, the effect was there on the equator line, in fact it ´did my head in´ to see the effects over distances of mere metres, so I jumped from one tour group to the next to see it done four or five times to convince myself that I was not seeing things or being duped.

A simple, unadulterated, sink is placed in the northern hemisphere (just four or five metres north of the equatorial line) and as the water drains it clearly rotates anti-clockwise. When the experiment is repeated with the sink directly above the equatorial line the water drains straight down with no rotation! When the sink is then moved south of the line the water clearly rotates clockwise as it drains. No tricks, no gadgets - very cool!

Exactly on the Equatorial Line - Water Draining Without Rotation Down a Plug Hole
(The Floating Green Leaf is to Help Indicate Direction of Water Movement)

More Spanish

During my time in Quito I stayed with a great family (arranged through the language school) and took five mornings of one-to-one Spanish conversational practice and lessons, which were very economical. Staying with a friendly family was so much better than being in a hostel.

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