Credit to my tour group leader for never letting on; the surprise was part of the fun. The school I’m attending for the next two weeks had orientation on Monday, and one of the day’s activities was a short tour of some sights in the colonial center of the city. Six of us new students crammed onto the bus with our genial guide, and tumbled out twenty minutes later for a short walk to the Plaza Grande, the most important plaza in Quito. When we arrived, we were surprised to encounter a partially roped-off square, a booming sound system announcing something, and a crowd of enthusiastic Ecuadorians and tourists. What’s going on? Oh, just an elaborate changing of the guard presided over by the president himself, that’s all.
Had I consulted my guidebook more closely I might have known that this is a regular event. Every Monday that President Rafael Correa is in the city, he oversees a changing of the guard at 11am. It’s a lot of pomp for a weekly event, but I love it; the locals in the crowd enthusiastically sing the national anthem as the flag is raised over the presidential palace, everyone starts their week off with a little ceremony and national pride, and it’s not bad for tourism either.
A band stood at the center of the square, by the fountain, and guards marched on foot and trotted on horseback to surround the band while they played the national anthem. The president and his family stood at the balcony, along with others who I assume are officials and friends. An army man in full fatigues and machine gun stood discreetly to the side, a reminder that only a few years ago, Correa had to be rescued from a life-threatening near-coup.
The plaza was crowded when we arrived a little after 11am, so we didn’t get a good position for viewing (or photos, for that matter). But I could glimpse the blue, red, and gold uniforms of the guard, and the smiling face of the president; and I could hear the robust singing of the crowd, and the adorably thin voice of one little kid in particular, her fist waving in the air as the flag of Ecuador waved in the wind behind her.