Monthly Archives: October 2017

Center for Contemporary Art – Quito

The Centre for Comtemporary Art is in located one of the most incredible and historically significant buildings in Quito.  I’d walked past it a lot while I was living in the Historic Centre during my first month in Quito and had always wanted to see inside the building.  So I finally got my act together to go check it out.

Entrada - Center for Contemporary Art - Quito

Now, contemporary art is really not my thing.  On the few occasions I’ve bothered, it has taken me no more than 5 minutes to walk around the exhibitions and walk out again thinking to myself “how that can be art??!!”   So when the very helpful Centre staff at reception asked me if I wanted a guide, I politely declined … after all, I really only came in to check out the building.

Which didn’t disappoint!  This is the hallway leading to the exhibition spaces that were in use (I figured that given I was there, I might as well do a quick trip through the galleries).  

Pasillo - Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

Galleries 1 and 2 were hosting the Absorber la Ficción exhibition.  Yeah…. Ummm…. No.  How that can be art??!!

Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

Galleries 3 and 4 were hosting the Premio Brazil exhibition – a competition and initiative between Ecuador and Brazil for emerging artists.  Nope.  Nothing in Gallery 3.  And I was just about to give up on Gallery 4 when I was stopped dead in my tracks by an incredible piece of art!  

Amazing Art - Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

It is a collage of drawings of burned matches – one for each day of the year – as well as a few matchboxes.  I LOVE this!

While I was standing there admiring it, one of the Centre guides came over and asked me what it was that drew me to it.  When I said “I just like it”, she started pressing me on a proper answer, and I realised that I’d never really thought about why I liked, disliked, or was “meh” about any particular piece of art.  It was an interesting exercise to really think about why I felt the way I did, and eventually I articulated that I loved the simplicity and structure of it, that the idea itself really appealed to me, and I loved the use of whitespace.

We then moved on to other topics of conversation and eventually I admitted that I didn’t actually like contemporary art, and had simply come in to see the interior of the building.  Which is when she asked me if I’d like a tour of the building.  She had a colleague working that day who knew all the history of the building and loved to talk about it.  Absolutely!  Sign me up!

So she took me back to reception and introduced me to Mireya – who indeed was a veritable font of knowledge about this remarkable place.   Mireya and I spent the next hour touring the building (including parts where visitors aren’t allowed without a guide) with her telling me all about it’s different layers of history – from Tuberculosis Sanatorium to Military Barracks to Military Hospital to illegally occupied “city-within-a-city”.  It was fascinating!

For example, this (now)-internal courtyard covers an enormous number of remains of the more than 2,000 people who died in the 4-day war in Quito in August 1932. 

Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

This used to be the chapel of the Military hospital, which was located just up the corridor from the operating theatres.  Mireya tells me that she and other visitors have all felt “presences” in these rooms, and that there used to be a “slide” from this second story to the ground floor where they used to send those who had died down to the morgue.  

Chapel - Centre for Contemporary Art - Quito

Original floor tiles (top) and ceiling decoration (bottom).  Note the holes in the floor tiles where the toilets were screwed down.

Detail - Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

Both this main hall and each of the exhibition spaces used to be wards for the Sanatorium, which, at its peak didn’t have enough beds for the number of patients.   Unfortunately the building was only placed under heritage protection in around 2006, but it is easy to imagine 2 floors of beds in this space.

Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

Each of the ex-wards (now exhibition spaces – there are 10 in total) was separated by an outdoor courtyard, all very similar yet subtly different.

Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

And decorated with stones imported from Europe (the architects were European – German and Italian).

Detail - Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

The building is absolutely enormous and only the Southern half of it has been restored so far.    Unfortunately, we were not allowed to enter the non-refurbished Northern part, but we did get a great view of the main courtyard from the upper story windows.

Unrestored part of the Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

The wooden framed windows on the left are the original look of the building, and I hope that they actually keep this (rather than replacing it with glass) when they refurbish it.  Here is the equivalent refurbished Southern section.  It is beautiful, but loses the character somewhat.

Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

An hour flew past as Mireya told me story after story of the history of the building – and it was the most incredible experience!   It’s always amazing to stumble upon such a serendipitous experience and I’m infinitely grateful that I now speak Spanish and can fall into these situations often.

So if you speak Spanish, I’d highly recommend asking at the Centre if Mireya is there and getting her to show you around.  Waaaaay more interesting than 95% of the artwork, and an incredible experience.  It really was the highlight of the day for me 🙂

 

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Climbing Volcán Pasochoa – Ecuador

There are several hikes that are within reach of Quito on a day trip, but the main issue is getting to the trail-heads on public transport.  Given that I’d already climbed Rucu Pichincha last year, the one I particularly wanted to do was Volcán Pasochoa, but it seemed like it was going to be difficult or expensive to get there on my own. Plus I really would prefer not to hike by myself (I’ve been trying to find a hiking group ever since I arrived).

So imagine my elation when I saw an event for climbing Volcán Pasochoa come through one of the expat Facebook groups I’m part of.  I immediately deposited the $10 in the bank account (why doesn’t Ecuador use PayPal??!!) and was in!

Of course, the day of the hike turned out to be the worst day weather-wise since arriving in Ecuador 3 months ago.  Usually the days start out with brilliant sunshine, and then the clouds come over by about lunchtime.  But to start with rain… It didn’t bode well!

Still, at 6:30am I headed up to meeting point at the Universidad de las Américas (UDLA), hoping that by some miracle it would suddenly clear up.  I was just about to send a message to Nicolas saying I was piking and going home, but ended up sticking it out and heading off in the school bus with 10 other intrepid souls.  Turns out I’d gatecrashed the UDLA Outdoors club!

UDLA bus to take us to the trail head of Volcán Pasochoa

Yes, we went in a school bus

It took about an hour to get to the trail-head of Volcán Pasochoa, and the weather still looked pretty ordinary.

View from the start of the trail - Volcán Pasochoa

Start of the trail – Volcán Pasochoa

Nicolas started us off with a warm-up – we each had to introduce ourselves, say a little about ourselves and then choose a warm-up exercise to get our bodies prepared for hiking.  I was the only non-Latino in the group, which I get the feeling was a bit of a novelty.

Warming up - Volcán Pasochoa

Warming up and introducing ourselves

Introductions made and warm-up done, it was time to start the climb.  The first part was not very steep, though doing any form of activity at 3,200m always give the lungs and heart a good workout.

Start of the hike - Volcán Pasochoa

We passed through (squeezed through in some areas) a small forest 

Small forest - Volcán Pasochoa

and emerged to a welcoming party of cows … who were not at all keen to let us pass.  They specifically came running towards us to block our path!

Cows - Volcán Pasochoa

These cows thought they were trolls … guarding the route to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa

After negotiating half of a ladder

Obstacle - Volcán Pasochoa

the climb began in earnest though the Páramo – Ecuador’s high grasslands.

Climbing through the Páramo - Volcán Pasochoa

The weather was not improving as we climbed higher, but at least it wasn’t raining … yet!

Climbing through the Páramo - Volcán Pasochoa

The fog kept rolling across, but we could see the summit of Pasochoa when we weren’t too far away.

Summit - Volcán Pasochoa

The summit of Volcán Pasochoa is at the top of the cliff

And I was very, very happy to finally see the “classic” view of the ridge-line (at least) of the volcanic crater on our way up.

Ridge-line of the crater - Volcán Pasochoa

I can only imagine what the view must be like on a clear day … a volcanic crater that drops away suddenly with vistas to the even taller volcanoes of the region.  But I did find the fog-filled crater really compelling – moody, and very, very mysterious.   Despite not being able to see much, this view was spectacular, and made the climb totally worthwhile.

Ridge-line of the crater - Volcán Pasochoa

We had a fairly quick lunch at the summit (4,200m above sea level) as the fog socked in around us

Summit - Volcán Pasochoa

Here I am at the summit of Volcán Pasochoa. I include my location on Maps.Me, just in case you don’t believe me…

before starting the return journey.

Volcán Pasochoa

It did actually start raining on the way down, turning the already very slippery mud track into an absolute nightmare

Very muddy trail - Volcán Pasochoa

Thank goodness Páramo grass isn’t blade grass, because the only way to ensure you didn’t slip and fall was to grab handfuls of it in order to anchor yourself as you very carefully took the next step.   Of course, with the rain, the Páramo was constantly wet, which in turn froze our hands and soaked our pants to the point where we couldn’t get any colder or wetter if we tried.

