Friday, January 30, 2015

What Does a Saint With Wings, Guayacan Blooms and a Guanábana Have in Common?


Thursday was a strange day. We had little to no ambition to do anything, but felt a need to get out and explore something. Finally, we remembered we wanted to see the art exhibition that opened the same night we went to the concert. It was less than a mile away, making it an easy walk.

Wooden flooring
Of course, we are easily distracted so when we passed by Iglesia de Santo Domingo or St. Dominic’s Church and noticed the doors were open, we had to go in. It is funny, curious, not ha! ha! that the The Catholic Directory only lists two Catholic churches in Cuenca when there are 52. That aside, once more, I was blown away by the hand painted beauty of the inside décor.

Painted and plastered walls and ceiling
Since when do saints get wings?

We did make it to the art gallery, which thankfully was open. When we met the artist the night of the show opening, she had told us this building once housed people and their horses. It was like a bed & breakfast & stable (B&BS). In recent times, the city converted it into a municipal art gallery where temporary exhibitions can be presented to the public. Lesser known artists can get their work noticed. There were about 12 artists participating, but when we showed up, it was the security guard and us.

What was unclear to us was that there was one central theme to the show. Every piece of art represented the flower of the guayacan tree; in Loja, Ecuador, there are 100,000 acres of these trees. They bloom shortly after the first rain of the year, but the blooms disappear days later, not resurfacing for 12 more months.

The Gringo Tree newsletter states, “The flowers can grow to be 4 inches wide, and area favorites of honey bees and hummingbirds. The unique flowers are also quite useful in
treating a number of health problems. Teas made from the petals have been used to treat kidney disease, urinary tract infections, and even tuberculosis in various parts of Latin America.” Whether or not we were surprised at over 60 variations of one type of flower or tree, it was a fun thing to do.

Now, we decided to test the bus system. We knew little about the routes, but we did have an idea the 100 route ran close to our place. First, we took it all the way to the end, where we were asked to depart from the bus. All he did was pull into an alley to turn around and come back on the other side. We hopped on again, spending another 50¢ for the two of us. If Ron were a resident, it would only have been 12¢ for him.  We rode for quite some time, before realizing this bus was not going anywhere we wanted to be. At the next stop we got off, which was fortunate. There happened to be a SuperMaxi grocery store within two blocks.

Short on cash and not wanting to use a generic ATM, we asked at SuperMaxi if they took credit cards. They do, so we were set or so we thought. After milling up and down the aisles, we had enough groceries; we knew it would be a taxi going home. I was going to buy a soursop, what they call guanábana. I am all about trying different fruits and vegetables here, but I am not going to try the national dish: guinea pig.

We get to the register; Ron is obviously holding his Visa card in his hand. The young cashier tells us it is $40.29. Ron hands over the card. She asks Ron for his passport. Everyone, ex-pat and locals alike warn you not to carry your passport with you. Ron gives her his Hungarian ID card. This totally flummoxes her. She has to call for backup. All of a sudden that generic ATM is looking better, but I stubbornly wait it out. Hungarian IDs don’t cut it. Ron offers a colored photocopy of his passport. A chorus of sighs of relief was heard all around. This will work and we are out of there.

Taxis are waiting outside the store like great white sharks near fishing boats. Riding home, I am watching the meter cha-ching, cha-ching. We get to our corner saying this is good enough. The fare was $1.75.

During our tea and dessert time, we cut the guanábana. It has a dual texture. The center most part of the fruit has a similar consistency to a banana, while the fruit closed to the skin is closer to an orange. Flavor-wise it is a mixture of banana,

citrus, and I tasted some peach flavor. Ron didn’t care for it as much, but I thought it was a lovely change.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Did Jesus Have Red Curly Hair?


I was standing outside on our balcony when I noticed this young woman struggling with her backpacks; one huge one was on her back and the other was placed on her chest. Besides these, she had multiple bags that she carried by hand. It cracked me up as many people brag about ‘only having a backpack’ when they travel, yet the backpack is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. She put the bags down, repositioned them multiple times and then finally had it squared away to continue down the street.

