After visiting St. Francisco, we crossed the Plaza of San Francisco, walked a short block and entered the Church of La Compania de Jesus.
As hard as it may be to imagine this, La Compania is decorated with more gold than St. Francisco. Seven tons! This fact is not obscure — visiting the church essentially begs the question — but our guide did provide many pieces of far more obscure information during our days together.+
If you Google “La Compania” and Quito, you will immediately see descriptions using the phrase “bathed in gold.” Although I briefly considered renting the church for a spontaneous renewal of our wedding vows,++ I didn’t actually take a picture of it on principle. Instead, I am showing you the first Central Bank of Ecuador, which is a prosperous-looking Italian Baroque building constructed in 1927.
This Central Bank building is now a numismatic museum and the operative Central Bank is . . . somewhere else.
I did not know this until we came here, but Ecuador abandoned its own currency — the sucre — and switched to the USD in 2000. This decision was prompted by severe inflation and wild fluctuations in the value of the sucre. So everything here is priced and paid in U.S. dollars. While that’s easy for us, it feels a little weird.
I did know that South America is associated with chocolate, but I did not understand, until visiting Yumbos Chocolaterie in Quito, why. Chocolate, it seems, grows best (possibly exclusively) in equatorial climates. Thus, the arrival of drinking chocolate from South America in late 16th century Spain did not represent the adoption of a culinary innovation, but rather the importation of a previously unknown agricultural miracle.
Fine European chocolate-making depends on cocoa beans and cacao imported from equatorial regions — and Ecuador is a leading producer.@
Note: The more times I type “chocolate,” the stranger it looks to me.
Yumbos plied us with many tiny samples and it was the smoothest dark chocolate I’ve ever tasted. No bitter taste/after-taste. The Photographer and I bought 8 giant chocolate bars and in the days since have been protecting them from the harsh equatorial sun while traveling from place to place. Fortunately our guide came ready for any bizarre demand we might ejaculate — “we must protect our chocolate” — and had a cooler in the car.
Because this trip is focused on natural beauty (at lower altitudes), we only had two full days in Quito.
We spent our second afternoon at an archeological museum, Casa de Alabado. I highly recommend this exquisite museum if you share The Directrice’s enthusiam for pre-Columbian art. Or, as The Photographer once said (before he had spent time with The Directrice and pre-Columbian art), old pots.
One of the first pieces we encountered was this marker. The head is detachable from the body, intended to simulate human sacrifices.
One of the things I love about pre-Columbian art is how expressive the figures are, with a minimal number of features. And I love how it reflects the human impulse — nay, need! — to create art and add beauty to functional things.
As always, your Directrice was as captivated by the design of the museum and the display of the artifacts as she was by the collection itself. That must be the human impulse to miss the point. Look at these beautiful installations.
Note: There were plenty of old pots on display, too.
The next day, we left Quito for a rural spot. On the way, we crossed — and lingered on — The Equator Itself. More on this adventure in another day or so.
In case you missed it, my first equatorial post is here.
+ These facts included the five most popular automakers in Ecuador (Chevrolet, Kia, Toyota, Hyundai, and Nissan) and the cost of purchasing a full truck (semi-trailer) of gravel collected from the hills along the Pan American Highway outside Quito ($120 USD).
++ $2,000 USD, according to our guide.
@ A Belgian did invent the “eating chocolate” — or what we think of as a box of chocolates.