Anyway, I had a really fantastic little break with the lovely Carolina. I hadn’t been to Ecuador in 7 years (almost to the day) and it was interesting to see how much things have changed there. Or, rather, how much some things have changed.
La Mariscal, or Gringolandia (as it’s where all the backpackers congregate), has completely changed. I lived in the barrio for more than 3 months and, although I had a great time, there weren’t very many bars or restaurants of any decent standard. Now, it’s been completely redeveloped and has loads of cool bars, restaurants and boutique hotels. It all looked really nice. If if weren't for the fact you constantly feel that someone is going to rob you with some kind of loud or pointy weapon, it'd be a really nice part of town.
And Quito’s UNESCO World Heritage Centro Historico is even more magnificent than before. It is truly an amazing place, renovated, cleaned-up and stunningly beautiful. Ecuador, compared to Chile, is under-developed, poor and horribly corrupt. But it has Chile completely beaten when it comes to historical preservation. Chile, and particularly Valparaiso, should be ashamed and embarrassed by its absolutely pathetic mismanagement of its architectural heritage. This country is painfully lacking a cultural conscience. It’s changing, but far too slowly and it’s going to be too late for much of Chile’s most beautiful architecture. It’s time the government stopped passing the buck to private investors (where no profit means no project) and got involved in safeguarding Chile’s heritage for future generations. If less well-off countries like Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia can do it, Chile should be able to. I doubt it’ll happen though- most people here just don’t care.
One of my favourite things in Quito when I lived there was climbing one of the Basilicas. In most other countries, you wouldn’t be allowed to get anywhere near where you can in this one…namely, to the very, very top of one of the bell towers. You start off at ground level and take a normal staircase for three levels. At each level there are panoramic views of the Centro Historico. At the third level, you then take a small spiral staircase to the clock tower. From the clock tower, you take a homemade metal ladder to the next level, another ladder to the next level and finally, another ladder up to the very highest point in the tower. The views are spectacular, obvio.
And then you go back down to the third level, cross a narrow and fairly unstable wooden bridge across the roof of the nave to the Basilica’s spire, where you take a couple of steep ladders/staircases to the viewing point. Awesome.
Basilica Interior- nice fan vaulting:
On the flip side, Chile has Ecuador beaten in quite a few other, important ways. Ecuador has a serious crime problem with lots of gun and knife crime. La Mariscal is a den of thieves and the Centro Historico is really bad after nightfall. You do have to be careful as a tourist and, to live in Quito, you have to make some major changes to the way you live your life. The roads are a mess with pot holes everywhere, dangerous sign-posting and some of the world’s worst drivers. Corruption at every level is rife. It’s for these reasons why I think Chile is such a great place to live. You don’t have to change your way of life in Chile. A few small adjustments here and there, maybe, but not major concessions and compromises. Chile is a really livable country and Ecuador, for me, just isn’t. It can sometimes be easy to forget the advantages Chile has. A few days in one of the other South American countries tends to remind you.
So, I’m now back in Colchagua and enjoying the Summer again. It seems to have cooled off a little after 3 weeks of serious heat. I’ve got a busy couple of weeks coming up with clients and other projects so it’d be nice to have some cooler (but still sunny) weather for a while. Tomorrow, I’m hiking up what would be considered a mountain in England with clients to visit this amazing property in Colchagua Valley. The clients will be on horses, but my back problems mean I can’t ride. I prefer the exercise anyway and after a week at altitude, it should be an easy stroll. Maybe.