Back to Ecuador Index Page
Arriving in the Amazon Rainforest >>
Good Friday in Quito
The city of Quito fills a long narrow valley high in the Andes Mountains. At over 9000 feet in elevation, the thin air had us moving in slow motion this morning.
From our hillside apartment in the old historic area (El Centro), we could see a small slice of the city across the valley:
Today was Good Friday—two days before Easter. In a few hours, there would be thousands and thousands of people packing the streets to watch or participate in the procession known as Jesús del Gran Poder (Jesus the Almighty).
Before the big event started, however, we went in search of a place for breakfast.
Our street flowed one-way uphill for vehicles. Here is Genevieve (to the left), looking down to the Plaza de San Francisco in the far distance:
The view uphill:
We turned left onto a side street that had several sets of stairs going downhill:
Genevieve and Sebastian, near the top:
A closer look at the graffiti art behind them:
On the left side of the stairs were homes, such as this one:
To the right, we had a view of Quito’s well-known landmark—a winged Madonna statue on top of a hill known as Panecillo (“little loaf of bread”).
The statue is made of aluminum and was completed in 1976. Based upon a woman described in the Book of Revelations, the figure is standing on a dragon (or snake) on top of a globe.
Down the stairs we went:
The downhill photos don’t quite capture the steepness of the hill, so here is a photo looking back up the last set of stairs:
The road at the bottom continued the downward flow:
Those who follow our travels know my fondness for old doors:
Some of the homes appeared well cared for, such as this pretty green one with potted flowers on the balconies:
I took my photos discreetly, holding my small camera out of view when not snapping a shot. We had heard many (way too many, in my opinion) stories of people who had had their cameras knocked out of their hands, jewelry snatched off their bodies, wallets/money pick-pocketed, backpacks sliced open on buses, etc., by thieves in Quito. We are usually very careful and alert of our surroundings when traveling, but the abundance of such stories definitely kept us on our toes here—even creating an edge of stress in never being able to let our guard down.
The historic district, where we were, was reputed to be much safer than the “new” part of town (called Mariscal, and dubbed “gringolandia” by the locals), where many tourists flock to find nice hotels, international cuisine, and trendy shops.
Today, the historic district seemed to be even safer than normal due to the obvious presence of hundreds of local and federal police who were here because of the Semana Santa procession.
We asked a few officers where we could find a café or restaurant for breakfast, and they referred us to a hole-in-the-wall fried fish stand down the street. We normally love those kinds of places. However, the fried fish still had their heads, and they were so thin as to be mostly skeletons. We weren’t quite in the mood for sitting on the curb and spitting out small fish bones this morning, so we kept walking.
After considering several places, we finally stopped at a family-run place called Cafetería Emanuel:
I was craving a strong cup of coffee. Although Ecuador grows a lot of coffee beans, we discovered that ordering “café con leche” (coffee with milk) in Quito will get you a cup of hot milk and a small jar of instant coffee granules. I must admit I never could get my cup of instant coffee to taste “just right.” Given a longer stay in Ecuador, I could envision breaking my coffee habit entirely.
We found that a typical local breakfast consists of rice, potatoes, chicken or beef, and a slice of tomato. This dish is also served for lunch and dinner, along with soup. Sebastian really enjoyed his beef and rice plate this morning:
While we were eating, the streets outside had been gradually filling with people.
The street of Venezuela was on the parade route, and people were starting to claim their viewing spots along the curbs.
We sat down next to a 10-year old boy named Jefferson, who was with his uncle. In the photo below, Jefferson is on the left, wearing the blue Nike baseball cap:
Jefferson immediately struck up a conversation with me, saying in English, “I want to practice my English.” However, all the rest of his words were in Spanish. So, really, I had the good fortune of being able to practice my (very creaky but getting better) Spanish! It is amazing how knowing some basic words in common can create positive connections between people.
We continued on down the street to explore a bit more before the procession began.
Along the side of the Convent and Church of Carmen Bajo, some people were clustered around an open area within a set of large carved wooden doors:
One by one, the people were reaching through the linked fence to touch the case enclosing a figure of the Cristo de la Sentencia (the “Sentenced Christ”).
