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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Quirky Ecuadorian Facts and Interesting Cuenca Info

We're coming up to closing our fifth month in Ecuador and we've been minding our time, taking care of paperwork, figuring out how and where to do things and meeting new people.

We've also tripped across some interesting factoids about Ecuador and our fair city of Cuenca.  My favourite article so far was about the nature of Ecuadorian culture, particularly timeliness. This is an excerpt from a pop up on a gringo site about Ecuador:

"Ecuador is one of the most unpunctual countries of the world. It was such a problem that in 2003 the government decided to launch the National Campaign for punctuality. October 1st was the launch, with president Lucio Guitérrez and other authorities. In order to arrive on time, they synchronized everyones clocks to be on the same time. Even then the campaign started more than 20 minutes late!"

Now this is not true of the indigenous people of Ecuador, as they have a very simple philosophy: don't be lazy, don't lie and don't steal. If you say you're going to be somewhere at 3:30, you'd better be there or you're a liar. That doesn't apply to the other Ecuadorians that come from a Spanish or other European back ground. Not to say that everyone is late, but...well, almost everyone is late.

This past weekend we also experienced our first Carnival.  I know this word brings to mind long lines of Samba dancers, scanty costumes, beads, tons of food and alcohol and general craziness, but there are no Samba school competitions or large parades, at least here in Cuenca. Carnival consists of water, flour, balloons, water guns and "espuma" or foam. 

Remnants - post Carnival. These are the small cans of foam.

Load 'em up!
Apparently the name of the game is soaking people, foaming people, flouring people (we didn't see any of this, but are told it exists). If you have no sense of humour and are fussy, Cuenca is not the place to be during Mardi Gras, but for the most part participants are respectful, except for the random drive by water attack and the occasional water bomb from a balcony.  This can involve a bucket, so walkers beware. In all honestly, we were only hit twice by surprise and not with buckets and we let some kids unload water balloons on us when they asked nicely. (We were safely across the street, so fared fairly well, until I tried to catch a balloon to throw back...bad idea, soaked myself in the process. There are no pictures of the actual Carnival events, as I was afraid to get my camera wet.

We did see people walking around looking like snowmen or some sort of wacky Steven King foam creature. Next year, if we're here, we're planning to load up and head out for some hi-jinks. Did I mention the confetti? Also popular. 

Another interesting way to...can you call it a celebration?...let's go with participate seems to be strictly practiced by the school kids, particularly the high schoolers. Instead of wimpy water balloons and buckets, they happily (sometimes more than others) dunk each other in the river. I'm not talking about a couple of splashes but "drenched to the bones" soaking. 

Many gringos opt to have parties at home and we went to a couple (I know, how social of us!) In the past gringos have been a favourite target of Carnival revelers, but from our experience everyone was restrained. These pictures are for you Matt! Side note, potlucks are huge with gringos here, but a mystery, I think, to the locals...
First shot of the spread, still much food to arrive.

Traditional bread called gua gua pan, which is Chechuan for "Child" bread.

Those are my lemon tarts and flourless chocolate cake.

Probably a bad segue after showing food, but another odd fact about Ecuador...the toilet paper is lightly scented. Why? Well most of the plumbing in ecuador is clay pipe, so toilet paper sticks to the walls of the sewer system, clogging it up abysmally, hence the need to throw toilet paper in a waste bin, instead of flushing. This may sound gross, but really, it works fine and our bathroom does not smell, or anything.

It's also hard to find pepper here, at least in restaurants. There will always be copious amounts of salt, but if you love pepper, plan on carrying around your own personal shaker. Herbs and spices are mainly medicinal here. Salt, garlic and onion are the main flavour makers in many dishes and yet soups are still fantastic and most almuerzos are delicious...don't know how they do it.

I think that's enough little bits of flotsam and jetsam for now. Sending love from the southern hemisphere!

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