Quito is perched high up in the Andes and on the side of one of many hills for passing aircraft a message reads ‘Ecuador Loves Life’ and there is a lot to like in Ecuador – beaches, tropical rainforest, Andes mountains and the Galapagos.
Quito itself was one of the first to have city centre UNESCO heritage listed and it contains more than its fair share of churches, monasteries and cathedrals around pleasant cobbled squares.
One good way to see the city is to join the free morning walking tour which covers the fruit and veg market and centre of town. I was lucky the day I went as each week there is a ceremony in the main square with soldiers on horseback, drum bands and the President and associated politicos are in attendance on the balcony of the presidential palace for the raising of the flag.
I peeled off to visit a Jesuit church which had an entrance fee so wasn’t on the tour – I didn’t realise that the Jesuits had been expelled from the Spanish colonies at one stage but when they came back they built with extravagance.
Just around the corner in the main square is the shop of Homero Ortega – sellers of traditional Panama hats. Before visiting Ecuador I didn’t realise that the naming of these hats is an astounding guerrilla marketing success as the origin of the hat is actually in Ecuador. The main production centres are Cuenca and the famous Montecristo hats which can cost in the thousands of dollars.
At some point, probably when the construction workers of the Panama Canal wearing them or the pictures of Teddy Roosevelt visiting Panama in 1906 (amazingly the first trip of a sitting president outside the USA after 130 years of independence!) with one on, the name stuck, much to the chagrin of the Ecuadoreans.
I did wonder what could justify a cost of hundreds if not thousands of dollars but when a $20 hat is put next to a $200 hat the reason is obvious – the weave on the more expensive hats is so much finer and build up in multiple concentric circles to a wonderful flexible texture.
Hold a hat up to the light and the less light that comes through the better. Every time the fineness of the fibre is halved the amount of work to create the hat goes up 4x. They say with a superfine Montechristo it is so flexible you can roll it up and fit it through a wedding ring. I didn’t have either the hat or ring to verify this!
In any event some of the hats on display were beautiful artisan objects and I would have loved to get one had my wallet and travel plans facilitated. I was content with my Cuenca hat bought in the Galapagos as my souvenir of Ecuador.
On my second day I headed out to ‘Mital Del Mundo’ the ‘middle of the world’ where in the 18th century a group of French scientists determined the equatorial line to run through.
Since then a monument has been erected and a range of touristy shops and restaurants have accumulated alongside.
Due to the wizardry of modern GPS we now know the actual 0-0-0 line lies some 200m to the North running through a non-descript area of scrubland!
Still for 200 years ago the accuracy is quite impressive and their achievement isn’t diminished especially in the eyes of the tourists doing selfies along the line – myself included!