When we leave the apartment to the right is a small shop that puts pictures, decals, and other art on shirts. This is the scene on this morning. She is so intent on playing with the computer; you almost want to find out child labor laws here. 

We were strolling down Calle Larga; we were near to Todos Santos Church. It has been rather elusive with its opening hours. Having checked here multiple times, we have been disappointed. Finally, we hit the jackpot. When we walked in, there was a tour guide there asking if we would like a tour. There was already one woman waiting who said, “If you don’t join us the tour will be for me alone.” This lady was a Methodist minister from Arizona. Of course, we wanted the tour. It was $2 each for a 40 minute tour. Just as we started, a group of Canadians arrived increasing our group.

What we learned was that this is the site of the oldest church in Cuenca. Spanish settlers built a chapel on this land. Later, a church was built replacing it. Outside, the cage like structure with the picture of the rooster on it (picture in album) is one of the four points of the old city of Cuenca. Today, this church is non-functional. There are no religious ceremonies of any kind held here any longer. Ironically, there is a convent and Catholic school attached. Six Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales live here and teach in the school.

What I found most intriguing about the churches in Cuenca is that most of them are ornately decorated, but without the glitz of gold. All the wall décor is painted and the floors are mostly incredible works of art in wood. This church in particular was fascinating as the interior was once completely white. It was not until they started the restoration that they found the walls were covered with incredible artwork underneath. 

One thing that I found creepy was the statue of Jesus. The hair on his head is real human hair from nuns who go from novice to final vows. During the final vows ceremony, they get their hair cut off. Here is Jesus with red curly hair.

The gardens were included in the tour, with dozens of varieties of fruits and vegetables. The sisters have a restaurant and use the food from here for the menus. They still bake bread in huge hard wood burning ovens. We were able to look into the restaurant, but it was not operating at the time.

Our tour guide, Stephania, was a student from the University of Cuenca; she is studying tourism. She was delightful and continued to apologize for her English. Because she was so comprehensive, our tour lasted beyond 40 minutes, but no one cared.

When we left here, we went to Museo del Sombrero de Paja Toquilla, The Panama Hat Museum. Two years ago, we visited here and were not impressed. Why did we return? Perhaps in the hopes that something had changed. It hadn't. In fact, there was less there now then two years ago. 

In small rooms, there are tired and lame displays of the history of the Panama hat, which is not from Panama at all. Within the work area, one bored worker was steaming hats in a machine mold. In actuality, this is a sales showroom. There are hundreds of hats on sale in various colors and styles for both men and women. Strangely enough, the warning label inside warns against wearing them in the rain. The most fun we had here was having Ron pose with different hats on. He has that kind of face that looks good with almost any type of hat. 

From here, we went to the mercado that seems to have the freshest meat, but we also bought our first soursop fruit. More on that when we eat it.

On the way home, I just happened to notice an embroidery machine. It cracked me up thinking that this type of machine is doing the work that vendors all over the world are passing off as home sewn. You can see for yourself with my YouTube video here.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Communal Dining


Pumapungo Museo
The owner of the apartment complex where we are living arranged for us to go to lunch at her aunt’s restaurant. All those in the building who were interested were to meet in the lobby at 12:30. The owner, Malena is like a Cub Scout Den Mother. She makes sure all residents, permanent or temporary know each other. I was up on the roof doing laundry the other day when another tenant came up. She said "Are you the one who blogs? I was hysterical when I read the post on trying to change $50." I am thinking "How the he...?"

Earlier, Ron ran across the street to the cambio to break the last of our $50 notes. We then went to the little office directly across from our building where there is a mini-bank center for the sole purpose of paying bills, recharging your phone, or buying/recharging bus cards. Our purpose was buying a bus card and getting credit on it.

There are two types of bus implements to purchase. One looks like a regular credit card, but the others are circular disks with cutesy pictures on them. The first cost $1 and the others are $3. We left with the $1 plain boring card and $3 worth of credit on it. Each bus ride cost 25 ¢, so this amount should last us a good amount of time. We walk most places.

