Saturday, April 16, 2011

Day 1: Quito

Quito is the capital of Ecuador, and it has a long history as an early settlement (approx. 10,000 years ago) that was taken over by the Inca (12th to 13th century), then again by the Spanish (16th century), and finally taken back by the indigenous peoples (1809-1830). Since then, they still have a tendency to oust whichever leader is in charge.

From Ecuador [click to view album]

It was a pleasant morning, so we started the day with a visit to Parque Itchimbia (above), where we could see a good part of the city from a bird's eye view. The old city is set on a plateau in the Andes, surrounded by active volcanos. Quito has grown in the last century or so quite a bit, into the northern area and surrounding valleys, but the old city is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, and is continually undergoing restoration.

We visited three churches in Quito:
  1. The Basilica is a gothic revival cathedral that looks pretty much like any other gothic revival cathedral except for its gargoyles. Instead of the scary regular gargoyles, they used Ecuadorian animals, like iguanas, llamas, Galapagos tortoises (below), and blue-footed boobies. Awesome.
  2. From Ecuador
  3. The San Franciscan Church includes a monastery and a beautiful courtyard (below). We also got a peek at the restoration going on in the main chapel. The roof of the choral loft has intricate woodwork.
  4. From Ecuador
  5. The Jesuit Church (photos not allowed) took 160 years to build because the Catholics didn't want them there. Also, they didn't let the indigenous people into the churches until 1830-1860. How did they expect to convert the natives, if they didn't let them in? Dumb. Anyway, apparently Jesuits have a lot of money, because just about every surface inside this one was covered in gold leaf. Also, Ecuador has a lot of gold and silver, which is why the Spanish wanted to conquer them.
From Ecuador
We had lunch at a restaurant (above, peach building straight ahead) on the Quito commons, or Metropolitan Center, next-door to the presidential palace (above, left). Lunch was a delicious introduction to Ecuadorian cuisine. Instead of bread, we had fried plantains with spicy dipping sauces (pumpkin, peanut, and tree tomato). They offered four juices: guanavana (a reptile-looking fruit with a grainy white center and black seeds--though it just looked like a white drink when it got to me), blackberry juice, "mixta" (a mix of guanavana and blackberry), and orange juice. I don't think anybody bothered with orange juice. We unfortunately didn't get a photo of the main course (chicken stuffed with ricotta and cilantro, with uvilla (cape gooseberry) sauce, potatoes, and mixed veggies), but we did get a picture and video (below) of the dessert: ice cream served over dry ice. I officially love Ecuadorian food.

From Ecuador

After lunch we drove out to the equator. There's a monument where they thought it was until they got GPS and discovered it's actually 200 meters away. Now there's a little tourist museum on the line where they showed us the recipe for shrinking heads, and an authentic shrunken head (thanks to a CAMS project, I already had the recipe, but it was still cool to see the real thing). Also exciting was the drain demonstration: water really DOES train the other way in the southern hemisphere! But even more amazing, it doesn't swirl at all when it's ON the equator.

Edited to add: It's a farce! I challenge you to try this experiment, replicating the no-swirl as well as the swirl in either direction, and post a video.

From Ecuador

From Ecuador

We ended the day with a lecture on the history and culture of Ecuador from an anthropology professor at University San Francisco. He covered a lot of material, and I took notes, but I haven't digested it yet. I'm also still digesting dinner, which was steak with asparagus spears and fried potato balls, with banana cake and vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Click here for the whole day's album.

Tomorrow: On to Galapagos! (Internet availability unknown.)

See vacation summary (with links to each day).


  1. Agh, I missed your Ecuador posts in my Google Reader somehow! I'm so excited! Shrunken heads! Blue-footed booby gargoyles! The equator!!!

    This post makes me want to use so many exclamation points!

    I am off to look at your photos/videos. Ross says he is suspicious of the water draining demonstration. I said "Erica's a scientist!"

  2. Don't look at Snopes! Ross is a party pooper!



  3. Nope, Ross is right. I'm not a physicist. I've since found out that the Corealis effect only really matters on a very large scale. These guys must practice to lift the plug very steadily, and even so, with the one "on the equator," you can see it starting to swirl at the very end. They must give it a little help to swirl in one direction or the other on the others. Still, I want to try it at home, to see if I can make it swirl in either direction.