All posts by gmgano

Takin’ Care of Business . . . Everyday

Or “No Time to Write!”

I’m referring to the business of life, of course, because our loyal readers know that we are retired.  Four and a half months have slipped by in a heartbeat with busy days, travel, church and music activities and a few life events as well.  I’m going to try to catch you up on the past few months and post some pictures of our travels within Ecuador as well as trip #2 to Spain.  As always, I ask you to pardon the length of time it has been since our last post.

Let’s start with the Life Events.  After being renters in a large condominium complex for 15 months, we bought a furnished house about 2 kms away.  Although we weren’t really looking to buy, this home caught our attention and within six weeks, we were home owners again.  Our “villa” is on a small gated street called “Urbanización Terra Verde” in what would be called townhouse condominiums in the US.  We continue to be close to the various services we frequent as well as three different bus lines but we are set back from any busy streets so it is much quieter than our apartment was.  This was a good move!

image image image

Two major events occurred in our lives almost simultaneously.  My worst nightmare of “what could go wrong” while living in a different hemisphere than the rest of your loved ones came to pass when I needed to make a rather hasty trip to Seattle, Washington to help our son Bryan who was having several major health issues all at once.  I am glad to report that Bryan is much improved and now I know I can survive this kind of crisis!  However, I need to publically thank dear friends Kurt and Teresa Lutterman, Don and Kyp Bisagna, and our daughter Kathleen and her fiancé Chaz, who all helped get things under control before and while I was in Western Washington.  Good friends and family are how we can do this thing called life.

On April 16, a devastating earthquake shook Ecuador’s north coast.  I was in Washington at the time but Glenn experienced the intense and prolonged shaking here in our mountain city of Cuenca.  No significant damage was experienced here but many communities suffered catastrophic destruction, death, injuries and loss.  It will take Ecuador many years of rebuilding to recover from this.  As often happens in disastrous circumstances, the citizens come together to give aid in whatever way possible.  This has been true for Ecuador as well.  Please keep the recovery of our adopted country in your thoughts and prayers.

earthquake 1 earthquake 2

Even without new houses, emergency trips and earthquakes, we keep pretty busy with our “retired” life.  Let me tell you about three major activities of this new year.

Cuenca Christian Church, the body of believers that we worship and serve with here in Cuenca, moved to a new location in late December of last year.  We had been progressing toward a fully bilingual church for several months and our congregation (Cuencanos and Expats) had been increasing steadily and we needed new space.  Glenn and I are the primary musicians for worship and we spend a lot of time searching out songs in English and Spanish and learning to sing both.  Glenn also is responsible for keeping accurate contact information of the ever increasing church family as well as maintaining the church’s website.  Mother’s Day brought our largest crowd ever (74) as we enjoyed worship together, a special children’s program, and a Mother’s Day lunch with typical Ecuadorian foods including roast pig (roasted in the church yard!)

image image image

Since last November, I have had the incredible opportunity to produce four house concerts in the homes of some of my friends.  Each concert has featured wonderful musicians from Cuenca and Quito and the audiences have been enthusiastic and generous.  This is an activity I plan to continue and expand, to the point of giving it a name:  Colibrí Conciertos (Hummingbird Concerts).

image
Daniel Brito
image
Sandra Echiverri
image
Daniel Brito, Eddie Jumbo, Carlos Andrade
image
Daniel Brito, Bernarda Holguin
Diego Carneiro Oliveira Pic 1
Diego Carneiro Oliveira

hummingbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since the day of our arrival to live in Cuenca in October 2014, we have been a part of the Cuenca International Chorale.  This spring was no different as we prepared for our biggest musical endeavor to date:

image

Both Glenn and I had challenging and fun solos in the Broadway portion of the program.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any links to provide in this post.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310Wimage

Traveling is one of the main reasons we retired and moved to Cuenca more than 19 months ago.  We have enjoyed some beautiful places in the Andes Mountains to the north and south of Cuenca.

Saraguro is two and half hours south of Cuenca on the Pan American Highway.  The people of the area wear distinctive black clothing (skirts for the women, calf-length pants for the men) single braided hair, beautiful collar-like beaded necklace, and very hard black and white hats.  The area is agricultural despite the very steep mountain sides and the production of quality woven products is a significant part of the economy.

image image image image

You can find more pictures from our trip to Saraguro by clicking on the Page entitled “Saraguro” at the top of this blog post.

A little further on down the road toward Peru, is the little town of Vilcabamba.  It is located in a valley that is sometimes called “The Valley of Longevity” because of the higher than average number of people who live to be very, very old.  We enjoyed a couple of nights in the beautiful Hostería Izhcayluma with our friends Greg and Brenda.  We ate, hiked, got massages, played games and relaxed in the hammocks on our verandas.

image image image

The rest of the Vilcabamba photos may be seen on the page entitled (you guessed it!) “Vilcabamba”.  Check it out.

And you can head north on the Pan American Highway, too!  That’s what we did when we traveled to Alausí where the famous Devil’s Nose Train is located.  El Nariz del Diablo is famous for three “true” switchbacks in order to manage the very steep grade from Alausí to Silambe.  It is a true engineering feat.

image image image image

And dozens more pictures can be found on the “Devil’s Nose Train” page.

Some of you may remember that in February of 2015, Glenn and I traveled to Spain to participate in an English language program called Diverbo.  We posted about it in two different posts:  “The Rain in Spain. . .” and “Diverbo Pueblo Inglés”.  This year we did the same sort of thing but with a company called Vaughan Systems.  The idea is the same:  native English speakers enjoy free room and board at a 4 star hotel in Spain while spending many hours each day talking and listening in English to help Spaniards improve their English.  Check out http://www.grupovaughan.com/vaughantown if this sounds like something you would be interested in.  We loved it and plan to participate again next year.

Prior to attending VaughanTown, we visited Tenerife, Canary Islands and Barcelona.  What beautiful places!  It was quite cold in Tenerife but we enjoyed our time with our great friends Elisa and Paco.  The island has 25 micro climates and we visited most of them.  Here is just a smattering of the pictures from Tenerife.

image image image image imageimageimageimage

Barcelona is an amazing city and we had sparkling sunny but cool days there, which is perfect in our book for walking and sightseeing.  The highlight of Barcelona for us was La Sagrada Familia, the famous cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudí.  We were fortunate to be renting an apartment just a block from this incredible structure.  We understand that the cathedral will be completed in June of 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death.  I plan to go back!

image image image image image image image image image

I would really like to upload all my pictures from Spain but I’m running out of WordPress memory!  Instead, I will leave you with just a few more pictures from Ecuador.  The first four are from a quick trip we took into the Cajas National Park just miles from Cuenca.  It may only be a few miles away but it seems like a different world.  Our friend Hugo was our guide this cold day!

image image image image image

The picture above was taken with a couple of my “Comadres” during Carnaval – the crazy festival before the beginning of Lent.  In Cuenca it is celebrated with lots of fireworks, water, and foam.  Carly Barly and Kathy and I had just finished participating in a major foam fight with a bunch of our fellow Cuencanos.  We were all smiles and laughter until our eyes started stinging from the foam!  Still, it was a great evening.

In less than one week, we leave for the US for a three week trip.  We will visit Glenn’s mom in Boston for a few days and then head up to Alaska for our daughter’s wedding.  We can hardly wait!  Maybe we will see some of you while we are in Anchorage.

What we have learned:  Cuenca is still the greatest place to live!

What we need to learn:  One shouldn’t let five months go by between blog posts!

Advertisements

Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!

or “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” But you probably already new that.  And of course, both of these holidays have come and gone.  This post will feature some pictures from Cuenca’s “Pase Del Niño” parade and Youtube links to the Cuenca International Chorale Christmas Concert.  For more information about how Christmas and New Year’s Eve is celebrated in Cuenca, please see two of our previous posts: “I’m Dreaming of an Unwhite Christmas” and “Burn, Baby, Burn”.

image

Glenn and I are both members of the Cuenca International Chorale as well as the small Ensemble.  This year Glenn also sang with a men’s quartet.  Last year’s Christmas Concert in Cuenca’s Old Cathedral was standing room only so this year we had two concerts and both were very well attended.  Below are links to the concert we gave at Iglesia San Roque on December 17.

Hanaq Pachap (Song to the Virgin of the Flowers) https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=6tcX_HAQPEc&feature=youtu.be 

A Christmas Gloria https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=MwSvsQe_eN0&feature=youtu.be

Good News  https://youtu.be/l-PhZKdYnCQ

Nochebuena https://youtu.be/ONszjS2GsbY

Dadme Albricias Hijos d’Eua  https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=y4RE0UsBF1M&feature=youtu.be 

I Wonder As I Wonder https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=g4lldjs1r5Y&feature=youtu.be

Silent https://youtu.be/A2NmsvJMp6w

Ding Dong Merrily On High  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCsZgK1X9Q&feature=youtu.be

O Come, O come, Emmanuel  https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=HFfnkGXneyw&feature=youtu.be 

Lo How A Rose E’er Blooming https://youtu.be/tE0NMozAFfA

Dansaron (E la don, don, Verges Maria) https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=Biul5bjshew&feature=youtu.be

Armen Estrepito  https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=AWzRxk2z1qY&feature=youtu.be

I Will Joyfully Sing https://youtu.be/kFd6G7Qd1DQ

A Joyful Madrigal  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fq-2Uaq_COE

Un Flambeau Jeannette Isabella  https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=1n4jnlNPuoU&feature=youtu.be

Carol of the Bells https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=BwWpNGeStVc&feature=youtu.be 

Ave Maria https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eesqntis4g&feature=youtu.be 

This Little Babe  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWbJC77a2dk&feature=youtu.be

Still, Still, Still https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=WVZv3sWm8dc&feature=youtu.be

Christmas Time Is Here https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=2vqpSq6M1DE&feature=youtu.be

African Noel https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=aG_NUcQHTpQ&feature=youtu.be 

Joy To The World  https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=gwH5kACZ8TY&feature=youtu.be 

O Come All Ye Faithful  https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=wfN7JBi3qHU&feature=youtu.be 

The First Noel  https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=ADLbOsm76nQ&feature=youtu.be 

Silent Night https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVeOEWSrmdI&feature=youtu.be

As I mentioned above, a highlight of the Christmas season is attending the Pase del Niño parade on Christmas Eve.  This eight hour parade through the center of Cuenca is an important family event.  Even with the crowds (estimates are that 100,000 spectators enjoy the parade each year) the mood of the people was joyous, fun and exciting.  Enjoy the pictures!

image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is a bit quiet which is what we needed to recover from the frenetic pace we’d been keeping during the month of December.

We spent New Year’s Eve with friends Holly, John and Rob eating fajitas, playing games, and watching the incredible fireworks display that came to a climax at midnight with pyrotechnics exploding whichever direction you looked for about 30 minutes.  We had the added delight of watching all of this from John and Holly’s 17th floor apartment.  I’m sorry I didn’t take any pictures or videos.  I was just enjoying myself too much!

