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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