Quito is a city of ever changing light. From one moment to the next, the steep city mountainsides can be bathed in brilliant sunlight from the rising sun, in passing shadow from masses of meringue-like clouds, or even in near midnight darkness from a threatening thunderstorm.
The skyline is absolutely mesmerizing because of it. And just in case you think tall skyscrapers when I say skyline, you’ll have to change that train of thought. Quito is a city built in the center of many towering mountains, its tallest buildings lay in a valley. Surrounding the six and seven story apartment buildings and the slightly larger skyscrapers are yellow green hills sparsely populated with dark green trees, pockets of densely built suburbs, and a spare farm or two.
So the word skyline actually refers to the many mountain tops in the area. A few short days after our arrival, a very kind maintenance man was answering my questions about the volcano that I could see from our window. I had my mental map turned around and thought I was looking towards the Volcano Pinchincha and was asking for the names of other mountain peaks. He gently corrected me as I had been looking at beautiful Cotopaxi and then asked if I wanted to see the view all around. He invited my family and I to the very highest floor in the building where we then exited through a locked door and climbed a set of stairs. Then the man took out another key and opened a final door to the rooftop of the building. From there, we could see all of Quito, or at least, all that wasn’t hidden by other hills and mountains!
Here is where I learned that Pichincha is the closest mountain and is practically a part of the city itself. It doesn’t look like an active volcano, but it is. One day, we will visit one of its two peaks via the Teleferico (cable car) from the western side of the city and admire the view.
To the northeast, our guide pointed out Cayambe, a snow covered volcano that likes to play hide and seek. Cayambe is the third highest peak in Ecuador. Our guide lamented the clouds and wished that we could have seen the mountain in all its splendor. We told him we were thrilled to see it at all. I think he took it a little personally that the weather was not cooperating with our impromptu tour!
Looking towards the South, we could see the Volcano Cotopaxi, the one I had misidentified. It is a gorgeous sight and I can never imagine tiring of it. Of course, Cotopaxi likes to hide in all those clouds that make the light here so ever changing. It is capped with snow and small clouds always seem to dance around its peak, even when the rest of the sky can be a miraculously clear blue. Cotopaxi is far in the distance and another set of mountains sits before it, less dramatic but still strong and but much closer and thus more likely to reveal themselves in the camoflauging clouds. And on some days, we can see a third mountain towards the south.
With great thanks we said goodbye to our guide and wondered at the kindness of Ecuadorians. Everyone we have met so far has gone out of their way to make us feel comfortable and welcome. I can’t wait to meet more of the people and to learn more about this marvelous city and surroundings.