(May 26 – written by Dave)
Ok, ok, no head scratching science in this post, phew.
On to the surprises. The first surprise was Friday morning when we went outside the apartment. The streets were deserted like a Sunday morning. We couldn’t figure it out, no people, no taxis, stores shuttered – did we miss something on the news? Turns out that Friday was a holiday. Who knew?
This happens to us more than you’d expect. For starters, we “aren’t from here”. Here of course is relative but since crossing into Mexico, almost all of the public holidays are new to us. Like yesterday, they sometimes catch us unaware. Making matters more difficult specifically here in Ecuador yesterday, 25 May was their day independence celebration. There are several different versions of what their real independence day is. It might be 24 May and it might be 9 October –probably isn’t 25 May. Yeah, I’m not sure I get it either.
Once we found a taxi we made our way to the Basilica de Voto Nacional, one of the largest neo-gothic churches in the Americas. Here we got our second surprise. We expected to find a church but instead we found a parade. Almost a normal parade like we’ve seen before but with an Ecuadoran twist.
The parade had no floats, just drum corps, bands and girls with batons. The bands were small, as in a couple flutes, some trumpets and xylophones, so really it was drum corps and girls with batons. We watched the parade from in front of the church where the sound really echoed – boy those drums are loud. The baton girls were fun to watch also – not much on the way of baton twirling, lots in the way of Latin American hip swinging. We watched for a while but had to eventually duck into the church as all of us had ringing heads from the drums. So much for a quiet, contemplative visit to a church.
You have to pay $2 to enter the church and $2 more to climb the church. We really came for the latter but happily paid the former, just to get away from the drums. Inside the church’s thick walls mostly blocked out the racket. The $2 entry fee also kept the crowds inside down – we had the place nearly to ourselves, giving us a chance to calm the nerves before ascending the church rooftop.
We’ve been in many churches on this trip but we are rarely allowed off the lowest level. Occasionally we’ve gotten to the choir loft, but we’ve never been allowed to the actual roof. The roof of this church is listed in many “must do” Quito lists, so that’s where we went. Nancy and her sisters had done their homework and read about the actual climb to the roof – they were not so sure they wanted to go up. I hadn’t bothered to read, figuring, “how hard can it be”.
Well, this was the third surprise of the day – surprising that they let the general public climb what wouldn’t pass OHSA requirements anywhere. Getting to the top of the roof was not physically hard. It was just crazy how rickety everything was. All the inside stairs were fine, steep but relatively safe with hand rails. That got us to just under the main roof. From here we had to traverse a rickety wooden walkway complete with loose rope railing. The walkway bounced and swayed with all the people on it. Kathie commented that “falling would be ok as you’d only fall to the top of the church arches”. Only fall to the top of the church arches – gee that sounds fun!
Anyway, once you reach the end of the walkway, you have to go up the first ladder. And by ladder, I mean ladder. I won’t be generous and call this steep stairs, it was a ladder. The girls made it this far and bravely decided to push on, as at the top of the ladder, you would be outside and on the roof.
At this point you are outside only two ladders from the top of the highest portico. I should really say, two steep, completely exposed to the elements, no safety provisions ladders. And you go up these ladders in a line of grandmas, kids, people holding selfie-sticks. There is one “guard” trying to organize the lower deck, the upper ladders and the upper deck but really, he’s just there to keep you moving. The small platform between the two upper ladders became a makeshift crossing point because they did nothing to keep people from coming down when others were going up.
It probably goes without saying, the girls took a pass on the upper deck. Me, I had to go up. I climbed slowly and methodically, trying not to let the sheer exposure get to me. Kids pushed me from behind, because they are kids and probably had no idea what fear was. I was happy reach the top though admit to thinking it would have been a really bad moment for an earthquake.
The views up there were pretty amazing but honestly, I’m not sure it was worth all the stress. I waited for a lull in climbers and carefully descended off the two upper ladders, down to the lower ladder and back across the wooden walkway. Nancy and the girls were waiting for me, now with a giant queue of people also ready to make the trek out. I was thrilled to reach solid ground and take a few calming breaths. Wow, what an experience – who needs skydiving or Disneyland when you have the Basilica del Voto Nacional rooftop climb?
The last surprise of the day was lunch in Old Town. We sort of stumbled on an amazing Ecuadoran French-influenced restaurant. The food was amazing and nothing like we’d found in the past in Ecuador or Colombia. The only thing that was normal was the prices. The four of us walked away completely stuffed, including a complementary shot of sugar cane digestive liqueur, for well less than $50 USD.
Grecthen and Kathie left last night and will soon be back in Oregon. We had a nice visit with them. It was fun play normal tourists, plus we had lots of good family time. Thanks guys for making the trek down here, bringing all of our resupplies and tagging along on all the local adventures with us.
We move AirBnBs today – to a smaller one bedder – same neighbourhood. We’ll be there for all of next week. As soon as we get unpacked, well, we’ll dig out those Spanish study notes and the whip cracking will start. Back to school…
PS: Happy Birthday tomorrow to my sister Pam – we may not get too many posts out in the coming week. You know, studying all the time…