Fri 27th Apr
In the quiet hostel, all on my own, I had a great nights sleep. I go down for breakfast in the owners living room and we chat away and laugh over what’s on the tv. She gives me loads of information on what to see and do in Baños and all the while I’m feeling awful for going to have to tell her I’m changing hostels. With time ticking and needing to get ready, there’s no time like the present…
She’s a lovely lady, fully understands and only charged me for the night I stayed despite cancelling the rest of the week.
I get a taxi to my new hostel and it’s buzzing over the communal breakfast…which also looks amazing! Luckily, I’m able to check in there and then and store all my stuff properly before going out.
The tour agency is joined to the hostel, so myself and Julia from my dorm head down for this morning’s walking tour.
All present and correct, a group of 15 of varying ages and nationalities set off.
Our first stop is Central Market and taken to a stall for plant based medicine. This is big here and they take it to relieve an assortment of ailments.
We head to some food stalls and try some local fruit and buy a blackberry smoothie for only 1$
The flower part of this market is stunning. So many beautiful roses
and orchids. The Ecuadorean climate is great for growing flowers. They have the most species of orchids in the world and are one of the biggest exporters of roses.
45% of the country’s income comes from oil but this is an extremely controversial topic as the oil is in Amazon region. They are torn between the protection of this land and the economy of the country.
Ecuador also contributes 20% of the total banana exportation in the world.
Next stop is to what they call the centre of the city – Theatre Square.
This is a tribute to Sucre who worked with Bolivar and was a key figure in the independence of Ecuador from Spanish rule. The main theatre here is named after him.
In the distance you can see the amazing Basílica del Voto Nacional.
It’s very similar in design to the Notre Dam and the largest neo-gothic basilica in the America’s. Irs style however is unique as it is covered in animals from the country.
We walk through the once Archbishop Palace which is now full of restaurants selling local food. This leads onto one of the cities most famous squares – Plaza de la Independencia. This is home to the Government Palace (the official residence of the president),
the Cathedral (this housed the remains of Sucre)
and is looked over by the towering Statue of Independence
As the Mayor’s Office is here too, this is the main site for any protesting to take place and there is a lively one happening right now – we think students about something.
Despite the Palace being the Presidents’s official residence, he doesn’t live here and neither have the previous 2. The reasons for this are various but it could be the fate of some of the former…
In 1870 the then president – Moreno was seen as a good guy by some. He did a lot for education, specifically the sciences. He had 3 terms and 18 long years in power. Although some loved him, others thought he was a tyrant.
He came from a very religious family and he did a lot to benefit religious folk and the rich which badly affected the poorer classes. After his 2nd term, liberalism really started to take off.
He was a man of habit and always went to mass in the cathedral. One day he went and was attacked on the steps with a machete multiple times. There is now a plaque to commemorate where he died.
Another tale….In 1812, President Faro was the leader of liberal revolution. He was considered one of the best in Ecuador as he made so many progressive changes in a very conservative society. He instructed the building of the railway to Guayaquil which hugely increased the countries power in commerce. Society however, was not ready for such fast changes.
He also separated the church from state but it was this move that was bad for his image as non fans of his titled him a non believer.
Many people were still too conservative for him and his ideas and he ultimately had to escape to Panama. A trap was set in 1912 to get him back to Ecuador and to get him imprisoned. To manage this, there was a lot of propaganda and bad press to make him look bad and to get people to hate him.
A group of vigilantes broke in to the prison and killed him and 5 others heads of state. Not satisfied with just this, they hid the bodies to horses and had the horses gallop up and down the streets! They were then set on fire in Ejido Park!
Probably more famous is President Mahuad of 1998. He used to be the city mayor – he did a lot for the it like bringing in and improving public transport.
People therefore thought as he was a good mayor, he would be a good president. But it was whilst he was president that led to worse economic crisis in history! Because of this he was disliked by more than 60% of population and they wanted him out.
These times hit the poorer classes the worst and masses came to protest. The military quit supporting the palace and scared the protesters would gain access and he would meet a fateful end, he got out and fled to the States. Ironically, he is now an economics lecturer at a US university!
In 2007, Correa got elected who was very left wing. He started by rewriting the constitution which was at the time well thought if. Then a political movement formed and these had all the deciosion making powers in the House of Representatives. Everything was changed to benefit these – including another rewriting of the constitution. Despite a lot of good social measures – roads, schooling etc, his image declined and in order to stay in power, they needed a new face and Moreno was elected. Once in power, he took up the mantle of tackling the corruption within the government and many were imprisoned. It hasn’t been eradicated by any means and still exists today – even as recently as a month ago there was a lot in the news about problems in the Colombian border and links with guerrilla group FARC.
We move on to the Centrak Bank Building. It is here we are told more about a point I mentioned earlier…Ecuador’s economic and financial crisis of the late 1990s. Now a museum it felt like I was walking into Gringott’s!
It was built in 1924 to show off the wealth and prosperity of the bank.
The good times started to roll for Ecuador in the 1960s when they discovered their oil resources. In the 70s they started exporting it. During the 90s, the government wanted to attract foreign investment.
The banks had far too much power at this time. In order to attract foreign investment, they created fake accounts to show money coming in and made the books look good.
1998 was a bad year – flooding from El Niño killed off crops, the price of petrol dropped and military costs were huge due to previous conflicts with Peru.
By the end of 1998, the value of the sucre was collapsing in front of the dollar. This devaluation was so dramatic it caused much uncertainty and people went to banks in droves to change their sucres to dollars. To prevent this from happening, President Mahuad closed all banks. It was only to be until they thought of a solution but one never came and the banks were shut for over a week. During this time the value of the Sucre fell rapidly until it was almost worthless. In March 99, it hit it’s lowest levels ever and the decision was made to abolish the national currency and move to the dollar.
The exchange rates were awful. A true story of a person who’s life savings amounted to 10 million sucre – to give this some context, u could buy a house for 30 million, it once changed to dollars was left with the mere sum 160$!!!
This caused a mass exodus to other parts of the world. People flicked to Europe and the US in the hope of finding a better life. The people that did this and sent money back to their families in Ecuador are known as heroes as it was this money that was their main income.
High prices, no work led to a lot of crime and political u rest. 2000 saw the full switch over to the US $ and despite there being lots of protests over this, it gas brought about a lot of new stability and benefits from being able to trade products in dollars.
After a massive session on the history of Ecuador, we go outside and look at the beautiful baroque ornate Jesuit church that is next to the bank, built in 1605 and full of great decoration and ornamentation.
It took 160 years to build. It’s also known as the golden church because everything inside is covered in 23 carot gold leaf.
We move on to San Francisco church/square which was built in 1531 and is beautiful.
It houses over 35,000 pieces of art which are spectacular but u aren’t allowed to take photos inside.
We walk to 24 May Boulevard. This used to be bad neighbourhood – a lot of prostitution and robbery but the local government has done a lot to restore the area. It’s still work in progress but is now a much improved area.
From here, you get great views up to El Panecillo. This is the centre divide point between the north and south of the city and provides stunning views down over Quito. Many think the statue is an angel but it’s actually Mary with wings giving the city and its people a blessing .
From there we walk to the famous street known as La Ronda
the bohemian and arty part of city and that has one of the best chocolate shops ever.
Our last stop is the Santa Domingo church
which was built in 1581, is also a beautiful building and horses many pieces of art.
Head buzzing from info overload, the tour running 40 minutes longer than it should, starving – myself and 3 others go for some lunch and get a menu del día for only 1.50$. Ok, it wasn’t the best good in the world but that’s cheap!
From here, myself, Olivia and Juilian head back to the Basilica as it closes at 4 and we want to climb its towers to get the views over the city.
Im so glad we did as it’s an amazing building with spectacular views.
I leave the others in search of a phone shop and buy the obligatory new sim for a new country and head back to the hostel…knackered after a full on day.
Were told the area we’re in isn’t the safest and as I’ve missed dinner in the hostel, I go over the road to a really cool bar that sells guest ales and does a pretty good burger.
I join everyone in the communal part of the hostel and get chatting to no end of people….it definitely lived up to its name. Still not a fan of the whole dorm thing but this place is great for getting to know people.
With an early start tomorrow, I get myself off to bed before I end up drinking too much with all my new acquaintances!