Waking up suddenly in sweats, I found myself on top of a bunk bed staring down at two guys who were showered and getting changed. They were clearly hung-over and couldn’t help but clatter around the room making as much noise as they possibly could. I still felt completely nauseated and it took me a while to introduce myself to the guys and explain I was a bit disorientated as I’d just come over from Auckland.
It was a strange feeling – I was finally in South America but my body and mind just didn’t react to it positively. I headed round the corner for breakfast with the two guys before I took a shower and a cab into the centre of Quito where I was to stay for the next three nights. In between, I then suddenly realised – I forgot my sister was expecting her first child so I quickly logged onto the internet to see if there was any news. Roman Thomas Wise was born at 9.01am on May 2nd weighing in at 7lbs 1oz! I fortunately managed to have a one way excitable Skype call with my sister Deborah and my brother-in-law Laurie, but the connection was terrible. I never felt so far away from home in my life at that point. Although I was about to start the best part of my journey, the one I had most looked for too, I also yearned to be at home to see Roman. Compounded by my biliousness, it took me a while to get to grips again and head out into the old town to check into the Secret Garden Hostel.
As I checked in, I then suddenly came to life again. Turning round from the reception desk, I was hit by a stunning view of Quito. The city sits 2,800 metres above sea water in amongst the hills of the top of the Andes and is the highest legal capital city in the world. Quito itself was born following the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors and the Real Audiencia back in the 1530s and developed from basic farming and peasantry to a rich trade in textiles. The hostel was situated high up on top of one of the surrounding hillsides so we could see for miles out into the distance. I then also twigged why I was still so nauseated – I was forgetting that I was most likely acclimatising to the altitude.
Quito wasn’t quite how I imagined it. I expected the city to be a huge ragged cosmopolitan, but, for some reason, it completely alluded me as to its setting high up in the hills. The city was sprawling – everywhere you looked, you could see Quito’s suburbs eat away at the lush green forests around. But, at the same time, its expanse felt quite isolated and compact. The hillsides seemed to hold the city in its cup, protected from the outside world.
The buildings weren’t particularly overbearing either. The streets were narrow, long and windy, with old white unkempt Spanish empire buildings crumbling away. They were cobbled like any central or southern Spanish town. The central areas themselves were generally well kept in terms of cleanliness – the buildings themselves just had old rustic and enticing character. Shops were open selling all kinds of merchandise, food and textiles – almost lining up like markets, but housed in bricks and mortar. The Ecuadorians themselves were also quite petite in general. Wandering around, I was of course anxious as to my safety, knowing the tales of danger that lurked on every street corner. But grasping my camera in hand, I didn’t feel at all perturbed by the city. It seemed quite peaceful – it was bustling in parts, but generally, it didn’t feel like a capital city.
As I passed through the Plaza Grande in the centre, taking in the old cathedral and Palacio del Gobierno (Town Hall), the locals all seemed quite pleasant.
Later, I walked down the Calle Garcia Moreno, passing the beautiful gold filled Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus (Church of Jesus’ Disciples) towards the Museo de la Ciudad (City Museum) which backed off the hills of El Panecillo where the statue of the Virgin Mary overlooked the city. The evidence of the Spanish pilgrimage was rife. As I stepped into the museum, camera hanging round my neck, I was then forewarned by the ticket seller – do not walk towards El Panecillo looking like that or you won’t come back in one piece. Note taken.
As I then visited the Plaza San Francisco, the earlier warning from the ticket booth seller at the museum started to plague me. Paying more attention to what was going on about me, I started to realise that the crumbling buildings actually surrounded a bigger issue to its people. A lot of the Quitorians were still poor – if this was central to the city, one could only imagine the suburbs. People did seem to be wandering around without objective. They were people searching for scraps of work or food. On street corners, shifty characters would lurk around. People would be transferring textiles and other merchandise on their backs from one place to another. The worn faces of the locals showed their struggle for survival. Wandering around the city market, I felt prying eyes on me. It could have been intrigue, it could have been more.
As night drew in, I headed back to the hostel. I met a mother and daughter from Canada, Janvier and Beverley as well as a girl from London called Sarah. In the evening we sat up in the rooftop bar overlooking the Quito skyline. A couple of fellow hostellers came back to report they’d been mugged just down the street – their cameras and wallets stolen. After meeting a couple of other people, Joanna and Ewan from the US as well as three or four others from Europe, they all had tales of being attacked or threatened. And I thought it was a peaceful place…
Quito Tourist Guide
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Quito and the Conquistadores
More Photography :
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters