Legarda’s Madonna at
El Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador
On Santa Cruz, we visited the Charles Darwin Research
Station and saw giant tortoises being reared in captivity. This
is mainly due to their near extinction, as many of them had
been killed for food before the islands were protected. Of the
four inhabited islands, this is one of the largest. The lush
highlands, which are not part of the nature reserve, were
where we saw tortoises close up.
If keeping the best till last, then it must be North Seymour
Island, where we came close to sea lions basking in the sun,
nearly tripped over land iguanas, who are a sandy colour to
blend in with the path, and admired male black frigate birds
with their puffed-up red balloon fronts.
Our trip started in Quito, the biggest colonial city in the
Americas, and 9,300 feet above sea level. As well as being the
capital of Ecuador, it is also an UNESCO World Heritage
Site, and has been particularly well preserved despite having
been the victim of volcanic eruptions. The city, based at the
foot of the Pichincha volcano, is in the Andes, whose range of
mountains run through the country.
Predominantly Catholic, there are 87 churches in Quito,
including La Compania de Jesus, built from volcanic rock and
covered in gold leaf. Sited in a very active volcanic area, access
to the old town is via extremely steep roads. Although they
consider themselves multi-ethnic, there is a strong Indian
influence. A 45-minute drive took us to the San Antoniode
Pichincha, which stands on the Equator line, allowing you to
stand with one foot on either side of the hemisphere.
An ethnographic museum shows the many groups of
people, in their traditional attire, who live in the various
regions of the country. To get a real flavour of Ecuadorian
life, we visited Otavalo, famous for its craft market, where we
were able to buy ponchos and flexible Panama hats.
The currency is United States dollars, with an obligatory
$100 needed to enter the national park. A $26 tax (this can
fluctuate), both in cash, is also needed to leave the country.
Our flights were with Iberia, and if you have to travel with
them, it is certainly worth taking your own food.