Wet Páramo - Volcán Pasochoa

Despite the less-than-stellar weather, I had an awesome time with the UDLA group, and I’m trying to arrange my schedule so I can do a few more hikes with them in January.  Wish I’d found these guys 3 months ago!!

Oh – I also discovered that at least several of the group spoke good English, though we spoke in Spanish the whole day.  I did suggest at the summit that because we’d spoken Spanish all the way up, we had to speak English all the way down – but they out-voted me.   I really didn’t mind 🙂  Great practice for me and I look forward to our next adventure together!

 

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Stuck in the Mud in Kazakhstan – 6 months later…

Just for fun 🙂

Remember at the start of the Silk Road Tour how we got stuck in the mud in Kazakhstan the first day I joined?   Well, Gayle, James and the London-Sydney Overland group visited the Tamgaly Petroglyphs today and went to have a look at what our special site looks like 6 months later.

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Indeed we were excellent road builders!

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

And here was where Alice the truck was stuck nose-in for 5 days.  Still leaving an impression…

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Thanks for sharing the photos Gayle!  Love it!

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Leyendas Nocturnas at El Tejar – Quito – Ecuador

Trawling the Quito Cultura website last week (as I do every Sunday) I came across the following advertisement for Leyendas Nocturnas (Night Legends) at the El Tejar Convent in downtown Quito.

Leyendas Nocturnas - El Tejar - Quito

From the description, it seemed as if it might follow the same formula as the awesome night tour I did at the Santiago General Cemetery last year – a truly spectacular experience!  So I was in 🙂

It turns out El Tejar is not the easiest place to get to as it lies just on the other side of a bunch of tunnels, overpasses and underpasses for one of the main “ringroads” of Quito.    However, I did eventually make it only to be seriously confused as to how to get in.   Turned out that I had to enter through the cemetery (not the main entrance), which was also the carpark for the night.  O-kaaaaay!

Entrance to Leyendas Nocturnas - El Tejar - Quito

I walked to the end of the row of tombs with nobody in sight, and was trying to figure out where I was supposed to go next (there were no signs and it really was not at all obvious), when fortunately a group of people appeared out of the darkness.   They seemed to know where they were going so I fell into line behind them.  Good thing too – I would NEVER have found it otherwise!  

Once I’d gotten my name crossed off the list, I was given my entrance ticket, a candle and a very welcome Canelazo (hot, spiced naranjilla drink) to which I could add my own preferred quantity of aguardiente (alcohol).  I really do love Canelazo 🙂

Welcome to Leyendas Nocturnas - El Tejar - Quito

Greeted with a candle, entrance ticket and a cup of hot Canelazo – yum!

Hung around in the courtyard of the Convent taking pictures and drinking Canelazo and until the tour finally started on Ecuadorian Time (ie half-hour late).

El Tejar Convent - Quito

There were actually a large number of people register, so they split us into groups and we started our tour in the XVI century library of the Convent.  Here, our guide told us a bit about the history of the convent – it dates from 1730 and was established by Father Francisco de Jesus Bolaños in a place where roofing tiles used to be made – and we could see a large number of original religious and art books bound in sheep-hide and dating from the 1500s to the 1700s. 

Library at El Tejar Convent - Quito

From there, we lit our candles and headed down a dark passage until we ran into 3 characters who acted out one of the legends associated with El Tejar Convent – that of a young man who died in the underground crypt.

Leyendas Nocturnas in the crypts - El Tejar - Quito

This story had us following these characters from the church, downstairs to the crypt, and back again.   It was fun, but the actors didn’t have lights – so very, very dark.

From there we headed upstairs to the religious art gallery where our guide pointed out some of the more important pieces of art that the Convent houses.  

Religious art Museum at El Tejar Convent - Quito

Guided tour of the art gallery at the Convent and my 2 favourite paintings

I have to admit I find most religious art kind of tedious, and the statues downright creepy!

Virgin at El Tejar Convent - Quito

A pretty crap photo because I wasn’t planning on including it in the blog … but it is just so creepy!

From there, it was up to our last stop – the roof of the convent and its twin towers.   Here we were met by another actor who portrayed the legend of “Julia: The widow of El Tejar“.  In this legend, Julia is a beautiful woman who is betrayed by her husband, Joaquín, who has an affair with her cousin.  When Joaquín dies a short time later, Julia is converted into a cursed soul with a face that is half-beautiful and half-death, and who wanders around looking for men to bring into the afterlife.

