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A second look at Quito’s churches


My neck hurt.  I almost lay on my back in order to see the tops of those ornate, double-edged clock towers violently thrust into the Ecuadorian sky. 

Then, I remembered the pictures from my Cuencan friend, Emily, who had been here just a few months before. 

“Hey,” I yelled over to my friend, Liz, who was graciously putting me up for the weekend.  “I think we can go inside.”

“I know.  I can see people up there,” she replied.

Shaking off my embarrassment, I followed Liz out of the midday sun and into Quito’s Basílica. 

Once inside, we surveyed the huge foyer for a few seconds.  I could see the entrance of the nave to our right.  However, I couldn’t stop focusing on the pair of elevator doors directly in front of us.  Suddenly, I noticed someone out of the corner of my left eye.

“What do you want to do?  Do you want to go up,” the young, long-haired Ecuadorian asked.

With visions of the 115-meter Condor Tower flooding my mind, I immediately informed the man that Liz and I wanted to see the top.  So, for two bucks, we each bought a pass to the upper floors and were soon inside the elevator.

The steel doors opened a couple of minutes later, revealing large windows to our right, a gift shop and café straight ahead, as well as a bridge (yes, a bridge) to our left.  Liz and I stepped into the vast hallway and opted to check out the ledge to our right.

As we perused the stone balcony, I saw an old friend: the Panecillo standing proudly in the smoggy distance.  I couldn’t help but remember that just six weeks earlier, I was over there, on the opposite end of Old Town.   I could almost see myself at the feet of the towering virgin, pointing to the place where I was now posted.   Caught in a daydream, I somehow managed to snap out of my daze in time to follow my TESOL course friend back inside.

With several cups of coffee already in me, I felt no need to visit the café and turned towards the dark, triangular passageway threaded by a long, skinny bridge.  I tailed Liz as we grabbed the roped railings and balanced on the wooden planks until we reached the base of a tall, metal ladder. 

Having ascended the steel rungs, Liz and I dillydallied on a narrow walkway, which circled a tower.  We weaved around a handful of tourists, took various pictures of the cathedral, and noticed the Basílica’s interesting decorations, such as intricately detailed birds firmly attached to the structure’s stonework and numerous gargoyles clinging to building’s edges.  Moreover, the gargoyles were not ordinary gargoyles (if there is such a thing).  They were actually a collection of native animals; armadillos being one of them.  Moving our attention away from the extraordinary adornments, Liz and I proceeded to the other side of the tower and discovered another very steep ladder.    

With hardly any hesitation, the two of us scaled the rusty rungs and arrived at a small, circular platform.  There, were we able to get a much closer look at the remarkable clock towers, which, rather impressively, kept accurate time.  This unique vantage point also offered fantastic views of Ecuador’s capital.  In fact, I skirted the platform a couple of times, trying to take in every possible vista of Quito, observing different parts of the city I had never seen before.  Not only did the metropolis almost extend beyond my vision, but even farther away stood the rugged, yet mesmerizing Andes Mountains that enclosed the massive municipality.  The panoramas of the varied landscape were truly striking, making me realize just how tiny I was on this enormous planet. 

After yet another onslaught of snapshots on the scenery, Liz and I eventually left the tower, retracing our steps down the ladders and over the wooden bridge until we found ourselves standing in front of the elevator doors.

“Do you want to take the stairs,” I asked.

“Yeah, we’ll probably get down faster,” Liz jokingly said as she headed towards the steps.

This proved to be a good decision because the staircase led to more surprises.  We were able to catch more intriguing glimpses of the Basílica through windows in the stairwell.  In addition, Liz and I explored the cathedral’s second floor where we saw an elephantine organ neighbored by an imposing stained-glass window.  Notwithstanding, those sightings weren’t nearly as fascinating as the view from the balcony above the far-reaching and voluminous nave. While on the overlook, I was in awe of the Basílica’s extensive central hall, which was lined with a myriad of beautiful stained-glass windows and filled with countless pews leading to an elaborate pulpit.  The sheer size of this church and its belongings were almost unfathomable. 

Finally, Liz and I walked down the last flight of stairs, strolled across the lobby, and wandered into the daylight of the early Quito afternoon.  Exiting the Basílica’s plaza, the two of us hit the street and ventured closer towards the heart of Old Town.  As we ambled south on Venezuela, I mentioned to Liz that I had read about a few more sites in my guidebook that looked interesting.

“We can see something else,” my friend offered.

Something else…

I pondered this idea and realized that the TESOL course consumed so much of my life that I didn’t appreciate my surroundings at the time.

“Did I really live here for six weeks,” I asked myself, knowing that there was plenty more to see.

Apparently, a lot of Quito went by unnoticed my first time around.

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