World’s Highest Nativity: Panecillo at Christmas

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This lady rises above the city of city from the peak of her round hill. The hill reminded the Spanish of a bun, hence the name “Panecillo”. According to my history teachers, the hill was the former site of an Incan temple and possibly a burial ground when the Spanish laid eyes on it.

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Apparently she’s made of aluminum.

The woman on top crushes the head of a serpent which she drags by a chain. Some say she’s the only Madonna in the world with wings. According to a plaque on the statue, she’s supposed to be the woman of the Apocalypse from the book of Revelation.

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In any case, she’s the personification of the spirit of Quito, and whenever I arrive and spot her figure from the plane, I feel nostalgic.

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My favorite view

To get to the Panecillo, you wind up the tight spiral of road until the crest of the hill. There’s usually plenty of parking if you drive or a taxi will take you up for a couple of dollars.

You can get your tourist handicrafts at any one of the stalls.

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Or there’s always the option of lunch or dinner.

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As you can see, these are popular with the locals.

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Entrance to the area is free, but there’s a small fee to climb the old metal staircase that circles around inside the base of the statue. From there, you can take in views of the city from Mary’s feet. We usually skip that and opt for the equally stunning views from outside the statue.

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This year, there was a guy there with and iPad and a drone who would take a 30 minute video of you or your group at the top of the statue with Quito as your backdrop. For $8! What a unique keepsake. I totally would have done it had it not been a few minutes after sunset and the family dispersed all over the hill when I discovered the drone man. Also, I was kinda worried about one of the kids stepping on the drone.

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Pichincha thought it was a good time to let off some steam. The crater is that craggy area to the left of the smoke.

We were there because it was a few days before Christmas and the Panecillo was all decked out with a manger scene of lights. According to my sister, this is the world’s highest manger scene (nearly 10,000 feet or 3,000 meters above sea level).

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In all my years of living there, we’d never been to that particular event, though it’s entirely possible that it didn’t exist 20 years ago.

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That cell tower definitely didn’t exist 20 years ago.

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South Quito by twilight

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The evening mist creeping over the mountains toward the valley

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Our tour guides and chauffeurs

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Two of the “kings” from the nativity scene and the food area in the foreground.

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I already mentioned this deliciousness in the food post.

There were special food vendors on the south side of the hill, picnic tables and a stage set up under a tent with heaters and a choir singing Christmas songs.

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It also happened to be the night of the Christmas parade featuring men and women in traditional dress as well as Mary, Joseph and the baby on stilts. And a camel, I’m pretty sure.

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Why were they on stilts on cobblestone? We’ll never know.

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Side note: The manger scene took me a bit to figure out. There were 3 tall figures with crowns (aka: the wise men or kings). Strung between two poles was a hammock-looking thing that was the baby (see the second photo in this post). But I kept asking Kelley: “Where’s Joseph?”

“Right there!” she’d say, over and over.

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Finally, I got it. See the faint white round shape to the right of the statue, aka Mary? Yep, that’s him. As my sister said, “Smaller, subservient and pushed to the side.” The Madonna is the big deal in this country. Forget about the other characters.

Before long, it was cold and the kids were ready for bed. But it was a fun evening enjoying Christmas at the Panecillo with my beloved Quito in the background.

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Quito Lindo

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Since there are suddenly a lot of new readers around here, I’d like to show you something that’s been hiding in my photo folders for a while. Friends, I introduce you to one of the most beautiful places on earth: Ecuador, my home country.

There may be some bias at play. But whenever I need a reference to beauty or grandeur, I can always find it in my memory files in the “Ecuador” set.

Ecuador is a small country, but as they teach us in elementary school, we have four regions: jungle, mountains, coast and the Galapagos. I’ve been to all three mainland regions, but I haven’t quite ticked Galapagos off my list, yet, but maybe soon. (Kel, I’m looking at you.)

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Today, come with me to visit my hometown of Quito.

Quito is one of the oldest capital cities in South America, and much of its original colonial architecture has been preserved. According to Wikipedia, at 9,200 feet in altitude, Quito is the second highest capital city in the world after La Paz, Bolivia. It’s also the only capital city in the world directly next to an active volcano. Who knew? All I knew was that I woke every morning in our house on the slopes of Guagua Pichincha to a view of the emerald peak out my bedroom window. That mountain is my reference for the city. When I look at photos of the city, I always look for Pichincha’s crater first.

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When my husband and I visited Ecuador in 2008, we made sure to spend a day in downtown Quito. Since I left, many of the buildings downtown have been refurbished. The street above, called “La Ronda,” is the narrowest street in the city. When I was a kid, we used to be able to drive down it, but it’s now a pedestrian walkway lined with art shops.

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The red and blue flag above is the flag of the city of Quito. Quitenos are very proud of their city. My grandfather used to direct the annual Quito day concerts in December celebrating the liberation of the city from the Spanish.

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The hill pictured above, called the Panecillo, was built by the Incas, when Quito was the northern capital of their empire. Perched on that hill today is a statue of the Virgen Mary placed there by the Spanish conquerors. The patchwork aluminum woman is known as “La Virgen.” La Virgen benevolently stands guard over the city, much like the “Christ the Redeemer” statue does in Rio de Janeiro. During Proof of Life‘s credits, there is some amazing footage of Ecuador, beginning with a bird’s-eye view from a helicopter of the aging metal Virgen.

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I had to stop for one of my favorite Ecuadorian treats: a cheese empanada. Ecuadorian empanadas are made with a flaky pastry crust. In the case of cheese empanadas, they are served with a sprinkling of cane sugar. It sounds strange, but trust me, salty mild cheese, a buttery crust and a hint of sweetness make an excellent combination.

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Empanadas aren’t normally THE SIZE OF MY HEAD, but it was good, nonetheless.

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Colonial architecture in the Plaza Central.

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If you do visit Quito, don’t miss the churches. We found a walking tour provided by the tourism board right off the Plaza de la Independencia. I had read that the tour was free, but it wasn’t. I think we paid around $13 per person, but it was worth it. An English-speaking tour guide (I say that loosely; I ended up helping her with a lot of the translation for the other couple in our group. The guide told me she was relieved I was there) took us around and inside several of the historical churches downtown. I’d visited many of them before, but never been inside some of the inner rooms the guide took us to.

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This gothic-style cathedral is called “Basilica.” It reminds me of the drip castles I used to make on the beach.

One of my favorite Quito churches is called “La Compania.” The inside of the church is completely encrusted with gold leaf. The gold was apparently taken from the Incas by their Spanish conquerors. They don’t allow photos inside, however, so I can’t so it to you. You’ll have to see it for yourself.

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Here’s another of Quito’s ornate Catholic churches, with a few of the faithful making prayers.

After we left Quito, we took bus ride from the mountains into the jungle. But I’ll save those photos for another day.

 

 

*some of the photo credit for these photos goes to my husband. We traded the camera back and forth, but the better ones are undoubtedly his.