In Other News

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, posts from “Los Gano de Cuenca” have been coming fewer and further between recently.  It is certainly not from lack of things going on in our lives worthy of sharing with you.  Just the opposite!  It seems to be the plight of Cuenca Expat bloggers:  the Catch 22 of having so many wonderful experiences to write about but the experiences leaving little time to spend writing.  Nevertheless, I will persevere and continue to publish the occasional post – emphasis on the word occasional!

In the last three months since our previous post, we’ve had quite a few major events.

My sister Inta visited us;image

I helped produce a House Concert featuring our friend and pianist Daniel Brito and soprano Sandra Echeverri;image

I traveled to Alaska to help my dad move from his house of 35 years to a smaller apartment and buy our daughter her wedding dress; image image

we took two trips outside of Cuenca ( I have pictures in my photo library and thoughts bumping around in my brain about these that need to make their way to a blog post); and our church moved from El Centro to a larger location.

And what does 2016 hold for us?

Well only God knows but if He wills it, we hope to do some international travel, attend our daughter’s wedding this summer, continue to improve our Spanish, and a few other surprises we’ll tell you about as they occur.  Until then, we wish you all a very blessed and full new year.

image

 

 

 

Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da Life Goes On

or “We’ve Lived In Cuenca For One Year!”

October 8 was the anniversary of our move to the Southern Hemisphere.  We had such a busy day that we didn’t even remember until after 6 pm so we didn’t do anything special.  However, the Cuenca Fire Department had a parade of all their trucks in our honor!

image

So on this  occasion, and since it has been over two months since I last posted, it is time to get everyone caught up on the momentous and mundane of Los Gano de Ecuador!

Kathleen’s Visit

By far, the most important event of the last two months has been the visit of our daughter Kathleen.  We did a few touristic activities but mostly we enjoyed being together.

image
Kathleen’s arrival at the Cuenca Airport after more than 24 hours of travel. There were lots of tears and Kathleen will probably kill me for posting this picture but I’m sure the inalienable rights of a mother to show pictures of her children will stand up in any court of law!
image
We had a lovely daytrip out of Cuenca to the Yungilla Valley where this waterfall “El Chorro” was a perfect backdrop.
image
This was the highlight of Kathleen’s trip as far as I am concerned: singing together at Cuenca Christian Church.
image
Here we are about to embark on the double decker bus tour of Cuenca. Many cities have these tours but what is unique about Cuenca’s is the possibility that you might not return with your head attached to your body. There are many low hanging wires and tree branches to watch out for!
image
Of course Kathleen’s mere presence was all we really needed but it didn’t hurt that she brought all this loot for us, too!
image
In honor of Kathleen’s visit and our almost one year anniversary in Cuenca, we threw a party! 45 people graced our home with their presence that Sunday afternoon.
image
We could not have enjoyed our 45 guests at this party without the help of my “Empleada del Dia” (maid for the day) Brenda! She is amazing but very expensive. You have to be her really good friend. I love you, Brenda!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning Spanish

The process of becoming at least “functionally literate” in Spanish takes a lot of our time but I love it!  I can really tell I am improving and that spurs me on to work harder.  I have to be careful not to get a big head when Ecuadorians tell me I speak Spanish very well.  Ha!  They just are such nice people 🙂

image
This is my awesome Coffee Club Spanish teacher Ana Luisa whom I adore! I have completed five regular courses with Ana as well as a few week long intensive conversation classes. Ana also has organized several of the great day trips we have been on.
image
Johnny Pinos is our private tutor, Spanish pastor, and our great friend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also participate in a Spanish Language Meet Up once a week in a local restaurant.  For two hours we speak only Spanish (usually) with Gringos learning Spanish and generous Ecuadorians who give of their time to show us how it’s really done!

Teaching English

To reciprocate for the Spanish conversation time mentioned above, both of us also attend the English Language Meet Up.  Glenn usually works with Hugo and I work with Helena.  This activity really brings home how weird the English language is.  For us, pronouncing Spanish is not that hard as letter sounds are very consistent – it’s the grammar and syntax that get us.  But for English learners, it’s all about the pronunciation!

I also teach English to children three times a week.  I know, what a shocker, right?  Once a teacher, always a teacher.  But I receive great joy in the planning and implementing of the lessons and activities.  And as in my past as a professional teacher, I always find some great people to work with!

image
Two days a week I teach at the Language Connect English Kids Club which is one of the many effective ministries of “Ministerio Pacto de Fe” run by Bobby and Lori Leek.
image
We have had anywhere from one to eight students, ages three through ten. They are huge fun! Here, I am using finger puppets and trying very hard to get a couple of these little girls to remember the words “brother” and “sister”.
image
One morning a week I join my friend Kathy (also a retired kindergarten teacher) at the Fundación Solitierra Centro Infantil to teach 17 second, third and fourth graders. This is a challenge but Kathy and I work really well together, I think, and we are making progress.

Social Life

It’s getting harder and harder to keep up with the social opportunities as they present themselves but somehow we manage.  Going out for lunch or dinner with new and old friends tops the list.  We also try to attend most of the free concerts by our symphony orchestra and chamber groups.

image
Ensamble de Cámara Ad Libertum was the most recent performance we attended. It featured our friend Daniel Brito on piano (not shown in this picture, sadly), three string players from the Cuenca Symphony, and Colombian soprano Sandra Echeverri. It was awesome and free!
image
Dinner at Anubis with new and old friends.
image
Mara’s birthday dinner at our favorite restaurant “Mastranto Life and Food” with some of our very favorite people, Greg and Brenda Angstrom.  Mastranto’s is owned and operated by our Venezuelan friend Marco Acosta and his family.  If you live here in Cuenca, you should give Mastranto Life and Food a try (Juan Jaramillo 8-21 y Luis Cordero).

