Saturday, May 05, 2012

Quito: Interesting Facts

  • Quito is the second highest capital city in the world (the highest being La Paz, Bolivia, which is also in South America). The city sits at a whopping 2,850 meters (about 9,350 feet) above sea level. Some people suffer from altitude sickness when they first arrive in Quito (headaches, nausea and such). We were spared any of these ill effects, but we are still surprised at how easily winded we become when climbing stairs or walking uphill! On a positive note, Rusty was excited to learn that it is easier to lose weight at high altitudes.
  • The city spreads out over 50 kilometers long, but only 8 kilometers wide because it is hemmed in by mountains.
  • Some of the mountains surrounding Quito are active volcanoes -- including the Pichinchas, twin peaks on which Ecuador won its independence in 1822. Guagua (Baby) Pichincha showered Quito in ash in 1999, but caused no other damage.
  • Quito's climate is described as perpetually "springlike." Mornings and nights can be chilly, but things can warm up dramatically in the middle of the day when the equatorial sun comes out from behind the clouds. It is said that Quito is a place where you can experience all four seasons in a single day, and we have certainly found that to be true so far! We are currently in the middle of one of the rainy seasons, which means there is typically a rain storm every day in the late afternoon.
  • Quito was the first city in the world to receive the World Heritage Site status from UNESCO (in 1978)
  • Like most major cities in third-world countries, Quito suffers from congestion, and the traffic, especially at peak times of the day, can be horrendous. In an effort to curb the problem, the city instituted a system called "Pico y Placa," which restricts certain license plate numbers from driving in the city limits during peak hours on certain days. Our day is Tuesday. We risk getting a ticket and our car impounded if we drive our car on Tuesdays!
  • Quito is one of the best cities in South America for learning Spanish, for several reasons. The Spanish spoken here is slower and clearer than the Spanish spoken in other countries. The cost of living is relatively low. And the competition among the many different Spanish schools is fierce, which drives the prices down. We are currently paying $6 per hour for private (one-on-one) Spanish lessons, a great value!
Most of these interesting facts come from our two guidebooks, Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands by Ben Westwood (Moon Handbooks), and Culture Shock! Ecuador: A Guide to Customs and Etiquette by Nicholas Crowder, both available at Amazon.

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