It has been a crazy, non-stop first week in Ecuador. I have decided to divide my stories about it into parts as to avoid extremely long posts. So here goes part I.
We arrived in Quito on Monday night where our amazing guide Maria picked us up at the airport. From there we drove to Otavalo, where we would spend the next three nights. We began our Tuesday with a hike to see many Incan ritual sites, including a bath, sundial, and prayer circle. The hike was a lovely introduction to the high altitude of Ecuador and the tricks it likes to play on my endurance. The hike took us to Cuicocha, a beautiful, placid lake at the base of a volcano. Cuicocha also contains two islands, which we thoroughly observed by boat. The greenery of the trees and plants looked as if they were painted on and the boat ride made me feel like I was in a movie. I definitely understand why the Incas built ritual sites nearby.
After a traditional Ecuadorian lunch and some shopping in a little market in the center of Otavalo, we visited a clothing workshop where we were shown traditional Ecuadorian clothing, watched a man weave part of a rug, smelled medicinal plants, and visited some guinea pigs. An interesting fact about Ecuador is that apparently guinea pig or ‘cuy,’ is considered a normal meal, and Cuenca (the city where we will be spending the majority of our time in Ecuador) is known for it. Needless to say, as a vegetarian I will not be trying cuy… Later that day we also visited a house where they make traditional instruments, such as flutes.
On Wednesday we left Otavalo for Quito. On the way we stopped at Cayambe, or “la mitad del mundo,” because it is literally the middle of the world. At this particular spot, the latitude line is at zero. We learned that there are particular times where the sun travels directly on the latitude line at this spot, such as during the summer and winter solstices. Additionally, there are a few pre-Incan markings in the mountainside overlooking la mitad del mundo that line up exactly with the sun’s path on these occasions. It is rather mind-boggling to me to think about how people so early on understood space and astronomy to the point that they built sites and created markings that coincide so well with the way the world works.
Once we finally arrived in Quito, the capital of Ecuador and a sprawling city surrounded by mountains, we visited “La Cepilla del Hombre, a museum that displays the work of Oswaldo Guayasamín, an influential modern artist of Ecuador. Guayasamín’s powerful paintings use intricate colors and unique imagery to show the suffering that he saw around the world. There was one painting that particularly resonated with me of a mother and a father grieving for their deceased child. Guayasamín’s depiction of the mother’s hands, long, contorted, and covering her face really conveyed her immense pain and sorrow to me. The museum sits below the house that Guayasamín lived in for his last twenty years of life. After taking a tour of the huge house, decorated with lots of art and expensive furnishings, it was hard to believe that Guayasamín really understood suffering, as he clearly did not suffer himself. Nevertheless, I really appreciated his art and found it beautiful.
Our day in Quito continued with a three hour walking tour of the city. We visited two cathedrals, walked down beautiful cobblestone streets, learned about the history of the city and its important buildings, and observed the city and its people going about their daily lives. The tour finished at the statue of the Virgin of Quito, a huge monument of a lady that overlooks the city. We were able to climb up to the top of the statue, which made for an amazing view of Quito.
That night, a friend on my trip invited me to come with her to have dinner with a friend who had studied abroad at her high school but was from Quito. The friend, along with her sister and father, picked us up from our hotel and gave us a tour of the city at night. We ended up back at the Virgin of Quito statue and had dinner at a restaurant nearby.
The fruit in Ecuador is very interesting. There are so many varieties, much of which I had never heard of before this trip, and they are so much sweeter and better tasting than those in the US. The Ecuadorians thus make juice out of it all and serve it at every meal. So far I’ve tried coconut, pineapple, raspberry, papaya, and star fruit juices, plus a few that I don’t know the words for in English, if there even are. I think I’m going to like this country!
So much for a short post. All of this adventure in only two days!! More to come about the jungle soon!