 

image
When our daughter Kathleen became engaged to Chaz Hart back in August we were not able to physically attend the engagement party. However, through the miracle of SKYPE, we were able to celebrate with Greg and Brenda in our Southern Hemisphere Satellite Party. Not quite the same as being there but a lot of fun anyway!

This and That

Another major activity in our lives is serving at our church.  Cuenca Christian Church is now a bilingual church!  Glenn and I both play and sing in our worship band and I usually put together the lyrics in BOTH English and Spanish for the powerpoint slides.  We have been singing more and more of our songs in both languages which also helps with our language acquisition.

image
Our church is housed on the second floor of a colonial house in the center of Cuenca (6-23 Simon Bolivar).
image
We will once again sing in the “Old Cathedral” on December 21. Another concert is planned at Iglesia San Roque on December 17.

The Cuenca International Chorale and Ensemble has resumed rehearsals for the second half of its 2015 season.  We sing in both groups and gain much enjoyment from our time spent preparing and performing the music.  This December we have two concerts scheduled.  Glenn is also singing in a barbershop quartet for the first time.

Speaking of Christmas, guess what I saw being erected in Mall Del Rio on October 5th?

image
This is pretty early by anyone’s standards, don’t you think?

We’re coming pretty close to the end of this marathon blog post (phew!) but I must leave you with a couple of animal pictures.

image
Here is one of our “pet” hummingbirds that eats us out of house and home (slight exaggeration!)
image
This little dog is NOT in jail and seemed perfectly happy to watch the cars and pedestrians go by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What We’ve Learned:  That we have a lot of great friends.  Thank you to everyone who came to our party.

What We Need To Learn:  To like soccer (fútbol) but I don’t think it’s going to happen!

Orchids Are Red, Orchids Are Blue . . .

or “If you go to Gualaceo, you can see them too”

Recently we made a trip to the nearby town of Gualaceo for a tour of the Ecuagenera Orquideas Del Ecuador.  This was not our first trip through Gualaceo as it is quite near Cuenca (37 km) and on the way to other towns we have visited such as Chordeleg, Sig Sig, and San Bartolemé. Cuenca to Gualaceo

But we had never had the opportunity to tour the huge orchid nursery in this small city of 42,000.  I would say that the orchid farm is the jewel of this small city dubbed “The Garden of Azuay” (its province).

image

For $3, one can have a guided tour in Spanish or English.  We learned that there are over 4,200 species of naturally occurring orchids in the country of Ecuador.   Ecuagenera raises 3,500 of those species in addition to another 3,500 hybrid orchids that they have developed.  All orchids have 3 petals and 3 sepals which are often mistaken for petals (guilty!)

image

image
Each of these jars has about 15 germinating orchids. They are transplanted several times. The skill of the technicians is amazing as they have a 80 percent survival rate through this process.

image

Here are some photos of orchids that Ecuagenera has in their gardens in Gualaceo.  For more information, check out www.ecuagenera.com or, like I do, Wikipedia!

image image image image image image image image image image image image

image image

The gardens of Ecuagenera are peaceful and beautiful.  Here are some of the residents.

image image

And some of the visitors:

image
image

Although the orchid nursery was the highlight of this day trip to Gualaceo, we also enjoyed visiting the weavers at La Casa de la Makana.  The weavers use wool, cotton and silk and only natural materials for the dyes in their textiles.

image

image image image image image image

And in other news . . .

A few weeks ago, we had the great pleasure of hosting our second set of visitors since we’ve lived here.  We were so glad that Elisa, Jorge and Blanca made Cuenca their first stop on their grand tour of Ecuador.  We met these intrepid travelers when we were in Spain last February.  Elisa was a part of the Diverbo program (see blog post #16 “Diverbo Pueblo Inglés-La Alberca, Spain”) and she introduced us to Jorge and Blanca.

image
Blanca (rear) lives in Valencia; Jorge lives in Barcelona; and Elisa lives in Tenerife, Canary Islands. Here we are just about to embark on our double decker bus tour of Cuenca.

We enjoyed showing our Spanish friends some of the places we know well (El Centro, New and Old Cathedral, Ingapirca) and explored some new places, too, like Lake Llaviucu in the Cajas National Park.

image
The best view of the domes of the New Cathedral in Cuenca.
image
View of the New Cathedral from the Double Decker Bus.
image
We took the $2 tour of the New Cathedral which takes you not only through the main part but to the crypt and towers as well. This is looking down one of the towers.
image
View of Parque Calderón from the towers of the New Cathedral.

 

image
View of the inside of the Old Cathedral from the choir loft
image
The very old, misused, and abused organ in the Old Cathedral.

I just love Ingapirca (Cañari and Incan ruins)!

image image image image

We had a great, if a bit wet, walk around Lake Llaviucu in the Cajas Mountains thanks to our friend Ken March’s guidance.  The trailhead is only about 10 miles outside of Cuenca.  The trick is to get a taxi to take you all the way to the parking lot.  Our taxi driver didn’t want to get his car dirty so we had to walk an extra 3 km!

image
This is an old brewery built sometime in the last century Lake Llaviucu. It is no longer in operation. There was too much water on the trail after four days of rain so we couldn’t get all the way around to the brewery on our hike.

image image image image

image
One of our four lovely rivers – Rio Tomebamba – with the lovely Elisa!
image
Thanks to our great neighbors and friends, Greg and Brenda, all three of our guests had beds and bathrooms to use during their stay. Our last night together we had a fun game of 10,000.

