Quito’s Oldest Church: Guápulo

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On a foggy day, the church in Guápulo is completely hidden by the mist that covers the valley like a pot lid. But if you dare to descend the Camino de Orellana that winds through the village like tightly-spun yarn, you’ll be rewarded with the stately sight of the Sanctuario de Guápulo.

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The church is Quito’s oldest colonial church, founded by Spanish explorer Fransisco de Orellana in 1541. The plaza in front of the church bears his statue. And also, a few guys shooting the breeze on a bench.

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The colonial churches in Quito always amaze me with their attention to detail.

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And this grand old woman has recently been restored.

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One of the caretakers was busy giving this lady a bath with a scrub brush and a bucket.

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He told us we’d missed out, though, because while we were playing in the park, they’d taken down the gold statue in the centerpiece of the altar to clean it.

(Side note: my sister is pretty.)

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But our bellies were rumbling and the kids were whining. As beautiful as it was, it was time to go.

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Travel with the Locals: Guápulo Park

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Guápulo is technically part of Quito, but it feels worlds apart. Quito lies in the narrow valley between two mountain chains. Guápulo is on the other side of the northern mountain border, on the way to Cumbaya, one of Quito’s suburbs on the plains outside its narrow valley.

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The town was established by the Spanish and later incorporated into Quito. But on this sunny December day, we headed for a new public park on the far side of the village. We would never have known about it if my sister and brother-in-law didn’t live there.

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According to the security guard who my dad made friends with, the land was formerly owned by the owners of one of Ecuador’s major banks. (UPDATE: Banco Popular.) They stabled their horses on the land. When things got bad with the economy (or they were about to get caught embezzling), the owners left the country (with all their millions, of course), and the land was seized by the government.

Today, it’s a lush hiking, picnicing and leisure area.

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After a stop for croissants, our gang descended Guápulo’s winding Camino de Orellana through the town, then up again to the park entrance. The path into the park was steep, but even the kids and grandpa could handle it. And everything was green and lovely, with eucalyptus trees lining the way, providing a soundtrack as the wind ruffled their leafy limbs.

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We stopped for breakfast at one of the picnic areas, and lazed about, enjoying the deep blue skies and warm sun on our faces.

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[Spoiler alert: I should have worn sunscreen.]

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But we were ultimately headed for the playground, so we continued on.

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It turned out to be one of the coolest playgrounds I’ve ever seen, with wooden structures, a zip-line and all the things, plus views of Cumbaya beyond.

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My dad always says he’d never want to be in one of the high rises peering down from the mountain ridge during an earthquake.

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We played hard (even grandma went down the zip-line!), and too soon it was time to head home for lunch and naps.

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So we climbed back up the path (those of us who don’t live at 9,200 feet altitude took it slowly). And we certainly were only able to scratch the surface of all the fun to be had at Guápulo.