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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Beyond the Gentle Island (Well Beyond!)

I can't believe that it's been one month since our last post!  But it's easily explained by the fact that we just returned from a two week trip to Ecuador.  What a marvelous country!  Of course I will have pictures!

This was our first trip to South America and we were looking forward to discovering a whole new part of the world.  If you have a mind, you can do a quick Internet search and find out all sorts of things (wonderful and not so) about our neighbours to the south.  There were quite a bit of warnings with regard to petty crime and more serious types of robbery, so we armed ourselves with money pouches, fake wallets and a nifty day bag that deterred cutting the strap and had slash resistant fabric.  We remained unmolested, so either all our security precautions were well worth it, or criminality isn't quite as bad as billed.

I've decided to break up the photos into three different categories: flora & fauna, cities and daily life. Be prepared this is a huge blog.

Here's the 1st part...flora and fauna, both familiar and not:

Yup, it's true dandelions are REALLY everywhere.

Bold branches make such a graphic photo.

Much like the mourning doves, here in PEI

Double hibiscus stunning

There was actually two beagles hanging out on the roof in front of the giant screen.

At a restaurant in Quito, out on the terrace.  Mama hummingbird was feeding her babies.

These guys are bigger than the hummingbirds I'm used to, but aren't they pretty?
The following birds are in a bird rescue sanctuary:

Don't know what it is, but it's a pretty blue colour and has a pretty snazzy beak.

Okay, now on to section two, the cities...first Quito.  Quito is a city in the midst of modernization.  That's not to say that they don't have modern conveniences, as they certainly do, at least for the tourists and gringos, but the workers here are still using basic hand tools, the sidewalks make it seem like they city has just survived some sort of bombardment and many things are in complete chaos.  (Busy, noisy, messy) All the hall marks of a country climbing in to the first world.  It was interesting to see and feel the growing pains, to see how the citizens dealt with it and to deal with their complete inexperience with the tourism machine.  (Something that first world countries seem to have built up in a Disneyland fashion.)  There isn't the same sense of urgency here, if you have to wait, you have to wait.  If there's a problem with your meal, you'll have to let someone know, because they just aren't trained to ask.  Security seems to be of major concern, almost every business has either a guard overseeing everything or security gates through which they do business.  There is also a substantial police presence.  I'm surprised a mugger or pick pocketer could make it four steps without bumping into either police or military personnel.  This has a double edged quality to it, we were glad they were there, but worried about the necessity.  You can get whatever you need in Quito, sometimes all in the same store.  We saw motorcycles on the sales floor with washing machines (all new) and next door was the plumbing store with a paint store only a few more doors down.  In between was a pharmacy and traditional style restaurant serving mostly breakfast and lunch.  You can purchase food at ridiculously low cost, but when you do, there seems to be no real vegetables (meaning things like carrots, broccoli, lettuce etc) but potatoes and rice are plentiful and you can have a three course meal for as little as $1.80 USD - that's to sit down.  I saw as little as $1.25 for a take away meal only two courses, no dessert.  Pay a tiny bit more and get three courses and fresh juice as well.

The people seem to still find gringos a novelty as they often stare (particularly the children) especially if you happen to roam outside the "tourist" zones.  They know the language is a sticking point and we were only asked once on our entire trip if we needed help while we perused our map.  We did however, get a personal tour of old town Quito by a fellow who said his name was John (strange, as he was obviously Ecuadorian) and he did have a whole song and dance about teaching in Canada, but we took that information with a grain of salt and let him give us a bit of history about the churches etc for $20 and a free lunch.  (Wildly exorbitant by Ecuadorian standards, but it was our first day and we were feeling rather magnanimous.)  Quito is both old and new, with an energy that I don't think I've felt anywhere else.  Once you get used to it, it's pretty amazing and really worth the visit.
Park in front of the Basilica del Voto Nacional

The Basilica, itself

Pretty Spanish influenced buildings

Church and Convent of San Franisco de Cuenca (first settlement in Quito)

City park

El Pancillo

Church of Saint Francis (again...wide shot)

Stained glass inside the church

The last supper is a very popular theme in a lot of Ecuadorian art.