Joining us for lunch, included our new friends Mike and Howard, plus Sara and Tom from down our hall and Jerry from the second floor. Of course, Malena was with us. She opted for us to take taxis, so we needed two. At the restaurant, we sat outside since the weather was cooperating. Most of us had the chicken, but beef was the other option. We started with chicken soup (no feet this time), then we were served chicken in a sauce with rice on the side. The beverage was mango juice. Dessert consisted of grapes in a whipped cream. It was a delightful little lunch for $2.75.

Everyone went his or her separate ways after lunch. Ron and I were going to the Pumapungo Museo. We were about four blocks away when it started to rain. Of course neither of us had umbrellas. Reaching the museum while it was only raining lightly, as soon as we walked in the door, the downpour came. Thunder and some of the loudest thunder I have heard accompanied torrential rain. There was no way we were going to be able to explore the Arqueological Park behind the museum. We have been there before, but I wanted to look for llamas. Generally, there are three or more roaming on the hill beyond.

For those visiting the Pumapungo Museo now, they will not know what is missing. After registering, admission is free; we are directed immediately to the right and advised that no photography is allowed. In a series of rooms with low lighting, we revisit the early history of the Ecuadorian tribes, and then continue through the invasion of the Spanish where it ends.

From here, we enter the space now occupied by the paintings of James Pilco, an Ecuadorian artist. He has an incredible range of art. One room consists of paintings of children,
Not my photo
which are adorable and incredible. The next room offers us his interpretation of vegetables and fruits. Finally, a mixture of serious and comical subjects is entirely absorbing and fills a third room. You can see a sample of his work here in a YouTube video. It is in Spanish, but you can watch him paint. We were both fans from viewing the first painting and were really fans by the last painting.

When we were here last time, there was a humungous room filled with artifacts from the various tribes of Ecuador. We spent three hours just exploring these exhibits, but then on another level, there was colonial Spanish religious art that was fascinating as well as horrifying. All of this is now gone.
Not this day.

On the other side of the building, on the second level one can still explore an extensive ethnographic life-size diorama display of various aspects of ancient and modern Ecuador. All the time, we are looking out the window to see the rain pouring down.

We were lucky enough to get a taxi just as the rain eased as if the clouds were taking a deep breath in preparation for spewing more water down to earth. Now taxis have meter by law, which in turn dropped the prices. More people can afford a taxi now, so they are more difficult to get in the rain. After we arrived home, we remembered we had planned on stopping at the market, but the rain drowned out the memory. Later we had to run out again, this time with umbrellas.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Wandering the Hood Around Calle Larga


Street entrance walls to hotel
Sometimes a day is so filled; I need to look at my photos to recall all that occurred. It may be a sign of age or a fulfilled life. I am not going to question it. Regardless, yesterday was another great day in the hood.

Yes, it was Monday, but a few museum signs which we have noticed along our walks advertised they were open on Mondays. Our quest is to visit every museum at least once, but also revisit those we had visited in 2012. Cuenca is not over powered with museums, so it shouldn't be too difficult. There are however, 52 Catholic churches. To visit all of them would be a greater challenge that I am not willing to undertake.

Ron wanted a little coin bag so we stopped at what the local Gringos call the “hippie market” at the corner of our street. It does indeed look like full market of the same jewelry and wristbands one would see at all the fairs and concerts worldwide. How they compete is anyone’s best guess. Nothing appealed to him, so we moved on. 

Walking to Calle Larga is lovely as you pass by wonderful architecture, balconies flourishing with blooming plants pouring over the railings, and exquisite tiles framing the cornices of buildings. I love walking past a building to find the hallway doors open and being privy to some beautiful wall art.

Wooden structures of the church
We have been by El Carmen de la Asuncion Church numerous times, but we have yet the opportunity to go inside for any length of time to appreciate it. The interior is unusual due to the amount of wood used for the interior. The ceiling is wood, adorned with painted borders and finials, not gold or plaster. 

