In search of history

Chris is back in the land of the living. Thank goodness! Yesterday we ventured out together, the first time for Chris since Tuesday.  We decided to stay relatively close to the hostel, just in case.  The destination:  El museo de banco central.  This museum came highly recommended by my Spanish teacher as well as several guide books.   According to Frommer’s (our favourite travel guide book), “this huge and enormously rich museum offers visitors an opportunity to learn about the evolution of Ecuador — its human and natural history, as well as its art. When you see all the artifacts, archaeological finds, and works of art displayed chronologically, you get a profound sense of the country not commonly found in museums that focus on one era or type of exhibit.”

The museum was located across the street from el Parque Elijido, the third-largest park in Quito (after Metropolitan and La Carolina).  The park divides the old part of the city from the modern one. It is known for handicrafts available for sale every Saturday and Sunday, with all pricing subject to negotiation (that is, haggling). Local painters sell copies of paintings by Oswaldo Guayasamín, Eduardo Kingman, and Gonzalo Endara Crow. Otavaleños sell traditional sweaters, ponchos, carpets, and jewelry.

I was a little perplexed as I could not find this museum on our tourist map, but was confident with the directions received from my Spanish teacher on Friday.  Take the trolley to El Parque Elijido (a mere three stops away) and it was the large, mirrored building across from the park.  You couldn’t miss it.  Right.

Off we went, travelling light.  No bulky camera, no backpack.  Just my travel bag with the necessities – water, map, money, small camera, copies of our passports (every person must carry identification with them at all times in Ecuador – it is the law). When we got to the park, we looked all around for the large, mirrored building – nothing in sight.  So we decided to walk the park perimeter – maybe it was on the other side (remember, I didn’t have the address, and couldn’t find it on the map).

Along the way, we asked a police officer for directions.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I can now ask simple questions in Spanish like: Donde este el museo de banco central?  Unfortunately, I have no idea what is said in response!  But the police officer gestured profusely( and confidently I might add) in a direction to the south so off we went – on a wild goose chase.  Ecuadorians are notorious for two things (according to both my Spanish teacher and guide books):  First, they will never admit they do not know where something is and would prefer to give you wrong directions rather than no directions.  Second, they have no sense of how long it takes to get somewhere.  They will always say – just five minutes, when in reality, it could be an hour away.  Well, we experienced the truth of these generalizations first hand.


After wandering around for about an hour, and passing through yet another lovely park (el parque Almeda which boasts a small laguna (lake) and an observatory), we headed back to the park Elijido to continue our original strategy – follow the perimeter of the park.  At this point I was ready to concede that it was entirely possible I had completely misunderstood the directions given by my teacher.


When it began to rain, we sought shelter within the park.  Mental note:  Always bring our rain jackets as the weather in Quito can change quickly.  This was fortuitous as we were now in the park and distracted by the many artisan stalls that were set up, exactly as described in the guide book.  We temporarily forgot our mission, and instead, wandered through the stalls of tacky souvenirs, beautiful jewellery, art work, tapestries, scarves, etc.  My daughter, Alyssa, would have been in heaven! As the rain abated, we followed the sound of a salsa band that was playing live music at one entrance of the park.  Lo and behold, across the street was a Hilton.  Surely the concierge would be able to direct us to the museum.

As we entered the Hilton, it felt as if we had walked back into Canada.  Ahhh… the luxury, the comfort, the beauty, the serenity.  We got directions (the museum was only two blocks away), and then decided to stay awhile.  We enjoyed a free cup of coffee and sank into the comfortable chairs in the lobby.  We have not sat in a single comfortable chair all week, and this felt simply divine; such simple pleasures.  After meandering through the hotel and casino, we headed off to the museum and discovered why it was not on our map – the name had changed to el Museo National Minesterio de Culture.

The museum was a wonderful education of the rich history of Ecuador. Displays were presented in both English and Spanish, an opportunity to practice both our reading and comprehension.  Unfortunately only the first floor was open so we didn’t see the art galleries.  Nonetheless, we thoroughly enjoyed the vast archaeological display and were somewhat amused by the apparent pre-occupation the ancient Ecuadorian male had with his genitals (not to mention their egotistical self-representation  – a polite way of saying there were lots of very large penises on display!).  As Chris concluded:  so it was the Ecuadorians who discovered the art of masturbation!

A late lunch at MacDonald’s (I conceded to Chris’ desire to eat something comforting and familiar – after the week he had just been through, who was I to deny him, even though I paid for it later with an upset stomach).  A Big Mac and fries in Quito tastes exactly the same as at home. And it costs almost the same as well.  How’s that for global uniformity?

We walked back to our hostel, stopping in at the J.W. Marriot which is only two blocks away.  Another oasis of decadence that we enjoyed for a little while before returning to our humble abode.

Category: Ecuador, South America
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