World’s Highest Nativity: Panecillo at Christmas


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.

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.


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.

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.


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


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


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.


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.

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).


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.

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

South Quito by twilight

The evening mist creeping over the mountains toward the valley

Our tour guides and chauffeurs


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

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.


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.


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



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.


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.



Much to be Thankful For

Traditionally we’ve spent every Thanksgiving as a married couple driving long distances to be with family. Since 2005 when we were engaged, we’ve gone to Arizona, Idaho, Chicago, Florida and Chicago again. With a new little person in the equation this year, we opted to stay put. It was strange not to see family, but it turned out to be a really good, restful long weekend for the three of us.

We had Thanksgiving dinner with a couple we know from church. They invited another family from Venezuela over. I enjoyed using my Spanish again and making new friends. Plus, they brought an amazing flan for dessert.

We feasted on super-traditional dishes like stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes and green bean casserole. That stands out to me, because my family is never one to stick to tradition when it comes to food. We’re always trying new recipes. So it was fun to celebrate in the typical way, especially with people from another country who were experiencing everything for the first time.

Baby J got to hang out with his little friend, E. She’s an older woman, by about 6 weeks. She’s also the only baby girl in our group of friends, so competition is hot for her hand. J had to make his move early, proving his charm. Graham has had a six week advantage.


The babies weren’t very fond of their parents’ efforts to get a cute shot.

E: Get his hand off of me!

J: I’m really not to sure about this… wait, I’m tipping over into her lap! How awkward!


Seriously parents, what are you doing to us? Can we be done?


Because we are such dedicated photographers, these are the only photos we took all day.

The rest of the weekend we spent at a slower pace, just enjoying each other. Friday evening we tried to take a Christmas card photo.

Family Fall Photo 2

Family Fall Photo

Any preference? Which photo should grace our Christmas greeting to friends and family?

Spring in City

I took a walk around the Irving Park neighborhood one morning when I visited my sister in April.

The days I was there were perfect spring days; everything was blooming. I took my camera and captured a few images of things that caught my eye.

Bright tulips in a corner garden…

A striking entrance…

Adorable bungalows…

Even trash cans in an alley, stretching to infinity.

Spring in the city is so pretty. Everything comes to new life. I went to college in Chicago, and I always pictured myself moving in to one of these neighborhoods in my 20s.

Then I remembered winter and moved to California.

But I still can celebrate spring.

Chicago will always be one of my favorite cities, although I don’t know how often I’ll visit now that my sister is moving.

Getting From Here to There, Cairo-style

I saw this photo earlier today from one of my friends, and I thought, “THIS is Cairo.” Before when I thought of Egypt, I thought of pyramids and long rivers. NOW when I think of Egypt, I think of traffic and exhaust fumes. I’ve been to quite a few places in the world, and hey, I used to live in L.A., but hands down, traffic in Cairo is the worst I’ve ever seen. Each night the air will fill with a thick mantle of exhaust fumes that would seep into my lungs on our ride to dinner.

The amount of time you have to spend in a car just to get somewhere is just ridiculous. A simple trip around the block can take half an hour. It’s a grand conglomeration of crazy drivers, too many cars on the road and poor road planning. Turning to go the opposite direction on one of the major avenues requires backtracking to a strategic spot for a U-turn and waiting for a break in traffic before muscling your way in. So, potential visitors, I warn you: be prepared to sit for a while.

Petra: Refuge City

I’ve been meaning to finish posting about my trip to Jordan and Egypt, but trips to Chicago and Costa Rica distracted me. So, I’ll try to rectify that today.

Let me take you on a tour to one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been in my  life. But first you have to imagine driving a few hours south of Jordan’s capital, passing Bedouin tents in the desert.

You drop into a sort of valley, where a small town is perched on the surrounding hills. Your driver drops you off at what appears to be the entrance to a national park.

You skirt the aggressive-looking sales people keeping watch in front of tourist-kitsch filled booths and make your way to the ticket windows. See the posted prices are around $20 JD (Jordanian Dinars) per person. Notice the optional horse ride into Petra, but decide to walk to save money.

Get charged for the horse ride anyway. Watch your husband argue with the ticket seller, who tells him purchase of the horse ride is required. Give up, because there’s no other option. Walk to the gate, and then down a wide, rocky-strewn road (this takes forever) into what looks like a canyon.

The canyon is cool, shaded from the sun and paved with rough cobblestones. The path gently slopes downward and you wonder what you are descending to.

Avoid slower-walking tourists, and think grumbly thoughts about the ones who don’t let you pass. Speed walk around the annoying people smoking in the confined space. Wonder why smokers would choose to hike, since they obviously don’t care about health.

The colors on the rock faces are amazing; my poor little camera couldn’t do it justice. Crane your neck looking up at all the wrinkles, shades and textures.

There’s a line in a song I like that goes, “Now bursting forth, in glorious light…” and that’s what it feels like as you hit the end of the canyon. Light gleams through the opening. There’s a large crowd gathered, and you wonder why.

Then you see it. The temple.

My first thought was, “That is real! I thought they made it up for the movie!”

But it’s very real, guarded by the Jordanian Royal guard.

And oh, a camel. That dude doesn’t look too happy. I’d give him a wide berth, if I were you.

Attempt to get a picture of yourself with the temple. Fail miserably, after about 42 takes. It’s just too big and our arms too short.



Realize there is lots more to see than just the cherry on the top of the sundae. People are heading off to the right. With one last glace over your shoulder…

…head out to the rest of the amazing, ancient fortified city. Decedents of the inhabitants of the ancient city are the only ones allowed to operate inside. Many of them lived in the caves dotting the hills until just a few years ago, when former King Hussein moved them out to open the place for tourism. They still come back every day to work in their heritage, offering horse, camel and donkey rides, selling jewelry and paintings and even selling rock souvenirs.

Amazingly, these Bedouin people spoke more English than most of the Jordanian Arabs I met in the rest of Jordan. I had actual conversations with several of them. They were very friendly, and not as pushy as I expected.

One girl gave me a piece of colored rock. The donkey guy offered a ride to the top of the hill, and when I turned him down, he said, “Ok, but just remember, I didn’t push you.” Another little guy made me tea in his tent over an open fire. Let’s face it: I was charmed.

Ok, sorry. Now ack to your tour.

There’s so much to explore, and not enough time to see it all. Understand why some people come and take 4 or 5 days to see Petra. Decide to hike up a stony path to some “Sacrificial Circle.” Reach the top and feel like you are literally on top of the world, the sky blue, the sun shining, the spring air crisp, the view stretching for miles through the desert.

On the descent, down the other side of the rocky hill, discover a hidden temple.

Swerve around the Bedouin jewelry on every wide spot in the path. Unless you really want to stop and shop. But that’s not why I’m here.

See those colors in the top of the archway? Now imagine how much more incredible it looks in real life.

Ok, the tour is ending. Keep on hiking, if you like, but I’ve got to go.

We took five hours to see the place and arrived exhausted back at the top. And we barely scratched the surface. I would so go back.

Just look at it!

You should go.