Reaching our destination, Calle Large, we stopped at some of the shops along the way. I have decided not to judge these little stores as tourist magnet souvenir pits without a fair appraisal of their goods. One of our first stops was Ceramica Galaxy at Calle Larga 5-42. It only took several minutes, before my mind had several items bubble wrapped and mentally placed in our luggage. We met Ruth Cajamarca, the shop owner who explained in Spanish only that her husband is the artist for everything in the shop. He creates; she sells. There were at least five wall plates I would have snatched up in the time a flick of clay flew from a potter’s wheel.  They have a rooster pitcher we both loved, but it would be less than chick sized by the time we got it to Hungary. We promised to return. Our minds are still processing.

I popped into one shop where the sign outside advertises Gifts from the Earth. Mostly jewelry, each piece encompasses a piece of various semi-precious stones. Quite a variety of designs was on display, but there was something in the store that set me off. I started sneezing and from that point on my nose was running the rest of the day.

We have not been able to time our visit to La Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús el Párroco. Each time we are in the area, it is closed. Instead, we did stop at another shop directly across the street called Tienda de Artesanias. There were a few things that were interesting, but the prices were a turn-off. Muy rico!

From there we ventured to the Ruinas de Todos Santos, which is combined with Museo Manuel Austin Landívar. Admission to both are free, but the woman attendant had to unlock the gate to the ruins for us. Unlike the ruins at Pumapungo, this is a small area with sections marked off showing the pre-historic and then the colonial periods. Though there is not much to see other than rock walls and a small cave like opening, I did get a sense of the history surrounding it.  

There was no commentary in English, but from what we learned, the displays in Museo Manuel Austin Landívar are all from Mexico. It seems from what I could read in Spanish that this was part of the ethnographic collection of the name for which the museum was named. Basically, it is only two rooms, but there were some interesting things.

Attempting to visit Pumapungo Museo, we found that Mondays they are closed. By this time, we were starving. We found out that there was a Govinda’s restaurant here, so decided to try it. 

On our way there, meandering through the neighborhood, we tried to locate the place where we stayed the last time. As we are walking the streets, we hear someone say, “Hello, excuse me!” in heavily non-Spanish accented English. We stop to allow an older couple to ask us if we knew of a pharmacy in the neighborhood. Explaining we are not residents and have not seen one, we inquired what their problem happened to be. They wanted coca tea for the altitude. They had been here three days, but they were still not feeling up to par. We questioned where they were from; surprised to hear they were from Canada, Ron mentioned that their accent did not sound Canadian. It turns out they were originally from Budapest, Hungary and left in ’56.

Vegetarian lunch at Govinda's
We had been to the Govinda’s in Quito on our last trip. It is much different from Govinda’s in Budapest, which gets the prize in my book. However, for $3 a person, you cannot beat it. 

I am getting a little rain logged. It has rained every day, but one since we arrived. Thankfully, today it had the common courtesy to wait until we arrived home again before the skies opened up.

More Cuenca photos are here:

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Ecuador The Cuenca January 2015 Album


I am such a photo hog it is almost shameful. I thought the photos for Cuenca would all be in one album. However, I have taken so many, it was better to break the album into the two months we will be here: January and February. 

It is difficult to imagine that we have been here less than 2 weeks and already there are over 200 photos in this album. January is not over yet. Honestly, I cut quite a few.

To see my photos of Cuenca, click here. Be warned the album is likely to grow significantly before the month ends. Two wonderful museums were closed today.

More of our travels are here.

I hope you enjoy!

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

What is a Collective Noun for Gay Men?


Saturday was a kickback day. I wanted to catch up on some things and we had another social event planned to the evening. After Friday’s marathon walk, we needed to do less for a day. 

One problem we had was the ATM machine in Miami spit out $50 bills, causing us problems getting them broken here. As our neighbor Howard explains, you give them a $10 note for a tab of $5.60 and their face scrunches as they ask “Don’t you have anything smaller?” We were stuck with two $50 bills. Some problem, right? 

Mike suggested we go across the street to a money change place to see if they would change it. Ron went, but they wanted a passport, which he did not have on him. Going up three flights of stairs and coming back down again was not an option on Marathon Friday. Of course, on Saturday, the place is closed. 

