Crime and Cathedrals in Quito
Kelsey and I are now back from the remote Andean highlands, so I can catch you up on all the magnificent adventures we´ve had so far...
During our last full day in Quito, Kelsey and I apparently set out with the unmistakeable sheen of sucker-gringas. In search of a tasty 'desayuno' (breakfast) we were halted by an oh-so-friendly gentleman, the exchange went something like this:
nice man: excuse me! excuse me! (he pointed animatedly at my behind)
confused Megan-gringa: what? what? my behind? (yes, I know it's fantastic, thank you, I was thinking)
Kelsey-gringa: oh no! What do you have all over you?
horrified Megan-gringa: (noticing the nasty looking yellow substance splattered all over her leg and bum) EW! What IS that?!
nice man: un momento! ven conmigo...(leads us into a store, hands us some meager little tissues)
Kelsey-gringa: That's so strange, where did it come from?
formerly nice and now sketchy man: (trying to take off our bags) Here, I take, I take your bags...
Skeptical gringas: um, no, I don't think so.
sketchy man: _______ (rapidly exit stage left)
My head whirling and my faith in mankind slightly tainted, we realized that we'd just starred in a classic distraction-scam - (the man wanted us to put down our bags and distract us while swiftly relieving us of our valuables). Perplexed, we stopped at a very local little diner, ordered the Ecuador cornbread equivalent for breakfast and attempted to wash away the mystery substance. Ah, the day was young and already full of adventure!
Since we'd already foiled a heinous criminal (ha!), the natural next step was an attempt at local transportation. We'd given in to tourist temptation and decided to visit the oh-so-wonderfully-cheesy 'mitad del mundo', which marks the supposed equator. Although our navigation of the bus system was a little bit shaky, we finally made it, snapped the appropriate photos and embarked upon the real reason for our trek out to the ecuador boonies - a breathtaking hike a nearby crater rim. Our path was narrow and mildly terrifying, and the precipitous 400m drop to the crater floor was seemingly the edge of the world (Kelsey was sure to cling to safety). The crater is about 4 km across and is home to an isolated community of 300 families. It looked as though someone had taken a giant scoop from the earth, leaving an enormous valley crowned by stunning green mountains and staggering cliffs. The entire scene was fringed by a halo of clouds inching in to fill the void. Simply breathtaking.
From our perch high above the world, we could also see the real equator marked by a monument of an ancient civilization 250m from the disney-world equivalent - apparently modern day technology is a titch inferior! Standing there, staring at the Ecuadorian distance, our indigenous guide played a mezmerizing little tune in commemoration of the powers of the ancients. Ahhh, que fabuloso.
Kels and I successfully manuevered our way back to Quito, bound and determined to pop into the massive cathedral we´d seen on our way to the fakequator. The cathedral - dubbed: ´la iglesia de la basilica del voto nacional' - looks as though it was plucked straight out of Gothic Europe. We soon learned from a kindly old man inside that it is a replica of Notre Dame - and that the hearty (or fool-hardy?) can climb to the top of the magnificent spires... You know I simply can´t resist such temptation! Kelsey gulped.
To reach the very top of the tallest towers, one must scale hundreds of stairs, saunter through the rafters on a rickety plank of wood, and clamber up a number of extremely questionable ladders. Kelsey stopped short of a number of opportunities - wide-eyed and mystified, she held my belongings as I very slowly conquered a construction jutting out over thin air. As cool as I pretended to be, I was shaking rather fiercely.
We also climbed to the belfry, where I actually got to ring the magnificent bells! From now on, I shall be known as Quasi-Meg-o. I left Kelsey in the belfry, pondering the dignity of a cathedral death as I went up to the second-to-last level...my intrepid spirit stopped short at the chicken-wire and rafter construction of the very top. Those perhaps a bit more foolish than I had even slipped outside the cathedral to squat upon a tiny stone outcrop. I couldn´t bring myself to stand a thousand feet (or more!) above quito on two feet of stone (woulda made a good story though...)
We clambered back down to earth, both shaken and stirred but wholly victorious. Our entire experience had been appropriately menacing - an effect certainly amplified by a very black and threatening sky. As the rain poured down, we imagined ourselves as part of an utterly tragic Gothic romance novel...
After an odd dinner of Ecuadorian-Chinese, Kelsey and I tucked it in for the night - ready for our next day departure to the Andean highlands.