Week 1 - Day 3
After we ate breakfast we had a great tour of the city of Quito. We primarily focused on churches and religious landmarks. These included the Church of San Francisco, the Basilica del Vota Nacional, La Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus and the Madonna on top of El Panecillo, a large hill in the western part of the city. All of the churches were absolutely amazing and I felt blessed to be able to visit them. The Church of San Francisco was interesting because it had a large square outside that was filled with worshipers as well as people selling helado (ice cream), what appeared to be some sort of lottery ticket, scarves, fruit, hats and basically anything you could imagine. We did not get to actually go into La Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus because they were holding mass. We did get to see a small part of mass in the Church of San Francisco.
The Basilica del Vota Nacional was probably my favorite because it offered the best view of the city from above. The Basilica was established in the late 1800s and our tour guide actually told us that it is still being worked on today, because when it is done being built it will be the end of the world. What a rumor! It is possible in the Basilica to go up into both the clock tower and a large spire that rises hundreds of feet in the air. Of course, this involves climbing several extremely steep and probably not up to code ladders but the view is worth it. It's a good thing I'm not afraid of heights. When you get up there you are treated with a 360 degree view of pretty much the whole of Quito. It is there that you truly get a perspective on how big Quito really is. It's shaped like a sausage- nearly forty miles long but only about five miles wide.
The Madonna on El Panecillo was also cool to see. El Panecillo means "small piece of bread" in Spanish. The Madonna was built in 1976 and is unusual because she has a pair of wings. The way the tour guide described it was that they were to help her escape from a dragon. After further research, I found that the Madonna is actually believed to be the Woman of the Apocalypse, who was attacked by a dragon when she was about to give birth to a son who would rule the world. The dragon was believed to be another form of Satan. There are many interpretations of the statue as well as the Woman of the Apocalypse so I won't go into too much more detail.
We had a neat experience when we went down one street on the way to another church when we spotted a man dressed as a statue standing completely still. At his feet was a box that said that if you put money in he would dance. Well, it's true! He did in fact dance if you put money in the box and then he was gracious enough to let us gringos take a bunch of pictures with him. It was a really neat piece of street performance and definitely something I had never seen before.
On our tour of Quito we actually got to see where the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, lives. It's not like in the states where you can't get anywhere near the White House without major security checks and all of that other stuff. The building that the president lives in is called the Palacio de Carondelet, or the Carondelet Palace. The building is right on a public square where there are many people and aside from a few guards around the actual doors there really wasn't much separating the president from the civilians. When we saw the Palacio de Carondelet, there was an Ecuadorian flag hanging outside which meant that Correa was in the building!
After our tour of the lovely city of Quito, we returned to the Hotel Akros to collect our luggage in order to fly to Cuenca. Our flight from Quito to Cuenca also went smoothly and it only took about 45 minutes which was nice. After we arrived in Cuenca I finally got to meet my host family! Nelly, Paul and Carolina seem very nice. It turns out that they have a girl staying with them who is also studying at Estudio Sampere. She is from Rhodes College in Tennessee and her name is Sarah. She also seems very nice. I was a little overwhelmed by the whole experience and I really couldn't understand what anyone was saying so I hope that tomorrow is better when I'm not so brain dead. Sarah is very good at Spanish and she helped me out to answer their questions, for which I was very grateful.
This evening has been a little difficult because I don't speak much Spanish and they don't speak much English but I hope that things get better. I am trying to get ready mentally for tomorrow, I have class at 8:45. Unfortunately, Sarah has class at 7:45 and she has to show me how to get to the school so I guess I will just have to wait there until it starts.