I’ve always liked watching the change of the guard in London, however it is far from being as impressive as Quito’s changing of the Guard which occurs every Monday morning at about 11AM. For starters, the president and his family come out to wave to the public from the balcony!
I stumbled upon this completely by accident. When I first arrived in Quito I was a bit too jet lagged to venture far from the hotel though I did pop to Independence Square for an hour or so, I didn’t exactly get to know Quito well by the time I left for the Galapagos. I had only a few hours to explore on the Monday before my flight to Lima, Peru, and so I decided to take a free walking tour organised by the Community hostel.
Whilst free walking tours are like gold dust ( I mean, what easier way to make money from tourists is there?!) I can’t say this was a particularly organised one! I got separated from the group less than an hour into the tour. We were told to wander and take photos in the square and meet back under the palm tree (erm which palm tree?!) So I decided not to stray far from the group and instead settled on taking some photos of a demonstration occurring nearby. 2 minutes later, I looked up and the group had completely disappeared! Some people I know did manage to complete the tour and they did say it was a great way to see the city with a short amount of time! So if you do decide to go, just watch the guide like a hawk!
I was not too disappointed however as there was so much going on in Independence square that day that I was quite happy wandering and people watching again. The biggest benefit of doing the walking tour was that we were told about the Changing of the Guard ceremony which I would never have known about otherwise! Having visited there briefly in my slightly zombie-like state the previous week, I was unlikely to go again. I had actually been planning a trip to the Basilica which didn’t happen but I guess I’ll just have to come back another day!
The Changing of the guard ceremony
The ceremony draws quite a crowd, a mixture of locals and tourists alike. There is heavy police presence and armed police positioned on all the top balconies in the square! There is a musical procession of the guard in all their finery along the balcony of the presidential house – where government is held and the president could live though chooses not to – the house is therefore open to the public (though you must arrive early and register with your passport to book a tour.)
The president, his family and what I presume are his advisors, then come out onto the balcony to wave to the public. There is a speech ongoing via tannoy but I could not tell who was giving it from my position in the crowd and my Spanish is no where near good enough to tell you what they were saying!
After watching the procession on the balcony for a bit, I turned my attention to the monument to heroes de la independecia where there was a military band and also guards on military horses dressed up like they were in a dressage competition! It was quite amusing to watch as the horses were clearly getting bored and starting to misbehave whilst the guards riding them tried desperately to control them and keep a serious face. Once one started playing up so did the others – just like naughty school children copying each other! The national anthem was then sung and then the naughty horses were given chance to trot through the crowd, their riders carrying flags. It was all very interesting to watch – colourful, musical and clearly a matter of honour and pride for the locals in attendance. Shortly afterwards, a group of locals dressed in traditional dress started doing a dance in the street which was really fun to watch.
After the procession, there were groups that started popping up with banners that appeared to be making peaceful protests about something. Before I lost my guide she told us that protests following the ceremony on a Monday were common and usually in relation to government decisions that the public disagreed with. Apparently, they were often successful! The mayors buildings were on the opposite side of the square so depending on who they were protesting against determined which side of the square the protest happened. However, the most noticeable thing was how peaceful and civilised the protests were!
People watching in Independence Square
One of the things I love to do when I travel is to sit outside a cafe and soak up the atmosphere. Changing of the Guard ceremonies aside, Independence Square is still a really interesting place to visit and always seems to be a hive of activity! It seems to be a popular place for locals to sit and ponder on benches, probably soaking up the atmosphere like me. Little bands pop up here and there performing with a varying degree of abilities (ok I’m being polite, other than the military band, all other bands I heard were an insult to the ear drums!) What made me chuckle even more than the wailing, was the tourist police who travel around by Segway! I’m not convinced they’d be much use in a police chase but I guess it saves their feet! I personally found the tourist police so helpful. I stopped to ask one a question and since he was unable to answer it, he personally escorted me to the tourist information centre so I didn’t get lost! The police in developing countries often get a bad rep as being corrupt and not taking tourists seriously, but I have to admit I was impressed by how kind and approachable this guy was and also by how many police were present! That said, I did see quite a few shifty characters wondering around with seemingly no purpose looking a little suspicious and so I held on tighter to my belongings always keeping my money card separate to my purse (usually in a money belt or tucked away in my bra if needed!) Any potential pick pocketers must have been disappointed however, by the lack of tourists and the huge police presence blocking them!
Whilst wandering aimlessly around soaking it all up, I stumbled across a really lovely cafe in a courtyard. I later learnt the courtyard was called Paseo Arzobispal and was within the Archbishops Palace where the Bishop still resides. It was so nice I actually went back again! There were plants wrapping around they pillars, flowers in full bloom everywhere and little angel statues dotted between. Up in the balconies were lots of gift shops and stalls to browse (but again no tourists to sell to!) This was probably why I got followed by one seller around the entire balcony – she was like my shadow waiting for me to pause a fraction too long to look at something before she’d pounce with the hard sell! I escaped with my purse intact and headed back in a taxi (after a little bartering)to my hotel. On the way back I noticed a sign in the taxi window “no smoking, no eating, no guns…” This place gets more eye opening by the second!
Have you been to Quito? Any other top tips where to go?