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Thursday, March 8, 2012

This Would Never Happen in the USA

I am in Quito as I write this.  Friends from Guatemala and Columbia are about to return to their homes after a few months stay in Ecuador.   I FINALLY got my car fixed and returned to me after 2 months waiting.  At the very last minute, we decided to take a 'circle trip'.   I drove from Cuenca to Banos to pick them up, then we drove on to Quito to spend 3 nights/4 days there....in a 2 bedroom fully furnished and equipped apartment I found online, smack dab in the heart of the colonial old-town area, just a few blocks from the Presidential Palace (equivilant of White House).  

Yesterday, after wandering around the colonial area dripping in beautiful churches, convents, hotels, museums, and whatnot, we hiked up the hill to the Basilica.   For $2, we were allowed inside where we could climb the steeple and see the stunning vistas of Quito.   Years ago, when I backpacked Europe, I went from cathedral to cathedral and climbed their steeples for their views.  I thought this would be the same type of experience.

OHHHHH...were we in for a BIG SURPRISE!!!

It is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas.  On July 10, 1892, the first stone was placed.  Between 1892 and 1909, the Heart of Mary Cathedral was constructed.  The building is noted for its grotesques in the form of native Ecuadorian animals, such as armadillos, iguana, and Galapagos tortoises.  The Basilica is 492 feet long and 115 feet wide. It is 98 feet high in the sanctuary, and 377 feet high in the two frontal towers.

We entered a spiral stairwell and began our climb.  Oh...don't forget...Quito is at 9,000+ feet, so air is a valuable commodity.  In a short while we spilled out onto a landing area with admirable views.  Nice.   Photos.  Click Click.  Back into the stair well and up, up, up. 

Next, we landed in the area behind the huge round stained-glass window (white arrow in photo) at the front of the Basilica.  Stunning.  I turned around and gasped at what was our next adventure.  There was a lonnnnnng catwalk that traversed the length of the cathedral but, get this, over the top of the soaring, 100 ft high ceilings of the sanctuary!!!    Stop....think....envision.....you are inside the cathedral sitting in the pews, and you look up to the arched ceilings 100 feet up above you.   On the backside of those ceilings, is a catwalk YOU CAN WALK ACROSS!!!!   A simple planked walkway about 3 feet wide with simple rope railings beckoned us to the other side.

We all managed to get to the other side....some taking the opportunity to mimick being a model on Project Runway.  At the end, was a steep ladder with rungs made of thick re-bar.  Going up didn't seem so bad, but coming down seemed STRAIGHT DOWN. 

At this end was a steeple-like structure that looked somewhat like a spaceship where, if you dared, you climbed two more ladders to a round landing where you can take in the 360 view.  Those stairs looked too steep for my taste and I chose to forego.  Besides, we had yet climbed the steeples in the front of the church which would place us much higher than this structure, so the view was only going to get better.   Kids went up/down these ladders, ladies in low-heel shoes and....ummm...you might say they were glad they wore underwear for their visit.  Not a single person was supervising these areas and there were no restrictions for age, footwear, heart conditions, waivers to sign....nothing....nada.  You were on your own.

Next, we returned to the front of the church via the catwalk over the sanctuary below.  Then, back into the spiral stairwell and arrived at a charming cafe (lavendar arrow) where you could have a snack and sit at the windows more than 100 feet above ground.  

Another level, a gift shop (blue arrow).

Another level and we arrived in the chamber where the clock faces and mechanisms were housed.  A tight steel spiral staircase led us to a catwalk where we were at the same level as the hands of the clock (yellow arrow). 

Back into the spiral staircase and up again we went to the chamber of the bells (black arrow).  I stood on a box and reached up to ropes that were connected to the bells and yanked on them.   CLANG!!!  CLANG!!  CLANG!!! rang out across Quito by the hands of yours truly.

You'd THINK that would be it, right??  Nope!  We, and others that came after us, kept gasping "MORE??".