Where oh where were we going break this? We needed coffee beans, but knew the coffee roasting guy would not be able to make change. Off we went to the grocery store called TIA. Though it means aunt in Spanish, it really is an acronym for a corporation. We bought just enough to get by: eggs, broccoli,
and butter. When I handed over Ulysses S. Grant, the male cashier’s face turned into some character from the TV show Grimm. He looked at me with disgust and said “No change!” I opened my wallet and said “No mas dinero.” This was like show down at OK Corral. Who was going to fold first? I waited for him to make a decision. Finally, his hunched shoulders slackened and he yelled for someone to rescue him. A young woman arrived, took Grant and held him to the light. She looked at our changeling, while nodding her head. He opened his draw and gave me change from the copious amount of $20s and $10s in his draw.

Carting a few groceries, we continued to our grinder man. Ten feet from this café, it started to sprinkle. This is the place where we were held captive last Saturday. We wondered if this was a déjà vu moment. After a delightful espresso and our bag of beans, we were off. 

Dear and darling, Howard Wood and Mike Frohling were thoughtful enough to include us in their plans for a “Boys Night Out”. A group of their friends and friends of their friends has periodic group events. We understand the last one was a bowling night. Thankfully, we missed that one. I can only handle so much humiliation. Tonight’s event was dinner at Césares Internazionale Restaurant located at Tarqui 9-61 between Bolivar and Gran Colombia. 

We knew there were to be about 22 men all together. This caused me to think what collective noun has been coined for a group of gay men. Hmm… a group of geese is a gaggle, for flamingos it is flamboyance, and for critics it is a shrivel. A group of men is called a band, but that just does not do justice to gay men. Having to look it up, an ensemble is the word for a group of homosexuals. As very dramatic sounding as it is, homosexual is such a clinical term. For gay men, I want to coin the collective noun as exquisite. A group of gay men is exquisite. 

However prior to dinner, their friends George and Chad offered a pre-dinner cocktail hour at their place on Primero de Mayo. We had no idea what was forthcoming. It was a mind-blowing experience on so many levels. 

We had to take a taxi; George and Chad live a walkable distance away, but it was raining again. This lovely modern building had a security guard at the front desk where Howard signed us in.

After taking the elevator to the fifth floor, the top of the building we entered their entry hall where we discovered there were already 12 men chatting and drinking cocktails. Without any of the attitude or game playing so often encountered, each and every one of these men embraced us with introductions. Again, the warm welcoming demeanor took me aback not only how they reacted to Ron and I, but to each other. Not everyone there knew everyone there. Feelings of a platonic love fest were one of the thoughts that ran through my mind. 

Besides having an exquisite apartment with the most spectacular view, two complete walls of the living room are glass. There are no obstructions for the view. What is even
more jaw-dropping is the wraparound balcony that covers 1,200 square feet. Never in my life have I seen a balcony like that connected to someone’s apartment. Chad and George were the perfect hosts who made the best guacamole I have ever tasted.  
Mike Frohling, Howard Wood, Ron and Ryan
George called and ordered a small fleet of taxis to whisk us all away to the restaurant. Groups of men started down in the elevator. When Ron and I squeezed in the elevator had reached its capacity, refusing to move. We waited for the next lift to arrive. When we reached the front door, everyone was gone. They had all taken off in taxis. Two more taxis arrived, but we did not know the address of the restaurant and our driver had no clue based on the name alone. A little quick thinking was in order. Our cocktail hosts were last to leave to lock up. I went up to get them while Ron waited downstairs. We made it to the restaurant.

For as large a group as we were, there was only one server who had to double behind the bar. The meals arrived one at a time, but somehow we all had hot meals. Dinner was superb. I enjoyed the jalapeño chicken while Ron savored the tomato garlic sea bass.

As I was looking around and remembering the pairs of men we met, almost all of them have been together for 10 years or more and most have married their spouse. Another observation was the age range. I do not think anyone was younger than 45 years old and the ages progressed into the 70s.  When you think about it, this makes sense for people expatriating. You need to have made your money first if you are going to move to a new country to retire. That said though, there were a few couples who have created businesses here as well. The fortunate few! 

We finally parted for home around 9:30 pm floating on Cloud 9. This social activity is going to make the rest of our Ecuador travels pale by comparison. 