The front of the church was closed and locked:
Genevieve and Sebastian:
Sebastian, as usual, was scoping out all possible climbing opportunities:
Looking down the street (Olmedo) in front of the church:
With less than half an hour to go, it was time for us to get serious about selecting our “seats” from among the dwindling stretches of free curb.
We found the perfect spot and settled in to people-watch before the parade.
Across the way, a mother had perched her small child on the ledge of an open window:
Around 11:30 a.m., the beginning of the procession came into view:
First, the policemen (no women) came through to force people up on the curb. No feet dangling in the street, please!
Let the procession begin!
The first Jesús del Gran Poder procession in Quito was in 1961. The front banner saluted the anniversary of “50 años de amor y fe” (50 years of love and faith).
The vast majority of people in the procession were “cucuruchos”, dressed in traditional blue-violet robes and cone-shaped hoods to represent penance—an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and a desire to change.
While the pointy-hood style was adopted by the Ku Klux Klan in the U.S. to represent racial hatred and intolerance, those ideas are far removed from the traditional religious symbolism of the costume within Spanish and Latin American communities.
Not all of the hooded robes were the same color. Mixed in with the sea of blue-violet were a handful of white ones:
Some of the white outfits had very tall cones decorated with purple ribbon:
Then there were the topless versions in white and black:
Maroon, with topless blue-violet:
And my personal favorite—pink:
As with the man wearing brown above, many of the penitents had their arms tied to wooden beams carried across their shoulders, sometimes accompanied by chains on their feet or even barbed wire wrapped tightly across their chests:
A few of the men had cactus plants tied to their bare backs, with bloody marks from the cactus spines:
Most of the robed figures had some form of small cross, drawing of Jesus, or sculpture. Some of the sculptures were wrapped in plastic to protect against the imminent rain that was forecast for today.
A significant number of bare-chested men were carrying either branches or a rope with which to strike themselves across the back. This man with a Jesus drawing around his neck was engaging in periodic self-flagellation with his rope.
Genevieve and Sebastian found this self-harm to be a bit disturbing, especially when they could see the red raised welts on the back.
One tiny woman was clutching both a cross and a painting of Jesus.
Another hooded woman was toting a baby (a holy object, for sure):
Some of the men were carrying larger crosses, from decorative to heavy-duty:
A lot of the men were dressed up as a traditional “Jesus” character, complete with a wig and crown of thorns, and carrying a heavier cross.
Sometimes their legs and arms would be trembling as they set their crosses down in front of us for a brief rest. Many of the cross-bearers had two or three assistants with them that would rotate turns carrying the cross, such as with the small group below:
Only one of the group would be dressed as Jesus, however, and he would just walk along beside of the cross when he wasn’t carrying it.
Along with the cross-bearing Jesus figures were men dressed as Romans soldiers, sporting red cloaks, skirts and plumed helmets:
Although many women wore the pointed hoods of the cucuruchos, some chose to dress up as the Virgin Mary:
A far greater number preferred to wear the veil of the veronica, symbolic of the woman (named Veronica) who dared to step out of the mocking crowd and wipe Jesus’s bloody face as he carried his cross, and whose cloth purportedly retained the image of his face forevermore.
Children were also part of the procession—carrying crosses, wearing fake blood and the wigs of Jesus, dressing in blue-violet coned hoods or the red garb of Roman soldiers, sporting crowns made of vines, or just walking beside their parents.
Along with the participants in the procession, there were many hawkers in the crowd with their sweet treats, umbrellas, and hats, plus a steady stream of regular people just trying to get through the crowd.
After about an hour and a half, a group of security officers passed carrying a small statue of Jesus on their shoulders:
Behind them was a huge crush of people in ordinary cothes, so we thought this must be the end of the procession. It was starting to rain, so we joined the moving river of people and made our exit by going straight at the corner, instead of turning right with the flow.