Leyendas Nocturnas on the roof - El Tejar - Quito

Once we’d finished on the roof, we headed back down and …. well, that was it.  There was no farewell from our guide, nor was there any real indication that that was the end of proceedings.  I actually had to ask!

Everyone else had already disappeared somewhere so I walked back through the maze that we entered through and found myself back in Quito’s oldest public cemetery … and unable to actually find the exit.   Yeah – not the greatest feeling to be wandering around a cemetery by yourself in the middle of the night!

Decided to head back to the Convent to ask how to get out, and ended up running into a really lovely family who said they’d show me the way out and give me a lift to somewhere I could get a taxi (El Tejar is a little out of the way).

In the end, they actually brought me all the way back to my apartment, which was really wonderful of them.  I think they got distracted asking me about all the Australian wildlife – a favourite topic amongst everyone not born in Australia 🙂

 

Recommendation:  It was interesting, and it had real potential.  But unfortunately nowhere near as good as the Santiago Cemetery night tour

Cost: USD$12

Time: about 2 hours

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Tripa Mishqui in La Floresta – Quito – Ecuador

There is no shortage of places to eat in Quito, including a multitude of restaurants that cater primarily for tourists.

And although there is a growing culture around Container Food Parks (ie small cafe/restaurants made from shipping containers) and Food Truck Parks in Quito and other major centres, I have found that in many cases they are quite up-market and don’t necessarily sell typical Ecuadorian Food.

For this reason, my preference is actually to eat in local hole-in-the-wall joints, in the markets, or on the street – and one of my favourite spots for street food is Parque La Floresta, where food carts are set up and start cooking every evening from about 5:30pm.  

Parque La Floresta - street food carts - Tripa Mishka - Quito - Ecuador

The only food on sale is very typically Ecuadorian, and the specialty is Tripa Mishqui – or BBQ tripe.   

Those who have read my Ecuadorian Street Food post from last year know the story of how I was inadvertently tricked into trying tripe for the first time by chefs of Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory about 19 years ago (it really wasn’t their fault – it looked like sweet and sour chicken so I took a huge plate.  It most definitely was NOT sweet and sour chicken 🙁).  And how, when I tried a very small sample of the Tripa Mishqui last year on a Street Food tour  – I was extremely surprised to discover that I really, really liked it!

During my several months here in Quito this year I’ve tried the Tripa Mishqui in a few different places, but by far the best is at Parque La Floresta.   The spices pack a ton of flavour and the tripe is well cooked so that it loses that horrible texture it has when cooked in other ways.

Parque La Floresta - street food carts - Tripa Mishka - Quito - Ecuador

Get chatting with the very friendly vendors – who will always try to entice you to their cart with a free sample

 

and then grab your bowl of various types of corn, salad, tripe and Ecuadorian aji (chilli) and prop yourself up at one of the permanent standing-height tables that the local council has thoughtfully provided.

Parque La Floresta - street food carts - Tripa Mishka - Quito - Ecuador

You can see the permanent tables (with people standing around them) on the left

You can pre-empt (or post-empt) your tripe with (in my opinion) Quito’s best Empanada de Viento – a deep-fried “wind” empanada that has a tiny amount of cheese inside and which you dust with sugar – from a couple of carts up.

 

This somehow slightly mournful calling of the street cart vendors (to my ears at least) is very typical of what you hear all around Quito – but guaranteed it is inviting you to some awesome tasting food!

And the other amazing thing – the cost!  My plate of Tripa Mishqui cost US$2.50 and my Empanada, just USD$0.75.

Even if you think you don’t like tripe, I’d encourage you to have a go at the Tripa Mishqui in Parque La Floresta.  You may be just as surprised as I was!

 

Update on 9 November, 2018 – It turns out that the Parque La Floresta food carts also have the best Fritada in Quito!  An enormous plate of the most incredible pork + mote + habas etc for USD$4.   Now I’m not sure what to have when I go there!

 

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Cascada Condor Machay – Quito – Ecuador

In my efforts to do a little hiking while I’m staying put here in Quito, I headed out to Cascada Condor Machay this weekend with Laura and Mark.  I’d met them at my Saturday night language exchange group a few weeks before and, given the run of cloudy weather we’ve had recently, we decided to visit the waterfall rather than climbing a mountain for a probably less than spectacular view.

Being a little lazy and needing to get back to Quito by mid-afternoon, we caught a Cabify out to Selva Alegre, the town closest to the waterfall and where our instructions advised us to find a taxi to take us to the trail head.  Our helpful Cabify driver offered to take us, but it was clear that he had no idea where he was going, so we decided to find a local taxi driver instead.

Although there was plenty of roasted cuy (guinea pig) on offer in Selva Alegre, taxis were a little few and far between.  So we jumped in the first one that came along, agreed on $15 to take us to the falls (which is what our instructions said it should cost) and then did a few laps of Selva Alegre because our driver seemed to want us to tell him how to get there!   

With the help of Maps.Me, we finally headed off in the right direction, but not before patience was tested and stress levels had risen a little.

Taxi to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

It didn’t help at all that our taxi driver seemed to not be “all there” … or he was on something.  I would have sworn he was drunk except that we could not smell alcohol on his breath…  He kept up a mumbled monologue (that was impossible to hear thanks to the rattling of the car) the entire 17km journey out to the falls … I have to admit it was a relief to arrive!   

However, our only real option to get back to Selva Alegre was to have him come back and pick us up at a pre-arranged time … so we would have to do this all over again later in the day 🙁

Having escaped the taxi and registered with the very lovely park ranger, we finally headed off towards the Condor Machay (El Nido de Cóndor in Spanish, Condor’s Nest in English) waterfall.   

It is a really simple, but incredibly beautiful walk along a very well maintained track that has several bridges that take you from one side of the Rio Pita to the other numerous times.  

Hiking to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

You walk through damp forest for most of the way, accompanied by the continual sounds of birds and frogs (unfortunately we didn’t manage to actually see any).

The path to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

The path is lined with enormous numbers of moss-covered trees, bromeliads, a surprisingly large amount of bamboo, as well as numerous other plants.

Plant life on the way to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

There are occasional glimpses of another stream that seems to run through the mountain

Hiking to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

Amazing sheer walls covered in plants

Wall of plants on the path to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

And, of course, several smaller waterfalls

Waterfalls on the way to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

including this one that falls right beside the path.

Waterfall on the path to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

It took us about 1hr 45mins to walk out to the Cascada Condor Machay, but we were walking very slowly and taking lots of pictures along the way.  The initial view of the waterfall is amazing

Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

and, at ~85m tall, it really is enormous!

Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

We got to enjoy the waterfall in peace for about 10 minutes before we were descended upon by about 150 secondary school children out on an excursion.  Some of them decided it would be a great idea to go fully-clothed into the plunge-pool below the waterfall and, well I guess peer-pressure is a terrible thing!

Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

Couldn’t believe that the adults who accompanied the group actually let them do this because a) it wasn’t exactly warm and none of them had a change of clothes, and b) the force of the water coming over the fall would certainly drown a young person, and even an adult, if they happened to get too close and go under.

We put up with the squealing and shouting for about 1/2 hour while we ate a quick lunch, but then decided we’d had enough and started the walk back.  The return journey only took about an hour, and was nice and peaceful … until the kids caught up to us, given they were running back to the car park.  Yes – call me a cranky old woman … but I was after some tranquility, not the squeals of pre-teens/teenagers!

Our mad-as-a-hatter taxi driver was waiting for us when we arrived at the car park, so back in the taxi for another monologue to accompany our trip back to Selva Alegre, and then the bus back to Quito

 

How to get there:

From the Playon La Marin terminal in Quito, take the bus to Sangolqui/Selva Alegre (50 cents).  Once there, find a taxi to take you the 17km to the trailhead.   It should cost a maximum of US$15 one way – though the meter in our taxi only showed $10 (unfortunately we’d agreed to $15 beforehand).  You are also going to have to get back to Selva Alegre afterwards, so unless you want to see how you go hitch-hiking (there were very few other people – apart from the schoolkids – there when we went on a Saturday), you should probably arrange for the driver to come back and pick you up at a specific time.   

There are other waterfalls you can hike to in the opposite direction from the same car park (though some involve river crossings – no bridges), so it is very easy to make a full day of it.

 

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