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

18 Miles Spanning Multiple Cultural Events


We have an amazing social calendar for not even living here. Friday's agenda: lunch with Pattie and a Mozart concert with Mike.

Our neighbor Pattie, from one floor below, had invited us to join her for lunch at a restaurant called Good Affinity. It is a vegetarian restaurant and quite a ways from the city center. It sounded like an adventure, so we agreed to meet her there as she was going food shopping first. 

We decided to walk to the restaurant not realizing how far it actually was. Ron also wanted to test the theory that where we would be moving was only 20 minutes away. The day was clear and crisp, but we learned to pack umbrellas just in case.

By the time 20 minutes had passed, we were nowhere near the restaurant and our next home is beyond this. Along the way, we did pass a group of older ladies, one being a Gringo, who stopped us to offer an invitation for a gallery opening that evening. Scheduled for 7pm, we were already committed to a Mozart concert at 8pm, but we asked if we could attend another time. The Gringo lady said it was worth a visit just to see the inside of the building; it was a converted stable, which she claimed was gorgeous. Assuring her we would return, we continued on our way. This was 15 minutes to deduct from the total walking time. 

En route, we came across a wine shop of a good size, so we stopped to see if they might carry the Chilean wine our host Barbara left for us. A quick scan of the shelves created more disappointment, but less weight to carry along the journey. Deduct another 10 minutes from the total walking time. 

Spotting Good Affinity, we were an hour early, so Ron wanted to continue to our new digs. We walked and walked and walked some more, but we still were not there. We walked for an hour and a half, but still did not find the apartment. Okay, deduct the two stopovers, but we still have an hour left. 

Deciding we needed to head back to the restaurant or be late for meeting Pattie, we turned to go. Ron kept asking people directions as we changed direction. We over walked the location of the apartment by about one mile.

Asians own and run Good Affinity, a semi-buffet style. The meal of the day includes rice, four choices of the six offerings, a bowl of soup, and a drink all for $2.75. Can you beat this? I nixed the rice, but did say yes to the mixed cauliflower and broccoli, eggplant, a corn fritter, and cucumber salad. They offered lemonade without sugar and the soup was non-distinct, but was delicious. 

Pattie was good company, cheerful and full of interesting stories of their living abroad adventures. She really is a wealth of information. Lunch was a total delight. Pattie gave us directions on how to use the bus from where we were, so we did not have hike back again.

The bus ride costs 25¢ each. It would have been 12¢ for Ron if he had an Ecuadorian residency. It was an experience zipping around curves as if we were in a racecar. Within 15 minutes, we made it to a downtown area we recognized. The plan was to go food shopping, but getting a coffee first became the first priority. We tried finding a café suggested by our next host, but directions being imprecise, we never found it. Finally, settling for a little coffee roaster café, we thought we were on track. Surprise, the coffee was undrinkable. 

Passing the old basilica hundreds of times the last time we were in Cuenca, it was never open, so we could not see it. Today, we still had some energy for one museum. An
admission charge of $1 helps the restoration efforts. At first glance at the altar, I thought we were disturbing some ceremony. Up ahead were 13 men sitting in a semi-circle. Impressive for sure! Though beautifully fitted, it is apparent some of the frescoes are still in need of repair. Beyond the main church, there is another room with an unknown use. There are outdoor areas with old photos that are lovely to survey. Well worthy of the price of admission just for the artwork.

I have long admired the architecture of an old municipal building we have walked past dozens of times, but never took pictures. As tired as I was, I could resist no longer. Then Ron noticed this was where they were displaying the artwork of a
Tomás Galindo Artist
painter we had read about. When at the Modern Art Museum, we found posters for this display, but the venue did not resonate. Being drawn in, we were pleasantly refreshed with the vibrant colors and wonderful choices of models. The artist is Tomás Galindo.

Now too exhausted to shop, we returned home. Mike was joining us for the Mozart Concert tonight, so we wanted to rest a bit, get some dinner and be ready to meet him at 7pm. Initially, we intended to walk to the auditorium about a mile away. 

