Cathedral Climbing in Quito
In the old town of Quito, Ecuador’s capital, is a cathedral unlike any other I have ever visited. La Basílica del Voto Nacional combines an appreciation for religious architecture with an almost adventure sport activity that will chill to the bone anybody with the slightest phobia of heights. I had read up on La Basílica before visiting, so I thought I knew what to expect, but it was so much worse. My minor fear of heights together with a worry about the seemingly non-existent Ecuadorian health and safety regulations, created an extremely nerve-wracking experience.
At a distance La Basílica is striking, but it isn’t until you get closer that you can see what makes it special. Instead of being decorated with mythical grotesques (I recently learnt it is only a gargoyle if it contains a water spout to drain water off the roof, away from the walls), they are in the shape of Ecuadorian creatures, so look closely and you’ll see giant tortoises and marine iguanas are peering down at you.
I paid $2 to climb up the towers, there is a separate entrance fee to go inside the cathedral itself, but after climbing up lots of steps (or getting the lift if it’s working) you reach a balcony with a great view over the nave anyway. Take time to appreciate the height of that vaulted ceiling because the next set of steps will lead you to a flimsy wooden walkway over that ceiling. There was rope strung across as handrails, but even so I was pretty scared about walking across. I eagerly climbed up the ladder at the end thinking the worst was over. How wrong I was.
At this point I’m outside, on the roof of La Basílica, but I didn’t come this far to give up at the last hurdle. To climb up the tower there are metal staircases, they’re almost vertical so more like ladders. They don’t even hug the tower, instead first heading out over the edge of the building to a small metal platform, then another ladder to the top of the tower. I tried not to think about how old the ladders were, or when they were last checked to be structurally sound. However once at the top the wonderful views over the city of Quito make it all worthwhile. All I can say is it’s definitely not an experience for the faint-hearted!