View from the Church of San Fransisco, looking up in to the hills.

Many buildings have beautiful mosaic domes and are very well kept.

Pedestrian friendly street in the old town.

Public art in the Jardin Botanico

Newly renovated square looking up to El Panicillo

One of the many had huge wooden doors with gold overlay.

Colourful houses on the hills of Quito in the morning fog

Looking up towards the volcano area outside of Quito

Sunset on one of our final days in Ecuador.
Now Cuenca.  Its maybe a quarter the size of Quito and has a nice homey vibe.  It's completely walkable and the sidewalks are in much better condition for the most part.  There seems to be less frenetic activity and the place is filled with young people and families.  (Cuenca is a University town.)  We arrived around 3 pm and the sun was shining and everything looked fantastic.  Most of the buildings are protected because of the city's UNESCO rating, so there are tons of Spanish colonial edifices and charming park spaces.  I got hit with a pretty bad case of altitude sickness our first night, which was strange, as Cuenca is at a lower altitude than Quito...perhaps it was the aerobatic quality of our flight up...the Tame airline pilots are mostly ex-military and have a certain panache for their flying stomach may still be lost somewhere in the Andes.  I slept most of the next day and then rebounded in impressive fashion and carried on, not suffering again for the rest of the trip.

I can't begin to say how much we enjoyed Cuenca, despite (or maybe because of) the language difference.  We learned fairly quickly that fresh vegetables were key to maintaining a good digestive system and sought out salads at every opportunity.  You have to pay a bit more for such things, but we could still swing a three course meal, with beverage for $5USD, so it was hard to complain.  Finding food is usually the most challenging aspect of travelling, so we employed several different tactics to ease the stress, sometimes they worked and sometimes we still found ourselves rambling around at 8 pm looking for sustenance.  The river Tombebamba was one of our very favourite places.  The sound of the river was soothing and the park surrounding the whole area was pleasant.  We went everyday, just to enjoy the pathways, water and sights and sounds.  If I could catch my breath (climbing flights of stairs was a bit challenging for me...Ron had no issues at all), it would be a great place for a run.  Anyhow here are some pictures of the city:
The river Tombebamba...running right through the city.

Scary white girl roaming the river banks.

Random street view with mountains in behind.

Sitting room in our hotel

Hallway (to the right the windows look down into the courtyard.

Residential area of Cuenca.

One of the many churches in the old town.

Entry of same church.

Amazing stone and wood work

Pretty facade.

Park in front of the Museum of Modern Art

Another church...with and approaching rain shower.

The new Cathedral in front and the old in back...I could have that backwards

Almost impossible to get a decent picture as the streets are quite narrow.

The Tombebamba River after a rain storm

Some sort of Ecuadorian willow tree (?)

Inner courtyard of our hotel

Our hotel from the street

This used to go over the river, but a more modern bridge was placed a bit further down the road.

At Tres Estrellas (The 3 Stars) eating a traditional dish of "cuy" or guinea pig.

The victim...

Night shot of the Municipal Hall

San Alfonso Church

Detail shot of the Tombebamba River
Hiking up to "Turi" best view of the city...or so it was advertised.  Keep in mind this is the second set of stairs.

Phew!  Made it!

Midor de Turi...rather basic for all the walking, but wait for it...

Nope, still not the money shot...

Now that's the photo...all of Cuenca at our feet.
 And finally shots of daily life in Ecuador.  They are a hard working people, as far as we could see, we were only "spare changed" twice in the two weeks we were there and definitely not aggressively.  Most people offer a service in exchange for cash, regardless of their circumstances.  There were any number of vendors wandering around selling brooms or track pants, aprons and back scratchers, as well as the more established vendors with their food carts, shoe shining businesses, both static and portable.  People who helped you back out into a busy street were happy for a 50 cents or so and they would also help people find parking.  There were children also working selling candies, shoe shines and (most horrifyingly, to me) cigarettes, but they were mostly clean and well fed.  Ecuador has a very high literacy rate (I think I read that it was around 90%), but I do wonder about those children.  They seemed happy for the most part and willing to do what was necessary to help there families.  Here are some "general" pictures that I either found interesting, disturbing or enjoyable.
Can you see the cows???  There are three.