In case you’re ready to make your reservation at “Casa de Gano de Cuenca”, operators are standing by.  Our daughter Kathleen will be visiting the second half of September and then my sister Inta will be here at the end of October for a couple of weeks.  Other than that, we’re wide open, and we’d love to show you our town, too!

What We’ve Learned:  More about orchids than I wrote about!

What We Need To Learn:  How to write about our daily life in an interesting way.  I do hope that will be our next post because we actually don’t go on day trips all that often!

♪♫♬ Azuluna ♪ You Saw Me Standing Alone ♪♫♬

Or “Mara’s Trip to the Coast” 
image

In mid July (deep dark winter here in Cuenca) Mara and two of her great friends, Lance and Kathy Mentink, imagetook a quick trip to the middle coast of Ecuador.  Glenn decided that the heat and humidity of the coast held no appeal for him so he stayed home in frigid Cuenca, which is just the way he likes it.  And by frigid, I mean high temperatures in the 60’s.

Kathy, Lance and Mara were transported in comfort by our driver Peter Kwee of American Transporter (N4311T@yahoo.com) via the Cajas National Park and then the Ruta del Sol.

Map from Cuenca to Las Tunas

 

We left at the dark and early time of 6 am but that worked out very well for us because we had a gorgeous morning drive and clear blue skies through the Cajas and arrived at Azuluna Ecolodge in the town of Las Tunas by 1:30 in the afternoon.  I have traveled through the Cajas three other times and this was the first time I was able to see anything other than rain, fog and my life flashing before my eyes as cars passed each other on blind curves.

image image image image image

Okay, you’ve waited long enough to find out why I named this post “Azuluna . . .”  The eco-lodge that we called home for three nights and four days was called Azuluna Ecolodge which means “Blue Moon” like the Marcel’s (or Ritchie Valens if you’re not that old) song of the same name.  Here’s a youtube link if you need a walk down memory lane.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eMkH0s3Vpc

image

I would highly recommend Azuluna Ecolodge to anyone who desires quiet, charming, well run, reasonably priced accommodations near Puerto Lopez and the Machalilla National Park.  Azuluna has received many awards for their quality and sustainable practices including recognition from TripAdvisor.  Please go to http://www.azuluna-ecuador.com to find out more.

image
The main reception area is bright and airy with open windows letting in the ocean breeze. The restaurant was very good and reasonably priced. This is very important because if you are in Las Tunas midweek like we were and not during a major holiday, nothing else is open. However, Azuluna is only a short drive from Puerto Lopez which has many services or a little further drive from Montañita which has lots of restaurants, bars, etc.

image image image image All of the rooms are ocean facing and have lovely verandas with hammocks and other seating.  Our main purpose for visiting the coast was not necessarily to relax in hammocks while catching a few zzzz’s in the refreshing ocean breeze.  But I wouldn’t discount that reason!

imageBecause we came to the coast in “winter” (July and August) the heat and humidity were not that bad and the insects were not a problem at all.  Even so, our rooms were air conditioned and equipped with mosquito netting over the beds.  I’m sure that visiting this region other times of the year would yield different experiences.  I highly recommend coming in July if you’re not a huge fan of tropical heat.

We walked on the beach across the highway from Azuluna a couple of times.  Again, being midweek and non-holiday time, we enjoyed the birds, rhythmic waves and warm water on our feet in near solitude.  Unfortunately, swimming was not an option here as there was a very strong undercurrent, but wading knee deep was just fine.

image image image image image image image image

The beach walks were pleasant but they still were not our main objective for this trip.  Well, what was?  Two words:

HUMPBACK WHALES!

humpback whale
I wish I could take credit for this picture but even though we did see a breaching whale, I am not skilled enough to catch a picture like this. Photo courtesy of http://www.animaleans.wikispaces.com. My philosophy is you can either WATCH whales or TAKE PICTURES of them. I chose to watch!

We booked an all day tour with Machalilla Tours (www.machalillatours.org) to whale watch and spend time on Isla de la Plata.  The tour leaves from Puerto Lopez which is the only place from which you can access the island.  Isla de la Plata is part of the Machalilla National Park and is sometimes called “The Poor Man’s Galapagos.” Our boat had about 15 passengers and four crew members.  It was a beautiful day but we were out in open ocean once we left the bay on which Puerto Lopez is located so we were very glad that we had taken our seasickness medication.  Unfortunately, not everyone did.

