Week 7 – Quito, Ecuador and Cartagena, Colombia
Hi everybody! We are writing this from somewhere new. We’re in sunny Cartagena, on the north coast of Colombia by the Caribbean sea. This is where we will be for Christmas. This week was a week of two halves – saying goodbye to Quito and moving on to explore our second destination.
Today we decided to get into the festive spirit by going to some of the Christmas events in the city. We’d read that there was a theatre production of the Grinch running, and thought that would be fun to see. Ben’s family watch it every year so it’s something of a tradition for him, and I’ve never seen it before so we thought this would be a good introduction!
Because it was an afternoon performance, in the morning we went to the Museo Etnohistórico de Artesanías del Ecuador – a museum dedicated to the crafts and customs of the various indigenous groups of Ecuador. A lot of the crafts seemed to be replicas rather than originals, but they were really interesting. It was evident that a lot of effort had gone into creating the displays. My favourite bit was the display about their Shamans, and all the beliefs they had about them. They made it sound very dramatic. I particularly enjoyed their belief that “sacred beverages illuminate different realities… they take us to the beginning of time.” It sounded like a very poetic description for getting drunk!
After lunch and a stop in “Sweet and Coffee” (their Starbucks equivalent with really nice cheesecake!), we went to watch the Grinch. We were literally the only adults in the audience without small children. We’d figured that we might stand a chance of understanding it as it would be simplistic for small people… we couldn’t have been more wrong! They kept using funny voices to make the kids laugh, so it was even harder to understand than usual. Still, the actors were very good, particularly the actor playing the Grinch. He had a lot of funny mannerisms which Ben said were very like the film. I enjoyed Cindy Lou, and how every time she was speaking to the Grinch she’d call him “¡Señor Grincho!” (which happens to now be my name for Ben).
Today we went to another Christmas event – a concert held in the Compañía de Jesús Church. This was the golden church that we’d enjoyed looking around a few weeks earlier. We figured that the concert would be mostly Christmas music, but in fact there was only one carol. The rest were various performances of classical music. It was still really good.
Because of the concert, they relaxed their rules about taking photos in the Church. Most people took photos of the performers, but I made the most of being able to take photos of the incredible decor. It’s seriously fancy!
Today we discovered that Quito does have Indian food! We’ve been craving it for weeks. It’s not very common, but we went to an amazing restaurant in the touristy district of Mariscal for lunch called Sher E Punjab. It was so tasty – we were so full afterwards!
Today we decided to give La Ronda another chance for dinner. This street is supposed to be one of the nightlife hubs of the city. It still wasn’t very busy, although there were more people out than last time we came here. We chose a restaurant with a nice roof terrace, and I enjoyed the combination of the night air, the live music from the street and the potted plants around the terrace. We could see the Panecillo hill from where we were sat. They’ve put up a nativity scene in lights, with a tall Mary, Joseph and a Stable.
Today was our last day in Quito, so it was a day of mixed emotions. We’re sad to leave as we’ve had a great time here and met some lovely people. The Spanish School were awesome, particularly the director Eugenio. We felt like we also made a friend of Washington, after going on so many tours with him! We’ve been in this apartment for so long that it almost feels like a second home. On the other hand, we’re excited to be continuing our journey on through South America.
We made it through the airport with only one minor mishap (it turns out that the International and Domestic terminals are not the same place!), and arrived in Cartagena, Colombia at around one in the morning. As soon as we stepped off the plane the hot air hit us. It is very warm here (even at night), and quite humid. The taxi had its windows open despite the late hour, and it was much needed.
Cartagena is a city of two parts, with an old historic walled centre, and modern high-rise buildings built up to either side. We are staying in the walled city (or la Ciudad Amurallada, as its known in Spanish). We’re staying in a hotel called Hotel Casa del Curato. Our room has a beautiful high ceiling and air-conditioning (a necessity!). It’s lovely.
Today we had our breakfast sitting by the hotel’s swimming pool. Most of the walled city was built with coral stone, and you can see some of the coral patterns in the wall by the pool, which is cool. We were given eggs on toast and fresh fruit, before going out to brave the heat and explore this beautiful new place.
Cartagena is gorgeous. The old city was founded in 1533, and the walls were built in the 1580s after Sir Francis Drake attacked the city. It’s full of colonial buildings, including a clock tower, Cartagena cathedral, las Bóvedas (old fortifications turned new trendy shops and restaurants) and all of the old houses. There are a few plazas, and the rest of the city is a maze of streets full of shops and places to eat. Supposedly it’s a grid, but we kept getting lost! Our sense of direction got completely skewed and we kept coming up on the walls or the same plaza without knowing how we got there. At one point we found ourselves in front of our hotel, even though we were sure that we were on the other side of the town! It was very confusing.
We popped into Cartagena Cathedral and were struck by how different it was to the ones in Quito – it had a much more simplistic design. It felt very cavernous inside. I liked that they had fans for every pew because of the heat.
It was so hot and sticky that our priority for lunch was finding a place with air conditioning! We ended up finding somewhere that did a ‘menu del dia’, like the Ecuadorian almuerzo. Cartagena is very touristy, and this is reflected in the prices, which are much higher than we found in Quito. We quite enjoyed feeling like millionaires – the Colombian peso is COP4000 to £1, meaning that we kept paying for things with 50,000 notes!
We discovered an amazing new drink that has become a firm favourite – “limonada de coco”, or coconut lemonade. It’s made with fresh limes/lemons and coconut milk, and it’s so delicious.
In the afternoon, we decided to go and and explore the Palace of the Inquisition. This beautiful building (now a museum) was the backdrop for horrendous persecution, starting in 1610 when the religious tribunal was introduced to the city. The pretext was to discover and punish crimes against the Catholic faith, ranging from witchcraft to blasphemy to heresy. They did this through torturing and punishing people with terrible devices, including collars with spikes and stretching racks. They’d interrogate people with questions such as “are you a witch?” and “what demons attended your wedding?” (I don’t know why they thought that was a sensible question!). The displays were quite emotive, although they’d only translated half of them to English and we struggled to understand the unfamiliar words in some of the others. It was still really interesting to look round.
In the evening we came out in search of dinner. The streets are just as busy at night as they are in the day, and they were also full of people driving tourists around in horse-and-carriages. Lots of restaurants had tables out on the street which was really nice. We found a place near to our hotel to have something to eat. We enjoyed the fact that the restaurant seemed to have its own cat, which spent half the time under our table and half the time sleeping in a bowl by the door!
Next week is Christmas, although we don’t feel very festive in this heat! We’ll update you again soon. Our next blog will be coming to you from Costa Rica as we fly there on the 27th. Merry Christmas everybody!