When it was time to leave, it was again raining relentlessly. All three of us had umbrellas, but they were ineffective for our lower bodies; the rain hit the ground and then ricocheted back up. Standing across the street from the apartment, we attempted to get a taxi. The rule of thumb here is that when the rain comes, finding an empty taxi is as easy as finding an arrowhead in the ocean. 

After 15 minutes of trying, Mike suggested we walk toward the basilica where our chances may be better. Finding the ideal corner for a taxi that would be heading in the direction we wanted to go, we stood. Pouring rain almost overwhelmed our umbrellas. Just as we were about to call it quits and go home, a taxi stopped right in front of us to drop off a fare. LUCK!

The Orquesta Sinfónica de Cuenca performed the Noche de
Mozart concert in Teatro Pumapungo. It was free! The program included Don Giovanni and three others. Violin music was never appealing to me, but Xavier Mora, a soloist, performed beautifully. 

Later, there was a quartet comprised of an oboe, clarinet, French horn, and bassoon. However, in Spanish they are oboe, clarinete, corno, and fagot. Performers are clarinetista, cornista, oboist, and fagotista. Strangely, all soloists were men, but the names in Spanish for performers are all feminine. Regardless of monikers, the music they performed was magical. Times like this make me wish I had continued with the clarinet.

By the time the concert was over, the rain had stopped. It was really a delightful evening and even more special being able to share it with Mike. We walked home and on the way ran into Curt. He was out with some friends and Scott was resting at home. 

When we reached home again, I checked my pedometer. We covered 18 miles today.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Two Near Misses, But Total Hits


Ceiling and cornice
 When planned this extended stay it was to be an experiment to see what living here would be like; it has almost turned into our general tourist rush with a few differences. Each morning, Ron has taken on kitchen duty to make a delicious breakfast that we sit and eat together. Generally, in Budapest, we are up at different times and have breakfast separately. He eats at his computer in the kitchen; generally, I am up earlier and have eaten mine while reading the news on the tablet. Then I have already migrated to my computer. 

Breakfast here aside from free-range eggs and bacon includes avocado, papaya, and mango. On some days, local cheese is mixed with the eggs, but most times not. I love all the differences here.

On Wednesday, after trying to prognosticate the weather, we headed down to Calle Larga where a two museum happen to be, but we have ignored until now. Cattycorner from Gozo, there is the Casa Museo Remigio Crespo Toral. As interesting as the building is from the outside, it has not managed to draw inside until this day. Admission is free. It is the home of the Cuencano Remigio Crespo Toral, a lawyer and author. He lived here with his wife with whom he had 10 children. Associated with the University of Cuenca in various authoritative positions, President Alfredo Baquerizo Moreno named him as “National Poet” in 1917.

As a rule, I am not overwhelmed with visiting peoples’ homes, but this was an exception. Each room still with period pieces had a tasteful elegance due to its simplicity. Not being overly decorated bordering on being pretentious this was a major exception. Each room had objects to be admired, wallpaper to be inspired by, and ceilings that were works of art. The staircase was particularly interesting as there are two staircases at the ground floor, but they meet at one landing to continue as a single unit to the next floor. There in one room is a research library. Two employees, one guard and one librarian are the only staff.

Walking down the Calle Larga there sits another museum, we have ignored during our visit here two years ago. It is the
Venus in South America?
Museo de las Culturas Aborigenes. Again wanting to delay what we perceived would be disappointment, we went for a coffee first at our coffee roaster and café spot. 

Returning to the museum, one does not get an objective opinion from the outside. Nearby are cheap souvenir stores, which taint the tiny opening to this establishment. However, with the goal to immerse ourselves in the local culture, we pressed forward. The $4 entrance fee took me aback mainly because so many of the museums were free. As reasonable as it would be in other cities, here it seemed unreasonable at the start. 