We saw many whales in the two hour trip to the island and on the return but as per my philosophy I didn’t get many pictures but these prove I did see them.

image image imageWe arrived at Isla de la Plata around midday.  We had a quick snack, restroom break, and then headed up the 180 or so steps to the highpoint of the island.  From there, our guide took us on a 90 minute hike to see the blue footed boobies, red footed boobies, frigates, tropicbirds, and pelicans.  The island is very dry at this time of year and it was quite hot.  We were glad for our water.

image
Only authorized tour operators can bring a total of 180 people per day out to the island.
image
Our welcoming committee was five sea turtles in the harbor.
image
Wilmer was our naturalist and guide for our two hours on the island.
image
This map was completely UPSIDE DOWN! We approached the island from the south and hiked to the north side. Funny!
image
This view was looking back down the 180 steps we came up to the top and center of the island. Notice how dry the plants are. In January and February, all of this is green but it is also raining. I’m glad we came when we did.
image
An abandoned blue footed booby egg from last season is at the bottom of this photo
image
A pair of blue footed boobies. Wilmer told us they only mate for one season.
image
White Tailed Tropicbird
image
You can really see the blue feet of this single blue footed booby.
image
The north side of the island was rugged and beautiful. Many pelicans, red footed boobies, and tropicbirds were flying in this area but obviously not in my picture!
image
Here I am looking over the cliff. Was there a railing or sign to warn me of the danger? Of course not! This is Ecuador and it’s your responsibility to not be stupid.
image
Maybe this pathway could have used a caution sign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

image
I did not fall off the cliff but I did fall down on a different part of the trail (loose gravel on a hill) and skinned up both of my knees. I chose not to take a picture of my knees and posted this picture instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We concluded our time at the island with a satisfying lunch and a short time to snorkel.  The fish we saw were plentiful, big and colorful but as I don’t have a GoPro Waterproof Camera (birthday is coming up – hint hint) you are just going to have to take my word for it.   Another three hours and a few whales later, we were back in Puerto Lopez, exhausted but happy.  Mission accomplished.

The following day, we walked around the little town of Las Tunas and then took a bus to Montañita.  You have probably never heard of Las Tunas (which actually refers to a fruit not the fish).

image
This is the one block long Malecón in Las Tunas – not much going on here Thursday mornings.
image
This burro was our welcoming committee to Las Tunas! He really wanted a friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

image
We thought Las Tunas was quite small but when we had a conversation with a lady who sold us a bottle of water in the only business that appeared to be open, we were told in no uncertain terms that it is not small! I’m not convinced.

Montañita, on the other hand, is quite famous for its surfing and party atmosphere.  As it was Lance and Kathy’s first anniversary AND Lance, although not a surfer himself, is a patron of surfing, we felt it quite appropriate to take the one hour bus ride to this happening place.

image
A lot more going on here in Montañita but it was only about 3 in the afternoon. Most of the visitors probably hadn’t even gotten up yet.

 

image
Montañita’s malecón was considerably longer and more developed than the one in Las Tunas.

image image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

image
Lance Mentink – Patron of the Surf

image

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our final day at Azuluna was spent walking the beach and lying in our hammocks.  Peter picked us up at the agreed to time and we took a slightly different route back to Guayaquil and then went through the Cajas again to get to Cuenca.  No pictures of this trip because like a horse heading back to the barn, we were ready to just get home!  The three of us had a terrific time and Glenn reports that it was lovely, dry and cool in Cuenca!Map from Las Tunas to Cuenca via Machilla National Park

What we’ve learned:  Lance and Kathy Mentink are our new travel partners!  We traveled very well together.  Check out their post about this trip at Rambling On over to the right.

What we need to learn:  How to understand Ecuadorian coastal Spanish.  Speech is much more rapid and has a different accent than in the Andes.

Our Pachamanka in Chobshi

Or “How We Celebrated the 4th of July in Ecuador”

Believe it or not, the 4th of July happens everywhere in the world.  Here in Cuenca, we had several choices to pick from for how to celebrate this day.  Quite a few restaurants offered special American menus like grilled burgers, barbequed ribs, etc.  Many gringos that we know participated in the “Hearts of Gold” country fair fundraiser.  And of course, there are always fireworks, but that has nothing to do with America’s independence.  However, “Los Gano de Cuenca” opted do something very Ecuadorian for this day.

We went to the tiny community of Chobshi (House of the Moon) with ten other people from our Spanish school (Coffee Club Spanish).  Chobshi is nestled deep within the Andes Mountains in south central Ecuador but I guess you could say that about hundreds of little towns in the area!  By road, the town is about 70 kms from Cuenca.  But as the crow flies, it is maybe twenty kms directly east of Cuenca.  As you can see from the map, one must drive north, east, south, then north again and finally a little west to get there.  Map to Chobshi

It is well worth the circuitous route!  Chobshi is an important archeological site and the small but thorough museum has many artifacts of Incan and Cañari origin.

image

Our hosts, Gumercindo Delgado and his wife Nube welcomed us warmly and explained to us (in Spanish) what we were to experience that day. image image

In addition to enjoying the beautiful area, the Incan and Cañari ruins, and interesting artifacts, we were to partake in a traditional feast called Pachamanka.  It included a cooking ritual based on the Cañari reverence to Pachamama (Mother Earth) as well as their dependence on the lunar cycle.  The preparation of our pachamanka required our participation although most (but not all) of the heavy lifting had been done by the Delgado family.  The pachamanka meal is cooked in a pit about 3 feet deep which is lined and layered with alfalfa.  The heat source is 28 rocks preheated in a separate fire (one for each day of the lunar cycle).

image
The cooking pit is used at least three times a year for special celebrations – the two solstices and Intiraymi – but we were privileged to have a special pachamanka prepared for us.
image
28 rocks had been heating up for several hours in this fire.  The black dome in the background is a “sauna”.
image
Plenty of fresh alfalfa was on hand to line the pit as well as for layers between the stones and food.
image
Speaking of food – instead of burgers and potato salad for our 4th of July meal, we feasted on chicken wrapped in banana leaves, plantains, two kinds of potatoes, apples, choclo (white corn), peas, beans, and for dessert, pineapple. All of this food was layered and steamed for two hours in our pachamanka pit.
image
After the pit was lined with alfalfa, the first layer of seven stones was placed. We all took turns carrying the stones to the pit and making a wish or prayer as we dropped the stone in.
image
The chicken went in first.

image

image
Each layer of stones represents one week of the lunar cycle. In all, we placed four layers of stones with alfalfa and food.
image
Some potatoes and apples were added.
image
Finally, all the food is in and Gumercindo and his crew pile on more dirt, burlap sacks and more stones to keep the steam in the earth to do the cooking.
image
This process took about an hour.

