Andes Mints!

Okay, so we haven’t had any mints here yet, but the Andes mountains are just as good if not better. The views of snow-capped peaks are amazing. Mostly we’ve been biking around between 9000 and 11500 feet so far. We plan to head south through the mountains for a week or so before taking a wild ride down to sea level on the Pacific coast.

Equator or no, it’s chilly at 11000 feet. I was a bit upset that I spent three months hauling my fleece around Central America without once taking it out, but I’ve definitely made use of it here in Ecuador; in fact, I’ve worn it everyday. The temperature hovers around 50-60 degrees in the daytime usually. At night it’s downright cold. When the sun pops out it warms up fast though. When you’re practically on the equator and 11000 feet up, you’re almost as close to the sun as you can get on this planet. We learned that one of the nearby peaks is actually the closest point on Earth to the sun, due to the equatorial bulge. We’ve had a fair amount of rain and even some hail so far too. I don’t really know what to make of all this weather — I kind of miss the predictability of Phoenix heat. Sometimes I change my clothes a few times in the course of 5 kilometers — everything I can possibly layer on when I’m going downhill and just a tank top, bike shorts, and sandals when I’m going up.

I’d better fill you in on our last day exploring Quito before I get into our bike journey thus far, however. The highlight of that day was our visit to a local convent, which housed an interesting art collection. We saw paintings of sheep and cherubs drinking Jesus’ blood, saints’ bones (known as “relics” in the Catholic church), and the most bizarre religious dioramas. We also saw a replica of the cells that the nuns live in. They are only allowed to speak aloud for 30 minutes a day. The rest of the time they spend in silent prayer and reflection. Well, that or they silently make shampoo and wine and honey. There’s this little rotating door at the entrance to the convent where the nuns operate their own pharmacy of sorts. Since the nuns are not allowed contact with the outside world, they take orders and money through the rotating door and send out their homemade ointments and remedies and beauty products. Weird.

So…we left Quito a few days ago and have been biking south ever since. It took most of one day just to make it out of the enormous city. Quito is situated in a narrow valley that runs north-south, so it felt like it went on forever. We spent our first night out of the capitol in Machachi.

Our second day biking brought us to Lasso, which is a small town near the Volcan Cotopaxi. We considered camping in the national park surrounding the volcano, but discovered that the 18 km long, uphill, unpaved road to the campground would take us too long to navigate — we ran out of daylight. Instead, we stayed at a nearby hotel, where we talked the price down from $33 to $20 (They actually use U.S. dollars in Ecuador, which makes things very easy). That’s still a bit pricey, but it was nice enough and the staff was very accommodating. We could still see the volcano from the hotel, too. It looks really cool, and we thought about sticking around to hike in the park the next day, but it turns out that the Andes are full of really neat mountains to hike. We decided to save that for another day when we’re ready to take a break from our bikes.

Today was our first good-weather biking day, and it was pleasantly downhill as well. We didn’t go far because the town of Latacunga made for a nice stopping point. We got in early (despite a late start) and wandered the local market. As I mentioned earlier, we’ll just keep heading south through the mountains for a bit (then to the coast, then the Galapagos, then Peru).

For now, I’ll just leave you with some pictures that Mike took while we were in Quito.

We really liked these cute old people carrying furniture. I’m not sure what they were doing with it though. And the chairs look much too small for the tables, or for anyone older than 2 to sit on, for that matter.

Here’s a Priest talking to some kids just after mass let out.

This is a neat door on one of the churches or convents (there are a lot of both in Old Town).

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. If you respect God, you best not be throwin’ your trash here!

This is one of those bottle rockets that I mentioned in my last post. Two men were running ahead of a parade and setting these off about two feet from us. Mike informs me that the jug is not, in fact, filled with fuel which would cause it to explode. It’s just really nasty water. He proceeded to remedy my ignorance of how bottle rockets work.

The masks that people were wearing in the parade were pretty freaky. Some of them looked like this, some were stripped, and some were made out of cloth. All of them gave me the creeps — especially since I had no idea what they were celebrating.

This guy really liked the parade. He was the best dancer there, and I’m sure he was only aided by a little alcohol.

The parade had more than just bottle rockets, freaky clowns, and drunken revelers — it had a band too! If you were able to really zoom in on this photo, you would see a reflection in the trombone of Mike taking the picture.

These are the bell/clock towers of the Basilica del Voto Nacional. We climbed up into one of them — they’re about 12 floors up.

This is the tower we didn’t get to climb. It started to rain, and since the stairs/ladders are pretty dangerous already, they were closed off when it started to rain.

This is the massive inside of the basilica from about 3 floors up.

This stained glass window needs a few repairs, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.

A fine example of the flying buttress at its best!

This is me, chilling in the belfry of the basilica. There are several things worth noting here: 1) I am wearing a fabulous skirt that my Ma gave me for my birthday (it has proven to be a wonderful traveling garment), 2) Mike is taking the picture from the floor below me (approximately the 11th floor), 3) the ladder on the left is one of three I had to climb to get there (after several flights of dizzying spiral stairs and several more flights of regular stairs), 4) I am balancing on the larger beams because the rest of the floor is comprised of very thin, scary wire, 5) the view from the tower is GREAT, which you will be able to tell from the next photo.

This is a really sweet panorama that Mike put together with several of his photos taken from the top of the basilica. It is an east-west view of part of Quito (keep in mind that Quito is MUCH larger on its north-south axis).

Okay, that’s it for now. Stay tuned for pictures of the Andes and of the fabulous Panama hats (which actually originated in Ecuador) that the locals around here wear.

2 Responses to “Andes Mints!”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Amazing! Aunt k

  2. Only one thing to say brother…..its amazing! A gem of an article, nice creativity and I guess you an innovative human being after seeing your photos. It would be nice if you add something on different kinds of church chairs. Keep the spirit.

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