Once we finally immersed ourselves into the city streets, we get off the car surrounded by a melody that seems to come from a nearby street. As we approach the exactly point we realized that we are standing on a hill between two yellow and white alleys from where it is possible to have a wonderful view of the town houses, clustered in a myriad of colors. In one of the sidewalks, a man begins to scrape the strings of a guitar creating the melody of a pasillo ecuatoriano that we recognize. The pasillo is a traditional melody form Ecuador. This time he sings 'Guayaquil de mis amores' or 'My beloved Guayaquil', and in his voice there is no place for the old rivalry between that city and Quito itself. The gentleman, with his deep voice, sings to help us find our first stop within the rhythmic magic and sounds of Ecuador.
The walk continues through a narrow street by which we enter to a large square crowned with, according to several signs, the Church of St. Francis, with an imposing and beautiful stone façade. On the stairs of its entrance, a quiet girl reads a book with the hair covering her face. As we approach, our friend Maria Paula jumps up to greet us in a hug that represents the Ecuadorian warmth. From the center of the beautiful St. Francis Square memories and anecdotes from the past bring us back now to a present more alive than ever. There is nothing like a reunion with an old friend to challenge the power of time. Facing the Church of St. Francis, our friend tells us with excitement about this place, which is the largest architectural ensemble among the historical structures of colonial Latin America with thirteen cloisters inside where the influences of different cultures are mixed, such as the Spanish, Italian, Flemish and indigenous, of course.
As we walk down the street, María Paula confesses laughing that the views of the city and the majestic volcano still surprises her from her own home. Quito is a small tiny city but it has many beautiful places to visit. Quito smells of nature, earth and the fruits that come from it and if I leave from here I would miss the changing landscape of the mountains and volcanoes that surrounds it. Although today the clouds have moved away allowing us to see it at all its fullness, the Pichincha is not the only top that decorates the natural skyline of Quito. Depending on the amount of clouds covering the sky, the landscape varies almost every day.
Our friend keeps walking through the straight streets of the historic center of Quito until she finds the Modelo Café which, as she tells us, serves the most traditional beverage of the country since more than 152 years. The colonial appearance and small size of the cafe from the outside contrasts with the dynamic atmosphere and modern decor of its interior. Although it smells like freshly ground coffee, Maria Paula instantly orders three typical Ecuadorian punches. It's a typical hot drink, the perfect accompaniment to the cold evenings in the capital. It was the Spanish who left us this tasty tradition. It is made with milk, sugar, vanilla, orange zest, egg yolks, condensed milk and a little aguardiente (sugarcane liquor popular in Ecuador). Its taste is peculiar: the soft memories of some childhood sweet mixed with some stronger touch of an ingredient that we did not know. To accompany the taste of the 'afternoon coffe’, although this time the punch is the star of the table, Maria Paula adds to the order the popular humitas, cakes made with corn and cheese steamed in the same wrapping corn husks. Unique and tasty.
With the sweet taste of punch still on the lips and its warmth returning the temperature to our throats, our friend mixes the historical center with modern Quito, the one with tall buildings and big avenues. The most cosmopolitan area in the city, with trendy bars and the big hotel chains that host a large business tourism, begins in the parks of El Ejido and the Alameda, and extends itself to the road leading up to the ‘Middle of the World City’. Quito, 'Light of America', is also well known for being geographically 'in the middle of the globe'. And it is because not far from the center is the monument that exactly marks the coordinates 0-0'-0'', where we can put one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern hemisphere.
The evening starts to fall on Quito and the beauty of its homes and buildings begins to turn their clear color on a dark white that surrounds the city in the shadow of mysticism. We left the empty glasses of punch and the cafeteria to practically run to the Vista Hermosa. The last rays of sun caress San Francis’ towers and the domes of the Company when we finally reach the top of the restaurant. The volcano can be seen even in the dim light of the sun, practically ended. The streets of the city are now thin serpents of light. Quito and its treasures at our feet. María Paula smiles proudly and we do it too, with excitement. Our night of Ecuadorian dishes and laughs that come from the past has just begun.