Apocalypse in Quito: No internet, No working ATMs, wrong equator!
We arrived in Quito during its Semana Santa (Easter holy week) celebrations to discover that there was an internet outage in most of the city, which meant we couldn’t do our usual online investigations of what to see and do, nor could we extract money from the local machines. We had to try to exist on the information and cash we had in hand, which wasn’t much. How did we survive the apocalypse*?
Thanks to an Airbnb-related mishap in Medellin, we were awarded a voucher which we used to rent a posh flat for 3 days in Quito’s historic center. During our bus journey from Otavalo, we had visions of ourselves working on our blog amidst luxurious surroundings and, in between, heading out for nice meals and some sight-seeing.
We arrived at the flat to find the anticipated luxurious surroundings. Check! After scanning our new temporary home, the second thing we do when we arrive somewhere is to get the internet/wifi up and running. Normally this step proceeds smoothly if not ultimately a little slowly but, on this occasion, we got nada, zippo, bupkis. When we enquired of the porter as to a remedy for this problem, he informed us that the internet had been out for a day already and, this being both a weekend AND major holiday, it was unlikely that things would be sorted until our departure day. Scratch plans to work on blog. :/ We could still eat and sight-see though, right?
So with no internetting to be done, we immediately took to the streets to begin exploring the historical district, observe the Easter parade only a block away (technically, Good Friday’s “procession of Jesus of Great Power“), and withdraw money for the weekend. Ecuador being a predominantly Roman Catholic country, we soon discovered that Semana Santa (Easter holy week) parades here don’t involve bunnies, baskets, fluffy chicks, and chocolate eggs so much as throngs of people wearing seemingly-KKK-inspired purple outfits marching down the street, with some individuals carrying crosses on their backs. Whatever floats your boat. I prefer my springtime celebrations to involve more chocolate and less crucifixion imagery (but please no Cadbury creme eggs, eeewwwww).
After watching the parade a bit (there are only so many purple cones the eyes can take), we made our way to the heart of the historic center and found the buildings and squares beautiful and impressive. We are not the only ones, as the UNESCO World Heritage Foundation has deemed Quito to have one of the best, if not THE best, preserved colonial city centers in all of Latin America.
While wandering the center and taking note of the architectural reminders of Ecuador’s colonial history, we attempted to take out cash from one..two….three…….four different ATMs (called cajeros here). For all attempts, we got nada, zippo, bupkis. We realized that the city’s internet outage was also preventing us from withdrawing cash across the ocean. D’oh! We decided to make our own very super-cheap curry and rice dinner at the flat (which we ate again for 3 more meals) and then find our way out of the city center the next day to locate a cash machine not affected by the internet outage.
The next morning we spent a few hours – and about $10 of our precious cash in a taxi – looking for working ATMs or a bank that would give us some dough. We received a nope from the first few ATMS we tried and also from a bankteller (after standing in line with passports and cards in hand for about 45 minutes). Finally, one lonely ATM inadvertently spit out some cash for Toby, but quickly re-thought itself and rejected my attempt. Still, we now had dinero and felt more at ease (we were starting to get worried about how we could afford to buy bus tickets to leave Quito). Let the sight-seeing begin.
We missed visiting the equator when last in Ecuador (we didn’t have time) and Toby was determined not to miss seeing it – or rather, not to miss standing with one foot on either side of it – again. Our flat contained a tourist map indicating that we could take a bus out to the Mitad del Mundo, no problemo. Trusting the map, and despite some niggling memory in my head telling me that the “Mitad” wasn’t the true equator (but we couldn’t check because we had no internet), we set upon the 45-minute journey.
Once there, we took the obligatory pictures of ourselves standing on this and/or the other side of the line. We then walked around the tourist-trap area surrounding the “equator”, which contained a small-but-informative ethnological museum, stands selling over-priced tourist wares and over-fried snacks, and a tiny paddock comprising two llamas, the male of which seemed determined to make more llamas (not sure what the local kids thought was happening, but all the adults were smiling).
On the bus ride back, Toby was very pleased: we had done what we set out to do.
Or had we? One week later, when we were again in the land of internet access, I remembered to check on that niggling memory of mine to find out whether we had visited the true, geographic equator. The answer was no (cue sad trombone). Evidently, more accurate subsequent GPS measurement has determined that the equator is 240 meters away. Toby was less than pleased to learn this bit of trivia.
It seems we’ll have to go back to Quito again some day. Hopefully the internet will be up and running by then.
Basilica del Voto Nacional
We heard from an Ecuadorian couple we met in Otavalo that the view across the city from this church is amazing, so we wanted to check it out. According to good ol’ Wikipedia, this is the largest neo-gothic basilica in the Americas. Indeed, we’ve seen a lot (and I mean A LOT) of iglesias during our travels, and this one is definitely an outlier with respect to both scale and style. What is “cute” about it too is that, instead of the usual gothic-inspired gargoyles and scary beings jutting out from its facade, you can spot monkeys, penguins, Galapagos tortoises and iguanas.
But we were here to see the view and we soon found out that doing so was just as much about the journey as the destination. You see, not only were there the usual claustrophobic and vomit-inducing circular stairways to ascend, but visitors seeking the best view literally had to walk over a shaky wooden bridge suspended over the roof of the building (so you were looking down over the cupolas) and then climb up a series of narrow, steeply vertical metal staircases. They were more ladders than staircases.
Climbing down was even scarier. Similar to my exit from the mud volcano in Cartegena, Colombia, I was holding on oh-so-tight to all the rails and breathed a sign of relief when we were again finally at the normal roof level (which was high enough). Anyone with an aversion to heights might want to rethink their visit to this church or, at the least, keep their feet on terra firma. For me it was worth overcoming the fear: you could see the scale of Quito (huge! sprawling!), the different elevations of its topography, the many, many church steeples, and La Virgen del Panacillo in the distance.
We did some other stuff too, like walk through Parque El Ejido, visit an outdoor market selling the same type of stuff we saw in Otavalo, and checked out Plaza Foch in La Mariscal, which is where a lot of restaurants, bars, and hostels are located and, to our eyes, seemed to lack character. This might be why it is sometimes called Gringolandia. We felt glad we weren’t staying here.
We took our leave of Quito after 3 days to make our way south to Banos. We left with a mix of feelings:
- We liked it more than we had anticipated, as its historic center is attractive, vibrant, and relatively safe-feeling (most capital cities we’ve encountered on our trip thus far are places you wouldn’t – and in some cases, are explicitly advised not to – stay).
- We had a suspicion that we may not have seen and done all the “best” things, due to the internet outage and associated dearth of access to tourist information. As I described, we failed to visit the true equator and we also subsequently discovered we missed seeing THE favorite tourist attraction in the whole of Quito.
Still, lack of internet access is not without its merits: we did not end up with a long list of “must-dos” that we felt compelled to tick off. There is something to be said for facing an internet apocalypse. Well, so long as you can get some cash out!