The door was locked, but the attendant came to let us in and collect our fees. She handed each of us a comprehensive self-guided tour book that was informative without requiring an overpowering amount of reading. She directed us up a staircase.
Fantastic pottery, some with real humor
With the first glance, we realized this was worthy of a $4 admission. The specimens were spectacular, incredible, and clean. So many times, we have gone to museums such as this and there is enough dust to believe it dated back to the prehistoric times too. Each section of what was once a huge room was broken into sections or ‘rooms’. The guide explained what we would see in each ‘room’ as well has including drawings of some the specimens to make it more comprehensive with examples. Within these sections, you have the opportunity to gaze at more than 5000 archaeological pieces. These are sample pieces from more than 20 pre-Hispanic Ecuadorian cultures dating as far back as 15,000 years.

We spent more than 2 ½ hours here, studying, photographing, and attempting to soak in the knowledge while being awed at every turn. What must be the best-kept secret in Cuenca is the gift shop. With an extensive assortment of high quality souvenirs, their prices are incredibly reasonable. If we lived here, I would shop here for culture-based decorations.

Later that evening we planned to have dinner at Howard and Mike’s for dinner. Their apartment is two floors below ours. They included two friends of theirs, Curt and Scott. Without a pregnant pause, Curt and Scott had us feeling like we had known them for years. Conversation among all six of us flowed as if we had picked up where we left off the last time, but of course, we had not.

Dinner was a real treat and though I will not remember all of it, the main course was a wonderful chicken with scrumptious spices. Side dishes included a quinoa salad, cucumber salad, beans, broccoli and cauliflower, and new potatoes. Scott and Curt brought homemade coconut ice cream and brownies. Being off all sugar and flours for more than two months, I let myself go with the dessert and cherished every mouthful.

My only regret is not taking some photos of dinner. The entire evening was incredibly special and we felt honored to be included.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Magic Was in the Air


Yesterday, we had a lunch date to meet Joe and Nora. This is our second home exchange in Cuenca where we will be living for the month of February. Joe suggested we meet at the Cuchara Magica (Magic Spoon) on Gran Columbia. Being early, we found the restaurant, but it was not between the cross streets that Joe had given us, nor was it across from the Hotel El Dorado as he mentioned. We were perplexed thinking it may a chain, we thought we may find another down the next two blocks. When we did not, we returned to where we were. 

Looking around the restaurant, there is a magical ambiance with half a tree decorating one wall with lanterns hanging. If you happen to survey the rest of the surroundings, you will find decks of playing cards artfully stacked on a shelf over the bar and do wander in the next room to see the escape artist’s tank. Works of great traditional magicians decorate the walls including one famous Ecuadorian and of course, Houdini. As it turned out Cuchara Magica’s young owner is the son of the owner of the Raymipampa restaurant. Raymipampa owners are now in the second generation.

Joe and Nora then drove us to their apartment. We drove for what seemed like forever before getting there, but it may have been the one-way streets that made it seem eternal. They said it is a 20-minute walk to the city center. Being that we love walking twenty minutes is doable. 

The apartment is HUGE by Ecuadorian standards. Joe told us it is 135 square meters or 1453.13 square feet. There is a living room/dining room combination with an open kitchen. The kitchen hosts a washer, dryer, and dishwasher. Down the hallway, you encounter three bedrooms, 3 ½ baths, but best of all, the building has an elevator. One of the four rivers in the city is the primary view out the windows; the gurgles of the running water can be heard creating a quite a soothing sound.  

I have to say that Joe and Nora are more than gracious. We will live in their apartment for a month, but they are only planning to use ours for one to two weeks. Joe kept saying their “apartment is meant to be used”.

We are certainly going to miss where we are staying now and the people we met. Across town feels like cities away.

After being oriented and handed keys, they dropped us off at the Modern Art Museum. It was lovely with a great display. It reminded me of a California high school with a large open courtyard with entry directly into individual rooms from the outside. Not all salas were open, but those that were had interesting art.  
Afterward, we walked to the park across the street. There were some trees in bloom with vibrantly yellow flowers. At one end of the park is  a Belgium craft beer place where we stopped for a beer. They just opened 8 months ago. Next month, they will have different beers.
We walked home making it about half way when the rain came again. Still time, I had an umbrella.

It has been great fun and an adventure to cruise through the markets for our food and then coming back here to cook it. We have really stuck to basic recipes, so there has not been anything fancy. However, everything has had a special taste imbued by the surroundings. 

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