Quito, Part 2: Carnaval, Centro Historico and Straddling the Equator.

I don’t know if it is my lack of nuanced Spanish or Latin Americans’ insouciant approach to time and schedules, but we missed Carnaval. Or at least we missed the exuberant parade and costumes that Carnaval is noted for. Celebrations go on for days, but Monday was the big day and an online search for times and places came up with only the vaguest of details. When I asked a server at a restaurant, she very confidently told us that the parade was at 1:00.

Bueno – we grabbed the bus for Centro in great anticipation. When we arrived at 12:30, streams of people were walking down the hill, away from the central plaza. This did not look good and when I asked someone on the street about the parade, he told me that the parade was on – to keep heading up the hill. Those crowds of people? He couldn’t explain that, but figured they were just going home.

We kept going up the hill, but with very low expectations, and sure enough – we missed the party. But…not entirely. Tons of people still swarming around the plaza and the cans of spray foam and coloured powder still out in full force. Remember I told you I had read that Quito outlawed all that foolishness? Not true.

Coloured powder was out in force as well, and these two women were happy to pose.

I can’t tell you why foam, powder and water are such a part of Carnaval, but everyone takes it all in good fun. Spray cans of foam were on sale everywhere and it seemed to me that if you walked around with a can in hand, it was game on. The participants were on the younger side, and they mainly left the older folks alone. The tone was more of fun and respectful behaviour among willing participants.

However…we did get sprayed once! We were sitting in the plaza, watching all the festivities, when a fabulous trans woman – over six feet of hair, nails, skin-tight mini and stilettos – pranced by. She caught our eye and gave us a playful spray, as if to say, “Caught you looking!”

We were sad to miss the parade, but still – it felt like a celebration and it was fun being a part of it all. Another time, we would plan this all better and hopefully have better information. We found out too late about the famous Fiesta de Las Flores y Las Frutas in Ambato, a town about two hours from Quito. That parade is apparently something to behold; each float an intricate creation of flowers and fruit. Next time.

Quito’s Centro Historico is a walker’s delight, albeit tough on the hamstrings. It is extremely hilly, very photogenic and compact enough to be walked in one day.

Street view from the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus.

One corner of the Plaza Grande.

Plaza Grande.

The intriguing Araycaria tree, also known as Monkey Puzzle tree, although I have never see this puffy version back home.

An old theatre, that has been re-purposed to house fancy shops and restaurants.

This sculpture by Cesar Bravomalo, called “Chulla Quiteno” was interesting to me, as the man has a slightly cheeky and defiant expression. When I Googled it, the rough translation interprets a “Chulla” as being “lower-middle-class, despised by the upper class and not possessing good character.” I wish I could discover more about the significance of this statue and its sculptor. Is it an Oliver Twist story?

Of course, all is not cathedrals and museums in Centro Historico. The first day we explored this area, Stephen was walking along with his phone out and a woman came by to warn him that the area is “muy peligroso” (very dangerous), and to keep his phone hidden. Once again, we were so touched by the attention and concern we receive from citizens.

To put it all in perspective, we are unfazed by being in areas where there is a higher chance of being pickpocketed or scammed. We behave accordingly and do not find it frightening. If I was poor and hungry, I might consider pickpocketing as well. But we really do appreciate the efforts of the locals to save us from ourselves.

All of this to say, there is a lot of poverty in Colombia and Ecuador, and more so after two years of Covid. It is upsetting. We see a lot of begging here and what is really tough is to see the kids selling little trinkets and gum. How can you refuse a child? Everything we read and are told is to do that very thing as an effort is being made to try and keep kids in school, but still. We are grandparents and it is wrenching to see how life’s lottery rolls out well for some and so differently for others.

On a lighter note, I’m trying to figure this one out. It’s probably not a fetish. I’m putting my money on him setting up a sidewalk display of either pants or tights.

The Basilica de Voto Nacional is Quito’s centrepiece. This 19th century Neo-Gothic church took over 100 years to build and possesses seriously impressive stained glass windows, a massive arched interior and twin spires with clocks, both of them telling the wrong time. See that spire in the middle? There are exterior staircases, nearly vertical, that can be climbed by those for whom vertigo is not an issue.

Needless to say, they present a fun challenge for many tourists. Neither Stephen nor I could manage it, but we did climb the 13 stories to get to the top.

We did have the option of staying inside and climbing a steep circular staircase up three stories; apparently this is the highest point in Quito. Stephen stayed put while I climbed up, and it was worth the pounding heart, but we both felt quite giddy once we were back on the ground.

The front of the Basilica.

The interior.

Stained glass window.

There is a spot somewhere in Quito that marks the equator exactly, but the main attraction is Mitad del Mundo, a small city 26 km. north of Quito that has been established to formerly mark the spot.

In fact, the exact line is several metres off, but this is as close as you will get to standing on the equator. The path leading to the Monument of the Ecquator is lined with palm trees and statues of Ecuadorian notables.