Nube offered prayers to Pachamama and taught us a song that we sang many times while preparing the food. Click on the link below to see a short video.

I guess we could have watched the pit for the next two hours but everybody knows the proverbial watched pot never boils so we went to the museum and then walked around the area to see some of the ruins.

image image

Many of the artifacts housed in the Chobshi museum were discovered in the “Cueva Negra” or Black Cave.  This cave is not very big or deep but it was strategically located near the Rio Santa Barbara and the Camino Cañari and was a shelter to the hunter-gathers who lived in the area before the birth of Christ.  Many tools and other objects made from obsidian have been found in the area.  This is important evidence that the people who passed through and lived in the Chobshi area travelled considerable distances as obsidian is of volcanic origin from 450 km north of this area.

image
Cueva Negra – The Black Cave
image
The steep banks of the Rio Santa Barbara

Not far from the cave,  is the Castillo de Duma – a three roomed fortress of an important Cañari leader named Duma.

image
Pretty sure this was not the original draw bridge into the fort!
image
This is the Serpentine Wall. It’s hard to tell in this picture, but this wall of the Castillo is not straight but rather curvy like a serpent.

image

image
Now only sheep live in this fort.
19236600918_4d75afebcc_o
Beautiful view of the Santa Barbara River

18803769213_b7394f2959_o 19235964850_562c3a6927_o

More ruins.

19236639180_d1ddc6c49e_o 19236538550_47228d4e63_o 19417788162_3116738b6e_o 19398267426_1eeb061fa5_o

Is it time for lunch yet? Yes! It is.

But first we have to unbury our food.  18803260903_133f4622f5_o

19237599279_229d02276e_o      Okay, fast forward.

Sorry, no pictures of us eating for the obvious reason:  We were eating!  Suffice it to say, the food was delicious.  No chemicals or additives in this pachamanka meal.  Just wholesome, good old fashioned dirt and burnt alfalfa.  Didn’t matter – it was great.

I’m sure you’re thinking it just couldn’t get any better than this, right?  Right.  Except we got a bonus.  Gumercindo took us on another caminata (little hike).  This time into the most beautiful canyon that ended up at a waterfall.  Sure, the ground was a little wet and there was plenty of “caca de vaca” to step in (cow pies) but I think you’ll agree from the pictures that it was well worth the minor hardships.

19428429351_7b5e28289f_o 19427839451_c307414862_o 19423059315_c1c2a9e659_o 19423012865_ea39819539_o 19237202599_9465686a13_o 19235610970_9a95095892_o 18802378613_bd2b7203ce_o

18801684263_28840487bf_o

19422537935_5a4077db6a_o 19422218265_1a711d4d2e_o

Of course, we’re in the dry season so I know everyone has seen more spectacular waterfalls than this one.  But the best part of our little walk through the meadow and into the canyon was the complete and utter peace we experienced.  When your normal is car and house alarms, vehicle horns, trucks and buses with deteriorating (or no) mufflers, and barking dogs, the sound of an occasional mooing cow, squealing pig or even a braying donkey is music to your ears!

Well, that was our trip to Chobshi.  Of course, we had the 90 minute drive on very windy roads back to Cuenca but there was no other way around that.  As lovely as Chobshi is, I’m not ready to live there!  Until next time, here’s . . .

What We’ve Learned:  What looks like a rutted cow path when you’re traveling in the Andes, can be a road to a little paradise.

What We Need To Learn:  Bring a change of shoes when hiking in the Andes!

Su-Su-Susudel*

And Oña, too.

*The name of this town sounds similar (to me) to the 1985 Phil Collins Phil_Collins_Sussudiosong title “Sussudio”.  You’ve got to know that continuing to come up with music and/or other references for the titles of our blog post is quite a burden so forgive me if some are kind of lame!

Recently, we had the great pleasure of traveling to Susudel and Oña with some folks from our Spanish School (Coffee Club Spanish – email Charity at spanishcoffeeclub@gmail.com for more info.)  These two small towns in the southern Ecuadorian Andes are approximately 2 hours drive south of Cuenca.  Their elevations are slightly lower than Cuenca’s at 8100 ft. and 7800 ft. respectively.  You can see from the maps below, the drive from Cuenca to Susudel is fairly straight forward.  Compare that with the squiggly blue line that is the highway from Susudel to Oña.  The faint blue line is Rio León.  What you can’t tell from the map is the dizzying height from which we descended from Susudel to the river and then back up again to Oña.  Quite a ride!

map Cuenca to Susudelmap Susudel to Ona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Susudel, we visited the Iglesia Matriz and a small textile industry of skilled women weavers called “Hatun Kondor”.

image
La Iglesia Matriz de Susudel – built more than 300 years ago.
image
Look at the thickness of the church walls!

image

 

image image

image
Our guide is holding a dried insect of some sort. The next picture shows what happens when water is added.
image
This is just one of the many natural dyes that the women of Hatun Kondor use.
image
Many of the above-shown insects sacrificed their lives to create the beautiful purple color of this sweater.
Other sights in Susudel
image
Guess what you put into this unique “sculpture”?
image
Lots of partially constructed and/or deconstructed buildings like this are in and around Susudel.
image
This form of security is not unique to Susudel – we see it all over Ecuador. But I thought it was particularly attractive.

image image image image

Many families in the greater Susudel area are fabricantes de ladrillos or brick makers.  We were privileged to visit such a family.  All the bricks are handmade and are considered far superior to machine made bricks by quality builders.

image
Freshly formed bricks made from quality mud mixed with precision.
image
Is this not just the BEST job for kids? Playing in the mud and helping your family business!

image image image image

 

image
These bricks have been cured and then fired in the eucalyptus fueled kiln.
image
A pile of eucalyptus wood waiting for the next time the kiln is fired up.

