Week 6 – Quito, Ecuador
Hi everybody! We’re hailing you from Quito for another week. We still have no definitive plans as to when we’ll be moving on, so it’s a good job it’s an interesting city. This week we’ve got our culture on with museum visits and national ceremonies!
Today we decided to actually visit Capilla del Hombre, instead of gazing longingly through its gates on a national holiday! Capilla del Hombre (the Chapel of Man) is an art gallery designed by and dedicated to Oswaldo Guayasamín. He is one of Ecuador’s most famous painters, who lived from 1919-1999. Guayasamín was passionate about the injustices done to the indigenous people of South America, and was inspired to draw attention to their suffering through his art. His pictures aren’t completely lifelike, but are very good at capturing emotions, particularly of pain and sadness. They’re very emotive.
The Capilla del Hombre was intended to be one of the highest points of the city, although it has been overtaken by the expanding suburbs. It’s high up to the West of Quito, near the Parque Metropolitano. It’s a big square building with a conical section arising from the roof. Just next to it is Guayasamín’s house, which has been opened up as a museum for his collections of native artwork and religious artifacts.
The gallery was awesome. We were met by an English-speaking tour guide, which is a bit of a rarity in Quito. He was fantastic, and took us around each of the paintings, explaining its significance. Guayasamín was inspired by Picasso, so some of his paintings are fairly abstract. He also painted multiple images of Quito, using different colours to reflect his moods. These were some of my favourites.
We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the museum so I’ve only got one from a display outside. If you google Guayasamín though you’ll be able to see his artwork. Ben’s favourite was “lágrimas de sangre” (tears of blood) – he wants to get a print of it for his living room! (Not the picture below.)
After touring the gallery, we were given a second guided tour through Guayasamín’s house. In his living room he had a grand piano, and the guide asked if I would play for us! I played a few lines of Einaudi but stopped quite quickly – it was a bit embarrassing!
Seeing his workshop was quite cool, and there was a video which showed him painting a portrait of one of his friends. He worked very quickly with very aggressive brush strokes. It was impressive to watch.
We decided to walk back from the museum, but it turned into a sprint for cover as the heavens decided to open with a huge thunderstorm. We took shelter in a shopping centre until a taxi pulled up to take us home. We tried to make llapingachos this evening (fried potato cakes) but they weren’t quite the same as the ones we’ve had before.
On reading up about things to do in Quito, we discovered that every Monday morning at 11am they have a “Changing of the Guard” ceremony outside the Presidential Palace. We’d always been in lessons at this time so hadn’t seen it before. We decided to go and check it out today.
I’ve never seen the English changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, but from looking on YouTube it looks quite similar. There was a band playing as they marched around the Plaza Grande, and then some guards on horses came out too. They’d decorated the manes with the colours of the Ecuadorian flag which I enjoyed. The guards had to shout a lot of Spanish – presumably vows of loyalty or something – and then they all marched back into the palace. It was fun to watch.
We went out for dinner this evening to La Ronda. This is a famous street in Ecuador of older buildings, which have all been turned into cafes and bars. We’d heard that it was a good spot for eating out in the evening. We’d been down the street once before during the Fiestas de Quito, and it had been absolutely jam-packed, so we figured it would be similar.
It was completely dead! There were about five or ten people walking down the streets, and most of the restaurants were empty. At least the setting was nice – we ate dinner on an outdoor terrace with lots of potted geraniums and fairy lights.
We skipped dessert in the restaurant, and instead stopped in a bakery on the way back (late night bakeries are my new favourite thing, why don’t we have them in England?!). One of Ecuador’s sweet treats is “dulce de leche”, which is basically a milky caramel, so we decided to try some dulce de leche doughnuts. They were yum!
We decided to explore another park today. We’d read about Parque Itchimbía and realised that it wasn’t actually all that far away from us – just up the other side of the valley that Quito lies in. We decided to make a day of it and so took our kindles, some snacks and some podcasts.
It was quite a steep walk up to the park, but the benefits of climbing so high are the gorgeous views! This park had a beautiful view over the historic centre of Quito, including a view back to the Basílica de Voto Nacional, which is the nearest landmark to our apartment. It wasn’t quite as grand as the other parks that we’d visited and felt less spacious, although it still covered plenty of ground. It had a trail that led you from one small grassy area to another, rather than having large open spaces. It was still really nice though, and it was a boiling hot day. We lay with our legs in the sun and our heads in the shade while we relaxed and nattered and read our books.
The park had one restaurant, where we decided to have lunch. It was a bit pricey but the food was really nice. We had an Ecuadorian sharing platter that had ham, cheese, olives, empañadas and chorizo. It was lovely to sit out in the sun with the view and a cold drink.
Today we visited Casa del Alabado, a museum of pre-Colombian artefacts. I didn’t know what that meant; it turns out that pre-Colombian means all the civilizations of South America prior to any European contact/conquests. We weren’t really sure what to expect – it had glowing tripadvisor reviews but the photos didn’t look that interesting.
We’re so glad we decided to go! It was really interesting and much larger than we expected. They had interactive screens which explained the different building materials used (primarily stone and ceramic, but also metal and wood), and the techniques used to create the different crafts. There were also explanations as to the symbolism of some of the carvings and designs, which I thought showed some nice ideology. For example: “Designs like labyrinths represent the dynamic current of energy that does not end with death, and is continually renewed and flows through our terrestrial world… The growth of plants, the power of magical animals, the strength of the human hand and the miracle of reproduction… Spirals or labyrinths… symbolize the perpetual motion of the living world.”
As well as meaningful designs, we also enjoyed some of the hilarious animal sculptures and their facial expressions. They also had a strong belief in Shamans, who were sort of mystic healers. Apparently “Shamans used the world axis (a channel of communication between parallel worlds) to establish connections between his community and other worlds.” The communities believed that Shamans could transform themselves into animals, or grow wings, so there were also lots of statues depicting this.
We’re in Quito for at least the beginning of next week, if not all of it, so we’ll send you another update soon. All of the Christmas festivities are beginning so we’re looking forward to going to some Christmassy events!