The air of Quito’s old town is laced with pungent incense. It hangs thick and heady beckoning for dusty memories of a convent education to uncurl, pinafores and devotions, melancholy hymns and silent fidgeting. In the old town, beyond the traffic, the curious stares, the wayward disco buses and the little congregations of ladies on street corners tweezing lice from severe hair partings, it is that particular spiced and haunting smell that marks me the most.
On the hunt for gifts, and, to be honest, in a bid to evade, even just for a moment, the empty stares of the ubiquitous religious iconry in the Quito’s historic district, we set off for Quito’s much lauded shopping centre, Quicentro. While tradition, religion and casual poverty permeate the cobblestones of Quito’s old town, the new town drips in wealth. Our visit to Quicentro feels like a tumble down the rabbit hole where all the bunnies are very well-dressed, toting bags from Cartier, Tiffany’s or Dior. The contrast is interesting but undeniably uncomfortable. It turns out that the sanitised artificially cool air of Quito’s famed shopping mall is just as cloying as that laden with frankincense and obligation. We flee again and find gleeful refuge in the show of a mini magician in the green and beautiful Plaza de la Independencia.