The monument is an impressive 98 feet high, topped with a 15 foot globe that weighs 5 tonnes.

In front of the monument is a pole and tiles outlining the equinoxes and a yellow line leading to the monument, signifies the equator. Southern Hemisphere (S) and Northern Hemisphere (N) lie on either side.

The area of whitewashed shops and restaurants is clean and appealing. We forgot to bring our passports to be stamped with the Mitad del Mundo special stamp, but we were able to bring back a 2″x2″ stamp on heavy white paper that we can attach to the back of our passports.

One trick you can try at Latitude 0 degree, 0’0″ is to balance an egg on its end. There are two pedestals, filled with gravel and possessing a flat-topped nail upon which to balance the egg.

We watched a few people attempt to balance and only one woman was successful. Neither Stephen nor I could achieve the balance, but this couple were both lucky!

And finally – the requisite photo. How many millions of people have straddled the equator?

Our final day in Quito. We missed the museums, in part due to wonky Carnaval hours, in part to poor planning. We walked for hours and hours and saw a great deal, met some wonderful people and now, with the biggest city behind us, feel quite excited to see more of the country.

Next stop – Mindo; a tiny bird-watching centre where hummingbirds rule and we might have a glimpse of at least a few of the estimated 550 species who live there.

16 thoughts on “Quito, Part 2: Carnaval, Centro Historico and Straddling the Equator.

  1. You are looking fab, Ginny! Enjoying your travels so much! It brings back fond memories of my month long Spanish school & homestay in Quito and Cuenca back in 2014, one of the best trips I’ve had.


    1. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the postings. I really think the only answer to my inability to progress with Spanish is to do the same – arrange for a lengthy Spanish school and homestay.

      We spoke with a young woman yesterday whose English was perfect and unaccented. She has never left Ecuador, but she loves language and claims she learns by listening to interviews of actors and singers. Her favourite is Lady Gaga!


  2. More great photos and stories, thanks! In your second photo, I remember walking up to that statue of Jesus and the great views, and I also remember doing the equator visit. Have fun, stay safe, and thanks for your comments about the troubling disoparities between the haves and the have nots.


    1. Wow – you walked up to the statue of Jesus – that is admirable! We were going to take the teleferico, but the weather just never cooperated to give us the clear skies and long views.
      As for the disparities, they are of course also in Mexico and it is always a reminder to me of how much of our lives is out of our hands.


  3. Ginny you look 20 years younger – must be the walking !!! We were also at that Ecquator spot. Don stood on one side and me on the other with a smooch in the middle !! He took a picture of me in just the right position where it looked like I was holding that big ball in the air. Brought back lots of memories for me. Greater times ahead.

    Love Lyn


    1. Joy, we have seen photos of the snow on the island – wow! Two weeks ago I saw photos of the early rhodos – crazy weather. Never mind – another week or so and it will all be gone.
      Hope you had a soft landing back home – it’s always great to go away and great to come home again.


  4. You have definitely whetted our appetite for Ecuador. Love the equator straddle picture…Especially the joyful “life is good” look! Looking forward to hearing more.
    Heading to V.I. on March 30 for a quick visit to verify that this grandchild business is for real 🥰. Sorry to miss you guys this time around, but certain we will connect in the summer to hear all the stories. Have a cold beer on a sunny patio for us 🍺


    1. Kris, what a lovely time for you all. I remember my mother saying to me that seeing her daughter pregnant was such a moving experience. (I felt very moved seeing my daughter-in-law pregnant!) Send photos!
      And yes, we will absolutely connect again in the summer, and will raise a glass to your new grandchild. In the meantime, you can bet on us having a cold beer on your behalf. :>)


  5. Agreed! You are looking wonderful, My friend. Travel agrees with you both. This part of your blog was very interesting and makes us wish we were there——familiar story. Standing on the equator must have been a rush!

    Take care and keep the pictures coming. Joan


    1. Thanks Joan – I think travel does keep me going, for sure. Although right now we are sitting in our little cabin in Mindo listening to a dog lose his mind over nothing, as dogs here are wont to do. The locals never seem to notice, and I have to learn to do the same.
      It is indeed a weird feeling to know that you are in the middle of the world. I hd a mental image of looking up, which is where the rest of our family and friends are. But of course, looking up is not right, either.
      Hope you have your housing situation organized now. xo


  6. Sorry to hear you missed the Carnaval parade but happy to hear there were still some things for you to see. Loved the shot of you straddling the equator – quite the memory!


  7. Well I must say those last two blogs were so very interesting, as is all your other ones. Quito sounds and looks like the place to go for an adventurous couple like you two. Such a colourful place and straddling the equator reminds me of our sailing trip crossing the equator. Keep enjoying life and I look forward to your wonderful informative blogs.

    Liked by 1 person

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