Quito is a city people tend to love or hate, and I fall squarely into the former camp. With a truly beautiful historical centre, replete with some of the most intricate churches you can see in South America, wandering through the streets is a treasure hunt of its own. Given that the rest of my time in Quito was chock full of appointments (right up until my flight to Montevideo), I made the most of my one free Sunday afternoon. I retraced my steps from 2003, winding through the streets near La Basilica de la Compania and Santo Domingo and finally to the mother of all squares in the Old Town, San Francisco, housing the beautiful St. Francis convent. I got there as the sky was darkening with the threat of a storm that never arrived, and left when I realized that I would be late for dinner.
Transfixed by the angry clouds, by the yelling and bustle that somehow seems different than elsewhere in South America and terrified by the sheer number of pigeons, I don’t even know how long I sat on the stooping stairs. Monks and nuns streamed in and out of the square, lost in their own thoughts. Couples on their way home from work flowed in and out of the cathedral, as though by rote.
I was last in Quito in 2003 with my friend Michelle, just before I was set to start my job at Paul Weiss in New York. The city was an amazing, jumbled mass of buildings and colours and winding cobblestone streets. Every alleyway led to something new to discover, every building’s creaking iron doors a window to a divine smell or sound or taste. Coming back here on this trip was a bit like coming home, and all the feelings of newness and fear and wonder from 2003 came rushing back to me. I sat in Plaza San Francisco and I wept.
I’m not sure where the tears came from or why, but I walked around the old city thereafter with a sense of peace. People stopped me to talk, to offer me fruit or to ask where I was from. I felt as though I was drifting in and out of my present but nonetheless carrying with me all the backpacks of my prior seven years.
In my one magical afternoon in Quito, I relived what brought me here in 2003 and what followed suite. My visit to Quito was preceded by a stint at a non-profit in Montevideo, and the trip with Michelle was the icing atop a year of self-discovery. What started as my first trip living abroad without school to ground me turned into a profound anchor for the one thing I knew I loved to do: to travel. Like a sine-wave of crescendos and quiet, the ebb and flow of my adventures has slowly built me into who I am today. It was a humbling experience to wander those cobbled streets with the spiral of these last seven years curling before me. I left Quito nervous and scared to start in New York, and I came back to Quito on the cusp of change again. And in the natural comparison of those two mental states, I realized two things: that travelling the world over does not make newness less scary, and that I have come a hell of a long way since 2003.
I’ve a lot more to say about my time here, but the best way to do it is to share those photos from my Sunday afternoon. Imagine wandering through the narrow streets of an old city founded in the first millenium and built into the slopes of the Andes, with nothing but your camera to guide you.
This is the Quito that I know and love, and the Quito I want to share with you:
This woman was transfixed, clearly lost in her own world. I liked the colours of her coat juxtaposed against the church’s neutral stones, and stopped unnoticed to take a photo. I wish I knew her life story – the deep lines on her face suggested that it was not an easy life at all.
Sunset over Amazonas Ave in Quito, as I was leaving the very hospitable Robin from Sangay Touring.
All of the preceding photographs are filed neatly away in my mind, bookended between the two following images:
The bustling daytime of people and places, as seen from my hotel room….
And the same view at night, devoid of people and full of my own thoughts: