Thursday, October 10, 2013

Quito: A City of Two Halves

Quito is a city of two halves. London might have a clearly defined North, South, East and West; Quito simply forsakes its wings. This snake of a city slithers between its mountainous barrier walls for miles on end.

To demonstrate just how narrow and long Quito is I headed to the top of the hill in Itchimbia - an excellent vantage point with Pichincha directly opposite.
Quito panorama, Ecuador
High-definition panorama of Quito, Ecuador
This image is composed of 72 RAW photos stitched together in Photoshop. On the left you can see the Virgen del Panecillo on the hill (marking the start of the south of Quito), in the centre is the Basilica del Voto National and in the right stretches away the high-rise office blocks and suburbs of the North.

One of the first things I was told about Quito was: "If Pichincha is on your left you're heading north, if it's on your right you're heading south - beware." 

Quito is famous for being one of the world's highest capitals – and you feel it. At over 2,800 metres, simple acts like climbing a flight of stairs leave you unnusually breathless, even brushing teeth vigorously can see you short of breath.

“I'm used to hills, I lived in Highgate,” I once said in ridiculous response to a warning about the ups-and-downs of Quito's topography. Now I'm not saying Swain's Lane was a breeze in first gear on my bike but compared to some of the inclines in Quito it's a positive plateau. Our Renault was panting like an asthmatic at the top of hill out of Cotocollao. So, given the gradients, it's strange how few motorists have perfected the art of the handbrake hill start in Ecuador.

The hilltop park of Itchimbia is home to Quito's Crystal Palace. This giant glasshouse was once the town's central market. It was designed and built in Belgium and shipped all the way to south America. As the city grew, the small glass market became obsolete. Rather than send it to the bottle bank, it was taken apart and rebuilt at the top of the hill where it now resides, housing cultural exhibitions.

Crystal Palace in Itchimbia park, Ecuador

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