Middle Earth, Quito Ecuador
Middle earth is the land of hobbits, orcs and elves living in a constant struggle between good versus evil. This is the world created by J.R.R. Tolkien but on this planet, middle earth is mile high in history and Inca and Spanish culture. Quito, Ecuador lies just 45 minutes from the equator and the middle of this big blue planet. On a plateau over a mile high in the Andes, lies the city of Quito where I had a short 3 night stay here on my way to the Galapagos.
Unfortunately, the only culture I encountered was the modern variety in bars and discos. The Mariscol district is the hub for tourist in Quito and Fosch Square is the center of the district. If you like the bar scene, then this is for you and it was home during my stay in November, 2014. The streets in the city are narrow and spans for miles as the city slowly expands following the valley as it meanders through the Andes.
The old town of Quito is filled with history including over 50 Spanish churches, many within walking distance of each other. One such church is The Iglesia de la Compania which is made of gold, literally covered with gold walls and statues. Unfortunately, photos aren’t allowed in the church so I couldn’t capture the beauty of the structure.
The old town is distinguishable by the red roofs of the structures. In 2011 it became one of the first cities to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and recently received a $200 million face lift with the inclusion of many shops, restaurants, and upscale hotels. During the colonial era, Quito became known for the high-quality religious art produced by the artist who lived there. In the 1550’s, under the Franciscans, students began to produce high quality works of art and sculpture from the “Quito School of Art” which would acquire specific and unique characteristics. The art was a mixture of Christian and native themes with some paintings featuring Christian figures in Andean scenery or local traditions. A famous painting features Jesus and his disciples eating a guinea pig ( traditional Andean food) at the last supper. I found the old town area to be very safe during the day and highly recommend a walking tour through the area. The buildings are of old colonial design and a must see if you’re an architecture buff. Some of these structures are almost 400 years old.
In this valley lies the monument “Mitad del Mundo”, the middle of the earth. This monument was built by the French on the location where they assumed was the equatorial line.
Recently, with the help of GPS, the Ecuadorians discovered the correct spot is actually 240 meters north from this spot. The monument still draws tourist and locals with restaurants, shops, and folk music and dance shows on the weekend. Through GPS we now know 0 lattitude is at the Inti Nan Solar Museum.
This spot is much more subdued and doesn’t have a large monument but does have displays that address the strange forces present here. For example, you can balance an egg on a head of a nail. Water drains in a clockwise direction north of the equator and the opposite direction in the south. But, on the exact spot of the equator, the water just drains straight down. The Incas also built buildings, of some religious importance, along the equator so it is assumed, and highly likely in my opinion, that the Incas new of the importance of this latitude. Did they know it was the center of the earth?
Near Quito, resides the Otavalo outdoor market which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The market is filled with rich history and tradition with continuing centuries-old artisan practices from around the area. Farm raised animals can be purchased here along with arts and crafts. The market is most famous for its colorful textile items of panchos and blankets. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to visit the market.
Less than a 10 minute walk away from my hotel in Fosch Square is the Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal which is a much smaller version of the Otavalo market, without the farm animals. Here, you can find your typical tourist items like t-shirts alongside the colorful ponchos and blankets Ecuador is famous for. The prices here are inexpensive and the vendors are not overly aggressive.
If you’re planning a trip to the Galapagos or anywhere in South America, make sure you visit Quito.