A few of us board a van for a tour of the city, an extra charge, but something I wanted to do. May never pass this way again and all that. Our tour guide is Roberto and the driver is Eduardo. Roberto speaks very good English and is quite knowledgeable about his home town. Our group is warned to leave our money and passports at the hotel as there are many crafty pickpockets in Quito. We visit a town square crowded with people, and a couple of magnificent churches, one seeming made of gold.
Photos were not allowed in some of the churches but I came across a scene inside one of them that I would have loved to photograph. An elderly woman sat alone near the front of the altar, eyes closed, smiling, her lips moving, seemingly in prayer. The beatific look on her face was of complete serenity, talking to her God. What an image… until I realized she was actually yakking on a cell phone!
We drive to the top of an extinct volcano and peer into the now green and grassy core. Wooden shelters at the rim serve as shops for the locals to sell their wares to the tourists, everything from flutes to scarves to coats.
Next stop is a tourist attraction for those who want to say they have been to the equator, latitude 00°00’00’’. On the way, Roberto points out a structure built several years ago that was believed to be located on the exact line of the equator.
Later, modern GPS revealed that the location was inaccurate. The true equator line was 600 meters father north. Oops.
As we arrive, another guide explains how there is no equinox in Ecuador. The seasons here are rainy and not so rainy. One demonstration was particularly interesting. A basin on legs was filled with water from a bucket. The guide told us to watch as the water drained and in particular, the direction of the swirl. A few small floating leaves were in the water as a visual aid. He then moved the basin no more than ten feet to the left of the actual equator (this time confirmed by GPS) and repeated the action. The water swirled clockwise. Next he relocated the apparatus ten feet to the right of the line and once again we watched as he pulled the plug. The water swirled counter-clockwise. Unbelievable that so few feet would make the difference.
A demonstration using a vertical stick mounted on a platform, showed a small shadow much shorter than the length of the stick. It was explained that in a few days, there would be no shadow as the sun would be directly overhead.
Roberto takes us to a nice restaurant in downtown Quito. The meal is not part of the trip cost and we pay for it out of our own pockets. I hand the man a fifty dollar bill and he shakes his head no, he won’t accept it. Roberto explains: There was a time when some bad currency was floating around Ecuador, particularly hundreds and fifties, and most merchants are wary of taking them. As most of the money I brought with me is in large bills, it seems I may have a problem. How about a bank I ask. Will they change it? No, says Roberto. Another uh oh. Back at the hotel, I smile at the girl behind the desk and hand her a Ben Franklin. No problem, she says and hands me my change in twenties. Thankfully the Ecuadorians use the same currency as the U.S.A. Whew!
Ten days of bird photography begin tomorrow morning. Woo Hoo.