Heading toward the corner:
Looking back at where we had been:
We then swam upstream, brushing shoulders against all of the people still heading down to the procession:
Many of the small shops advertised “cabinas”—a place to make a phone call. Here is a yarn (lana) and phone call shop:
Genevieve noted the “interesting” architectural feature on this home:
More graffiti art:
Many of the doors were made of thick, heavy-duty wood:
This wooden door, across from our apartment, may have once been as secure as the surrounding stone wall, but now looked as if it wouldn’t survive a vigorous kick:
Some of the home entrances were covered by metal, roll-up doors (strong enough to withstand many vigorous kicks, no doubt):
The walls surrounding residential courtyards were often topped with broken glass as a security feature:
The apartment that we were renting had layers of safety features—a 24 hour security guard to buzz us in at the front metal gate, a second locked metal gate before reaching the landing that we shared with another apartment, a third locked metal gate attached to the apartment door, and a deadbolt on the front door. There were three separate keys that we needed to get in and out of our apartment. Plus the interior windows (second-story, above the street) had metal gates that needed a key to open. And the entire apartment had an alarm system. Secure? Yes. But with all of the keys, I felt a bit claustrophobic, even trapped. I half-joked with Ben that if we were to have a fire, we would all be burned to a crisp trying to get all of the doors unlocked so that we could escape.
Before returning to our apartment this afternoon, we walked up the street to a small panadería (bakery) and bought some items for breakfast tomorrow morning--bread, pastries, yogurt, milk, and some hot cocoa mix.
Relaxing back in our living room:
Later this afternoon, we set out again—this time to climb the church towers that we had seen poking above the buildings earlier today.
The towers belonged to the Basílica del Voto Nacional:
(Note: The above photo was taken on a sunnier day.)
We walked down the hill to reach the Basilica:
The ten-minute walk from our apartment took us by a small playground, where Genevieve and Sebastian couldn’t resist the rope swing:
Don’t wear yourselves out, kids! There will be plenty of opportunities for climbing inside the Basilica!
For us, one of the key features of the Basilica were the steps and ladders leading to the front and central towers. Words used to describe the tower climbs included “steep”, “ladders”, “narrow”, and “extreme heights”—all of which enhanced our anticipation!
From the playground we could see people in the center tower, and we couldn’t wait to join them:
The clock towers were also beckoning:
In front of the church were some armed guards and the Semana Santa procession on the street below:
The actual construction of the Basilica began in 1892, and supposedly it is still not finished. The main doors had a large heart window over them, with a statue of Pope John Paul II in front to commemorate his visit here on January 30, 1985.
We entered some smaller doors to the left and paid $2 each to start winding our way up an interior stair well. We stopped to take photos from a front balcony. Here is a panorama of the city, from left to right:
Below was the tail end of the Semana Santa parade--a statue of Jesus being carried, and surrounded on all side by a solid line of police officers. (You can see the white reflective tape on the 'backs of the officers' black jackets in the photo below.)
At one point, the crowd in front came to halt, and the police literally had to fight back the surge of people behind the statue. We all let out a collective “Whoa!” and thought for sure we were going to witness a small riot. But things quickly calmed down, and the procession slowly moved forward again.
Back inside, we were ready to cross the wooden plank walkway that ran the length of the peaked rooftop, from front to back.
The sides of the walkway had a rope handrail. At the end, we had a short wait while a stream of people came down a steep ladder. Then it was our turn to go up:
At the top, we found ourselves at the base of the center tower, with two more ladders to climb. Sebastian followed me up, with Genevieve and Ben close behind:
Genevieve stretched her comfort zone on this climb, which would be challenging to anyone with even a slight fear of heights! Here she is, at the top:
We had a bird's eye view of the peaked rooftop that had the plank walkway underneath:
Looking out over Quito:
We could also see what is called the “new” part of town:
Instead of gargoyles, the Basilica had birds and other animals that are native to Ecuador:
One last photo—a family shot—before our descent:
We retraced our steps back down the ladders and across the wooden plank bridge, and then began our climb up into the clock tower to the belfry. As we wound our way up and up, we had a great view of where we had just been:
A metal circular staircase led us up to the area inside the clockfaces:
But we were not yet at the top! There were still two more ladders to climb to reach the belfry:
The bells did not ring during our visit:
The graffiti-covered walls had cut-out shapes that provided fabulous views. Sebastian is peering through in the photo below, behind Genevieve.
