• Monica Smit

Quito; A pious, yet mischievous city - BE AWARE!

Updated: Nov 19, 2019

The historic centre of Quito is like no other city I’ve seen. The architecture is magnificently showcased everywhere your eyes look. This city is well-known for its’ numerous churches and monasteries, in fact, it has the most within a small radius than any other city in the world! The religious presence here is as obvious as the sun. You can feel the deep devotion like a blanket on a cold night. Any church you visit will have numerous people praying, weeping and touching statues. Every mass I’ve attended has been completely full and sometimes it takes over 20 minutes for the church to empty afterwards.

The devotion that stands out the most here, is their devotion to Our Lady. There are 33 national shrines in Ecuador. The stories vary…some of the shrines have apparitions attached to them, some have miracles, and some are just there because the people wanted a statue of Our Lady to venerate. In most western cultures, churches tend to be filled mainly with older people but here it’s different. There are well-presented young men and women in professional attire, native people in traditional clothing, families of all classes and yes of course, many older people with countless stories told in their facial expressions. I can sit in a church for hours and just observe the reverence and respect of the visitors who come to say hello to Her. I wish every catholic could experience their shameless devotion to Our Mother.

You might wonder how the heading of this article matches its’ contents? In a city with so much devotion and piety, it’s a very sad fact that it’s also the city I feel the most anxious in. I have been to 25 countries and 6 continents, and Quito is the place I’m most likely to be robbed in. I don’t fear for my physical well-being, I anticipate the intrusion of robbery lurking around every corner. Being from Australia, I have enjoyed a mostly safe atmosphere. This feeling is extremely foreign to me, and it’s horrible. While I marvel at a 500-year-old church and imagine the celebrations that used to happen, someone will pick my pocket. Quito is an anomaly, it’s the most pious place I’ve been to, and the most unsafe…two completely opposing extremes.

In February, I was here with a group of Pilgrims celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Buen Suceso. One of my friends got stabbed because he fought back when someone tried to steal his phone (he could have been killed, don’t fight back!). Two ladies got attacked walking on the outskirts of the city (don’t walk anywhere unless you have a BIG group. Taxis are so cheap, it’s not worth the risk). Another pilgrim had her bag on the back of a chair in a nice restaurant, and it was stolen by a man in a clean suit (don’t underestimate ANYONE, ANYWHERE). My bag was cut at the bottom and things taken out in broad daylight and I didn’t feel a thing. Just recently, I was taking some photos and things were stolen from right beside me because I was distracted.

I am staying with locals here and for them, this is completely normal. I had my camera on the car seat, and was told to move it immediately. I said, “but the door is locked”, she said “Oh no, that doesn’t matter, they will break the window in one second and you won’t see it coming”. For her, this is just everyday life and protecting valuables is 'second nature'. The feeling of intrusion and violation is constant for me here. When I catch someone trying to rob me, a ball of anxiety swells up in my stomach and takes hours to dissipate. Being here has made me appreciate the safety I feel in Australia and I look forward to that anxiety ball completely abandoning my body when I get home.

It makes me so sad that this is a reality here. Quito is so magnificent, and I believe most people are lovely and kind, but one bad experience can overshadow the good ones too easily. Poverty is something I’ve never truly felt. I wonder how many of us would steal if we were truly starving? I wonder how many of the thieves are actually destitute and how many of them just do it for fun and free gadgets…I guess I’ll never know. I choose to believe that they steal to feed their family, it might not be true, but I don’t care, that’s what I choose to believe. :-)

This article isn’t designed to scare you from visiting Quito, I wrote it to encourage you to come but not to be ignorant to the lurking threats. Here are some tips for you;

- Walk in groups of three minimum.

- Do not hold your phone unless you need to and if you do, hold onto it TIGHTLY. Even when in taxis, don't have anything valuable near an open window. They will snatch them quicker than you can take a breath. Use headphone if you must make a call in a public area, with your phone safety in your pocket or bag.

- If you happen to come across an angry looking street dog, just pretend to throw something at them and they'll shy away.

- Wear your bags in the front and have your arms/hands on them at all times.

- Don’t put things in your pockets unless you have zippers or buttons on the pockets.

- Leave your passport at the hotel.

- If you wear a bag around your waist (fanny-pack/bum-bag), have your hand on it because people can cut them and run off.

- If you’re taking photos or videos, be aware of all your belongings at all times. They will take advantage of you being distracted.

- Don’t walk at night down any street that is quiet. If you want to walk somewhere at night, it must be a busy area and you must be with at least three people. Again, taxis are so cheap, there really isn’t a need to walk anywhere and it’s not worth the risk.

- Any taxi you get into, make sure they have the proper numbers displayed in the front window.

- Children are trained to steal, don’t be distracted by their cuteness.

Don’t be arrogant about this. I was. People warned me and I shrugged it off and thought that I was not stupid enough to be robbed. Well, I am…and so are you! If you live in a western society and haven’t experienced this than you really can’t be arrogant because what I am saying is very true and very real.

I hope many pilgrims come again in February. The Pilgrimage I experiences was life-changing and extremely uplifting. Please come but spread the word about the safety precautions necessary. I hope to see you all there :-)

You can see the episodes I’ve done so far from the 2019 pilgrimage here -https://www.monicasmit.com/post/quito-pilgrimage-to-our-lady-of-buen-suceso-2019-videos-1-3

You can register your intention to attend here - https://www.monicasmit.com/event-details/3d5c6d41-aefe-44c1-a8d5-9feb7955278e

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