Ron looking at the Yuncanay with cows in background, next to main thoroughfare heading to downtown.
Local painter in his studio

Old Datsuns seem to be very popular here, despite the availability of new vehicles

This one was parked right in front of the Datsun above

Cuenca developed a huge mural project to offset graffiti issues

Woman in traditional dress

Who needs a cart, when you have a wheel barrow?

Celebrating independence from Spain - May 24th

Photo business that used a very well trained St. Bernard (of all things) as a draw.  The kids loved it!

For the most part children seem very well taken care of and were often rigged out in hip little outfits.

Note the toque on the baby...everyone else is in short sleeves, this was a popular approach

Young boy shining shoes...we felt guilty about saying "no" to his older brother

Canadian tour bus rolling through Foch Plaza while we were eating lunch

Gringa tourist hiking up the hill when there was a perfectly good road, not that far away.
We were horribly lax in our pictures of food.  It was hard enough being the strange foreigners and we often felt awkward pulling out the camera.  (From a security point of view, the less you looked like tourists the better.)  There were a couple of large markets in both cities.  There was an abundance of fruit, vegetables, meat and poultry.  The eggs were varying colours and it looked a little like left over Easter eggs, with their shades of cream, blue and green.  There were interesting fruits that I had no idea what they were and even when the woman said the name, I still didn't know what it was.  Many of the markets also had cooked food for sale.  Whole roasted pigs seems to be very popular and we tried some one lunch and have to say it was delicious.  Potato soup was also very popular, but not cream based, usually chicken stock was used and who knows what herbs and spices, but every time we tried it it was fantastic.  You could buy gelato almost everywhere and quite inexpensively, as well as all sorts of cookies, pastries and cakes.  We tried a particularly yummy orange cake (sort of a pound cake variety) which was quite pleasing.  I was interested in how they baked at such high elevations, but my Spanish wasn't up to the task of finding out what kind of adjustments needed to be made.  Ceviche is also a popular dish and we had several varieties all flavourful and well executed.  We never braved a sample from the street corner carts, but the locals seemed to enjoy their offerings greatly.  There were also men with granita carts.  They would hand grind the ice and add flavoured syrup.  One gentleman was selling candy floss, but it's a hard sell when it's raining.  There were many varieties of corn served in every way imaginable.  We had it steamed, popped, roasted, toasted, grilled...the only way we didn't see it was cooked on the cob, but I'm sure it must be available.  In Quito roasting plantains over coals was a popular street food and you could get sliced fresh fruit and coconut at every second street corner.  (I'm still trying to figure out where all the vegetables from the markets went, as I didn't see many locals eating vegetables, at least at breakfast or lunch.  It's a mystery that will have to remain unsolved for now.)  In spite of reports, the beef was quite good (we read on several occasions that the beef quality was questionable), the chicken fresh and moist and the pork also good.  They have to work on their may just be that they don't have access to arborio rice and their creme brulee...dulce de leche is NOT an adequate replacement for real milk no matter how delicious it is on its own.  All that being said, we enjoyed the food very much, except for a couple of cases of extreme over salting.

Well, that's it folks, our trip to Ecuador.  For those of you considering it...we highly recommend it.  There is a certain peacefulness in the people here that you don't get in North America or even Europe, for that matter.  We came home to find that spring has arrived.  The lilac trees are blooming, Weber (the chipmunk) survived the winter and was frolicking around the yard and Rasputin seems to have gone off looking for romance.  We haven't seen him since we've been back, which makes Ron a very happy man.  Be well, hope you enjoy the photos.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like a nice trip, the pictures are great, I watched them all full screen, (its too bad the captions don't show on full screen).
    Did you drive or just take public transportation?
    How did you like your hotels, the picture of the one looked really nice.