Friday, December 28, 2012

Quito to Cuenca

Dawdling this morning was a pleasure and we avoided yesterday’s crowd at breakfast. Most of our time at this hotel, we were the only tourists in residence usurped of the title one night by a Scandinavian couple and then snatched back until a horde of Hispanics moved into the room next to us. Seven of them stuffed into one room, should we have reported potential incest? They were all one family, parents and teens. 

Securing our bags in the manager’s office, we set out for our last hoorah until we return later in January assuming our cruise boat doesn’t sink in the Galapagos. We have been trying to get into the government palace, but the lines were tremendously long each time we passed. This morn, the other gate was open and the guard let us by. Great success to get to see the two guards up close, they are stiff like dressed up mannequins with rifles. However, we were stopped at the entrance to the gardens. We could not grasp the rapid speech of the guard there, who was not as amicable as the first. Finally, he let me take one step in to kneel for a photo of the stained glass. When we left, it dawned on us that entrance is by tour only and they are only on the hour.

Our final culture du jour expedition was Casa Museo María Augusta Urrutia. Photos are forbidden to the point you are assigned a guide to take you around. Honestly, without the guide, the museum would have meant little. María’s family was from Germany, but got rich in Ecuador. They were not just plain rich; they were filthy King Midas type rich. Daddy died and María had her hand in the till, so she created a charity center for children and adults, but primarily children.

She hired 25 workers at all times to work in the house. Each day they fed 125-150 children. Being a staunch Catholic, having money, she had many connections with the church. The house is surprisingly modern for the time (1932), she had all of the amenities possible, including indoor bathroom with flushing toilet and hot water shower. The house is extravagant, so parts to the point of excess. Everything in it except for some rugs was imported from Europe. Some of the walls that look like they were wallpapered were actually hand painted. There were curtains and drapes to match the exact same pattern. She was a patron on the Ecuadorian painter Victor Mideros so dozens of his paintings adorn the walls.

During the tour, it is difficult to conceive how someone who reveled in extravagance would be so generous with her money at the same time. She created foundations to continue her work after her death and all of her workers are still receiving retirement benefits, though she died in 1987.

Originally, we had planned to go to Baños for 3 nights, but decided the 5 hour bus ride was not as appealing once here as it was in the planning stages in our kitchen. Right after making the decision, we received warnings from the US Embassy about volcano eruptions in Baños and to avoid that area. According to the original plan, we should have been returning late today, so we had a late flight booked on LAN Airlines from Quito to Cuenca. When we tried changing it, we would have had to buy a new ticket. No deal!
Tuckered still from altitude and anticipation we waited out our last 2 hours at the hotel in the lobby reading our books. They were great about calling a taxi; the airfare to the airport was less than coming from it. Check in was a breeze, then security required everyone to removed their shoes. Once beyond there, the entire waiting area is one giant room with four gates for departing flights. Astonishingly, there were gobs of people who had the same quirky idea for flying on the same day as we did. Praise the credit card gods or the patron saint of debtors, there was a Diners Club lounge. We both carry the card; admission is free.

Every DC lounge is different as they are generally part of a consortium of other airline lounges. This lounge was independent. In one corner was a fountain of melted chocolate with the needed supplements of marshmallows, fruit, nuts and other things I could not bear to look at since they are on my naughty list. There was a selection of little sandwiches in cute little buns; some of them were whole grain, which is on my nice list.

The flight was only 50 minutes, making getting to and fro the airport 5 times as long as the flight, but it beats a 4 hour bus ride. Always wary of taxi drivers that approach me in a terminal, I shoo them away. I did this with an elderly man who approached me. After some confusion in finding no other taxi available, we asked this gentleman’s rate. It was $3, cheaper than the posted official rates. He was hired.

Once at Hotel de La Rosario, he had to park a block away due to restrictions, but did help with the luggage, because he could not break a $10 bill. This was providence. The hotel had no record of us under my name, Ron’s name or any assumed name we chose to make up on the spot. We insisted and showed our reservation sheet. It turned out, embarrassingly enough that we were booked at Hostal de La Rosario, which apparently is a common mistake. The taxi driver took down the directions and we were in a for another fifteen minute drive. They had no record of us other, but they finally found their paperwork.

While they were shuffling around getting a room ready, we talked to a couple from Salzburg and then a family from Minnesota. The mother of the MN group was here scoping out the city for possible retirement. She had found that in order to stay, you must buy a property and for the first 3 years you are not allowed to leave the country for more than 90 days. Not being about to leave was identical to our experience in Hungary. What she discovered was that real estate is reasonable, public transport and food from the markets is cheap, but meat from the grocery stores and any brand goods that a North American would recognize is very expensive. She had concerns about furnishing a home without breaking the bank. Her other apprehension was making friends since she would be here alone. It all gave me pause and brought up questions.

The neighborhood we are in has been declared extremely safe by the clan from Minnesota, so we took their word for it. The husband and wife who run this place speak no English. It should be interesting.

Within blocks are numerous restaurants and bars. We chose Stencils, a small place with incredibly cheap prices and Bob Dylan music playing.

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