Up another darn-near-straight-up rebar ladder, we crawled onto the floor of the LAST stop in the steeple (red arrow).   We had only the tip of the steeple left above us, where we were prevented from entering.  We were probably at nearly 350 feet above the ground.  It was spooky and you couldn't help wonder how they monitor all the little concrete ornaments that adorn the church...to know they are secure and not going to topple off and clobber someone on the ground below?   Even some of the gargoyles that hung straight out from the sides looked a bit iffy.

Ok, let's go back a sec.  Remember me mentioning the fact this would NEVER be allowed in the USA??

1.   A simple plank walkway laid down over the top of the ceiling, with basic rope 'handrails'....not supervised, anyone could attempt to go outside the 'rails' and test the stability of the ceiling structure itself.  No age restrictions.  No capacity limitations.  Nada.  Nothing.
2.  Very steep ladders made of re-bar.  No age restrictions.  No restrictions on the type of shoes worn.  No supervision.  Hundreds of feet up from the ground.  No protections whatsoever.  In one instance, one rung of the ladder was missing. 
3.  Again, hundreds of feet up from the ground.  Nothing prevented anyone from walking off the beaten path and onto any surface of the cathedral.  No cameras, no security, no supervision.

Fear, liability, lawsuit, insurance, waivers, warnings, restrictions, etc etc would simply kill this experience in the USA and it would never be allowed to happen.  But, here....you are expected to take responsibility for your OWN actions, know the risks, and make your OWN decisions.  Thank Goodness!!!!

Enjoy the photos of our climbing expedition!!!


Nearly 500 feet long and 377 feet tall.

The front doors.

Just inside the front doors.  These arches are about 40 feet tall.

To get the feeling of the size of the interior, notice the person walking down the center aisle.  Also, take note of the top point of the ceilings.  We'll be walking across those in a bit!!

The catwalk across the top of the ceiling of the sanctuary!!   The exterior ceiling is comprised of rebar grid supports and aluminum ceiling tiles attached to that to give the exterior roof a scaly shingle look.

Raul climbing the first set of steep steel ladders.

Then, the next two set of 'straight up' ladders lead to the platform in the next couple photos.

The catwalk is inside the steep-pitched roofline, then you climb up the ladder and onto this spaceship-like structure.

This platform is reached via the two aforementioned ladders.  Notice the idiot casually sitting on the ledge!!

Another view of the spaceship steeple from our vantage in the steeples in front of the cathedral.

Some of the MANY animal fixtures jutting out from the sides of the cathedral.  If you look at the previous photo,  you'll see them high above the heads of the folks on the viewing platform.
The cafe.

Spiral staircase leads to the catwalk behind the clock faces.


More tight, steep climbing.

The bells and the ropes you can pull to make them ring.
Yet ANOTHER ladder leads up to the final public space.
Ummmmm....where are the safety rails at the top of the ladder? 

Straight down to the street level.   Notice the bike rider by the blue car.

A view across to the other twin steeple.
The highest point we could reach is just before that final triangular peak...right about where the line of the mountain behind it would cross it.

I was behind that clock!!!


  1. Fantastic photos, Dano! I like the idea of your "circle trip", especially when you have eight days to do it.

  2. So cool! We have to do this when we visit Quito. And, you're right. When I was a kid back in the 60's, we could go just about anywhere and do anything. Thanks for the post :) Mark

  3. Great pics, Dano! Had we known we could go into the Basilia when we were there last July, we would have. Will have to check it out next spring!

  4. THANK YOU for this entry. We did this on our 2nd day in EC (we now have a home in Cuenca). I didn't document it in words or photos anywhere NEARLY as extensively as you... when we describe it, I know the jaw-drop of it just doesn't communicate. As you titled it, it would NEVER be accessible by the public in the USA today, or frankly many other countries! It was an adrenaline rush. We are so grateful it was open for us to experience (at our death-defying own risk). Better than any 6 Flags park for SURE!


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About Me

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Palma, Mallorca, Spain
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Spain, in the city of Palma on the island of Mallorca in the middle of the Mediterranean sea!! I moved from the USA to Cuenca, Ecuador, South America and lived there for 7 years before moving here to Spain in early 2018. To read about my adventures in Ecuador, check out my other blog "Ahhh Cuenca!!". I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live in Europe....across the pond.

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