 

3498324307_e9306c33eb_m
Photo by Nathan Rupert (Flickr)

Before heading to Oña, we were taken to an amazing vista point on the north side of the Cañon del Rio Jubones with the hope of seeing an Andean condor.  There are less than 100 of these huge raptors in Ecuador.  The wingspan of the Andean condor is up to 3 meters wide and they rely upon the updrafts created in canyons such as this one to keep themselves aloft.  Although it is possible we saw one of these giant birds soaring way, way, way above us, I could not get a good look through my binoculars to know for sure.  However, condor or not, the views were spectacular.

image image image image image image image image image image

Click on the Vimeo link below to see a panoramic view of the canyon taken by Glenn.  For more pleasant viewing, mute your sound so you don’t have to listen to the wind!

https://vimeo.com/131560491

Remember that little map showing our route from Susudel to Oña?  Perhaps all those switchbacks make a little more sense after seeing the pictures of this canyon.  We went down, down, down, across El Rio León and then up, up, up the other side to get to Oña.

Once in Oña, our first stop was the tequila factory.  It does not seem to have a name but it is a community industry.  The tequila is made from the juice of the local agave plants.  The people tap the juice rather than cutting down the plant during the months of August through November as the juice is sweetest then.  It is brought to the distillery where the tequila and syrup are separated during the distilling process.  We’re not drinkers so we didn’t sample the tequila but I thought the miel (or syrup) was really good.

image
Agave is also known as the Century Plant, although they usually live between 10 and 30 years.

 

image
Near the end of the lifespan of an agave, it grows a magnificent stalk with the flowers at the top. This is how the plant reproduces itself. But this is the beginning of the end, of course.
image
The sampling room
image
Mara enjoying the “miel” or syrup of the agave tequila process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The factory was really a lovely place with beautiful gardens, a smokehouse, orchards, cuyes (guinnea pigs which are raised for food) and a cat with a forked tail.

image
Ají pepper plants are the source of a popular spicy table condiment called “Salsa de Ají”.
image
Babacao plant
image
Orange trees – not very sweet oranges, though!
image
Platanos hanging in the smokehouse. Don’t tell me you’ve never let your bananas over ripen to this point. I know I have!

image image image image image image

 

image
A cuy (pronounced coo-ee) in the family way, I believe.
image
These cuyes are raised in nice clean pens with plenty of space but seem to prefer being piled upon one another.
image
I named this cat “Tenedor” (fork in Spanish). Sorry it’s kind of hard to see his forked tail but trust me, he had one!

Would you believe that everything in this post up until now was before lunch?  Well, it was and we were hungry.  We had a pretty typical almuerzo in a restaurant in Oña, but in the category of “largest postre (dessert) served with an almuerzo” the prize goes to the huge piece of delicious carrot cake each of us enjoyed at the end of lunch.  If you are familiar with desserts served with Ecuadorian almuerzos, you know that they are generally postage stamp sized, can range in quality from Jello to flan, and are not always included.

Here’s a fun side note.  We realized at almuerzo time that Adrian, our tour guide, was the same guide we had for two tours on our first trip to Cuenca four years ago.  He was a great guide then and an even better one now!

image

The last part of our trip was to visit the old neighborhood of Oña.  The bus took us up the side of the mountain to the base of the Barrio Tradicional (traditional neighborhood) and we hoofed it up the rest of the way and then back down to the town square.  Most of the buildings were abandoned, although not all, and are good examples of typical small town houses built in the 20th century.

image
Oña appears to have an excellent drainage system. Good thing or one hard rain would have this neighborhood down in the town plaza.
image
This building has an advertisement for wheat flour (harina de trigo) for 5 sucre. The sucre was Ecuador’s official currency prior to 1999 when the country adopted the US dollar as its currency. In the mid 20th century, the value of the sucre was set at about 14 sucre = $1. So this flour probably cost about 35 cents. However, by the year 2000, the sucre was devalued so much that the exchange rate was 25,000 sucre = $1.

 

image
This building is called “Patrimonial La Bella de Paris” and is Oña’s community center.

image image image image image image image

The Plaza and Church of San Felipe de Oña were extremely peaceful on a Saturday afternoon.

image image image

image
Thank you Ana Luisa (our teacher) for organizing and translating our excursion. Thanks so much to Adrian for your excellent guiding and interpretation.

Another 2 hour drive, and we were back in Cuenca.  A few naps were being taken during the return journey.  I sat in back with our teacher Ana Luisa and enjoyed some Spanish conversation practice.  No extra charge!

And for you, dear readers, at no extra charge, a few pictures I didn’t really know how to fit in!  Click on these or any pictures in this blog to enlarge them.

image image image

What we’ve learned:  Quite a bit of Spanish, actually.  We could understand just about everything during the tour.

What we need to learn:  Uh . . . more Spanish?  I’m sure of it!