Thursday, September 10, 2015

Discovering Quito and nearby Papallacta Pass

Pam and I arrived in Ecuador two days before our flight to the Galapagos. We had an extra day to discover the city of Quito before our formal tour began with a trip into the mountains (for hummingbirds). So, on day one we joined two other couples- also in our group going to Galapagos - in a guided tour of Quito.

Quito lies 9,350 feet above sea level, so a leisurely day to become accustomed to the thin air was helpful before going even higher on day two.
We discovered a host of welcoming Ecuadorians including our knowledgeable guide, Patricia Villarreal. The ride into the city confirmed that staying out near the new airport was a  wise decision by our tour leader.  It is an enormous city with serious traffic congestion.

Our first stop was at the statue of the Winged Virgin that overlooks the old town.  The statue is constructed of cast metal plates anchored to an internal steel frame work. One can ascend the stairs inside for an expansive view of both the old city of Quito and, to the left, the volcanic mountain that Marshal Sucre descended with the army of independence to expel the Spanish in 1822.

Note at the base of the statue is a serpent on a leash that is held by the winged Virgin Mary. Of course, the message is that the serpent of the creation story is subdued by faith.

There is an outside viewing balcony on the statue that reveals a bustling city and a multitude of volcanic peaks in every direction.

We next went into the center of the old city at the Plaza de la Independencia.

Central to the plaza is a monument to independence with a cathedral behind it and the presidential place to the right. In the plaza we found a mix of tourists, locals, vendors and police.


We found one lady selling beautiful woven scarfs. Her prices were a bargain, too.

We explored the sights beginning with the entrance to the Presidential Palace.  Then we went down a side street to some of the many churches. No photos were allowed in the gold encrusted church on our right, so only a door could be shown.  It was in sharp contrast to a nearby Jesuit church where a mass was in progress.  This one was far less formal, and the service was enthusiastic and lyrical.

The entire day could easily have been filled with the sights of the old town, but we moved on for a casual lunch, and a visit to a cultural  museum located exactly on the equator.

While the day's activity had not been strenuous, we did feel the effects of the thin air. 

While we toured Quito, more of our group arrived at our lodging, a 300 year old hacienda converted to a luxury garden hotel. It was a very relaxing location with a great restaurant providing a great conclusion to our day.


Early the next morning we went to the mountains for hummingbirds. Guango Lodge is just past the crest of Papallacta Pass (nearly 14000 feet).  The day was misty and cool, just perfect for bringing in scores of hummingbirds to the feeders.  Here are a few of the birds we saw.

Now, one would expect the hummingbirds to be the  highlight of our day in the mountains, but one huge surprise remained. As we crested Papallacta Pass and headed down towards Quito, our alert driver spotted a bear on edge of the road.  He quickly pulled off the road, and we soon saw that it was a Spectacled Bear, actually a sow and cub. They crossed just upslope from us and continued up a very steep mountainside.  These are the only bears in South America and extremely unusual to see.

We continued towards our hotel only to discover that the active Cotopaxi Volcano was in clear view just outside Quito.  Another stop and and good view of the ash venting some 50 kilometers away.

At that point it was hard to say what was the highpoint of our first two days.  It was dinner and early to bed for a 6:30 flight to Galapagos.  There would be a lot of 4 and 5 am  wake-ups for the next ten days. 


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