Far below, the last part of the Semana Santa procession was still making its way down Venezuela street:
Another view of Quito:
The twin tower, right next to us:
Looking down the tower:
Raindrops were speckling us inside the clock tower. The weather forecast of 80% chance of rain was finally coming true. Back outside, we popped open our umbrellas—we were prepared.
Ben spied some giant cookies in a small shop. He had hoped that they would be peanut butter, but they weren’t. We bought four anyway—one for each of us. Sebastian gave a big thumbs up:
We continued a short walk to reach the historic district’s central square, called Plaza Grande (Big Plaza). Genevieve, in the plaza:
In the center of the square was the Monument to Independence, which celebrates Quito’s freedom from Spain.
The statue of a woman holding a torch was created by artists in Europe, then shipped to Quito in pieces, and painstakingly installed here in 1906.
Quito’s historic district contains so many buildings of cultural significance that the entire area has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On the east side of the plaza was the modern-looking Municipality Building, which holds the offices of the mayor and city council:
Along the south side of the plaza was the 16th century Cathedral of Quito, with its beautiful wood doors and tiled domes:
A raised sidewalk in front of the Cathedral was lined with a railing topped with decorative balls, each one having a unique design:
Oh, the small joys in life. Genevieve and Sebastian had fun picking out their favorite ball. Genevieve’s:
A couple more:
On the west side of Plaza Grande was the many-columned Carondelet Palace, which contains offices for the President of Ecuador and other government officials.
We were only a couple of blocks from the Plaza de San Francisco, the place where the Semana Santa procession started and ended.
On our short walk there, I did a double-take. Barney, is that you?
As I was waving and snapping a picture, Genevieve and Sebastian hurried on with their heads down. Our family was once full of love for that big purple dinosaur, but it looked like I was the only die-hard fan left.
We managed to stick together despite the intensely congested foot traffic near the Plaza de San Francisco:
I love this photo of Sebastian and the regal looking woman in the blue skirt:
The church and monastery of San Francisco were built in the 16th century.
We joined the flow of people inside, trying not to drip our umbrellas on the church floor. The interior was very ornate.
Even the ceilings had elaborate designs covered in gold-leaf:
A wooden sculpture:
Within the crowd of local people near the front, we were jostled and elbowed, and Sebastian was even shoved out of the way by a short elderly woman who wanted to get by. If we didn’t know that we were supposed to have been in a “holy” place, we might never have guessed it.
We were relieved to get back out into the space of the plaza:
To the side of the Church of San Francisco, on the bottom floor, was a restaurant called Tianguez, a word meaning "marketplace" in the Nahuatl or Aztec language. (The site of the San Francisco church is believed to have been a central trading area for the indigenous people before the Spanish arrived.)
Tianguez was the perfect place for an early dinner. Our shrimp with rice, fried plantains, goat stew (a local specialty), and potato soup were all delicious.
Genevieve, in Tianguez:
After dinner, Sebastian played with the water spout outside the restaurant, running his hand under the rushing water, and also listening to the water pour on top of his umbrella:
From the Plaza de San Francisco, we walked about 10 minutes up Cuenca Street to return to our apartment.
On the way we passed La Merced Church, which had been rebuilt in the 18th century after an earthquake.
The interior of the church contains a stone sculpture of Our Lady of Mercy, which is credited with saving Quito from additional earthquakes as well as volcanic eruptions.
Sebastian, in front of our apartment building, while Ben enters through the first security gate:
Our minds were swirling from all of the incredible things we had experienced. Quito had a lot to offer, and we had barely scratched the surface. We would be exploring more of Quito in five days. Tonight we wanted to get a good rest, as we would be traveling to the Amazon rain forest tomorrow morning.
Back to Ecuador Index Page
Arriving in the Amazon Rainforest >>